Sep 23-30, 2012
Every Fall I make it out west for climbing on something a little bigger and more committing than I can find near Philadelphia. Last year I had a great trip up Charlotte dome, through Las Vegas and out the Needles of California. It had been two years since climbing in Yosemite Valley and I was interested in heading back and tackling my first big wall. Yosemite has plenty of big walls to choose from but El Capitan is the Big Wall and my sights were set when Wizard signed on for the trip…the soul taker for a spot in my reserved housekeeping cabin.
Wizard hadn’t been to Yosemite before and hasn’t tackled anything longer than Seneca has to offer but I trusted his skills with gear. Added with his upbeat personality I figured the two of us could finish off a wall together. I suggested a few walls and classic climbs I haven’t yet climbed in the Valley: Washington Column or Leaning Tower; multi-pitch routes like Royal Arches or Reed’s Pinnacle. When Wizard said he wanted to
“get whooped on a shit ton of pitches,” I threw it out there…Let’s just do an El Cap route.
Prior to the trip we did some practice pitches at Birdsboro and on Wasp at the Gunks. We purchased additional gear specifically for the wall: a few hooks, cam hooks, extra locking biners, a double shoulder gear sling, a new micro traxion hauling device and the biggest Haul bag I could find. And of course other prep included hours of studying topos, making lists, cleaning gear, reading trip reports, looking at alternate topos and studying the topo. Slowly I convinced myself our objective was not only with in reason but it would go so quickly we’d have time and energy to crank out another climb later in the week.
A few days before leaving Stephen and I sat down to go over gear and some tactics. I urged him to leave some things behind (jet boil) and pack light. We had over a hundred pounds of gear to get to Yosemite Valley and a 50lb limit imposed by Delta. Packing the Pig for the flight was challenge enough, something we didn’t accomplish until the day before leaving.
Day 1: Sunday 23, 2012
Emily dropped us off Sunday morning at PHL with our heavy carry-ons and oversized Pig. We made it on our planes just fine; TSA checked out Wizard’s carry on but recognized it as climbing gear and waved us on. We made it to OAK shortly after 1:00, connecting through SLC. We got our bright red KIA SOUL from Budget and drove right over to Lino’s house to pick up the cooler, stove, and some foam mats. Unfortunately Lino was out of town but we were able to slip into his back yard and pick up the gear. From there we headed on out to Whole Foods for lunch and the first shopping stop along the way. We got into the valley shortly before 6 and made our way to our Housekeeping cabin by the river. Becca joined us a while later. We had a beer and crashed out.
Day 2: Monday, Sep 24, 2012
The day started out with a casual breakfast and a trip to the Church Bowl. Wizard lead Uncle Fanny and I put up Church Bowl Tree. Uncle Fanny is a miserable slog of a climb up a corner. Wizard lost his watch around here. The first pitch of Church Bowl Tree is a bit easier than typical 5.10 valley climbs, a tricky move off the ground and on slick holds and difficulty at the chains.
A bit before noon we headed over to El Cap Meadow for lunch and to stare at El Cap. Becca, Wizard and I split up some load and found our way to the base of Lurking Fear. The temperatures were a bit hot so Wizard and I opted to hike in our underwear. There was a bit of a bottle neck at the slabs and fixed lines going up to the base of the route. A party of 4, with as many haul bags, were throwing in the towel. They decided the route was over their heads and the climbing too difficult. The bolts are too far apart on the supposed bolt ladders. Another two climbers were waiting with us to head up with their loads as the last of the retreating climbers knocked rocks and rapped the fixed lines. Becca turned around here, finding the hand-over-hand approach a bit sketchy.
Once at the base, and with our pants back on, the other two climbers let Wizard and I head up first. We came to the agreement that they could jug our lines and fix their lines to the 3rd pitch. They agreed to let the two of us get a lead on their team the following day. Good deal.
The first pitch is low fifth class free climbing up to a series of bolts. Pretty easy even with the rack and in approach shoes. I had the trekking pole ready to go and was stick clipping almost immediately. I suppose this is the “free variation” and the original route swings out right. There is a small roof to overcome but it takes a good cam and has a bolt just over the roof.
The second pitch was a bit more reasonable with closely placed bolts. A purple Alien went perfectly into the hole marked in the supertopo. Both of these pitches were long, longer than Supertaco indicated.
Wizard took pitch 3, heading up the direct bolted route instead of the flake/pendulum option. The cheat stick was used with good results, and we debated getting a proper stick clip. I as pretty sure that was the worst of the spaced out bolts, and indeed it was. We wouldn’t have had time to pick up a stick clip anyway.
We fixed the lead line atop pitch 3, with the dead mouse and I rapped to the intermediate anchor with length to spare. I hung the haul line (also 70m) which came up just short of the ground, but made it with stretch.
We started up around 1:30 and were packing up ready to head down at 6:30, just as it was getting dark. That was much slower than I anticipated, but then again we were climbing casually, knowing we’d be heading down that evening. Fortunately we brought the headlamps. The other two Wall Climbers we left behind weren’t so lucky but were pretty damn quick getting their ropes up. We left our gear, a stash of water, the ropes (on the wall), and Wizards back pack.
We found Becca at the Kia Soul in the dark and returned to camp for a Pasta dinner.
As we were turning in for the night Wizard and I heard some woeful cries “Get up, get up.” I thought our neighbor’s dog or wife had died. I asked, “Do you need help?” which was replied with a ‘Yes’. Stepping out of our cabin revealed a man laying face down, legs cooking in the flaming fire pit. I acted quickly, yelling “Get water!” repeatedly. I grabbed the man by his shoulders and pulled him out of the flames before rolling him over to his back. Wizard began putting the man’s legs out with his bare hands and Becca came out with some water. I grabbed some water from the cabin and dumped it on his legs as well. I saw he was no longer on fire and told Wizard and Becca I’d be right back, I went for help. I ran over to the laundry room and told the workers that a man was on fire by our camp site. They radioed it in and help arrived shortly after I got back to the camp site.
His legs were burned deep, leaving giant open wounds. The park EMTs made arrangements for him to be transferred to a burn center. The man seemed in good spirits (still drunk) and his wife finally woke up. We returned to our beds, Wizard washed the charred, melted flesh off his hands and I turned my alarm back from 3:30AM to 3:50AM to give us a bit more time asleep. The park service packed up their belongings and kept us up a bit too late.
Day 3: Tuesday, Sep 25, 2012
3:50 rolled around quick enough and we hopped out of bed. We took an overly leisurely breakfast of hot oatmeal and tea. We stuffed the Haulbag for the day and got moving. Becca promised to clean up a bit and took a parting photo. We drove to El Cap meadow and parked the Soul. We made our way in the dark to the base of the climb, arriving just as light was peaking out around 6:00. We jugged the fixed lines to the first anchor. I passed the end of the haul line to Wizard and sent him on his way to the top of the 3rd pitch and began hauling.
I took the lead for pitch 4, swung it back to Wizard for pitch 5, 6, took it back for pitch 7 and 8.
Pitch 7 was the first traverse. It starts out with a pendulum/tension traverse. We had a lower out rope for the haul bag and there was enough fix slings and leaver biners for the second. Wizard did a good job cleaning the pitch.
Pitch 8 is exciting. The 4” for 80’ to belay is no bullshit. We brought 2 C4#4s, 2C4#5s and a red #5 WC. The #5s work at the start of the crack but quickly become too big. I leapfrogged the WC and a #4 the entire way (I had left the other #4 below the run out, foolishly.)
By the time I got to the top of Pitch 8 it was close to 6:30PM, with the sun setting. I passed the lead back to Wizard for pitch 9 and he handed it right back to me for pitch 10. The pitches in the dark went at a snail pace.
Pitch 10 was thin, using small cams repeatedly and I had to continually back clean them. Just below the anchor are two small roofs, which are also tricky. I inverted a green alien when testing it on a blind placement. There are mandtory hooks and cam hooks high on this pitch and the last 20 feet to the anchor are thin.
It was after 1:30AM when I got to the top of pitch 10, We’d been up entirely too long and the day wasn’t over yet, we still needed to get ourselves and the bag down to the bivy ledge. I rapped down with the grigri on a back up and began swinging back and forth while looking for the ledge. I made a few exciting pendulums and found a bit of rope wedged in the crack that lead to the bivy ledge. I plugged a #1 and stepped up to the ledge…only to find myself being shorted by the back up knot, the lead/rap rope was caught in the crack below. This is exactly the kind of bullshit I’d expect at this hour. I was able to eek my way to the bolt and take myself off rappel. I tied the line off and Wizard made his way down with the haul bag. After a quick bite to eat and some water we made ourselves as comfortable as possible. I was quick to nod off but far from comfortable.
Day 4: Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012
I slept poorly and we were up and moving again around 7:00. A late start for sure but just a few hours after we closed our eyes. Wizard rapped down and freed my #1 cam and the stuck rope. I broke the seal and took a dump in a zip lock bag and sealed it up in the dry bag.
By the time we were climbing off pitch 10 it was 9:30. We discussed stopping at the Thanksgiving ledge or possibly the 14th bivy if we were moving slow.
Wizard took pitches 11, 12, 13 and I took us up to the top of pitch 14 and the next night’s bivy, arriving around 6:30, just as the sun was setting again. We’d climbed 4 pitches in nine hours. Slack expectations lead to even slower progress, I guess. Wizard objected to the turd in the haul bag and insisted it hang underneath.
The mess of pitch 12:
Cleaning pitch 12’s traverse was very difficult with tricky lower outs to retrieve the gear. I had the tail end of the lower out line attached to the back of my harness…with the shit bag. I wanted to clip it under the haul bag but didn’t get a chance before it was lowered out and away. I made my way across the traverse, rigging up lower outs and strugging to unweight the rope to clean the cams. Once the Haul bag was at the belay Wizard began taking in the lower out line. Magically the shit bag was airborn. I heard it hit the wall underneath me and I caught a glimpse of it as it free fell out of sight. Shit happens.
A note on cleaning these horizontal traverses, they’re a pain in the ass under the best conditions. Leaving more gear between the lower out points would have helped as I would have been able to re-aid and back clean the pieces in reverse order. Alternatively, back clean everything. The only solution I could come up with was to tension the entire line between the lower out loop and ascender to unweight the cams. Yeah, a pain in the ass.
Pitch 14 was exciting. I took the lead off the sloping ledge and along the “better way.” This so called “better way” is a sketchy free climbing in approach shoes with a leg breaking fall underneath. Of course it went fine but I was less than psyched on it. Additionally, we had packed up the big cams again and they were much in need after the bush. There are two hook moves to the bush and I definitely aided off that poor shrub. Miraculously I found a #4 stuck in the crack above the bush and was glad to have it! This pitch would have gone much faster in free climbing shoes.
The Bivy at Pitch 14 was lush compared to the previous night, but still uncomfortable enough to keep me up half the night. The belay only has one bolt with a static cord tied to it. There is a crack which takes .5-.75” cams.
At this point we realized we were down to strict water rationing. Split one 1/2 liter per pitch would put us at empty at the top of the climb. We had plenty of food, but water was desperate.
Day 5: Thursday, Sep 27, 2012
We woke early and Wizard took on pitch 15, 16, 17 to the Thanksgiving day ledge.
He took his first dump just after starting up the pitch. Since we were already packed for the day the turd would be going back near the top of the bag. And this time without the dry bag. He bagged it 3 times and stuffed it as far as we could. Wizard found a slightly busted #0 Mastercam laying on a ledge, maybe he can get the trigger wire replaced. Wizard took a hard fall on to his daisy chain pitch 15 but continued on for the next 2 pitches as well.
We were at the ledge around 1:00PM and ran into Sky and Amanda. These guys saved our asses, giving us some water and fixing our lines the last two pitches. I spent a long time at the belay atop pitch 18 waiting for them to finish up, but I’m sure we moved faster in the end having our ropes brought up the last technical pitches. I was a little let down not getting to lead the last two pitches… but I got over it.
Eventually we were moving again and Sky and Amanda were fixing their lines up the slabs directly above. I fixed the rope to the Mantel Boulder but decided not to continue on past it without free climbing shoes. I built an anchor so wizard could lug the bag over to the boulder. Wizard had his shoes out so he ran up the last 150 feet to a tree. I don’t think I’d have made it to the tree from the 19th pitch anchor. I jugged next to the haul bag, freeing it frequently, and we made it to the “top” of the wall before 6. I decided we should spend another night on the wall even though we only had 1/2 a liter of water left between us. It was getting dark quick and I didn’t want to do the ledges in the dark. Plus, there was no way we’d be doing anything else this trip.
Day 6: Friday, Sep 28, 2012
We woke up around 5 and got moving. I wanted to get as much hiking done before noon as possible. We were down to our last half liter of water which we split during breakfast. From that point on it was go. We managed to navigate our way up the remaining slabs, fixing the line twice and taking turns wrangling the pig. We set off to the East Ledges but found ourselves way too high and up on the trail leading back to the valley. Instead of back tracking we decided to push on and follow the trail down, figuring it’d only be a few downhill miles. It ended up being about 9 miles down a rocky hot sunny path past Yosemite Falls and Lost Arrow Spire. We found a small spring along the trail and I carelessly drank from it. We wet ourselves down with the cool water. Eventually we were passing people on their way up and Wizard begged shamelessly (and successfully) for water from hikers. We both took turns falling over with the Haul Bag on, thankfully we had the trekking poles so this happened less then it otherwise would have.
We made it to Camp 4 around 12:30. I left Wizard at the Camp 4 bathrooms (where there is water) and set off for the car. It was a nice walk without the load I was carrying and a chance for me to send some texts and call my brother, who’s daughter had been born the day before. I picked up some Gatorades from a vending machine on my drive around the loop.
Wizard and I tried to get showers in before eating but they closed just as we arrived. We headed to Curry Village and ate from the grill (pizza not open yet). We made more pasta after showering and relaxed around camp. Around 6 we headed over to Yosemite Village for the slide shows, including a presentation by Alex Honnold. We were falling over on our feet, completely exhausted.
Day 7: Saturday, Sep 29, 2012:
We woke up pretty early again, cleaned up and sorted gear. We swung by the Curry Village on the way out and Wizard checked the under Uncle Fanny for his watch (no luck). We met up with Peter at the YOS Fire helicopter and was glad we got to check it out on the ground. We drove back to Oakland and met up with Lino. We had pizza at Zacharies, which makes an awesome vegan pizza with Daiya.
Day 8: Sunday, Sep 30, 2012: Long flights home.
Wizard and I spent the time traveling discussing what we’d do next time. Also, Delta sucks, my TV’s sound didn’t work, my iPod didn’t work and my phone’s music won’t sync. Sitting around with nothing to do felt very familiar at this point.
-It’s been a few days and my feet haven’t yet recovered, there is still numbness in my big toe.
-My calves were sore for days. I think this is from climbing in the aiders as much as the hike out.
-My fingers/finger nails were in horrible shape, as in broken and peeled back. A set of full gloves would be ideal for following and general work while not climbing. I had a hard time untying knots or packing the bag with my fingers so banged up.
-The scarpa Zens worked well, but I wouldn’t rule out even beefier shoes. A stiff sole is ideal.
-Trekking Poles were great to have
-We brought too much rain/cold weather gear. I was far more afraid of freezing than dehydrating. Had we left the bivy bags/set of long underwear/ or one more layer we’d have had room for nearly a gallon more of water.
-While I personally don’t have a sense of smell, apparently shit stinks. A separate wag bag would be preferable for future partners.
-The supertopo was extremely helpful, some notes on the recommended rack:
- We did not need a hammer or copperheads. Even if the fixed gear was missing I think we’d be able to get through. rivet hangers are not needed.
- One set of micro nuts was enough, I definitely used the smallest sized offset BD micros.
- Two cam hooks and two hooks Cliffhanger and Grappling Hooks are required for the route.
- C3’s were extremely valuable
- Offset cams were helpful and used well
- Could have trimmed some other cams off in this mid size
- I’d rack differently in the future, doubling cams up on ‘biners and carrying a few extra biners.
- Use notchless ‘biners when possible.
- Extra Locker Biners would be good.
- A cordolette was helpful on pitch 14 anchor and at the mantle bolder, otherwise devoted webbing set up 2 bolt belays would be ideal.
- Short quickdraws would also be nice. The trad draws were continually being broken apart and rarely reassembled.
- For long lowerouts it would be good to leave a biner behind. The slings can be warn looking and are generally slow to get the rope moving through.
- The second should climb with a bag. I was adamantly against this idea, viewing it as “extra shit” but digging water and food out of the bag was difficult. The “top” of the haul bag is a shifty idea.
- The rope hook was useful, but perhaps rope bags would be even better. The ropes needed to be flaked at nearly every belay.
- I’m glad we did not have a portaledge on the climb. We would have stopped far earlier on Tuesday and probably gotten down a day later had we brought it.
Gear we brought:
-2 Narrow Cam Hooks
-1 Cliffhanger and 1 Grappling Hook
-one set of C3s (including 000)
-2 sets C4 .4-5
-1 green Link Cam (great to have)
-1 Yellow Link Cam
-WC friend #5 (red)
-Full set of aliens: black-Clear
-4 Offset Mastercams from 00/0 to 2/3
-BD offest micro nuts
-BD nuts 1-13
-one ball nut (not used)
-HB offset nuts (used)
-minitraxion and a microtraxion (we brought and each kept them as personal items, I used the microtraxion as a back up while jugging)
-one grigri each, tube device.
-15 trad draws
-dozen or so locker biners