After leading Ranger Crack in the Yosemite Falls Amphitheater and the first pitch of Jamcrack, I was confident that I can lead 5.8 in Yosemite valley. To me just climbing on top rope does not feel as satisfactory as solving problems being on the sharp end of the rope. As Rick had been leading a lot, he suggested that I lead all of nutcracker. Let’s give it a go!
The first pitch is fairly easy fun climbing until the tree shown in the below picture. After that the section can be easily climbed with jamback technique, which I unfortunately didn’t deploy as I didn’t remember it despite studying it a while back in the crack climbing book. So that section felt fairly strenuous but I was mostly scared of the finger layback section.
The good thing is that there are edges for your left foot almost half way up the finger layback section, which helps a lot to place gear. After that its a few moves of layback on slippery slab with a final strenuous slopey pull over the corner, to a more moderate ramp. I had never led a layback pitch so this boosted my confidence quite a bit. Yosemite has abundant amount of laybacks therefore this is a crucial skill to have.
Pitch 2 is a walk in the park, low angle with a nice crack that takes hand to finger gear. I ran it out and downclimbed a block to the fixed slings and a huge ledge.
Pitch 3 was a 5.7 finger layback and slab moves. Since the climb is slabby and low angle I totally miscalculated the length of the pitch. I had already used all of my thin gear down low and had no gear left for the last 20 feet. Naturally, this was also a layback section. During such situations, a bit of positive self-talk has always served me well. I told myself, “I have the strength and technique to execute this section flawlessly”. Sure enough, I reached the sort of hanging belay with fixed slings.
Pitch 4 started with a fun slab move with pro below on the under cling section. But I was in need of a break because of the last bit of solo of the last pitch and the heat. In retrospect, I should have led pitch 4 as while leading, I forget the heat, the pain in my right toe (it was busted after East Buttress of Middle Cathedral) and felt so gratified winning over all the difficulties and challenges so far. Rick took off like a demented rabbit, as is his wont, and led a nearly 60m pitch up a 5.8 groove which ate up large nuts (he brought none), eventually running it out to a nice ledge below the mantle. Although on top rope, pitch 4 felt harder because of the heat radiating from my beloved granite. This made me suspect the difficulty I felt on East Buttress as well.
Pitch 5 is the only pitch that I was glad to not have led because of the mantle move. There is a awesome jug on the mantle but no feet which made it fairly difficult for me to pull it off clean.
The scary part on lead is that after the mantle, one has to traverse right and make some slab moves before placing good pro in the crack. Above the mantle on the left crack, a .2 cam can be placed for some reassurance, it might even hold. The rest of the pitch is a combination of slab and easy cracks.
This was much easier for me than East Buttress, and an excellent chance to improve my Yosemite crack skills on lead. Although it got fairly hot, starting early made it manageable, and it was a classic climb we both really enjoyed having the chance to get on.
We went back for lattes at Degnan’s afterwards, and then went swimming and hung out by the river until the sun was in the west. Once Ranger Rock was in the shade Rick led the slippery Nutcracker Variation pitch, while I got the first pitch of After Seven clean.
Time to escape to Tuolumne!