In September 2007, I encountered a new kind of Yosemite rain. My friend John Schmid, a pediatric nurse, and I left Oakland, California, before dawn, driving through thunderstorms to the Valley. Our goal was Beggar’s Buttress, a nine-pitch 5.11c. Double-fisting energy drinks and chewing nicotine gum, John tore up the mountain roads in his Subaru while I white-knuckled in the passenger seat.
We power-hiked to the climb amidst a swirling mass of gray clouds. Then the rain started. I pored through the guidebook, wanting this trip to be more than just a soggy day hike. A route caught my eye: Kaukulator, an 80-foot single pitch 5.11c on the west face of the Rostrum that had a protective capstone roof.
“Stays dry in a light rain,” I read to John from the book. Perfect.
We marched to the Rostrum. Hopped up on caffeine and nicotine, John jittered through Kaukulator’s off-fingers and thin-hand jams, then below the anchor hit a 12-foot stretch of “5.10c offwidth”—which in the Valley can mean anything. I shuddered watching John thrutch up the 4.5” maw, groaning occasionally. As he reached the anchors, the rain intensified, along with advancing thunder.
As I lowered John, he hollered, “Stop!” I assumed he was having trouble pulling out a cam. But no, this was something else: John braced his feet against the rock, leaned back, and then BLECH!!! A torrent of pink vomit flooded out of his mouth. BLECH!!! Again, mixing with the rain, a noxious cascade that fortunately fell out past me. John had been pushed over the edge by the energy drinks, the nicotine, the early start, the drive, and the difficult offwidth.
After he dry-heaved a few more times, I lowered John back to the belay. My haggard friend looked at me and said, “I think we forgot our hiking permits at the Lodge.”