The plan was perfect. For almost a year now I had been regaling anyone with a set of ears about King's Canyon, a magical place Lin and I visited for the first time last summer. In my opinion King's Canyon is an untouched Yosemite, replete with vast first ascent potential, minimal approaches, perfect rock and a beautiful setting.
Nate and Shay were keen, so we planned a 3 day trip over April 18-20. The plan was simple: 1) drive to King's Canyon, 2) walk 10 feet and put up modern megaclassic multi-pitch first ascents 3) enjoy the hedonistic luxuries of a well stocked car camping site.
Friday, on the verge of departure, my friend Phil (the King's Canyon local) informed me that the road to King's Canyon was still closed for the season due to rockfall. Bummer. Regrouping in Shay and Nate's living room, we batted around ideas. Tuttle Creek? Domelands? Joshua Tree? We all agreed that we wanted to do a first ascent. In particular, Nate was chomping at the bit to hand drill a bolt on lead, ideally from a shitty, runout stance. In a flash of inspiration, I suggested a kluge: since the road to King's Canyon was closed due to rockfall, not snow, we should simply drive as far as possible, and then ride bikes the rest of the distance in. Since the road was still closed this would guarantee the entire canyon to ourselves, a totally unique and awesome experience! I called Phil and asked his thoughts on the proposal. He estimated the ride in to be about 10-15 miles, and did mention something about "a big hill", which was maybe 1000 feet of elevation gain.
After borrowing a bike from Kostas, we made the long drive up to King's Canyon (~7 hours from SD). Cresting over a rise at about 6000 feet elevation we suddenly slammed on the brakes -- and found ourselves face to face with a "Road Closed" sign and a locked gate. A sign said we were 30 miles from King's Canyon, and our current elevation implied the "big hill" was not 1000 feet high, but actually 3000 feet! I think the phrase "damn you, Scotty!" may have been uttered as we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night.
The next morning we discussed our plans over breakfast down the road at the Hume Lake Christian Camp, where due to a tactical error we missed out on crashing a free breakfast with ~400 young women. At about 10 AM we shouldered our ~50 pound packs and saddled our bikes. As we glid down the 9 mile, 3000 foot hill the mantra of "damn you Scotty" quickly dissipated, replaced now with joyful praises such as "best plan ever!", "this is genius", "#1 approach of all time", etc etc etc. About 10 miles down we hit Boyden Caverns where we stopped to chat with the proprietors, who informed us that on Monday Caltrans was blasting the big boulder that had fallen in the road, and we would possibly be trapped in the canyon. Hmmmm.
And then we hit uphill. The 15 mile uphill that leads back into the canyon, while not excessively steep, was relentless. Toiling under the weight of our heavy packs, the reality of just how fucked we were began to set in. Nevertheless we persevered, and about 4 or 5 grueling hours later we collapsed into camp, totally exhausted and our taints quite bruised from the weight of the heavy packs. A feeble attempt to go climbing resulted in a failed attempt on a new line, and we retreated back to camp to rest and recover.
Sunday turned out to be a fantastic day of rock climbing. Mind you we had the ENTIRE canyon to ourselves - very cool. We checked out a wall we had spied from the previous day's attempt, and ended up FA'ing a 3 pitch 5.9 route which follows a nice crack system (topo here). After lunch Nate and Shay took turns hand drilling a new route on lead, old school style. I set up a toprope on what ended up being an absolutely fantastic 5.11a face route. Overall we had an excellent day doing exactly what we had come for.
On Monday we faced the long ride out, and the threat of being trapped forever by the Caltrans blasting loomed over us. At this point we made a strategic decision to cache most of our gear, which greatly reduced the burden of the ride out. Still 3000 feet of gain and 30 miles miles is no joke. The highlights of the ride out were the abandoned "drug car" we found (apparently abandoned with all this person's wordly belongings inside....very strange), and making it past the Caltrans blasting site with minutes to spare. We even got to watch them blow up the boulder! As a cherry on top one of the Caltrans workers gave us a ride up the final 4 miles of the hill -- awesome!