Trip report: craggin el cap.

by We didn't write this

Yes,  there is fine single pitch cragging on the capitan.   The only thing is, you have to be willing to hike.  Consider exibit A.

The objective was the crux pitch of the salathe wall.  This pitch, located 3000 feet off the ground can be accessed on toprope by rapelling off the top of el capitan.  We left at 9pm on a Friday with hopes of hiking to the top of el cap that night.  We hiked into the mosquito ridden darkness wielding 70 pound packs full of climbing and sleeping gear as well as 2 days of water and food.

My partner in climb was Fernando.

We both had Tribal tattoos.  That was the only thing we had in common.  A certified badass, Fernando has done the Nose in a day several times as well as free climbed Free Rider.  His next project, the Salathe Wall, shares most of the bottom section of Free Rider and then takes a direct line up El’Cap’s headwall.  This headwall, rated 13c, is was the weekend objective.

The hike to the top of el capitan starts by ascending 1000 feet of elevation on trail.  After a twenty minutes of hiking, Fernando and I were totally soaked in sweat for the first time of the night.

We gained the base of the jumar section of the approach just in time to sip some crown Royal with Amon the Wall Pirate.  Note the sweat stains.

The epic began shortly after.  Fernando disappeared into the darkness above, ascending ropes at a record pace.  I managed to load my ascender and gri gri setup wrong which made jumaring much more difficult than it should have been.  As I struggled to ascent the 400 feet of ropes with my cripplingly heavy pack, I became completely soaked in sweat for the second time of the night.

It took me 2 hours to ascend 400 feet.  As I slumped over the top edge of the cliff, Fernando exclaimed “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepppiiiic duuuuude.”  It was 1am and we weren’t even close to the top.  We decided to make basecamp in the first flat spot available and push for the summit in the morning.

We awoke to find ourselves in the middle of the el cap slabs.  Groggy and beat up, we packed our shit and proceeded upward.

Around 10am on Saturday morning (13 hours after departure), we reached the anchors of the Salathe wall.

We arranged our possessions in a small shelter at the top of el cap.  Dubbed the “el cap house” this wonderful lodging is a 45 degree overhanging boulder with a sandy bottom.   We cracked open beers and I soon heard Fernando snoring, beer in hand.  It was time for a nap.

We awoke at 4pm, a good 5 hours later.  It was time to rappel off the top.  Fernando fixed a rope and went over the edge with a victorious yell.

I attached my gri gri and, against every single basic instinct in my body, followed him over the edge.  The feeling of 3200 feet of exposure below you is so scary, its nauseating.


We rapped 250 feet to reach a small ledge.

Here lies the anchors of the crux pitch of Salathe wall.  Fernando set up a toprope and I lowered him into the abyss below.

Next, we worked out the crux pitch of the wall.  This 5.13 pitch, the 32nd of the route, features a powerful compression sequence on extremely insecure fingerlocks and insignificant feet.   It felt hard on toprope, move by move.  To lead this pitch after doing the 32 below is hard to imagine.

After we each tried the pitch, darkness came upon us and we jumared up into the night.


The next day, we rappelled off for round 2 on the rig.  Since the wall gets morning shade, we had high expectations for this session.  Fernando tried the rig and did all the moves.  As I lowered down to try, the faint sounds of thunder we were hearing all morning rapidly intensified. It became evident that it was going to rain and we had to bail.  I quickly rigged my ascender and began jumaring the 200 feet of rope.

I ascended, thrown around by the wind, watching lightning and hearing thunder come closer and closer, with the valley floor 3000 feet below and an endless expanse of rope above.  Times like this in life its easy to get discouraged, to start doubting whether you are going to make it.  But then, you say fuck it and jumar anyways.  Not because it isn’t scary and hard, but because it’s the only thing you CAN do so you might as well try.

I finished jumaring and waited for Fernando on the ledge.  He came up and climbed the final, easy 5th class to the top.  I coiled a rope and followed in sideways rain.  We topped out el capitan and sprinted towards the shelter.

The rain grew in severity and eventually began penetrating our small shelter.  The water seeped down the rock face dripping closer and closer to us.  We dug ourselves further and further into the cave, deflecting streams of water with sleeping pads and water bottles.  Things were looking grim.  And then the rain stopped.

We finished our adventure by hiking off a slippery, wet el capitan.  The top slabs were treacherous, like bowling alleys ready to shoot you off the top into the abyss below.  The views of half dome with a storm above it, however, were tremendous.

A few hours later, we were past the rappels and back into the forest.   As we came down, covered in sweat, shamefully dirty, exhausted and defeated from 2 days in the high alpine wilderness, one disturbing thought kept crossing my mind.

I knew I was going back up to try again.

And that, my friends, is called addiction.