On The Bacher Yerian

Supertopo Post, June 2009

Probably, the BY probably saved my life. For a time, I did a fair amount of rope soloing, sometimes because I didn’t arrange for a partner as I was running to the mountains last minute after a full work week, sometimes just to be alone. Somewhere deep in the bowels of supertopo there’s a little piece on my self belay antics on the Owl Roof in Yosemite. I think eventually I did about a dozen rope solos, including the first ascent of Thy Will Be Done in Tuolumne. The ridiculous and dangerous part is I used a jumar as the self belay device, an item not designed for this purpose. I never fell on it, but came very close on a failed attempt of the BY

Why I ever thought to try this run out route with my cumbersome and unsafe self belay system is incomprehensible to me now. I guess I thought I was climbing pretty well back then, maybe a year or two after the climb had been done, and that the technical challenge was not beyond me. As John says, there is a short 5.11 part on the first pitch, but between a tied off knob and cams for the layback, I felt OK. But the next pitch became more and more terrifying as I fiddled to move the jumar along, tired on sustained moves (seemed 5.10ish), and looked down periodically at the "system" wavering below. Between the second and third bolt, finally, finally I realized I would probably die twice if I fell, not only from just banging the rock but then rocketing into the woods when the jumar broke. Increasingly sane but rattled, I had to make a choice between down climbing to the last bolt or going for the third and retreating from there, though that bolt seemed about 20 or so feet away. Or was it? I thought I saw it, but couldn’t be sure I was seeing the dark hanger on just a dark spot in the rock. I did the worst thing of all - I continued on thinking going ahead was the safer option, then decided after several more moves I should retreat. Slowly, carefully but not calmly, I moved down, again fussing with rope slack and the jumar (sometimes using my teeth), hyperventilating, over gripping, mad and very scared. As I approached the last bolt and then the belay station, I felt a rush of thanks to the god I didn’t believe in. Blinking at the jumar, it looked more and more paltry, like something I picked up at a hardware store. I turned it a couple of times in my hand and knew my days of solo rope climbing had just ended.

As with many of our foolish antics and adventures, especially failures, we mostly keep them to ourselves. I never told anyone about this particular fiasco, though Vern Clevenger looked at me suspiciously one day and asked, face screwed up quizzically, "Did you do something stupid up there (pointing to Medlicott)?" I’m still not sure if he was referring to this incident or something else, as probably there was other foolishness of mine to remember on that dome. I took the easy way out. "No," I said, and maybe there was truth in my lie – it wasn’t stupid, it was insane. Yet, thanks to the BY, I never again rope soloed or soloed in any way, and so live on to reflect back on all the good and ridiculous in my climbing days.

Follow Up Post

Clint, to answer your question, no I never did go back to do the route after my failed rope solo with the infamous jumar. At first, I was too rattled even to contemplate going back, given the burning memory. A bit later, I came to like the feel of my rattling experience as a kind of abject lesson in stupidly and hubris. I thought if I did go back and succeed, I might begin to pooh-pooh that lesson. And finally, as the years wore on, age and injuries took their toll and while I can still do an occasional 5.10 when healthy, I’m very happy now to do short, warm, safe classics with friends, have a beer and chew over the universe thereafter under the stars with no thoughts of horror shows the next day.

It seems time brings all remedies, including the ultimate one of course.