Photographer:Andrew M. Upchurch
Camera:Nikon N80
Film:Expired Kodak Max 400

Trad Climbing in Yosemite National Park

Celebrating Rocktober with expired film and a perfect send on classic route Super Slide

With summer’s scorching temps finally in the rearview mirror, it was time to do what I love most: rock climb. Though fire and smoke from various controlled burns in Yosemite National Park still lingered enough to singe our throats, I couldn’t be stopped. Climbing is the reason I decided to work in the Yosemite in the first place, after all.

October is often called “Rocktober” by the climbing community, and Yosemite’s fall climbing conditions can be some of the very best of the year, bringing climbers scrambling in from all corners of the world to give themselves the ultimate granite test.

My buddy Manny and I decided to head to a five-pitch route called “Super Slide.” It’s a Yosemite classic and our stoke couldn’t have been higher. This kind of climbing—crack, or “trad” climbing—is what Yosemite climbing is famous for. As we walked past the historic Awhahnee Hotel on our way to the base of the climb, we discussed our climbing strategy. I would lead the first two pitches, he would lead the third and fourth, and I would top us out with the fifth.

We arrived at the climb, put on our harnesses, tied the rope, and were on our way. The climbing was smooth sailing for the first pitch. At the beginning of the second, the climbing became insecure for a moment, having only tiny crack openings (“pin scars”) for me to slot a single finger into for balance before stepping up on miniscule dishes to return to more solidly sized handholds inside of a larger opening in the crack system. I was glad to be past that dicey section of the climb.

Manny took the next two pitches without a hiccup—the only unwelcome factor being the increasing haze of smoke around the Yosemite Valley. It just wouldn’t let up. Regardless, I watched him lead pitches three and four with a friendly envy. I was having a blast, and before I knew it, it was my turn to lead us up the final pitch.

The last pitch is arguably the crux of the climb, but I was feeling confident. I took all the protective equipment and proceeded upwards. It started out with two parallel cracks eventually forcing me onto only one of them. At this point, the crack was only wide enough to fit my fingers and barely wedge the tip of my toe into it. Call me crazy, but this was the most aesthetic part of the climb. The movement was incredible and the holds were solid. Only the last move onto the summit ledge was insecure.

I sidestepped out from the crack onto polished slab with no good handholds, delicately traversing left to the ledge. With a final deep breath, I was safely on the ledge. Stoked was an understatement. Manny made it to the top clean with no falls also, making it a perfect send for both of us. We rappelled ourselves down and skipped lunch to get to work on time.

It’s a climber’s life for us.

Want to see more film photography from Andrew Upchurch? Check his recent trip to Alaska

Andrew Upchurch lives and works in Yosemite National Park. His enthusiasm for film photography compels him into the backcountry, up rock walls, and generally keeps his wallet quite thin and carefree.
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