A trickle of water hits me in the face. Its spraying out of a backpack full of gallons of water swinging from my waste. Attached to it is a portaledge. We are all attached to a tree on top of El Cap. My heart skips a beat.
Our collective weight too much for the poor grigri, I slowly slide down the rope with the break completely engaged. More water sprays me in the face. I’ve sprung a leak.
Eventually the precious cargo is delivered to a small ledge 2600 feet off the ground. Ravens circle the stash as I jumar away to solid ground.
When the alarm clock rings two days later. The “what ifs” of before dissolve; its now time for “what is”.
Soon, Mike is climbing the splitter cracks of the first 5.10 on the Freeblast. The cliff radiates heat from the intense sun of the day before; a forecast of low 90s has us sweating through our t-shirts even in the coldest time of the day.
Mike leads the first 6 pitches and I follow almost shaking with anxiety. Shaking is not a good state of mind on the Freeblast, where having a cool, steady Slab-Ass is your most important Asset.
I take over leading and we simulclimb most of the next 8 pitches. The more I lead, the better I feel and soon we arrive at the Beak Flake, 13a, our main objective for the day. We have about 2 hours of shade left to send.
The Beak Flake is an incredible, soft 13a pitch that would be an instant classic, filled to the brim with gumbies and tickmarks if it was closer to the ground. Up here its a chossy obscurity, spread wide open for our enjoyment.
A cool breeze starts blowing. Having tried this pitch in a practice climb a few days earlier, I tie in for the lead. 20 minutes later, I send with no falls. Mike follows easily. 5 hours after departing the ground our first day is over.
Our Very Successful climbing day turns into a Very Unsuccesfull afternoon of hiding from the scorching sun.
In an effort to flatten the ledge I try to move a big rock and manage to put two large lacerations into my fingers. Later, while exiting a shame hole, my headlamp is knocked off my harness.
The night comes and we make our camp. I sleep in the shame cave and Mike makes a camp lower. At night, water begins to seep off the wall, dripping onto our faces. I pop a hole in my thermarest. No sleep happens.
3:30AM again. Two nights of no sleep and I feel like I am wobbling worse than Boulderite when Whole Foods screws up their organic chai kava latte. In the darkness Mike prepares breakfast while I sit headlampless. We collapse camp and begin day 2.
The meat of the day is 3 scary 5.12 traverse pitches, 12a, 12d, and 12c.
In a heroic effort Mike leads the first 5.12 pitch spending 45 minutes in a no fall zone. I get the 12d pitch which has fresh new pins, but is capped by a scary sideways boulder problem.
Pouring sweat I apply chalk up to my forearms and after multiple large whippers the pitch is sent and we are soon at the base of a large left facing corner system.
Here the climbing changes from scary face climbing to physical cracks and chimneys.
The day drags on for 14 hours and eventually we make it to the afformentioned portaledge, food and water stash at Tower of the People, a tiny, greasy slanted ledge only 7 pitches from the top.
On the ledge we are almost delirious from the hard work of the day. A huge bag of salami helps us regain reality. We settle in for our first night on the ledge.
I close my eyes and in a blink its 5am and day 3 begins. The 6 hours of sleep are amazing but I can feel deep fatigue in my core and biceps. I try to limber up best I can.
The goal of the day is two 5.13 pitches, the Coffee Corner, 13a, and The Roof Traverse, 13b. Its the hottest day yet, mid 90s, and chalk is impossible to keep on our hands.
Mike takes the first lead and smoothly sends the Coffee Corner for a warmup.
I try to follow but fall off. Doubt percolates. We time 20 minutes on the iPhone. Neither of us speaks. My brain goes on a long, introverted exploration during which I come to a realization that I am absolutely not OK with failure. Success is the only option, and I will never forgive myself for anything less.
I toprope the pitch clean.
Next up is the Roof Traverse, the hardest pitch on the route. Mike gracefully floats the crux
but his body sags out in the pumpy exit.
He has a poor landing (judges give him a 6.8/10 with a 2 point deduction), and smashes a huge hole in his palm.
I nearly fall in the same spot but manage to hang on. Exiting the roof I am uncontrollably screaming with success. Down lower, friends on the Freerider cheer us on as well.
Mike has another try and sends as well. A huge weight is lifted off my chest. Its so crazy to realize that this crazy, longshot of a dream, to free climb a difficult El Cap route during a 2 week vacation is actually going to be a reality.
We spend the afternoon drinking whiskey and hiding behind the portaledge.
Near the evening, a line drops from the sky and Tara comes bringing fresh psyche and watermelon. Its great to see a familar face but we feel like zombies
We settle in for our last night on the wall. The heat is heinous to the point that mosquitos are flying off the top of El Cap and attacking us on the ledge. Ants invade my sleeping bag, occasionally biting me throughout the night
Just like that, its 3:30AM. I am filled with a giddy energy. The prospects of removing the daisy chain from my harness and letting it fly away into the void forever is a delicious thought.
Up first is the Golden Desert, 13a. This pitch would be the most classic 12a at the Cookie Cliff, filled with fixed nuts and greasy bay area hipsters, but up here its a 13a smiling at us with a friendly, provocative grin. We both send first try.
The A5 traverse, 13a. is the last difficulty left. Tara hangs at its finish anchor, only 50 feet away. Two weeks ago, I tried the pitch but couldn’t even get close to sending it. Mike ties in and sends quickly.
The psyche in my head is almost enough to explode me. I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of climbing this pitch; in one word I can only describe it as “weightlessness”.
Overgripping and campusing, I send without any difficulty. I can’t contain my screaming at the anchor, unleashing the emotion of 4 days of hard work, and 4 months of preparation.
Suddenly, the wall is done.
If anyone is interested, I am auctioning off my trad rack on ebay.