Manure Pile Buttress
Crane Flat Lookout P300

Wed, May 15, 2013

With: Adam Jantz

Manure Pile Buttress
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2


Manure Pile Buttress is a Yosemite Valley rock feature, about 500ft in height found on the north side of the Valley in the Eagle Creek drainage between El Cap and Three Brothers. It has been a popular rock climbing site for more than five decades. Before then it was called "Ranger Rock" when used by park rangers for rescue practice. One of the more popular routes on the rock is After Six, a 4-5 pitch route first climbed by Yvon Chouinard in 1965. Adam had been eager to climb the route before we came to the Valley for a few days of scrambling and climbing, but his mood had changed somewhat when we got up in the morning of the second day to give it a go. He had become more melancholy about it following our much longer than expected adventure on Three Brothers, but was at least willing to give it a go. We were not the first rock climbers to the El Cap picnic area when we arrived there sometime after 7a, but luckily for us the large group that had gotten an earlier start was heading to Nutcracker, another popular route about 100 yards to the right of After Six.

There was little about our climb of After Six to be regarded as a model of climbing speed and proficiency. Even getting started was a chore. Though there is a fine restroom located at the parking lot, Adam waited until we had walked the short distance to the start of our route before determining he really needed to use the potty. Almost half an hour was consumed by this and other preparations before Adam ever took the first step onto the route. As promised, all the pitches were his to lead today, though I don't think he cared much with his mood. I was a terrible belayer, to be honest. A good one would have stood by the base of the cliff until a few pieces of pro had been placed to minimize any fall potential. I chose to sit on a rock and make myself comfortable first, worry about Adam falling second. It was a long wait. So maybe it was good I wasn't standing there getting frustrated, but was instead prepared to chill. The mosquitoes were mildly annoying but not all that bad. Though south-facing, the base of the route is nicely shaded and the temperature was cool and quite pleasant in the morning. Several groups came up after we'd started, eyeing the same route. Half an hour had passed and Adam had gotten maybe 40ft up that first pitch, the crux of the route. I whispered to the waiting group, "It's going to be a while." They got the hint and moved off to find an alternate. Some minutes later a group of three came strolling up with the same idea in mind. They were told the same thing and decided to do After Seven, a slightly harder variation of the same route that has a different line for the first pitch. I guessed they'd probably get up to the top of the pitch before Adam, so I didn't mind that they pursued that line.

Meanwhile, Adam continued to struggle at the crux and I was coming out of my coma. I really wanted to get somewhere today. Adam paused and commented, "I guess I'm not feeling it today." I wanted to yell and shout at him to stop being a pussy and climb the f**king thing, but that wouldn't have been a very nice gesture. Not that that should really bother me, by the way. Instead I suggested maybe I could have a go at it. So I lowered him down off his last piece and we traded places. It was easy getting to the spot he stopped at with a top rope and I made short work of it in a couple of minutes. At the crux I bypassed the crack with poor holds he had struggled at, choosing to move out to the right a short distance to face climb around the problem. That accomplished, the climbing became easier and I went about finishing up the pitch by placing a few more cams on my way up.

The group of three were making good progress all this time. They had two guys around my age, a bit paunchy but experienced, or so they seemed. The third was a younger lad, more climber-looking than the others, who was doing his first multi-pitch climb. Their leader was quiet but efficient, an excellent climber by my observations. The second was not nearly as good as he had talked. He seemed to struggle, hesitated a lot, and made loud grunting noises and other exclamations suggesting a difficult effort. I judged him to be more talk than walk. The inexperienced third climbed about the same rate as the second, but without all the grunting. They managed to get to the top of that first pitch before me and belayed from a tree above the usual first belay tree on After Six. I set up shop and belayed Adam up. He was much better with a top rope and had little trouble. When I had lowered him earlier, we had talked about maybe just doing the first pitch and either rapping off or taking the walk-off to the west because Adam was feeling out of sorts. Now that he had climbed the first pitch, I asked if he wanted to continue. He did. Problem was we had left our packs at the bottom with all our water in them so we'd only be able to climb as high as our thirst would allow. I thought this might be only a couple of pitches, but somehow we managed to climb the whole darn thing without anything to drink for more than seven hours. Yes, we were that damn slow.

It wasn't entirely our doing, the slowness. Turns out the party of three was not climbing any faster than us now that Adam had gotten some of his mojo back and there was a lot of sitting around and waiting. Again, I didn't mind all that much as the belay stances tended to be pretty comfortable, the views were outstanding, and the weather a delight. This last part was key because our extra clothing was down there in our packs with the Gatorade and we wouldn't be able to layer up if things got brisk. Adam led the remaining pitches, some five or six all told, more than normal but preferable since there was some wind and it was hard to hear each other if too far apart. The slower party ahead of us meant we had extra time anyway to shorten the pitches as desired. There was a mix of crack and face climbing that was as enjoyable as advertised. Sometime after 2p we finished up the rock climb portion atop After Six. While Adam went about coiling our rope, I scrambled up the remaining 150ft or so of class 3 to the top of Manure Pile Buttress to take in the views. There is a fine view of Three Brothers from the top.

Scrambling back down to Adam, the party ahead of us had already departed. One of the Nutcracker parties was just finishing up next to us and getting ready to head down. Adam's feet had taken a beating as his rock shoes are a bit cramped and 7hrs was far too long to have his feet mashed into them. Our boots of course were down at the base with our packs. Adam decided he'd rather walk down barefoot than in his rock shoes. I winced at the huge heel blisters that were revealed when he took them off. "Oh, those aren't even the worst of it," he commented, "those happen all the time." Ouch. At the same time I was feeling sorry for him, I was impressed that he could walk down this rugged class 2-3 descent barefoot. We walked down together at a slow pace about half the distance, then I sped up to get back quicker. The humane thing seemed to be to retrieve his boots and bring them back to him to save him some additional suffering. The first thing that I noticed when I got to the base of the route was that our packs were missing. Dammit! Thieves! Then I thought to look in the bearbox and sure enough our packs had been placed inside. A ranger had left a note that he had done this to keep the stuff out of a bear's reach. Stupid us. We hadn't planned on doing more than the one pitch when we left them hours earlier and hadn't even considered the bear risk. I got Adam's boots and returned to meet him through the bouldery understory of the oak forest the use trail travels through. Adam didn't bother to tie the laces when he put them on, tired as he was and not caring all that much. I half-expected him to trip over them on the way back, but he managed without stumbling.

Back at the base again, a ranger came by with a paintball gun. He was out hunting bear. Seemed like it could be a fun job. I apologized for leaving the packs out, getting us a well-meaning mini lecture. We deserved it, anyway. He went on to continue his bear hunt while we hiked back to the car. It was 3p when we were all said and done, possibly the longest effort yet for After Six. Adam declared he was done with rock climbing for the season. He'd had enough. I'd have to find someone else the next time I came back to the Valley. Overall, I thought it had been a fairly fun outing despite the lengthy effort.

On my way out of Yosemite I decided to stop at Crane Flat, a 1.5 mile detour off SR120 near the gas station junction inside the park. There is a short half mile trail to the lookout tower that crowns the flat summit. Almost entirely paved, the summit is now used for helicopter rescue training by the Park Service. I went up to the tower's deck to watch operations that were going on while I was there. A group of five or six rangers, all ladies as far as I could tell, were taking turns getting rides in pairs of two from a cable dangling 75ft or so from the helicopter. It looked like great fun and the rangers seemed to be enjoying themselves. Sometimes low-paying jobs pay off in other ways...

Anonymous comments on 05/30/13:
"I wanted to yell and shout at him to stop being a pussy and climb the f**king thing, but that wouldn't have been a very nice gesture"

-I'm sure Ryan's used to such an attitude by now, so why spare Adam?
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