Tuolumne Climbing: Zee Tree

October 26, 2009

Day 2: Zee Tree (5.7) on Pywiack Dome

After the previous day of fairly intense climbing on West Crack, Ben and I were thinking that something a little bit easier might be nice.  After tossing around some options we decided that Zee Tree looked like fun.  The route is actually quite visible from highway 120 and Ben recalled seeing what he believed to be “zee tree” while passing many times.  We were excited to be getting an earlier start than the day before and hoped to be the first ones on the route.

When we pulled into the trail head parking lot, it was nice to see it fairly empty.  While we were getting our gear together another group pulled up with plans to climb Dike Route (5.9R) which starts in the same location as Zee Tree.  They had done both routes before so we decided to follow them to the start of the route.  However, along the way and quite unconsciously, we stopped following that group and continued walking along the southern edge of the dome to where we thought the route started.

From the road you can see this huge tree growing out of Pywiack Dome, many times larger than any other tree on the rock.  With such a large tree we assumed that it was “the tree”, it simply had to be.  So we climbed up the 3rd class slope and setup an anchor when it turned into fairly steep 4th class climbing.  The previous day I discovered that I’m pretty comfortable with low angle climbing so I decided to lead the first pitch up to a pair of bolts.

I managed to place a few pieces of protection but after 200′ of climbing I ran out of rope and there were no bolts in sight.  After a few minutes of searching around, I made myself secure so Ben could check the topo to see if he could figure out what the deal was.  With only a glace at the beta, it was obvious that we were very far off from where we should be.  This presented us with a little problem.

I was 200′ up a mystery route if it was a route at all and needed to get back to the ground.  This gave us two options, Ben could climb up to where I was with another rope and we could find something to rappel off of or I could down climb the 200′ back to Ben.  Given that the climbing was very easy, I was pretty comfortable down climbing.  When I got back to the ground we packed up and headed back towards the road and the start of the real route.

During the hike back we laughed at how fixated we were on that big tree.  It gave us such tunnel vision that we diverged from the group that actually knew where they were going.  I’d love to know if I was on a known route but we joked about my first ascent.  Our mistake ended up costing us a good amount of time and we found ourselves getting our real start at about the same time as the day before.  So I declared the name of our mystery route “almost noon”.

Zee Tree

The real Zee Tree route

Feeling somewhat confident that we were on the right track, I prepared to lead the first pitch again, hopefully finding the bolts this time.  After about 100′ of climbing without a single piece of protection, I enthusiastically reported to Ben that I had found the bolts and that we were on the right path.  Ben joined me at the anchor and prepared to lead the next pitch.

Zee Tree is a face climb and in Tuolumne face climbs usually translate into massive amounts of runout.  Because there isn’t any crack systems in face climbing, these routes are usually protected with bolts but the first ascent parties tend to be a pretty brave bunch and only lightly bolt the routes.  Amazingly the second pitch featured 9 bolts for 180′ of climbing, this is very heavily bolted by Tuolumne standards.  The section between the first anchor and “the tree” featured climbing through 20′ or so of glacial polish.  Thankfully the polish is broken up in a few places enough to get an edge for your feet.

For the third pitch it was my turn to take the lead again.  This pitch was an easy 100′ section of 5.3 climbing that I pretty much ran up (almost literally).  I think we managed to complete this pitch in less than 15 minutes which felt really great.  Up to this point the entire climb had been bolted and we didn’t need our rack of trad gear but that would change on the next pitch.

For the fourth pitch there were a couple bolts leading up to a layback crack where some traditional pro could be placed.  But instead of taking the entire rack we decided that Ben could simply take a few cams and the set of nuts.  This would have worked out great except for one small problem, we thought there were bolts for an anchor.  When Ben ran out of rope and discovered that there were no bolts in sight he had no option but to build a traditional anchor with the few nuts that he had left over.  Thankfully he had enough and the climbing was so easy that there was very little chance of falling, but it was an excellent reminder that it’s a good idea for the leader to have all of the gear.

The final pitch was this very fun looking 5.7 layback crack.  I was having so much fun on the route that without even hesitating I said that I’d love to lead the pitch.  It didn’t even occur to me that I’d never been on the sharp end for a pitch this difficult or the fact that I didn’t have much experience with layback cracks.  But I just went with it and it went off without a hitch leaving me feeling quite proud of myself.

Standing on Top of Pywiack Dome

Peace out from the top of Pywiack Dome

Compared to the day before where I followed Ben for the entire route, this day I managed to successfully lead 3 of the 5 pitches, what a fantastic feeling that was.  The view from the top of Pywiack Dome was also an incredible one.  Overlooking Tenaya Lake as well as all of Tuolumne Meadows was such a treat.  After spending a solid half hour on top looking around and eating we rappelled back down to the ground.  Back at the parking lot we hung out a bit before taking off.

Ben’s wife Linda as well as our friend Tyndall were heading up that afternoon to spend the next couple days climbing with us and we thought it would be fun to run into them alongside the road.  After about an hour or so of chatting with tourists and hearing their various reactions to our chosen recreation, we headed back to camp and waited for them outside the campground entrance.  With resupplies from Linda, the group of us relaxed at the campground and prepared for the next days adventure, Hermaphrodite Flake.

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One Response to “Tuolumne Climbing: Zee Tree”

  1. Topofthemountain Says:

    Ryan,
    Enjoying your adventure in climbing but you forgot about the grays and allowed the black and white ways of looking at things, to cause problems for you. Get back to the grays.
    Russ


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