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Climbing
I'd like to apologize for the weak content of this section.  Climbing is just something I've never gotten into, and I'm the last guy you should ask about this incredible sport. 

Spring Peregrine Falcon protection restrictions outlined here: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/climbingclosures.htm

Vertical Velocity in Yosemite Go Here
from Climbing magazine's May 1, 2001 issue

Supertopo.com is the BEST source of information on Yosemite climbing.  Routes, topos, narratives, etc.

Climbing.com | California FourteenersBig Wall Climbing | Beth Coates and Steph Davis trip up El Cap 

Yosemite is mountaineering Mecca.

(6/24/05) Shorthaul Rescue from El Capitan
The park’s emergency communications center received a call on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 1st, reporting a climber fall and injury about 800 feet up on the East Buttress Route on El Capitan.  The injured climber, Tiquran Avakian, a Russian national, had taken a 15-foot fall while lead climbing on the eighth pitch. The route at the accident site was wet from mist blowing over from Horse Tail Falls. Avakian's fall was arrested by his climbing rope, but he hit a ledge and injured his back and pelvis. This caused him some difficulty breathing. He also hit his head, but luckily was wearing a helmet. Avakian’s climbing partners lowered him a short distance to a large ledge. Rangers Leslie Reynolds and Jack Hoeflich were shorthauled to the accident site under Yosemite’s contract helicopter. The rangers secured Avakian in a vacuum body splint and Stokes litter and he was extricated from the cliff face by shorthaul.

Climber Fatality in Yosemite National Park (7/2/03)
Yosemite National Park Rangers are investigating a climbing fatality that happened late in the afternoon on July 2. A 48-year-old man was a member of a four-person climbing party attempting to climb the West Pillar of Eichorn Pinnacle near Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows. He fell approximately 250 feet. Rangers were notified by cell phone and responded to the scene. An investigation to determine the cause of the fall is underway.

Rescue from El Capitan (5/4/03)
On the evening of May 4th, Scott Ring, 25, of Wilmington, New York, fell 30 feet while climbing the seventh pitch of the Zodiac, a big wall route on El Capitan, with his partner Cam McKenzie. Ring struck a ledge during the fall, fracturing his pelvis. Despite pain that he described as nine on a scale of ten, he began rappelling off the cliff. At 9 p.m., he used his cell phone to call a friend living in Yosemite, who alerted the park. The park rescue team hiked half a mile up the steep talus slope to the base of the route and prepared to climb to Ring's assistance. Ring, however, managed to continue his descent all the way to the ground, a process that necessitated passing a knot joining his ropes while hanging in a waterfall in the dark. Park medics treated Ring with IV fluid and morphine for his pain, and the team carried him down the slope, reaching the road at 2:20 a.m. Ring was transported by ground ambulance to the Mariposa airport, then flown to Memorial Hospital in Modesto by Mediflight helicopter. He was released later the same day to convalesce at home. Twenty-three rescuers participated in the incident, most of them required for the carryout.

Climber dies in fall A climber who had taken a significant fall died before rangers could rescue him in Yosemite National Park on May 31, 2003. Christopher Hampson, 25, of Breckenridge, CO died from head injuries sustained in the fall. Yosemite Search and Rescue received a report of a climber that had taken a 150-foot fall on the Overhang Bypass Route of Lower Cathedral Peak at approximately 11:30 am. Hampson was 800 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. He initially survived the fall but died before rescuers could climb to him. Rangers reached Hampson at approximately 2:00 pm and, after a medical assessment, pronounced him dead at the scene. Rangers are investigating the cause of the fall.

 

Vertical Velocity
excerpted from Climbing magazine May 1, 2001 issue.
Turning Back Time in Yosemite's Latest Golden Era

By Chris McNamara

August, 1999. I am 800 feet up the Shield when it hits me: I am breaking almost every rule I learned in Rock 101. Simul-climbing behind Cedar Wright on El Cap, I slam hands and feet into 5.7 hand cracks and abandon any elegance to shave time off the ticking clock. Suddenly, Cedar hits easier terrain and picks up the pace even more. The rope to my harness snaps tight, goes slack, then yanks tight again. Clearly, Cedar wants me to get a move on.

"Fix the rope. I can't keep up," I yell to him.

"Rope's fixed!" Cedar shouts, only seconds later.

I grab the rope, paste my feet flat on the wall, and lean out into space. With sobering clarity I see that the rope runs straight from my harness to Cedar, who didn't bother to place any protection between us. I take a deep breath, then frantically climb hand-over-hand, Batman-style, up the rope. Flaming forearms just get me the 75 feet to his ledge. Spent, I flop onto the stance and glance at Cedar, who is braced in a squat position. He carries a rack of cams, but hasn't placed any for the anchor. Cedar is the anchor.

Cedar's audacious approach gets us up the first 14 pitches of the Grade VI in a little over two hours. On Gray Ledges, the halfway point, we switch leads and I begin my block of 10 A3 pitches. Instantly, the sweeping exposure and heady runouts fade from my mind, replaced by the focused rush of moving up steep rock at a blistering pace. Ten hours and 58 minutes from the time we tied into the rope, Cedar and I high five on the summit. I take things in briefly and then race back to the Valley floor for a stab at adding Zodiac to the day.

The Shield was my introduction to the new brand of big-wall speed climbing, a game of few protection placements and even less margin for error. A game that in 1999 reduced many of Yosemite's proud Grade VIs from multi-day to multi-hour affairs

Some of the most recent speed tactics may be new, but speed climbing isn't. In 1961, Steve Roper and Frank Sacherer chopped an hour and a half off Sentinel's Steck-Salathé record, then held by Royal Robbins and Joe Fitschen, by climbing the route in just over eight hours. Robbins, who watched Roper and Sacherer's ascent through binoculars, greeted the pair afterward with congratulations and champagne. He then waited a day, teamed up with Tom Frost, and blazed up the route in 3:15, demolishing Roper and Sacherer's time by more than five hours. "So shocked was I by this feat that I neglected to buy champagne," wrote Roper in his book Camp 4.

Why the need for speed? According to Roper, "It was not so much speed for its own sake, but to nicely better the time of our competitors. Nobody referred to it as speed climbing. We just thought of it as one-upmanship."

Almost 40 years later, in February 1999, Climbing ran a photo of Dean Potter soloing high on Half Dome's Regular Northwest Face. Potter, a talented boulderer and free soloist, had turned to speed climbing when a tendon injury held him back from his normal diet of V10s. On Half Dome, he carried a light free-climbing rack and rope, but free soloed pitches up to 5.11 and "French freed" the aid sections, yarding from one placement to the next, at times totally committed to a single piece of fixed gear. Potter's tactics let him blitz Half Dome in four hours and 17 minutes -- a full 16 hours faster than the previous solo record.

Few people could or would climb as boldly as Potter, but his big runouts and innovative ways of climbing fast turned the heads of Yosemite's local free climbers. Though he and the likes of Hans Florine, Jose Pereyra, Tim O'Neill, Russ Mitrovich, Miles Smart, Steve Schneider, Eric George, and others were there to tick off Yosemite's free routes, they realized that if they applied their free skills to the big walls they could rewrite the book on speed climbing. And if in the process they struck up a little friendly rivalry, all the better.

Up to 1998 most speed climbers had spent years climbing big walls in standard multi-day style, improving their times by finding more efficient methods to rig hauling systems and belay stations. Climbing faster wasn't as much a function of developing new techniques as it was of refining old ones. This all changed when 1999's cast of players, many of whom had never slept in a portaledge or led a real nailing pitch, set their speed-climbing sights on Yosemite's big walls. Paradoxically, their inexperience forced them to invent their own tactics. The result was a hair-raising approach, heavy on speed and light on protection. In the coming year, the inspired Yosemite regulars took up the challenge and slashed more than 40 records. Some incorporated Potter's blend of free soloing and ropeless aid soloing, but the majority used "short-fixing."

Short-fixing works like this: The leader climbs to a belay, pulls up the slack on the 60-meter lead line, fixes the rope to the belay, and then continues leading, self-belaying on the section of slack rope. Meanwhile, the second jumars the pitch and, upon reaching the belay, puts the leader back on belay. Properly executed, short-fixing all but eliminates belay transitions and down time. But because the leader and second seldom if ever meet at the belay, there are few opportunities for the leader to replenish the rack. Result: The leader back cleans, or removes the gear behind him, for up to 70 feet or more on A1 or A2, and may not place gear at all on free pitches easier than 5.10. The leader often forgoes a self-belay once he's anchored the rope, and instead launches off with a 70-foot loop of rope hanging from his harness. "There is a similar feeling to free soloing," says O'Neill. "In many sections you know you absolutely can't fall." Furthering the commitment, most speed teams dispense with "non-essential" gear. No retreat rope, no descent shoes, no bivy gear, no headlamp, no drill kit.

Throughout 1999, short-fixing facilitated an unprecedented series of speed ascents. In March, Potter and Smart raced up Tangerine Trip in 11:56, cutting more than six hours off the old record. May and June each saw three new records. In July, six. August, seven. September, six. October, eight. And these times were not just broken, they were crushed. The time on the Shield went from 18:05 to 10:58. The North America Wall, once called by Roper "the most difficult rock climb ever done," was climbed in nine and a half hours instead of its original nine and a half days, and a full 12 hours faster than the previous record of 21:48. Mitrovich obliterated the speed solo record for Zodiac by dispensing with the rope altogether, and simply using three daisy chains to clip from placement to placement. Mitrovich's 12-hour solo ascent cut the previous record by almost eight hours, and took solo speed climbing to a new level of boldness.

Bold tactics were also kicked in for tackling some of El Cap's hardest nail-ups. In a little over a month, a trio that usually included Mitrovich, George, and Sean Leary made continuous "push" ascents, ones that required hard nailing and hooking in the dead of night, of five tenuous nail-ups. Wyoming Sheep Ranch (VI 5.9 A4), normally a week-long outing, was climbed in 29:31. The time of seven days on Kaos (VI A4) was boiled down to 27:50.

If it was hard to ignore the accelerated times posted on Yosemite Grade VIs, it was equally hard to ignore the risks taken to achieve them. Many observers predicted that it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously injured or killed. But during this two-year burst of record setting not a single person sustained an injury. Evidently, the climbers who were bold enough to set the pace were also focused enough to not blow it.

Not that there weren't moments of excitement. On the Nose, at the end of a lower-out into the Stovelegs, Tim O'Neill felt that something was wrong with his rigging. Even so, rather than double-check his systems and burn a couple of precious minutes, he released his lower-out rope. Instead of swinging a few feet to the right, O'Neill watched the featured granite in front of him blur as he accelerated in a free-fall. One hundred feet later he jolted to a stop on the end of his rope. In his haste, O'Neill had failed to attach his jumars to the rope. He wasn't injured, but the incident was a heads-up reminder to everyone.

Thankfully, most other incidents weren't life-threatening. On the chimney pitches on Half Dome's Regular Northwest Face, Potter and Pereyra faced a difficult passing situation: A climber splayed just ahead of them in a wide stem. Instead of waiting for the leader to finish the pitch, Potter threaded himself between the climber and the rock. The baffled leader hardly had time to react before Pereyra, simul-climbing behind Potter, also wormed his way through the human tunnel. Potter and Pereyra continued to the summit in 2:56, a record at the time.

Valley climbers have reduced many Grade VI climbs to day-long outings, but don't expect other vertical 3000-foot walls around the globe to submit so easily. The extraordinary amount of fixed gear on the walls is unique to Yosemite. Many trade routes like the Nose, Zodiac, and the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome are permanently laden with fixed nuts, cams, pitons and even some ropes at pendulum points. Fixed gear means that the intricate nutting pitches of days past, such as the Great Roof on the Nose, are mere clip-ups needing little but a rack of quickdraws. While fixed gear muddies the waters, other issues, such as clipping another party's gear in passing, and when to start and stop the clock, are beginning to raise eyebrows.

Says Florine, "I would like people to do [all] things in the same style, so that we can accurately compare times. But ... the most important thing is for people to openly disclose any styles that are different from the norm." No doubt, in the future when the difference between speed-ascent times will be in minutes or seconds instead of hours, questions of rules and ethics will move to the forefront.

Inside the Valley, speed-climbing rules, tactics, and results continue to evolve. The first and second solo ascents of Half Dome and El Cap in a day by Dean Potter and Hans Florine were the crowning achievements of 1999, bound to inspire even more insane, futuristic link-ups, such as El Cap, Half Dome, and Watkins in a day. While the 2000 Valley season had been predicted to equal or top the preceding year's big-wall velocity, Y2K proved in the end to be nothing special. Impressive speed ascents were made but records not broken as dramatically or as frequently as in 1999. Many of the talented climbers spent their summers applying their skills, with varied results, in the big mountains. Clearly, 1999 was special. It is unlikely that the same fantastic results will occur until there is another mass migration of talent to the Valley.

While attention will always focus on the Valley's fastest times and most prolific players, some of the tactics of speed climbing may benefit those who are not out to set records. "If you move lighter you move faster," a key principle of speed climbing, also applies to first-time wall climbers. Trim down that haul bag and you won't spend so much effort and time dragging it up the wall.

"When you get rid of all that weight and all the cluster that goes along with it," says George, "it turns out that climbing the wall really isn't all that much work." Granted, taking less gear and moving faster is a big step, but it is the new direction for wall climbing. Hans Florine hopes to speed along the process with his soon-to-be published how-to book on speed climbing. "Even people who are not competitive can learn all the cool skills," he says.

Cedar and I descend El Cap as the setting sun ignites the Valley's thick soup of smog. Hours later I stand at the glass counter in the Curry Village Mountain Shop. "I need headlamp batteries," I stammer, "and I don't have much time."

Fourteen hours after beginning the Shield, Cedar leads the first pitch of Zodiac while I recharge my body with a Value Pak of cheese Danishes. We are drained by our Shield ascent, but with 10 hours left in the "day," driven by the prospect of becoming the first team to climb two "real" aid routes on El Cap in a day.

As Cedar completes the Zodiac's first pitch, I'm pleasantly euphoric with exhaustion. By the time he reaches the second belay, however, I can barely sit upright. Cedar is likewise nearing that hazy border that separates the bold from the stupid. After a few shouts back and forth we turn once again to the clock for advice: The bar closes in one hour. Looks like two routes in one day will have to wait.

Chris McNamara has eight speed ascents to his credit, including records for the Shield and Zodiac. He recently moved to Bishop, California, where he attends online classes and works on his guidebook business, SuperTopo.com.