Sport climbing, Half Dome, El Cap

by We didn't write this

Its been a good bit since I posted here, for that I apologize.

I have been busy with projects both rock climbing and non rock climbing related.

The spray is as follows: since I last wrote I have been able to clean up some routes that I was working on. At Smith, I managed to repoint the mega henious 14a called “Badman.” This thing was dang hard for me. Its about a 20 move power endurance beast revolving around 2 henious undercling moves. After this is a good rest and a 13a redpoint crux near the last bolt that keeps it exciting to the finish.

My other big spring project was the Regular Northwest Face of Halfdome. This rig is 23 pitches, about 80% 5.9 and 20% 5.12. After the recon mission mentioned in the last post, I went up for another run with Walker. Things went pretty well and we managed to top out in about 8 hours with me only taking 1 fall on the middle, crux 12c face pitch.

After this I met up with my sponsored sugarmama for a weekend of cragging at a cool northeast california crag called Trinity Aretes. My cell phone took some water damage

and could only be communicated to via voice command, so I spent the drive screaming “PLAYYY JAYZ” and getting “CALLING EX GIRLFRIEND” Turns out Siri is kind of dumb. Tara and I met up on I5; I drove 3 hours north from San Fransisco and she drove 5 hours south from Bend, a classic long distance relationship meet in the middle manuever.. We ditched my car in a grocery store parking lot and took her van to Trinity. There I managed to snag a quick send of the classic TUFA 13b called Tiff, and work out the moves on the amazing Mean Streak, 14a.

As we were about to leave, I gave Mean Streak one more try. I felt confident going into the crux,but as I climbed into the powerful gaston opening sequence, my shoulder positioned in a very unnatural way and I heard some popping. I let go immediatly and lowered, thinking I probably f*cked my shoulder pretty bad.

As we drove Tara’s van out of bumf*ck northern california it proceeded to start smoking. We discovered it was out of engine coolant, and upon pouring some in saw it immediatly spill out on the pavement underneath her car. At this exact point I also discovered I didn’t know where my wallet was.

Life has a decent way of challenging us sometimes. There we were, in Weaverville Ca,

with no working car, me sans wallet or cell phone to call Triple A, and me with a potentially seriously hurt shoulder. All this t minus 14 hours till we both had to go to work hundreds of miles away.

I took the last of my cash and bought an ice cream sandwich. We then hitched a ride to the town where my car was with some very rural folks who spent the drive discussing a fuel additive that makes cars last longer as well as the merits of the most recent NASCAR race. Ironically, it turned out these guys were actually on the way to rescue another one of their family members also stuck on the road. As a consequence, instead of taking us to my car, they stopped a few miles shy and spend a good part of the hour trying to fix a jeep stuck on the road. This was an interesting experience, and we got to witness a slice of America in its finest form, in all its cigarette smoking, socks and sandals glory.

Eventually we got to my car, and drove it back over the pass to Tara’s. I snagged a rope, towed her car to a mechanic recommended by our ride, and then left Tara in a hotel. Then I headed for San Fransisco, giving up on Siri and listening to smooth country on the radio all the way home.

Afrer visiting a doctor that didn’t ask too many questions and declared my shoulder to be fine, I trained hard at the gym and headed up half dome only 5 days later. I knew things were questionalbe as pulling on the shoulder caused quiet a bit of pain even on the 1st of the 23 pitches of the route.

We simul climbed the first few pitches, sent the two bottom cruxes and soon found ourselves at pitch 10 or so, the technical crux of half dome. This is a 12c traverse pitch on greasy edges with poor feet.

I set off to lead the pitch, placed a few small cams and climbed into the crux. Grabbing the tiny granite crimps as hard as I could I found myself crossed up with my hands backwards in the sequence. My forearms pumped and I quickly got the sad realization I was going to fall. In a last move of desperation, I campus matched and lunged for a side pull. Miraculously, probably mostly due to the extreme rope drag of the pitch, I was still on redpoint. I finished the pitch, excited but also anxious; my death grip effort took a lot of my strength, and I was feeling pretty f*cking spent.

Walker followed, and feeling quiet exhausted and asked to lead the next simul block. Simulciminbig is different from regular climbing because its is absolutely necessary to put the more solid person on the bottom. Generally, simulclimbing is a ridiculous and high stakes game to play on a big wall. In theory, it sounds great. 500 foot spans of wall can be covered in minutes instead of hours. The reality is a bit more grim. The bottom person absolutely cannot fall. A fall by the bottom climber means violently dragging the top climber down the wall to the last piece of protection, causing them to abruptly stop and probably get seriously injured. The top climber is safer to take a fall, however, since most sumul climb blocks last hundreds of feet and the leader only has a limited amount of protection, they are probably running it out at least 20 to 30 feet between pieces and looking at a giant fall anyways Basically, the great irony of simulclimbing is that its a great safety belay technique that revolves around the fact that neither climber is allowed to fall. How this is different from free soloing I don’t know.

Regardless, we simuled the next 7 or so pitches to the big sandy. From here its 3 crux pitches, all about 12a to the top. We rested for a few minutes but got instantly cold. During our whole climb, clouds were hauling ass across the skyline and the forecast called for 30 mph winds. I was only wearing slacks and a t-shirt, so no time to rest. However, these conditions made for great sending temps. I went for the first Zig Zag, probably the technical crux of the route, pitch 18 or so, and sent while while Walker dutifully and coragiously shivered on the ledge. Walker followed and sent also. Then I climbed an easier pitch to the third Zig Zag, a pumpy, tough to protect undercling traverse. I sent this pitch also, running it out and basically only clipping fixed pieces.

Trying to send this high on a big wall is silly. The emotions of wanting to not fail completely overtake the danger and exposure of the situation. You are completely focused on sending the next pitch, not even noticing the 5000 feet of air below you to the valley floor. You run it out big and only focus on the moves. Really, its no different than going for your sport project and not thinking about the bolts. The only difference is that if you fail, you have to wake up at 3am AGAIN and do that ridiculous f*cking 2 hour hike to get to the base. There is more at stake so you try harder. Luckily, trad climbing is mostly 5.9.

I sent this pitch and soon we were at the base of the last challenge, the 12a slab at the very top. I went up slowly, clipping the bolts and trying not to sneeze. I gained the jug and screamed with joy, so f*cking happy to not climb Halfdome again. Soon we were on top basking in sunlight, superstars to the mostly foreign tourists on top. I sent and Walker only fell a few times, he will surely get it soon.

Half Dome Done.

That night we sat on my tailgate, drinking beer and even inhaling a little green. I joked with Walker that our obsession with halfdome was stupid. The climb is pretty chossy and the heinous 3000ft elevation gain approach is probably the hardest approach in the valley. Why not just get on el cap, a cliff approached in 10 minutes in flip flops?

“Its too f*cking hot” Walker replied.

“Dude…. lets just climb it at night. Think about it? Start saturday night, top out sunday morning, good temps all the way”

We laughed, made plans to sport climb next weekend and went to sleep.

Sure enough, exactly one week later I found myself at the base of god damn El Cap with Walker at exactly 12:30 am, almost midnight. Turns out my joke was not so much a joke.

Our plan was simple. We would start at 1am on sunday morning. Walker would lead the first 18 pitches by headlamp (besides the 100 foot runout hollow flake, 5.9x no gear), and then I would lead the next dozen or so to the top. The only deadline was work at 9am next monday morning. Simple enough.

Walker did a fine job of leading all the way to the alcove.

I jumared through the night behind him, glorious half intoxicated visions of me gloriously free climbing the second half of el cap running through my head. As soon as I took the lead I sadly realized that things were more difficult than I thought. The general lack of sleep and fatigue from ascending 1800 feet of rope through the night made me pretty spent even on the first pitch. I promptly almost slipped off the first pitch, a 5.10 or 5.11 layback, remarkably astounded that El Cap, even at 7 am in the morning in 55 degree temps is still really, really, really greasy.

I kept it together till the first crux, the boulder problem, but ghetto rope drag and general fatigue made me pull through this 13a dyno crux. From here I spent a pretty significant amount of effort leading a 5.10 pitch called “The Sewer,” a 5.10 dihedral thats always wet. This was the first time I have simultaniously smeared both feet on wet holds, handjammed in a wet crack and placed a piece in a mossy, wet fissure. I somehow sent the pitch gaining a cool ledge called “The block”, coming out with my pants soaked but thankfully not wearing a shirt. Here, I traded my water bucket of a chalkbag with Walker and sent the next pitch, an incredible 5.11 face climb. This brought us to the crux of Freerider, the pumpy enduro corner.

The Freerider enduro corner

I freed the first half, a 5.11 bit, but pumped out in the slopey kneebar sequence above.

When you top the enduro corner you have a hard choice to make: are you a superhero or a little bitch. The superhero would head straight up, through the el cap rough and out the super splitter 5.13b tight hands salathe headwall

The mortals traverse left for the freerider variation, which goes at 12a. Naturally we sallied out and set sail for left via the 5.12 traverse, which I almost freeclimbed but instead sideways fell on a fixed nut after a foot broke.

We found ourselves on a ledge close to the end of el cap.

From here the topo was pretty ambiguous on anchor placement and general direction. I climbed an exhausting and awkward crack to an anchor, blown around by the wind and generally hating life. Walker followed and we were under the last crux, the scotty burke offwidth.

I am sure this will sound cocky and ridiculous, but I found it somewhat ironic that as a 5.14 climber, I was sweating and scared about the 5.10 pitch that layed above. Like, seriously doubting whether I could make it up this piece of rock rated 5.10. Kind of silly when compared to the way you would approach a 5.10 at a sport crag. I said some final words and got into the offwidth, at this point so tired that my arms would not really hold on to the rock.

Being this tired on a big wall is a pretty scary feeling. Imagine being so worked that you grab a draw on your project but your hands are too exhausted to open the gate and put the rope through; your hands simply don’t work. Combine this with the fact that you are 3000 feet off the deck with no way down, and its kind of a predicament.

I groveled and prayed myself through the final offwidths and chimneys and topped out on a ledge where Freerider and the Salathe join. Soon Walker joined me and we were basking in glorious sunlight, 1 pitch from the top of El Capitan.

I aided what I could out of the last 5.10 pitch (think really big jugs) and we gained the top.

It was a damn happy occasion as El Cap was something Walker and I tried to climb twice before, via the Nose, and failed. It was pretty damn cool to finally climb the big stone, and only in 14 hours. We exchanged smiles, ate food that Walker somehow salvaged from the woods and stumbled back down to the car. I drove my truck back to San Fransisco, 30 something hours awake, hoping to catch some sleep before work.

Since then I have been mostly working on my sport climbing. However, I have requested some days off of work and am planning a 4 day climb up Freerider. I am hoping to rapel down the route beforehand and stash sleeping gear and food both at the block and in the alcove. Then, Tara and I will go to the alcove on the first day, take a rest day, climb to the block on the third and finally top out on the forth, rappelling the route the next day and cleaning our shit up. This would be a cool joyride without getting too exhausted or hauling. I hope its not too hot and we can make it happen!

Thanks for reading!