Swami belts? Check. EBs? Check. Stoppers? Hexes? Check. Nancy and I stuffed our packs into my tiny hatchback. We had pored over our yellow Meyers guides and pondered the Cookie, Arch Rock, Middle, the Apron. We’d picked out some routes we thought we could do, and we were primed for our first trip to the Valley – girls on the loose with rope, rack and, we hoped, the chops to hold our own at the epicenter of the climbing universe.
In the days before the Park Service clamped down on the enjoyable, grubby anarchy of Camp 4, it was possible – and highly desirable – to live in the C4 parking lot, a fizzing social scene at all hours. Shortly after Nancy and I arrived there on this highly anticipated foray to Yosemite, we pulled out the stove and started organizing our dinner ingredients, which fatefully included the catnip of 1970s climbers: a gallon of Gallo Hearty Burgundy.
No sooner had the Gallo made its appearance than a couple of fit-looking locals drifted over, settling in to trade wine access for entertaining tales of derring-do on the crags. The evening wore on, the level of wine in the bottle sank lower and lower, and the stories got funnier and funnier. Eventually our guests retired, leaving behind an empty Gallo jug and a burning question: “Who were those guys?”
“Those guys” were Jim Bridwell and Dale Bard, a formidable welcoming committee. From that evening on, we were mentored (and tormented) by Jim, Dale and friends from southern California – the Stonemasters – who’d relocated to the Valley. The very next morning, and every morning thereafter, the lads wandered over with helpful – and, we would learn, profoundly unreliable – suggestions for routes we should do.
That first morning, we obediently headed off to the Apron to climb an obscure 10-pitch route recommended by Largo (John Long) and Gramicci (Mike Graham) in the strongest terms. Our first route in Yosemite! It was bound to be great.
The Apron was much bigger and more forbidding than our home crag, Suicide Rock; we knew its featureless expanse would test our minimal route-finding skills. “Where does this thing go? I can’t even see the next bolt. Do you suppose that bush is the belay anchor? Nancy, watch me, I may have to downclimb back to the last piece of pro. Watch me, this looks like a hard move.” And after what turned out to be a dirty, dubiously protected route that was about three times longer than anything we’d ever done before, we still had to get down via a series of long rappels that provided us a final jolt of anxiety.
That evening, the boys came by to find out what we’d climbed that day. “Well, of course we did that route you recommended, the Punchbowl,” we replied proudly. “Ho, man,” Largo boomed, amidst general laughter, “that must have been the second ascent!”
So began our sometimes terrifying, always entertaining, apprenticeship in Bridwell’s Yosemite. “You guys told us that route wasn’t run out!” I’d complain crabbily after yet another draining adventure, to which Gramicci, with his irrepressible grin, would innocently and inarguably reply, “But if we’d told you about that, you wouldn’t have done it!”