|Luis (Lucho) Rivera crossing the dam en route to Wopama Rock|
I've climbed at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir twice now, both times with my old friend Lucho. The first adventure ended poorly, I contracted a severe case of poison oak and our hoped for first ascent came with surprise anchors. Predictably, it took several years and a little more convincing for me to return. I was sucked in once again by glory, this time a potential first free ascent of Solaris, a route put up a couple winters ago by Tim Tuomey and Nick Simon. Along with Lucho these Bay-Area locals comprise the bulk of the Hetch Hetchy climbing scene.
|Wopama Rock on the left. Solaris takes a line on the wall just left of the Nose-like arete.|
Sean Jones, a prolific Reservoir free climber, had attempted a line up the Nose, the cliffs most striking feature, a soaring buttress slightly reminiscent of a much more famous route of the same name in nearby Yosemite Valley. Solaris begins on the wall to the left of the Nose, eventually jogging left to join Wopama-Mama where that route tackles a wild orange and black headwall.
The weather finally cleared in Yosemite but Lucho was busy with domestic duties, putting a fresh coat of paint on his classic San Francisco cookie cutter and trying to mend his ailing Toyota. We met again a few weeks later in Chinese Camp, World Monkey Headquarters and home to our friend Bryan (Coiler) Kay. After a leisurely discussion of potential tactics we settled on full wall style, packing the haul bag to the brim and strapping on the double ledge.
|Bridge section destroyed by Wopama Falls|
Arriving at the entrance station we encountered an unusually friendly ranger who looked perplexed when we explained our plan. "I guess I'll have to get you a backcountry permit, uh, I'll be right back." Clearly multi-day climbing trips are not standard fare at Hetch Hetchy. I signed some paperwork and received a permit. To my surprise no fee was charged, a rare occurence these days on public land.
A couple miles of narrow, windy road took us to the reservoir where I got a better look at the objective. We strapped on our heavy loads and trudged the relatively moderate two and a half miles to the base of the wall. There were a few other tourists on the trail, nothing like the sometimes overwhelmingly crowded Yosemite Valley. They smiled, gave us the typical confused look and gasped through our already unpleasant smell, and odor of freshly applied anti-perspirant and fabric softener lingering as they passed.
|The incredibly low angle second pitch, Lucho retrieving our hand line|
We filled our water jugs at the base of Wopama Falls, an impressive torrent that falls just to the right of the Nose. Just that week one of the bridges that crosses the outlet of this cascade was obliterated by debris, we ducked under the do not enter tape and took our fill. Bag packed, ropes flaked, Lucho grabbed the rack and charged up a gritty, unprotected slab. Thankfully he found the bolted anchor promised in the topo and commenced the heaviest and most low angle haul of the climb.
It had been a few years since I climbed in this style, most of my wall climbing tricks came back to me over the course of the first day but the first few pitches were a struggle for organization and mastery of the elusive muntner-mule. The second 'pitch' involved carrying the bag by hand across a 200 foot long grassy ledge, marginally protected from a terminal tumble by stretching the lead line from one end to the other. Lucho lead one more pitch up to the first-ascensionist's 'Camp 1' where we had just enough time to untangle the ledge before darkness fell. We had dreamt of greater progress on our first day while lounging in Coiler's man cave but when it came to reality we were happy to make it as far as we did.
|Lucho working out the moves |
on a potential free variation
It became clear early on that Solaris was a well chosen name. Not only does the wall roast in the sun for most of the day, the massive body of water directly below reflects a second round of radiation. We started chatting nervously about our water supply, eyeing each other's intake of the precious commodity. One round of coffee would have to do in the morning, maybe we didn't really need to cook our vacuum packed Indian cuisine for dinner, how many liters did you drink at the last belay???
I started edging towards survival mode a little earlier than Lucho. We reconnoitered the first free variation but decided not to spend the energy releading this stretch, already this climb was turning into a project. Lucho maintained psyche and managed to convince me into a toprope belay from our second belay. In the dark... I sipped cold gold while taking in the slack, watching his headlamp wander upwards with a sense of detachment.
We were determined to break the mould and climb more than two pitches on the third day. Despite some tedious direct aid and a slightly inadequate pin rack we made it to Eagle Terrace, a spacious ledge where the route joins Wopama Mama. Two more pitches in the morning took us to the base of the aesthetic headwall and the crux. This stretch of thin nailing may go free but it's hard to say, our dwindling water supply did not allow for any time spend fiddling with the moves. I jugged up the line and took the rack without changing into rock shoes, one more pitch taking us to the summit slabs.
Thankfully we topped out with enough light to repack and start the search for the trail. After some delirious wandering we stumbled across the groomed path and lurched downwards through the darkness. Around the reservoir, through the tunnel, across the dam and up a final incline to the backcountry parking where we dropped the gear and attacked a bag of chips.
The park closes at 5pm, hot food and a shower were out of the question, we had no choice but to crawl back into our crusty sleeping bags and wait for the gate to open in the morning. Not long after we got back to the van a big white sedan with green stripes pulled up behind us, we sat quietly in the dark and hoped for the best. Much to our relief the mustachioed ranger just wanted to know how the route went and if the rock was any good.
|Relaxing on Eagle Terrace.|
|Lucho nails his way up the steep and beautiful headwall.|
In the end we didn't free the wall, our glory was restricted to the second ascent of an obscure wall in a valley known more for it's dam than it's rock. I guess what I was really looking for was adventure, finding a little bit of the less travelled and unknown. Yosemite still has this to offer but it can be hard to find between the crowds and historical trade routes. Whatever happens to Hetch Hetchy I think adventure will be found here for many years to come.