It had been a long time coming. Tesia and I had been in contact about climbing a wall for a little over a year. Last season didn’t pan out for us as a pair because of her objectives and my full time job in San Francisco. But this year things were a lot different. I had been hanging around Yosemite thinking and talking about doing a wall but not making any moves. Erik Sloan caught wind of my desires and mentioned something to Tesia. This is where the Skull Queen in a day was born. I had headed back to Tahoe for a bit and Tesia and I communicated here and there. She had several things she wanted to do and I was just siked to do anything. Though I must say I was more attracted to the objectives that didn’t involve hauling. I looked over the things she wanted to do and quickly said lets do Lurking Fear in a day! It had been something I had been wanting to do for awhile and honestly I had never heard of the Skull Queen. She quickly came back with well lets first start with Skull Queen in a day and go from there. A quick glance at my Big Wall book, and I was siked! Skull Queen is situated just right of the South Face on the Washington Column and depending on what book you look at it, it goes at V 5.8 C2+ and is only 11 pitches. The perfect warm up for a much more committing climb like Lurking Fear and to get all the cob webs dusted off from the winter season of inactivity.
We decided to blast on the day after memorial day weekend a Tuesday just to let all of the crowds leave before we got in. I drove down to Yosemite from Tahoe Monday afternoon. When I got there Tesia and I met in the meadow to sort gear and get ready for the big day the next day. We discussed strategy and gear and at about 9pm decided the best idea was to sleep at the base. Then it was go time. We quick packed gear and double checked everything. Food, water, gear, ropes, sunglasses… I drove to the stables only to find that they no longer allow overnight parking. This threw a wrench in our plans and I was feeling anxious about the coming day. We finally concluded that the best option was to park at curry and bike to the trailhead. My massive haul bag on my back and our day pack strapped to my front I felt unstable as we peddled away from the vehicles. It was 10pm and I knew the next 24hrs where going to be long.
I followed Tesia through the woods and to the base where we stashed our bikes. I was feeling tired from the previous days of running and the long drive. We quickly transitioned into hiking and with a little route finding difficulty was on our way to the cliff. We barely spoke but hiked through the darkness. Head down and sweat pouring of my skin I watched all the insects scurry across the ground as my headlamp exposed them from the dark. Quickly we were at the base of cliff. Now it was just time to find an appropriate bivy spot to sleep for the night. We hiked along the base for a bit until we came to a nice overhung rock creating a flat place to sleep. Now close to midnight we setup camp. Tesia had a sleeping pad but I did not, so I flacked the rope out and laid my sleeping bag on top of it. We laid there looking at the stars and chatting for a bit before Tesia fell asleep. I tossed and turned almost all night. The rope didn’t make as nice of a crash pad as I had hoped or maybe it was just the excitement.
The alarmed chirped at 4:30am and I sprung from rope bed. I must have only slept about an hour. Tesia started to drink her coffee and I was wide awake. We tried to use the bathroom and started to head on our way. By the time we reached the base it was close to 6am. Another party showed up and we chatted as Tesia took the lead. She freed the first two pitches while I jugged. The plan was for me to free the third and then I would take the next block of 4 pitches. I made it up the third pitch much slower than expected and more french free than anything. I belayed Tesia up and was headed on my way for the 4th pitch. This was the crux for me. It was the heat of the day and I was rusty on aiding. I battled my way up over the roof and up the perfect low angle crack to another roof which proved to be the crux. My rope got stuck three times causing me to aid and then down aid three times to get the rope unstuck. By the time I got to the anchor I knew that it had taken me too long. I was sun burnt, dehydrated, and worked. I short fixed only to realize I had forgotten the tag line and would not be able to tag up any gear. It was a bolt ladder so I figured I could salvage what I could and continued climbing.
Crisis mode was not over yet. I made it up the thin section and fifi-ed into the first bolt. I had to pee really bad. I made one more move and then realized it was an emergancy. Drapped in pounds of gear and hanging from my harness I peed my pants. Shit I thought I’m going to be all wet and gross all day now. The good news was that the wind had just started to pickup and my pants almost dried immediately I looked down at Tesia who had just arrived at the belay and said “Hey do my pants look wet”. She laughed and was like yep. To which I responded in light heartedness "yep totally just peed myself". After that mini epic the bolt ladder went fast and instead of taking the next two pitches I waited for Tesia and she took the next two. The 7th pitch required a few mandatory free moves even for the follower. I was not siked as I mantled on to the belay ledge with nothing but my grigri connected. The sun was still high and we only had 4 more pitches to go. I didn’t want to be descending in the dark and was feeling apprehensive about the whole situation. I was scared, tired, smelly, and we still had the three crux pitches left. I made a suggestion about bailing to which Tesia said she had thought about it but she wanted to go atleast the next two pitches and see how we feel. As she left the belay I knew we were going to the top.
Tesia made quick and easy progress of the next two C2 pitches. I jugged fast behind her and I felt like we had finally hit a stride. The first half of the route was just a warm up. Standing below the last crux pitch number 10. Tesia looked at me and I knew it was mine. She had just led a block of 4 pitches not to mention two of the hardest pitches. She asked if I wanted my headlamp and I firmly said no it’ll be motivation to climb faster. I missed the crucial beta to stay left at the belay and ended up making some very scary moves close off the deck and wasted valuable time. Once I finally got moving I was moving. My hands bleeding I made my way steady up the loose crumbly crack having pieces of granite explode in my face as I tested my pro. I clipped into the lower out tat for a second and in that split second I was falling. The old tat had exploded and I was wizing down to be caught by my daisy. No time to stop I kept moving. Now was the scary part two hook moves, followed by two rivet moves, followed by two hook moves and the anchor. Hook, hook, rivet, rivet, cam, hook, hook, bam! The smell of hot metal rose from the rock and little chunks of granite sprayed into my eyes. I was run out on a traverse and clipped into two hooks. The hook I was fifi-ed into blew and just like that I was back on my daisy being caught by my other hook. I couldn’t believe that my hook caught a static full length daisy fall but I was thankful. I clipped the anchors and Tesia jugged up behind.
Miss informed again Tesia changed into her free shoes to free the final pitch. We switched on our headlamps and she blasted off the belay. It turned out to be much harder than 10b and she pulled through most of the pitch. I followed behind on the jugs and we were finally done. In a full on 15 hour day up on the rock. Now was the decision to rap the repel route or to walk down the north dome gully. We decided to repel for speed reasons. We got setup and made the first repel from the Skull Queen to the well traveled South Face repel route. As we started to pull the rope we realized this wasn’t going to be easy. The rope got stuck. We stood tired and exhausted facing the sad decision that we would need to re-lead this pitch to free the rope. The good news was that it was 5.2. Tesia, having done it before, led up and freed the rope. I promised that if it got stuck again I would go up and free it. A few more tugs on the rope and it was stuck again. Tesia decided it was easier for her to lead it again and went up and freed the rope. This time she was certain it wouldn’t get stuck but once again…. a few more pulls lodged the rope again. Tesia like a real trooper went up and freed the rope one final time. I can’t express how thankful I was that she did that over and over again. As we setup for the next repel we kept hoping it wouldn’t get stuck again. 10 repels later we were down at the base but far from being done. We hiked back to our bivy, packed all of our stuff up, and started the hike back to the bikes. This time we laughed and talked about how ridiculous the day was. When we reached the bikes we were on the home stretch back to vehicles. And by the time we got to the cars it was 3am. I couldn’t believe the day we had. As I threw a few things in the van I headed straight to the curry showers were I scrubbed the hard day off of my skin.
My sausage wall fingers lasted for about three days and my puffy swollen sunburnt lips lasted about the same time. But like all big pushes life moves on as quickly as it stopped. And I know Tesia and I will get back at it again even if its not till the cool months.