Royal Arches 3x YVF

Thu, Jun 7, 2012

With: Adam Jantz

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
previously climbed Sat, Jul 12, 2008


Royal Arches is one of the classic adventure rock climbs in Yosemite Valley. It isn't technically very hard, 5.7 at most if one uses the pendulum rope, but it's quite long at 15-17 pitches, depending on who's doing the counting (Reid and SuperTopo don't exactly agree). Plus at the end one still has two hours to walk off via North Dome Gully or even longer if returning via the Yosemite Falls Trail. All in all it makes for a very full day, even if a party is efficient and fast with the rock climbing. I knew if we traded leads that we would be hours longer because Adam was not only new at lead climbing and placing pro, but unfamiliar with the route, some of whose twists and turns are far from obvious. So in the selfish interest of getting back before dark, I simply told Adam I'd do all the leads - this allowed me to also selfishly do the leads for those pitches I had missed on my first effort up Royal Arches a few years earlier.

After spending the night roguishly sleeping in the back of our vehicles in the Valley, we met up at the Ahwahnee Meadow picnic area at 6:30a. We then finished getting our gear together and relocated to the Ahwahnee parking area nearer the start of the route. Another climbing party was there getting ready when we pulled up, but they were carrying far too much gear for Royal Arches, complete with an 80lb white sack (the infamous pig) on one guy's back. They were headed to "Serenity", a 3-pitch climb nearby. Their gear seemed more than needed for such a short climb, but perhaps that was just the start of their plans. In any case, we wouldn't be sharing the start of Royal Arches with them, giving us a chance to relax.

We were much faster getting our act together at the first pitch compared with the day prior. The first pitch goes up an awkward chimney (aren't all chimneys awkward?) and to make life easier I climbed it without my pack, giving Adam the added burden of hauling it up after himself. Another party arrived about the time Adam started up, putting some pressure on us to get our act together or let them pass by another pitch or two higher. Adam struggled some with the extra burden of both his pack on his shoulders and mine, trailing behind on a length of rope, much the same as I recall doing myself when I followed Michael up this pitch. It seems to take forever, but once the first pitch is done things start to move much quicker.

At the top of P1 we coiled up the rope and scrambled the next two pitches solo fashion. P3 was the harder of the two with some spicy friction in one or two sections, but we both managed them well with cautious and deliberate climbing. P4 began the belayed climbing which would continue for the rest of the climb. Some pitches were easier than others and in these I might place only one or two pieces between belays, but others took more time and consequently more gear to protect. I was happy to free the short section on P6 that I had cheated on previously, and also managed to do a decent job on P8, a strenous bit of crack climbing that I recall struggling on while following behind Michael.

It was 11a before we reached the pendulum on P10. There were two ropes available and on one I tied a prussik for backup in case I let go for some reason. The pendulum itself went smoothly and I left the prussik for Adam to use when he followed a short time later. I'm not sure whether it was a blessing or curse that we were using Adam's full-sized rope, 60m / 10.2mm. It made stretching out a pitch quite easy though I did run out of rope on several occasions as I passed by the normal belay points either knowingly or otherwise. There was often a lot of friction when belaying from above and my back muscles bore the brunt of that effort. It was not easy hauling up such a heavy rope. It's far easier to belay from below where the worst is usually a sore neck from trying to watch what's going on above, but that's the price I had to pay for my insistence on taking all the leads.

The Canoe Tree on P12 provided additional excitement. I wish I could find a way to do that pitch without relying on the dead end of the tree to pull up on - Lord knows how long that piece of history is going to last, and it is always unnerving depending on the low-hanging branch to keep one from plummeting down. Of course once I was safely ensconced in the better part of the tree higher up and was belaying Adam, I found amusement when Adam came to the same point and asked if there wasn't a better way. We made it to the Jungle at the end of P17 around 2:30p, following the friction slabs that lead an entire pitch across the face of the route. We found little water but luckily were still carrying enough Gatorade to get us off the mountain comfortably. We also belayed for the short section past the Jungle though most parties seem to do without the ropes at this point. We never did see the other parties (at least two were following behind us for a while) past P10, so we must have been making decent time. In fact the initial two gentlemen on the route behind us we never saw after the 6th pitch. It was a woman we found belaying her partner near the start of P10 before we got well ahead of them.

It was 3p by the time we were ready to coil up the rope. It had taken about the same 8hrs to climb the route as it had on my first visit. I'm not getting any faster, but at least I'm getting older - that's good, right? We scrambled the roots and dirt between the rocks and trees to make our way to the rim where we found the nicely ducked and easy to follow use trail over to Washington Column and from there to North Dome Gully. It took almost exactly what was predicted - an hour to traverse to the gully and another hour to descend. The trail on the traverse east of Washington Column seemed easier to follow this time and we lost it only near the very end where it seemed to dissolve into smaller threads that all lead into the gully, one way or another.

It was nearly 5p before we reached the trail on the Valley floor below where we reconnected with civilization via graffiti, piles of horse poop, and the usual cyclists, hikers, boulderers and others that play on the Valley's network of trails. When we got back to the Ahwahnee parking lot we found folks circling the lot in search of parking spaces, eager to know if we were leaving (not for 20 minutes we told more than a few disappointed motorists). The one available spot across from our vehicles was inacccessible thanks to an inconsiderate driver who parked his Ford Expedition across two spots - ironic perhaps that he happened to have New York plates, but we were happy to condemn the entire state in abstentia.

Our finish coincided nicely with Laura and Tom's return to the valley. We had last left them 5-6 days earlier when we bailed on the PNW plan. They were planning (more like hoping) to still climb McLaughlin, Shasta and Conness's North Ridge. I had already heard that the first two didn't happen - high winds allowed them only as far as Helen Lake on Shasta. Over dinner in Curry Village we'd find that lingering snows kept them off North Peak's NW Ridge and Conness's North Ridge. Tom was feeling a bit down from too-few successes on his week-long vacation, so I felt it was my job to correct the situation with some Yosemite adventures. He was certain to get his fill over the next few days...


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