Jim Donini/First ascent of Basketcase. 1970
"Up rope I'm not moving!" First ascent of Basketcase.
When I first showed up in the Valley in 1970 the Spring monsoon was going full bore. Generator Crack had just been discovered and being one of the few overhanging pieces of rock in the Valley, it was the perfect place to get some exercise. My first time there I couldn't get up the damn thing, but the monsoon persisted and we soon began making daily pilgrimages. The days rolled on wet and cold and Generator Crack was tamed. First right side in, then left side in followed by right side in solo and on and on. Eventually I got to where I was soloing it with running shoes on. Finally the monsoon ended and damn- I could go wide.
A couple of years later I drove into Camp 4 and immediately bumped into TM Herbert. TM, in a whispered voice, told about his new secret project. "Donini, I've discovered one of the last good lines in the Valley. “I've been looking at it with my birding binoculars, let's do it." TM was pretty guarded about where this climb was, he told me to meet him the next day and that we would hike up and spend the night and do the climb the next day. "Don't worry," he said, "I really checked it out, I'll bring the gear, I know just what we need." FAMOUS LAST WORDS
The next day we started up the endless switchbacks leading up out of Mirror Lake. Eight long, hot, dusty miles later we came across a trail sign that said: Porcupine Flats 2 miles. TM looked at the sign, his jaw dropped, and he sprawled on the trail and began beating the ground with his fists: we now new a better way to the climb.
TM’s plan was to bivouac above a steep, heavily wooded gully that led to the base of the climb. Good idea....except for the mosquitoes. TM immediately fell asleep, seemly impervious to the hovering swarms of mosquitoes. Not me, I spent the entire night slapping the damn things, and I nearly near took out my frustration on a blissfully sleeping TM with the piton hammer that lay nearby.
TM woke up in good humor and led us down the brush-choked gully to the climb. I'll never forget the look on TM's face when he looked up at the line, his jaw dropped as he sheepishly emptied his pack of the hardwear he had brought. Out fell knife blades, lost arrows, even a few rurps and precious few nuts hand sized or larger. This was way before Friends became available. Unfortunately, the impressive crack system that rose above us had a lot of very difficult looking wide sections. TM apologized for his mistake as I was suggesting he get new binoculars and that he have his eyes tested. Having endured a hot, dusty hike and a nearly sleepless night, I was in no mood to bail without giving it a try.
TM wasn't comfortable with wide cracks so the sharp end fell to me. There were some interesting run outs and a lot of back cleaning of the few pieces that we had that worked, but everything went okay until the crux pitch. As I recall this section was quite steep and it steepened even more near the top. I ended up doing some more sketchy back cleaning and a lot of strenuous climbing up and down to get the gear I needed. I never lowered off of a piece because I didn't think it was fair and also, frankly, I didn't completely trust some of my placements to hold body weight. Finally wasted by my efforts, I gave in, did a single point of aid and finished the pitch. What followed gave me the line that as a Medicare climber I now use as my only climbing command. TM, eyes wide, reluctantly started up the pitch. A fierce struggle ensued followed by weak "up rope" from TM. "What was that," I said, and a more forceful "up rope" floated up from below. I pulled the rope in tight, another "up rope." I pulled the rope tighter, "up rope" again, louder a little more desperate. "TM, I'm pulling the rope as tight as I can." The final plaintive plea from TM, "up rope, I'm not moving."
TM recovered nicely and led a steep, fingery near the top. Back in Camp 4 I ran into Bridwell and Klemons and made the tactical mistake of telling them about the easier approach from Porcupine Flats and also exactly what gear was needed...duh! The rest is history.