It’s 4am, the alarm clock just went off, and Tom rolls over and moans that he couldn’t get to sleep until 2 hours ago. So much for a good night’s rest before a long route. After several weeks of staying up and sleeping in late, we are poorly a-time-aclized for such an early start, to say the least. Still, our master plan depends on being able to catch a ride down into the Valley with our housemates, who were getting up at 4am to do the Nose on El Cap in a day, so sleep or no sleep, we roll out of bed.
Galactic Hitchhiker was put up in 1995 by Lou Renner and Matt Brooks; a 39 pitch, 5.11 adventure that goes from the base of the apron, to the top of Glacier Point. We used Karl Baba's topo, which gives a second opinion on the difficulty of the climbing, and a plan for combining pitches with a 60m, rope. Friction slab climbing is one of my biggest climbing weaknesses (at least on par with off-width climbing), but it is so much less physically taxing than wide climbing, that I figured we had a decent chance at the route – so long as Tom led the hardest pitches.
We leave a little early and park the car on Hwy 41 right at the turn-off to Badger Pass and Glacier Point, and then hop into Rossano’s car for the rest of the drive into the Valley. The boys drop us off at the trailhead before taking off for their big day, we wish each other good luck, and Tom and I hike into the base.
We have a minimal rack; a single run of cams from blue alien to #2 Camalot, two carabiners with nuts, a single 60m rope, rain coats, lunch and 4L of water. Since we parked the car high, we decide that we are already committed and leave the 8mm static line on the ground along with a few extra small cams, and Tom starts off up the route.
The climb is a mixture of everything between hard, friction slab climbing on clean, tightly bolted faces, and gearless wandering back and forth up plant-choked gullies and corner systems. Route-finding skills are definitely at a premium on this route. Thank goodness I went with Tom. We worried that the route would be wet near a feature called the Oasis, but the water that was there, wasn’t in our way at all and we stayed happily dry. I had a lot of trouble on several of the friction cruxes, and ended up pulling on the gear to get past – the good news is that this is totally possible. Overall, I really enjoyed the route, nice climbing with fantastic scenery, a sense of adventure and no crowds.
We end up at Glacier Point roughly 9.5 hours later, grinning at the other tourists, and racing to the shop to pick up some cold drinks. Two liters of Powerade, and some food later, we finish the galactic part of Galactic Hitchhiker, and begin hitchhiking. We walk toward the parking lot, climbing gear in tow, and ask everyone who looks like they might be leaving for a lift. Since we parked on 41, it doesn’t matter whether they are heading to the Valley or out toward Wawona. I thought that hitchhiking meant standing next to the road with your thumb out, but Tom, with the voice of experience, informed me that it’s much easier to drive past someone than it is to refuse to give them a ride to their face. Sure enough, it only took a few minutes before we ran into someone who somewhat reluctantly agreed to let us ride down with them, as long as we answered all of their questions. Good deal!
It’s Nick’s fault that after doing Galactic, we drove down into the Valley for still more climbing. Nick might try to blame it on Hans, but he was the one that mentioned the idea of a birthday challenge. The birthday challenge is to climb your age plus one pitches for your birthday. Tom turned 40 earlier this month, and having done the 39 pitches of Galactic we were awfully close to the magic 41, so we drove down to Churchbowl and waited in line for Bishop’s Terrace.
The guys who were in front of us on Bishop’s Terrace were from central Washington, and during our conversation mentioned that they were trying to hook up with another person that they knew from the same area. “Oh,” says Tom, and throws out the name of a guy we met earlier this season climbing in the Valley, who was from central Washington or central Oregon or something. What are the chances? But, oh yes, this is the very guy that they are trying to get in touch with.
With this point in common, we exchange contact info with this guy, get in our car and start heading home, wondering how our housemates are doing on the Nose. After doing in a day what it takes most parties 3 or 4 days to do, and after hiking back down to the Valley on a steep, loose and dust-choked trail, there is still a hike of almost a mile from where the trail comes down back to where their car is parked. As we are driving past Manure Pile Buttress, where the trail ends, Tom turns to me and says, “Now, make sure those guys aren’t walking.” So, I turn to look, and sure enough, there’s Hans and Rossano, dog-tired after a long day of climbing, walking. Tom hits the brakes, throws the car into reverse, and we pick up our housemates. What lucky timing. Between this and the incident with the guys from central Washington, it’s as though Tom has some uncanny connection with the universe today. There are smiles and congratulations all around – such an excellent way to end an excellent day of climbing.