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Royal Arches, Yosemite National Park

June 11, 1999

Author: Edward Romero

Climbers: Edward Romero and Jan Studebaker

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This climb capped off a splendid week in Yosemite National Park. Blessed with continuous good weather, great climbing and entertaining companions, my first trip to Yosemite was made even more magnificent by knocking off one of the "Fifty Classics". On this trip, we were honored to have with us a pioneer of the sport, and co-author of "Fifty classic climbs in North America", Allen Steck. I tried as often as I could to have meals with Mr. Steck and somehow gain insight into how the sport of rock climbing had started. He had many interesting stories about climbs and climbers that have come and gone over the years. A truly remarkable man.

Jan, Cosima, & Edward the day before our big climb.
Photo by Jan Studebaker

Jan convinced me that if we were to be successful in completing this climb, we would have to start early and climb fast. This was an adventure climb after all, which meant that we just might make it back alive. To start early, we would have to eschew showers and a hot breakfast. What's up with that? With bagels and cheese with a fruit drink chaser, we head off to Awhanee to park. Locating the base of the climb was no problem. Just look for the heinous chimney to the right of Devil’s bathtub.

Part of the agreement Jan and I had when I finally convinced him to do this climb with me was that I would lead the first pitch. After much grunting, sweating, swearing and flailing, I hauled myself up to a welcome tree and brought the pack up. Jan followed with much more grace than I had exhibited, to my chagrin. From there, it was a matter of scrambling up some mixed 3rd, 4th, and 5th class up a ledge system to its end. At this point, the real climb starts at a crack on face (5.7) well marked with piton scars.

Awkward first pitch was an eye-opener for Edward.
Complements of Gary Clark, from earlier climb.

Considering that Royal Arches was first climbed in 1936, you would expect numerous piton scars. Jan led this with no apparent difficulty and belayed me up from near a large tree. I grabbed the gear and continued up a nice jam crack (5.5) and belayed in the shade of some welcome shrubbery. By now, we were getting nice views up and down the valley. This was real climbing! My next lead took me to what would best be described as a "bear hug double crack". With left and right appendages enjoying their own private crack, I was all grins when I found a nice, wide ledge just below the famous tension traverse.

Someone had strung a length of rope with conveniently placed loops that made the climber resemble Tarzan of the jungle, one hand on rope, the other reaching for a ledge upon which to mantle up. After walking across a 4th class ledge to a shady tree, we decided to luncheon, enjoying spectacular views of Glacier point apron, the Cathedral rocks and up to Half Dome. It was at this point we were overtaken by two teams of simul-climbers. The first, a team from Madrid, Spain stopped to chat for a moment. With my broken Spanish, I found out what Belay was in Spanish: reunion. With an "Ay voy por arriba (I'm going up now)" they were off. The second team was in training to do Half Dome in one day. Good luck boys!

After lunch, I continued up a fun layback flake (5.7) that ended up in a tree with very interesting, gnarled wood. A fun pitch, one of the best on this route. Jan realized with some horror, he would have to crawl around an exposed corner to unknown territory. But with some contorted moves, he was on the face on the other side. Communication was difficult at this point, because sound doesn't travel very well around corners and through trees, so I would recommend a short pitch to get around this corner for a safer belay up the face. As I followed the hand/foot jam crack (5.6), I found that Jan had prudently placed pro every ten feet at first, then towards the top, none at all. When I got to the reunion (belay), I asked Jan about this and he confessed that his feet were tired of being stood on while being jammed in a painful position, so he decided to just get out of there. I agreed that this was the toughest pitch of 5.6 I'd ever done!

At the top of 'the ramps', a steeper wall appears.
Complements of Gary Clark, from earlier climb.

Discontinuous cracks led us to the start of the dreaded 5.4 friction traverse. This pitch lies at the top of a blank sheet of granite leading straight down the pool at the Awhanee. Very exposed, it certainly got the heart racing. We located a pair of hangers that marked the start of the rappel route and prepared to descend. There were hangers with slings and rappel rings every half rope length or so. It would be possible to take only one rope for this climb, but with two, we only had to do 10 rappels. Most had at least a small ledge to stand on, but a few were just hanging rappels, simply clipped into hangers on a blank wall extending up and down for thousands of feet. At one rappel station, I noticed a fleet of very small spiders on the rock, bright red in color, quite striking and beautiful.

Following the rappels down, we were pleased to be deposited on the ground right next to the dreaded chimney that was the first pitch. After congratulating ourselves on a fine day of climbing, we headed back to Curry village for a hot shower and a cold beer. The next day was leaving day and as El Capitan vanished from behind us, I reminisced on the wonderful week I'd had in Yosemite valley and vowed to return.

The day after we got home, we were greeted by the disturbing news of a rockslide that claimed a climber’s life only hours after we'd left. This served as a reminder of the unpredictability of life. Of how fleeting our tenure on this planet is. Climbing is a dangerous sport and part of the thrill is realizing the possible, dire consequences. But as Orville Wright once said "If you want to lead a safe life, you would do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds soar above you".

Update: Edward Romero (age 36) died July 18, 2007 of a heart attack.  He leaves behind his wife Socorro, his two children Diego (5) and Alexandria (2), and family and friends.  We will truly miss him!  See Edwards Memorial Bio here.

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