Camp 4 Yosemite

The first few days we rented a house in Fish Camp, a tiny village on the Southern Entrance of Yosemite. But of course any climber needs to stay in Camp 4. The campground itself is nothing to write home about - no showers, dirty toilets, right next to the road. But it is the climbers campground, and has been for 50 years. It is actually on the register for National Historic places, strange as that may sound. The place is packed with climbers from all over the world. We had some troubles getting in, but after standing in the queue from 6 am until 8:30 am we got a spot. Here is the South African crew and the Zimbabwean visitor. What do you do on an off day in Camp 4? Boulder. Recover. Work on your to-do list. Meet other climbers and plan tomorrow's adventure. Sort gear. and so on.

Lost Arrow Spire

Tuesday morning, 9 am. Nurse Janet says: “Clinton, you are dehydrated, sunburnt, have secondary infections under your scabs on your hands, your toe infection could spread and lead to amputation of the leg. Take some vitamins. Eat well. Drink some juice. Take a bath with Epsom salts. Scrub the wounds, really hard and deep. You should keep your leg elevated. You should definitely not be climbing today.“ Janet leaves.

“Robert, I need to quickly move camp sites. Let’s leave in 15 minutes”.

It’s a brutal 2 1/2 hour hike up. It’s absolutely cooking. We are huffing and puffing up the switchbacks. My toe is throbbing but still attached. We didn’t bring enough water. I am thinking of Janet. A school group of 10 kids and teachers comes past us. Robert hits them up for some water. We are back in business, the day is saved.

30 minutes later we are at the Spire. We are all alone. Not a soul in sight. Great!

We abseil down into the notch. Two minor problems. I forgot to bring down the third rope. Plus our 2nd rope has gotten jammed. While I jumar up to get rope #3 Robert retrieves the stuck rope. Back in business again.

We start the climb. It’s pretty straightforward, this is an aid climb. I am climbing in my Evolv approach shoes as my toe is too sore to handle my Pontas. (Grade of the route is 5.12b or 5.7C2). There are pitons, bolt hangers, bolts, fixed nuts, plus I place the occasional cam or nut in a pin scar to get to the top. By accident I do what Robert now calls the “Ningo variation”. We were supposed to go up this horrible, daunting 5.9 offwidth, instead I climbed around it. All good. 2 hours and 3 pure aid pitches later we arrive at the top. Sandwiches, grilled Chicken, Cliff Bars. Yummie.

Now we have to figure out how to get across on the "Tyrolean Traverse" that this climb is so well-known for. We each had our own theories on how to do this. On the way up Robert trailed the 2 connected abseil ropes fixed to the rim abseil anchor. We eventually decide on a rigging method that should work. Off we go, traversing across the divide. Yihaa! Nice and airy. An hour later both of us are standing safely back on Yosemite mainland. We manage to pull all our ropes, and are on our way down. It’s two hours down, half of it in the dark. We get back to Camp 4 at about 8:30 pm. It’s been a long day. Tomorrow might just be Janet’s rest day.

Another El Cap Speed Record!

Yuij Hirayama, who we met previously, and Hans Florine just set another speed record on The Nose of El Capitan. They did the ascent in 2 hours, 37 minutes and 5 seconds, beating their fastest time by more than six minutes.
Check out the full article, photos and video on
Another phenomenal site: the daily El Cap report. Complete with photos taken with a telescope. I kid you not.


I have been climbing a lot. Too much in fact. Every day. Most of my body has been taking some serious abuse. My feet in particular have been taking some abuse. Turns out I had an open sore on my 2nd toe and got some dirt in it. That open sore got infected. The next day I had a dark red line running up my leg from my toes. That didn't look good. So I went to the local clinic. The doctor said that if I had waited a bit longer they would have had to amputate my frikken toe! Eina. That was close. I got a huge injection in my butt and an even bigger bill: $500 for about 15 minutes. That really hurt. So it's time for me to give it a rest for a few days.

Meeting all the famous climbers!

We couldnt have timed it better. Every night this week there has been something on at the Visitor Center in the Valley. We saw the new Film "The Sharp End", part of the Reel Rock Tour. Fantastic.
We have met: Alex Connold (free soloed the Rostrum and Astroman in a day, as well as Half Dome), Yuji Hirayama from Japan (El Cap speed record holder with Hans Florine); Dean Potter; Timmy O'Neill (the funny guy from return to Sender); Beth Rodden (can't believe how tiny she is); Chris Macnamara (author/owner of the Supertopo, the good topos we have been using). Incidentally, Yuji and Hans are currently working on a new record). Check out the photos, article and video on
All these famous climbers are in town as part of a Festival called the Yosemite face lift, where all the climbers help cleaning up the place.

Oh fuck, my rope is gone!

We are at the base of El Cap, the first pitch of the Nose. Robert wants to take some photos of me for First Ascent, one of my sponsors. We couldn't find a third person as a belayer today, so we have to improvise in order to not get any "butt-shots". Robert has rope-soloed up the first pitch and abseiled down halfway. It's my turn to rope solo up so that Robert can take some photos of me horizontally. I start off, and about halfway up the pitch I look down to see that my rope is gone "Oh fuck, where's my rope?" I shout out. I must have run out of rope and the end pulled through my Grigri that I was using to self-belay. Luckily the pitch was really easy and Robert's abseil ropes right there.... The photo shows Robert holding the end that I was attached to.

Shooed off El Cap.

We have been thinking about it for days. Over a cup of tea at 9 pm the green light decision was made. (there was a whisky involved as well). We are going to do The Nose in a day. It's a 3 am start at the house. We are roping up when we hear this huge rock fall. Not on top of us, but still terrifying. It lasts for 15 seconds, but seems to last forever. By 6 am we are climbing. Pitch 1 and 2 flew by. We pass the Norwegians. It’s getting light now. Then we pass the Americans. There is a roped soloist ahead of us. He knows what he is doing because he is motoring. He is climbing it all twice and still we are unable to catch him. We free a lot of it, with the odd french free moves inbetween to maintain speed. We swing leads. And then we did some swinging. We are climbing with Snort’s superskinny 8.1 dental floss ropes, where you have one to top rope/swing off and second rope is for hauling our haul bag (15 kg: 8 liter of water, 4 frozen cokes, duvet jacket for forced bivvy, potato salad, lots of sweets, Clif Bars, lots of Ibuprofen and local anesthetic). I am really psyched when it’s my turn to lead the Stoveleg pitch (Pitch 8/Grade 5.8), it’s an awesome-looking handcrack in a Sea of Granite. I do a full 60m, running it out about 10m because the hand jams are so good and because we were carrying a very light rack so there wasn’t more gear. Snort leads Pitch 9. The American party leader, Zak that we passed catches up to me while I am belaying. I had met Zak in Camp 4 before. He had lead all the pitches up to this point, so he is tired and now it’s his partners turn. Zak is planning on spending three to four days on the wall. We better hurry. Snort finishes his pitch, all the rope gets pulled, Snort shouts “On Belay”. I take my right shoe off the biner and put the shoe on. I then have to sort out some ropes for the hauling. That’s done. Now I reach for my left shoe. It was there. It’s not there. I look on the left side. It’s not there either. I look at Zak. “Can you see my shoe anywhere? I seem to have misplaced it. Are you playing a prank on me?”. Zak now does a hanging belay body search.. He confirms that it is gone. At that point we both simultaneously look down 300m. We both realize in an instant that we not going to see a single lonely climbing shoe at the base of El Cap. With a slightly higher note, Snort now shouts “On belay, you can climb now”. We don’t even have walking shoes so we both realize it’s game over for us. We did a lot of hard work getting to this point and I feel really terrible about this. We abseil off and waiting at the base patiently on top of a nice rock is my left foot Evolv Pontas lace shoe. Somebody saw it falling it out of the sky and didn’t think it was useful booty. All in all a rather embarrassing moment on The Nose.

Astroman, or is it Astroboy?

This has got to be the best route I have ever climbed. Or possibly the worst route I ever climbed. It was a tough one for me. I climbed it with Snort. He did it about 10 years ago. Astroman is the fancy name of a route that goes up the North Face of Washington Column, located opposite Half Dome.

The route is 12 pitches, and according to Chris McNamara of Supertopo, "it is one of the best long free routes in the United States". I would say it is THE best long free route that I have ever climbed. The technical crux is pitch 3, called the Boulder Problem, but the hardest part for me was the Harding Slot. You enter it via a move that Chris calls "chickenwing dyno into slot". I did it differently. It's graded 5.10, but the claustrophic squeeze chimney is just desperate. I tried every technique in the book and it took me the better part of an hour, squeezing myself up literally 1 cm at a time. You have to exhale at times to get through and up. I ended up sliding back down a number of times.

From Drop Box

Astroman is graded 5.11c, which is SA grade 23/24. But that climb was hard for me. Maybe it was pitch after pitch of sustained 5.10 and 5.11 climbing (only 3 of the 12 are 5.7-5.9). Or the Harding Slot. But I got a good workout that day.

There's a marvellous article called Astroboy that I just read about Astroman and the Harding Slot.

Sep 17: The Rostrum

Today I did the Rostrum again. This time with Snort. This is the 2nd time I did the route. I didn't mind climbing it twice in a week because it's so good. About a week ago I climbed it with Holly, an American woman, Investment Banker from New York. I lead all the pitches at the time. Today Snort and I traded leads. The route is graded 5.11c. The route must be one the best climbing routes in the world. We have been using a Guide Book called Supertopo, written by Chris Mcnamara. Chris writes "It is hard to imagine a more perfect pillar of rock than the Rostrum. The face averages dead vertical, the cracks are laser-cut and the climb endds on spire-like sumit block." I could not have put it better. The North Face route we did is 8 full-length rope pitches (making it higher than Blouberg, as Snort candidly observed!) . When I did it with Holly I did the Alien Finish, which is 5.12b, my hardest lead so far in Yosemite. I was happy! When I did the route with Snort a week later we alternated leads and did the regular 5.9 off-width. But we had done Snake Hike the day before so I was a bit tired from the previous day. This is a world-classic route.

Sending the Hoover, 5.13a

Today I sent a really hard new route. It's located in Fish Camp. and it's called the Hoover. Robert and Snort were encouraging me all day to give it a try. In the end I flashed it! I would grade it 5.13a/28 SA grade.

Sep 16: Snake Dike - a fun day out up Half Dome

Sep 16: Today Gosia, Snort, Robert and I climbed to the top of Half Dome via a route called Snake Dike. In fact it should be called Snake Hike, more on that later. Robert has been to Yosemite many times. He has been wanting to do this route for a long time. It almost didn't happen. We hiked up in 3 hours in warm, sunny weather. We rope up at the base of Half Dome. There's a German party in front of us. Robert and Charles go first, Gosia and I are 2nd. As we start climbing the weather changes in literally minutes. At the end of the first pitch the wind is just howling, dark blue thunder clouds everywhere. It is starting to rain. Halfdome is notorious for lightning strikes. And climbing wet granite slabs is not my idea of fun at the best of times. So we quickly descend. We decide to wait a while, we do have enough time left to still do the route. It does indeed clear, and an hour later we are off again. We run up 8 pitches of a huge dike. Think "Sands of Time" on Paarl Rock except pink and about one meter wide. The walk down is horrendous. We get back at about 7 pm. A good day: 1,500 m altitude gain, climbed 9 pitches, walked 24 km. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Cracks are hard work!

Yosemite is mostly about cracks: tips, fingers, thin hands, hands, fist, butterfly, off-width, squeeze, chimney. I haven't been using tape because I tried to tape my hands and couldn't do the onsight as my hands couldn't fit in the crack - now my hands just take the punishment. My back and shoulders look even worse from the Slot pitch we did on Astroman. It was hell. The good news about all the cracks: I am finding the lines very aesthetic and the crack lines make route finding really simple. just follow the crack up - duh. Not like Cape Town where you often wander if you are on route or not.

Sep 9: Right Side of the Folly

On Tuesday, Charles (Snort) and I climbed 'The Good Book' a.ka. 'The Right Side of the Folly'. It's arguably one the best layback climbs in Yosemite. Five stars.
It's 6 pitches: 2 pitches of 5.9, then a spectacular layback crack, grade 5.10d, followed by 5.11b tips/layback, a strenuous 5.10c handcrack, last pitch a body-toning 15m runout offwidth without any pro. Character-building.

Sep 10: I did Separate Reality!

Today was a great day. In the morning we all went to Middle Cathedral Peak. I warmed up on Pee Pee Pillar, 5.10a. In the afternoon we headed out to try one of my 'Yosemite tick list projects', a roof jam route called Separate Reality. This legendary rock climb was opened by Ron Kauk in 1978 and is graded 5.12a, SA grade 24 and has been soloed a few times since. The climb is a very strenuous horizontal hand crack through a roof that is split so you can see the sky though the crack. The crux is actually exiting the roof: you have to toe hook with both feet over and around the edge of the roof. On my first attempt I made the mistake of taping up and couldn't do one jam move. On my second attempt I didn't use tape and sent it. Yippeee!!
This was one of my to-do list items and I am so happy I did it.
Check out the great video that Robert took hanging over the edge of the roof. Click on the URL link below to open a new youtube window, or click on the Blogger video image to play it here.

Why I am not a sailor.

Why am I a climber and not a sailor? Many years ago, when I grew up in Hermanus, I went dinghy-sailing. So we are out there and tacking and the boom was about to come smashing over and hit me. So someone shouts "duck". So I asked "Where is this damn duck?". The rest is history.

Sep 7: Midnight Lightning

I arrived in Camp 4 on Wednesday afternoon. Of course I had to try the classic boulder problem called "Midnight Lightning", situated right in the middle of the camp ground. I kept falling off the stupid mantle, it's damn high. Took me a few mornings to get it. I think the problem is graded V8 or 7b+.

Sep 6: Arriving in Yosemite

After overnighting in San Francisco, I had to do some more trains, planes and automobiles.

Or a BART tube ride, then an AMTRAK train to Merced, and from there a big busrid to Yosemite Valley.

Finally, we enter the Valley. Slowly the hills become mountains, and the sheer granite cliffs start appearing.

And then all of a sudden you are in it. The huge vertical cliffs.I am like a school kid in a bus. Going from one side to the other, taking pictures, gawking away. WOW.

and then El Capitan appears. It is HUGE. I think "There is no way I am going near that one!". A little later Half Dome appears.

Sep 5: Getting there.

I managed to get all my climbing and camping gear into one newly purchased huge backback. I was really excited to finally get on the plane. Wow what a flight. Or three flights to be exact. I flew from Cape Town to Jo'burg, then to Paris, then to San Francisco. I watched about 3 movies: Indiana Jones, Sex in the City, slept a bit, watched another movie. 30 hours. Boy was I glad to get off the plane. Nice to be able to stretch the legs again. Then it was a tube ride to friends of friends in San Francisco where I spent the night.