STRANDED, WEATHER, DARKNESS, INADEQUATE CLOTHING, INEXPERIENCE
California, Yosemite Valley, Royal Arches
On June 16, Deana Barone (25) and Yoshiko Miyazaki (27) started up Royal Arches (5.7 AO, 15 pitches). Though neither had done the route before, they planned to complete it well before dark and then descend by the North Dome Gully.
Route finding proved harder than expected, as did some of the climbing. They completed the last pitch just before dark. As it got dark, the team could not find their way through the last section. Spring run-off made the climbing more difficult than usual and various off route “use trails” led them astray. To make matters worse, a storm front moved in and it began raining just after dark. Stuck just below the valley rim without warmth and rain or bivy gear, they decided to call for help.
Rescuers reached them late that night and escorted them safely down North Dome Gully. (Source: Lincoln Else, NPS Ranger, Yosemite National Park)
We had agreed from the beginning that Yoshiko would lead every pitch and that we were not going to take a second rope to rappel, but instead descend the North Dome Gully in the dark, even though neither one of us had done it before. We had only climbed (together) one other time. One party passed us at the bottom of the first pitch and another around the sixth pitch. Storm clouds rolled in, loud winds obstructed our communication and route finding became an issue. We were traversing slowly across wet, slippery, exposed slabs. We lost sunlight at the top of the last pitch and could not figure out how to get ourselves off the final ledge.
Never again will I climb with someone whom I had only been climbing with once before on a long route. I will always bring a second rope so I can rappel if needed. I will never let more than one party pass me along the way. Always will I be prepared for a High Sierra storm. This experience has taught me that there should always be two leaders—never one leader and one follower. It has encouraged me to learn how to lead climbs and start getting my act together. (Source: Deana Barone)
Royal Arches has been climbed round trip in under an hour, but epics and rescues are common on this “easy” route. Why? Like many other “moderate” trad climbs, the route is frequently underestimated. While the technical climbing is relatively straight forward, the climb as a whole is far more challenging than its rating might indicate. The route finding is difficult, the level of commitment is high, and for many teams the descent is a larger challenge than the route itself. (Source: Lincoln Else, NPS Ranger)