Team Stooge Goes Wall Climbing

Robert Fonda, Michael Dong, Dan Thiele

El Capitan, Half Dome, The Leaning Tower, we didn't climb any of these. In fact, we really didn't climb much of anything. We went to The Valley to climb The Prow on Washingtons Column. We had our hearts and minds set on the summit. We never even came close to the summit. Hell, we barely made it to the base.

The plans started 5 days earlier when Michael dropped by my house in Joshua Tree. "Wanna do The Prow? I inquired, "Sure, when?" "How about this weekend?" Michael was hooked. "Let's do it". The plans were set. Michael and I began the process of figuring out what gear we would need, how much each other had, and who to borrow the rest from. I then decided to call my buddy Dan and see if he wanted to go as well. Dan was a little less than enthusiastic about the prospect, but, after much "no problem, we'll summit" from me, against his better judgment, he decided to go as well. Team Stooge was now complete. Little did we know that our namesake would be the basis of constant mistakes and many laughs.
Fast-forward to Thursday. I was going to pick up Dan, Michael would meet us in Pasadena at my Mom's place on Friday to sort gear, and have the last supper. We left Pasadena around 8:00 PM, already 1 hour later than planned. On our way out of town, we stopped by my friend Keath's house to borrow some Cam Hooks. On the way from Keath's house we got lost trying to find the 405 Fwy. Off Route. This was just the beginning. Things went fairly smooth from there until we reached Fresno around 2:00 AM Saturday morning. We pulled into a gas station, there were about 5 cars. We noticed they seemed to be gang members. With in about 2 minutes, the whole gas station was filled with cars loaded to the hilt. We were now pinned in. Car stereos blared some form of Rap. They seemed un-interested in us, but none the less, we were trapped. Apparently they seem to flock to the gas stations when the bars close in Fresno. We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dan was un-amused, Michael and I were quietly whispering to each other "Were gonna die". Fortunately we made it out and were back on the road.

"Do you think 30 of each size is enough?"
(Moe, Larry, and Curly)

We arrived in The Valley around 4:30 AM at the parking lot of the Awahnee hotel. The original plan was to start humping loads to the base upon arrival. We decided to sleep in the car instead. 6:00 AM, were up, we start hauling the first of two loads to the base. For the benefit of those who haven't been to the base of the column, it sucks.

We had gear strewn about the base of the climb. We still had to haul water to the base. 1 gallon, per person, per day. That adds up to 72 pounds of water. My guess is we could have taken baths up there. We got back to the car and Michael announced we needed to go and have breakfast. Off to the cafeteria. We got breakfast, we were just starting when we noticed Dan pouring sugar all over his eggs. Apparently Dan mistook the sugar for salt.

It's now well past 12:30 PM., not exactly an Alpine start.

We haul all our water to the base. Christ what a load. Dan had been vacillating the whole time over staying on the ground or heading up. He kept mumbling: "Note too self; the next time Robert calls, pretend I'm not home." At the last moment, he decided against it. Now we had enough water to irrigate most of Southern California.

You can see my aiders behind me in the wrong crack. The route starts about 30 feet the other
way! Doh!!!

(Moe and Larry)
I had gone up ahead of the group to scope out the route. I was absolutely sure I knew where the start of the route was. I was wrong. On my topo, it read, "climb stellar crack in center". I totally misread the topo. Instead I started climbing the wrong crack and got horribly off route. Off route, this became our mantra for the duration of the trip. The crack I chose to climb was next to the start of the South Face/Southern Man routes. I might as well have been climbing in the next county. I started up the "A1" line, A1 my ass, I had an awful time. I got up the crack onto a ramp system and had to free climb for a spell. I was not happy. "This can't be A1, I've flashed A1 before, this isn't A1!". 

Do I stop, no, I keep going. I start up another crack looking for the anchors, no soap. I finally yell down to Michael, "I'm totally off route, where's the anchors?". We decide that it would be best if I down aided the route and start over. 

It's now 5:30 PM Saturday evening. After much discussion (about 3 seconds worth) we decide to spend the night at the base. Dan wants to aid the "stellar crack" in the dark. As Dan started, a full moon was rising over Half Dome. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We all stopped and watched the moon cast a brilliant glow on the valley floor far below.

Dan was making good time up and was soon at the anchors and fixed a line. It was totally dark as Michael was belaying when the real fun began. Now, I had heard about Ring Tail Cats from Rex Pieper, but it really didn't register. These creatures are the spawn of Satan. Michael and I were eating crackers and spackle, the cat decided it was hungry too. Michael managed to ward it off just as it was attempting to abscond with the entire container of crackers. This was only the beginning. It kept coming back, regardless of what we did to discourage it. When bedtime came, Michael decided to hang our food from a tree, only to wake up and find the cat swinging from our food bag.

 I was sleeping up on the ledge (AKA The Verandah) above Michael and Dan, I could here the constant battle with the cat for most of the night. I had fallen asleep with a Power Bar and a bag of bagels next to me. Dan starts yelling something about a Power Bar, next thing I knew the cat had made off with my dinner. I decided to move the bagels into my sleeping bag. Now it was my turn. There was a pee can sitting up on a ledge to my right. I awoke once again and noticed something was behind my head, I turn around and I am nose to nose with the little bastard. He takes off at warp speed up the rock. I try to go back to sleep when I noticed my right side was getting warmer than the rest of me. That's when I realized that he had knocked the pee can over and it had spilled all over the right side of my sleeping bag. It's now 4:30 AM and I am very awake. The next morning while we were assessing the carnage of the night before, we noticed our bag of Tang was hanging up in the tree. Damn cat. Michael made the observation: "Nature sucks!" At this point we figured if we didn't leave now, we would end up back at the car in just our underwear. Climbers: 0, Ring Tail Cat: 1.
We were planning on blasting at first light. As I sat up waiting for the rest of Team Stooge to stir, the clouds began rolling in, the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. It was obvious we weren't going anywhere. The rest of the team was up, we decided to pack up all our gear and bail. I was up on my ledge preparing to crush the beer cans down when Dan decided to join me. He was just doing the final move up to the ledge when I saw a beer and gave a mighty stomp with my foot. What I didn't realize was Dan had just opened the can. I managed to compress 24 ounces of beer into a one-ounce container in under a second. Dan was completely showered with beer. Michael witnessed the Hops and Barley Malt Tsunami careening over the ledge onto Dan. More bouts of hysterical laughter.

We dumped the water and headed back down to the car. Once at the car we decided it was lunchtime. Back to the cafeteria. During lunch Dan was spreading what he thought was Mayonnaise on his sandwich, it turned out to be Tartar sauce. Dan has strange tastes in food. Tartar sauce on sandwiches, sugar on eggs, what's next, maple syrup and beer? (It's not just for breakfast anymore).

After lunch we headed over to Camp 4 to bag a spot for the night, it was practically empty. We spent the day doing some bouldering over at Swan Slab, then roped up for a little free climbing. At the end of the day we headed back to the car. I was wearing the rope as a pack. We lock up all the gear in the car and start to head towards the Mountain Room Lounge. 

"Dude, check out the blonde!"

 Dan missed his life's opportunity to make me look like a complete idiot. I had been carrying so many heavy loads I didn't even notice I was still wearing the rope. Dan inquired: "Robert, were you planning on wearing the rope in the bar?" More laughter.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, but fun none the less. We got lost looking for the AAC library that's supposed to house the 2nd largest climbing library around. We never found it. Off route. Michael and I were standing at the car. I was commenting on what a great team the three of us made. Michael's response: "It's a good thing were a team, because not one of us posses the intellectual capacity to make safe decisions on their own.". This was with out question, the most fun I have ever had on a climbing road trip.

 Dan and Michael are the best possible wall partners I could ever ask for. Normally when teams bail from a wall, there is depression and disillusionment. We took it all in stride, nobody got uptight. There were no harsh words. We just laughed at every stupid mistake we made. Believe me, we made every mistake in the book and then some. We are going back in week to set the record straight. Stay tuned, same Stooge time, same Stooge channel.

Bear #193 SOS
(Shoot On Sight)

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