Wednesday, June 24, 2009

24 hours?

Gettin Ready

Life is still wonderful here in the Valley, although it's certainly starting to feel more like summer. Last Sunday brought the longest day of the year, and we've been trying to put all these glorious hours of sunlight to good use. Sunday itself was mostly a rest day, Scott and I having just done the Nose on Saturday, but I did get some action in late in the day with my friend Brad. He called around 5 to say that he'd just gotten off work and wanted to climb!

I had never done the Royal Arches route, a super classic long moderate route that starts just behind the Ahwahnee hotel, so that's what we chose. Brad had done it, and was eager to try and best his old time of 45 minutes. That's right, a 15 pitch 5.7 in 45 minutes. Whatever, I'm game.
So we meet up at the hotel, wander up to the base of the route, and start the timer. Brad zooms up the route, and is quickly out of sight. It's more of a cardio challenge that anything, with most of the route consisting of running back and forth on ledges to access short little steep sections. The climbing is easy, and Brad stays 50-100' ahead and is able to yell down directions. The route really reminds me of the Flatirons, in Boulder, which are also big easy slabs routes and popular solos.

Up higher, the climbing gets a little steeper, which actually lets me catch my breath a bit as I have to slow down and think through the moves. There's a cool little bit in the middle where you have to negotiate a 15' blank section of rock with a rope swing (the rope is fixed in place) sideways to another ledge system. Yeah Tarzan!

Near the top comes the mental crux of the route, a series of blank, low-angle slabs that you have to traverse across. It's easy to just plant your feet and move slowly across, but there are no handholds, so it seems a little scary. Brad makes quick work of these, and he reaches the end of the climbing in just 35 minutes. I finish about 5 minutes behind, and we sit and chill for a while at the top. The real crux of the route come on the descent, the infamous North Dome Gully, which actually takes us nearly 2 hours. Maybe it would have been faster to down-climb the route!

Monday was a day of cragging out at "Pat and Jack" with Scott E, and Anna (of Lyons, CO, and currently Bakersfield, CA). We have a great chilled out day and get up two really good routes. "Knuckleheads", a bolted 5.10b with tricky, slippery, slopey climbing, and then "The Tube", a really fun 5.11 dihedral. The crux of "The Tube" involved some bizarre body-friction moves to try and keep yourself in the severely leaning corner, and it was interesting to try and figure out how to make progress using only your feet, butt, and shoulder.

Tuesday was another long day! I met up with Eric, a strong kid who is living and working here for the summer, at 5am, and we began the Slabs approach to Half Dome! We had never climbed to together other than some craggin in groups, so I was interested to see how he climbed and if our systems for climbing big routes fast would mesh well.

So we met up, gathered gear, and ate breakfast, and starting hiking around 6:30. That "hike" is pretty heinous, consisting of steep slabs with plenty of wet and loose terrain. It took us a little over 2 hours to do the hike, and then we chilled at the base and talked with two nice women who had hiked up to camp with their husbands, who were now on the route. They informed us that 4 parties had started up already this morning, so we might be in for a bottleneck. Anyways, we started climbing at 9:30, and the first 9 pitches went super quick with me leading and Eric simul-ing. One party passed there, no delay. I ended my lead at the base of the bolt ladder on the "Robbins Traverse". There was one party on that pitch, and we could see the others on the next 2 pitches.

Since I've been in the Valley, we've been focusing a lot on climbing big routes quickly, usually choosing the easier, well traveled "Trade routes". This means that almost every route is going ot involve passing other parties on the route, who might not be focusing as much on speed or might not be as experienced. It's kind of an art, making sure to be nice and make a good impression as you climb up to their belay, chatting about the weather and how great the climb is, generally avoiding the subject of passing right away. It does help, though, to put on a little burst of speed right as you're coming up, just to let them know that you won't get in their way later on. Finally, once you're at their belay and have established a bit of a connection, then ask where the best spot for you to pass might be. Often there are quick variations that might enable you to climb around them without ever slowing down. Sometimes, though, the route is a bottleneck, and there's no other option but to wait.

That's what we had to do there, chilling out while they led and cleaned the bolt ladder. The next pitch was equally bad for passing, so we cooled our heels as they led that as well. Finally we were at a big ledge, and they stopped for a second to let us by. There we still two parties ahead, and passing them was also time-consuming. I guess it's all part of the experience, though. Finally we were in the lead as we got to the Zig-Zag pitches, which went quickly, and I was still leading strong. Topping us out felt great, the hiker crowds on the top were in full force as Eric followed the last pitch and flopped on top. 3:45pm, for a time of 6:15, definitely a good time, I was stoked that climbing with Eric went pretty smoothly.

All of this was good prep work for the next BIG GOAL: the Half Dome-Nose Link-up, which I think Eric and I will by attempting on Saturday (and maybe on into Sunday). Check back soon to see how it goes!

ps- I do finally have some photos of the route (I know I've been slacking on bringing my camera on these big, fast climbs) so I'll update this post in a little while.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


One time is not enough on the Best Rock Climb in the World, so my Friend Scott E. and I decided to go for another run up the Nose of El Capitan. You can read the report of our last ascent a few weeks back here. That was our first NIAD (Nose in a day) attempt, having already done the route in three days last year. That run went super well, and we finished in just over 14 hours. Having accomplished the "In a Day" goal, we were motivated to try again with a few simple goals: Be safe, have fun, and kick ass!

Yesterday morning at 4:30 our alarms went off and we awoke from our bivy in the Pines campground. Before that happened, though, some hilarity had ensued:

One of our preferred dirtbag camping options here in the Valley is to find nice tourists with a reserved campsite in the Valley campground (the Pines) and ask ever so nicely if we can bivy (basically just lay down our mats and sleeping bags and crash) in the corner of their site. We often embellish our request with epic stories of having just descended from El Cap and not having a place to stay (did we mention we climbed El Cap...). It's a good plan, and it's always worked for us.
Anyway, Friday night, the night before our Nose attempt, we were just looking to get some good rest, and we found a really nice guy who had a site all to himself. He said of course we could stay. Come 1:30am, we're asleep, and we're awoken to yelling and banging. I'm still pretty much dreaming and/or asleep, but Scott jumps up quickly. As there often is, there's a Black Bear in the site. I guess some friends of the guy we were camping with had arrived late, and were in the process of stocking their bear box (big metal food storage lockers located in every site). They weren't paying enough attention, though, and had left the box open, and so the local bruin seized the oppurtunity to grab a free snack.
So we wake up to a woman screaming "Hey Bear!" and clapping her hands. I guess someone had told here that's what to do to scare away a bear. It wasn't working. Scott jumps up, and in a much more aggressive tone, starts cursing the bear. Still nothing, he's going to town on the tasty contents of the box. Scott runs up, and with only the bear's butt sticking out of the box, proceeds to kick it square in the ass. (I probably shouldn't write this, since I'm sure it's against a number of Federal laws to assault a bear in a National Park, but it's too hilarious not to). The bear, however, is still too enthralled by all the free food and ignores Scott. He finds some rocks to throw, and eventually gets the bear to back up our of the box. Only then does Scott actually decide to back away, since this bear's no little baby and it looks pissed off. Finally, more rocks and much banging on the metal box convinces the bear to wander off, probably to find another open bear box to raid.
To top it all off, though, the woman who had been incessantly yelling "Hey Bear!" and clapping this entire time, also had a can of mace (!?), and I guess she wanted to use it on the bear. I think she must have pointed it the wrong way, though, because she caught herself full on in the face with it, and spent the next half hour sobbing and coughing.

So, we didn't get an awesome night's rest, but we still dragging ourselves out of bed at 4:30am, ate a quick breakfast, and headed down to El Cap. We timed it perfectly, and it just became light enough as we approached the base. This being our third time on the route, the second in just a few weeks, we now have the first bit pretty well sussed out. Regardless, the first few pitches always feel hard, and I take my time working my way up the slippery, pin-scarred cracks. No one is on Sickle Ledge, so we move quickly past that and into the Stovelegs cracks. One minor change from our last attempt: I would lead us all the way from the ground to Camp 4, what had been 3 lead blocks. Hopefully this would save time by eliminated lead change-overs. I think it worked well, and the experience of leading 20 consecutive pitches (only having to tag up gear twice) was pretty cool.
Passing Dolt tower, we find a party of 6 Korean climbers just waking up. We knew there were a lot of people on the route, since we had looked with binoculars the previous day, and we were relieved to be able to base 6 people at once without even slowing down.

Soon came the highlight of the day for me: the King Swing. We had avoided it on our previous ascent, opting to use a more straightforward new variation (the Jardine Traverse), but there's tons of appeal in sticking to the original route and doing the Swing. For the non El Cap savvy, the Nose route goes up the wall about halfway following various crack systems, which are essential for making progress. When the route reaches a spot called Boot flake, all of the cracks above blank out, and you must traverse 40' left across blank rock to gain another crack. To accomplish this, one climber lowers down about 100' from the top of Boot flake, and then runs with all his energy back and forth across the face until he can lunge and grab the elusive crack. Here's a few pictures from our King swing last year to give you an idea:

Scott and I atop the Boot last year. Note the haul bag, since we were doing it "Big-wall" style in three days. Do it in one and you don't have to haul that heavy bag!

Me about to stick the King Swing

Anyways, the Swing went pretty well for us. I lead it, and I was able to fix the rope atop Boot Flake, and lower myself down for the Swing on my GriGri. I thought it was pretty slick when I lowered down to Scott, who was jugging and cleaning the bolt ladder pitch above Texas flake, and was able to tag a bit of gear from him. Then I had to start running hard, and caught the faraway hold on my first attempt. Unfortunately, I had swung a bit too high, and I couldn't lower myself down on the GriGri while still gripping the holds. I had to let go, swing all the way back, lower a few more feet, and then stick it a second time. This time I grabbed some bigger holds and was able to get a hand free to ease off the GriGri and into the crack. With a giant war cry cheer, I was off up to Eagle Ledge, as Scott quickly finished cleaning the Boot. The whole sequence worked really well, and I'm psyched we were able to climb the route in the original fashion.

Soon we were at Camp Four, and it was Scott's turn to lead. After a short delay waiting for a party of three to finsh the Great Roof, Scott raced off up it. We passed that party just below Pancake Flake, and they were really nice, and I was soon at Camp 5, belaying Scott on maybe the most time-consuming pitch on the route: the Glowering Spot. The belay was another highlight of the route for me, though, since I got to chill out, enjoy the Valley view, rest up for my coming leads, and enjoying my huge sandwich! Fresh baked bread from the night before with salami, mayo, mustard, and cheddar; it's the perfect wall power sending food!
We reached Camp Six around 3:30, and it would be my leads all the way to the top. We could see one party (two really nice British kids) just finishing the Changing Corners lead, and I led off just behind their jugger. Having memorized the intricate climbing on this pitch, it went super quick, and I reached the next belay just after the British party's second. They let us pass, and so I fixed the rope and led up the next 5.10 thin hands pitch. Another pitch fixed, Scott jugging furiously behind, and then I was done with the Alcove also. One short 5.10 pitch to the base of the bolt ladder, fix the rope there, and then sprint up the over hanging bolts. Scott opts to simul this part, as opposed to jugging, and while I cheer him on he blasts up it. Another final sprint to the tree and we've done it. We check the watch, it's 4:54pm, our final time is 11hours and 24minutes. Yeah, Nose in half a day!

Friday, June 19, 2009

More pointless clock-racing

Another report from the world's most beautiful tourist trap: Yosemite!

Today (Friday) is a rest day, I'm lounging around the employee housing common room (really plush) doing laundy, dishes, and internet nerding. Resting because yesterday was a big one: Half Dome! My partner for this adventure was again Scott E, of Canon City, CO (who you might remember from our speedy ascent of the Nose a few weeks back). Scott had just gotten back in the Valley from SoCal, where he was hanging with friends, wife, and baby, and watching the Lakers win.
Scott and I like to climb fast together, so on his first day back we picked an easy line to get back in the groove. We did The Moratorium (4 pitches, 5.11b) and continued up the East Buttress of El Cap (13 pitches, 5.10). I got the leads on Moratorium, since Scott had already been on it and I wanted the onsight. It was rad! It follows a huge right-facing corner system and is sustained at 5.10 almost the whole way, with one short 5.11 crux. I led it in two pitches, onsight, in just over an hour. The route ends on a big ledge, far on the right margin of El Cap, where it has devolved from the striking 3000' majesty of the Nose to a merely 1000' lower-angled ridge. The East Buttress follows this ridge, and has a short (but tricky) 5.10 crux down low, with mostly 5.5-5.9 climbing up the heavily featured terrain to the top. We led it in two blocks, Scott taking the first one and me simul-climbing behind. Around midway we traded, with me leading, doing a mix of simuling and short-fixing. The route went quickly, with only short delays due to passing a party and climbing slow on the wet rock (nearby Horsetail Falls was getting blown onto the route, making it feel like a water-park ride). We topped out by 3:30, just a little over 4 hours for the entire link-up (17 pitches according to the guidebook). We were stoked, and ready to take on a bigger challenge.

So, Wednesday night we start the hike up to Half Dome. The plan is to sleep at the base of the route and fire it in the morning. We make a hearty meal, try to ignore the persistent mosquitos (who knew they hung out up there), and quickly got to bed. There are a few others bivied there also, and they wake up before us and start the route in the twilight. We take out time making breakfast and racking up, spotting both parties a two pitch lead.
When we're finally ready, I take the lead. I pass both parties without incident within the first four pitches, and I end up leading (with Scott simuling) to around pitch 7. I say "around" because somewhere in there we got off-route, and I ended up climbing some mega-dirty hand crack, and then traversing around for a while on ledges. Scott came up, made fun of my poor sense of direction (it was seriously confusing!), and got us back on route.
Here the route became more well-defined, and we made good progress with Scott in the lead. He took us to the base of the chimney pitches (pitch 12-ish), and I took back over. Here I started short fixing, which meant that I could finish a pitch, pull up the slack, fix the rope, and then continue climbing as Scott ascend the fixed line. I knocked off the next 8 pitches, including the free crux Zig Zag pitches (11d-12a) with a mix of free and aid. Scott wanted to top us out, so he took the lead just before "Thank God" ledge, a really cool feature. It's a narrow sliver of granite that formes a ledge 40' long and just a foot or two wide. You start simply walking along it, but it quickly gets too narrow, so then you crawl for a bit, and then finally end up with your hands on the ledge hand-traversing. Scott then got stuck in the true crux of the route, the narrow 5.8 squeeze chimney. Scott's a built dude, and his manly chest had trouble fitting through the tight slot. Then more delay as Scott gets to the ledge at the end of the pitch and finds another party just starting the next pitch. They had spent a cold night on a ledge about halfway up the route, and now their belay was consuming every possible piece of gear on the ledge, so Scott has no choice but to sit down and wait. 40 minutes later, their leader finally finishes the pitch and after much wrangling, their second managed to clear the belay (I shouldn't give these guys a hard time, they were super nice and it was their first big-wall/aid experience). Scott builds our belay, brings me up, and quickly navigates to their next belay, where they graciously let us pass.
The tourists are in sight now at the top of the wall, and we're motivated to finish up. One last 5.8 pitch and some wandering traversing has Scott clearing the lip and joining the hikers on top. I have to follow, which is complicated by our inability to communicate (with Scott a ways back from the lip hunting for an anchor). Finally I pull up and we're done: 8 hours 40 minutes.
We're pretty happy with our time, considering it was our first time on the route, but we know we can do it way faster if the conditions are right.
Finishing Half Dome in a day was especially gratifying to me, since I listed it as one of my top ten climbing goals this year. On a thread here, I listed my goals for the year, and with the year a little more than half done, I'm a little more than half done with my routes.
Here's the List

In Eldo:
Jules Verne (onsight)
The Evictor (not done, I've put in some effort, but it's really hard)
The Wisdom (not even tried yet, hopefully this Fall)
Doub-Griffith (onsight)
Also in Colorado:
Wunsch's Dihedral (redpoint)
D7 (not done)
Scenic Cruise (not done)
And in the Valley:
Reg NW on Half dome IAD (Heck yeah, 8:40!)
The Nose, IAD (Done, 14:06)
Astroman (Done, onsight)

So I guess I've got some work to do when I get back to Colorado in the fall. The hardest one might be D7, which is on the Diamond of Long's Peak at 13,000'. It won't really be in season by the time I get back, so maybe it'll have to be a winter style aid ascent...

I guess since I'll have bunch of time for climbing over the next few months, I should make some more goals at some of my potetial destinations. Here goes:

In Yosemite:
The Crucifix
Seperate Reality
Tales of Power
The Big Linkup (Nose and Half Dome) in a day
Bachar-Yerian (probably not, since I value my ankles, but we'll see...)

Tons of Stuff in the Sierras:
Positive Vibrations
Red Dihedral
Mt. Russell
Mt. Whitney

In Squamish:
The Grand Wall
The Freeway
The University Wall

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Comfortable Wall

Hey Y'all- Graham and I just got back down to the Valley after a few days up on THE BIG STONE, El Cap that is. We did the Salathe Wall route, which I had done last year with Scott E. This year it seemed like a fun thing to do, get high up, camp out on ledges, and generally enjoy some fantastic climbing.

Wednesday the 10th-

Our first full day back in the Valley after the recent trip to the Needles. We had made big plans to start bright and early on the route. For those of you not familiar with it, the Salathe Wall is 35 pitches, and the first 10 pitches are known as the Free Blast, since they are somewhat easier than the upper part, and they can be conveniently done in a day. They end with a rappel down to Heart Ledges, and from there there is often about 500' of fixed ropes to the ground.

Our plan had been to do the Free Blast without our haul bags (with all our stuff for multiple days on the wall), and then rappel back to the ground, eat one last meal, and then ascend the fixed lines with our haul bags to start the wall proper.

But... we are really lazy, and we've both already climbed the Free Blast, so we decided to skip it, spend most of the day taking care of business in the Valley, and then start up the fixed lines around 3pm.

Here's a shot of the route. The Free Blast is the first bit up to where the route dips back down again. The fixed lines ascend to the low point of the dip.

So, after spending an hour or so hanging around El Cap bridge, chatting with Tom Evans, racking up, and cooking all of the food in the cooler that was about to go bad, we hiked up to the base and began jugging (ascending) the fixed lines. This brought us to Heart Ledge rather quickly, and from there we led the short pitch to Lung Ledge, where we would bivy for the night. Also that night, we decided to lead the Hollow Flake pitch and leave our rope haning on it, so that we could get by it quickly in the morning. The Hollow Flake is one of the more intimidating pitches on the climb, and since I led it last year, it was Graham's pitch. It starts out with a big traverse to the left to gain the huge flake/corner system with a wide crack. At the bottom, the crack is about 6", just right for our biggest cam. The leader can push the cam here and feel reasonably protected. Up higher, though, the crack is too wide for the cam, so the leader must just sack up and run it out to the top. The possibility of a giant swinging fall is very real, and terrifying. Graham did great, though, and we put that pitch behind us and were able to rest easy that night.

As we were setting up camp, we chatted with a party on a ledge about 100' feet to the right. Turns out it was Alex Honnold, a young hard-climbing star, and Conrad Anker, a bad-ass veteran mountaineer. They were trying El Corazon, a 13b free climb, I guess Alex was trying to onsight. Good luck Alex!

Thursday- It's tough to wake up early on the Salathe, since the sun doesn't make it around to that side of the wall until mid-afternoon. Once we did get up, though, the Valley was gorgeous with tons of sun shining on the Cathedral rocks. At one point during the previous night, I had awoken on the small ledge to see all of El Cap, including the huge overhangs above us, bathed in white moonlight. It was bizarre, and for a second I couldn't figure out where I was. Good thing I didn't try to jump out of bed...

Graham setting up camp on Lung Ledge

Anyways, once we got moving, the climbing went quickly. It's still mostly earier climbing at this point, lots of pitches 5.10 or easier. I got to lead the Ear pitch this year, supposedly the "Most Terrifying 5.7 ever" or something (I think the quote is from Royal Robbins, one of the First Ascentionists of the route). It wasn't too bad now, though, with modern big cams. By mid-afternoon we had reached El Cap Spire, our planned bivy for the night, so we used the remaining daylight to fix our two ropes on the next three pitches (including the killer 11c crack right off the spire, which I was one fall away from freeing... oh well). By this time another party had worked their way up to the ledge just below us. We chatted a bit, they were a team of three from France, including two Alpine guides. It was their first route on El Cap, and they were doing great. It was getting late, and we agreed to let them jug our first fixed line so that they could fix their own, and then they slept in the Alcove, a nice sheltered ledge just below the Spire.

The victorious duo atop El Cap Spire

Friday- As you might have guessed, I was psyched to sleep in, but the early sounds of the French party at the ledge just below ours woke us up and spurred us into action. We wanted to make sure to stay ahead of them, or risk getting bogged down in the mess of passing. Since they had used our rope to fix their own, they could jug right past us while we lounged around and ate breakfast if we weren't careful.

So I slammed my breakfast (pop-tarts and a can of pears) and quickly began jugging our own fixed lines. Graham followed behind and rigged the haul, and I was able to begin leading the next pitch: The Sewer. It's pegged as the worst pitch on a fantastic route, and it would certainly be one of the worst pitches on any route I've ever done. The name says it all, the Sewer is running with water and coated with a layer of slippery green slime. Such is the price for an otherwise spectacular climb. I made it up, managing to get myself all wet and gross, and we continued at a fast pace. We had planned to camp at Long Ledge that night, only four pitches from the top, but we knew the French would also be on that ledge, and it'd be uncomfortable with 5 people. So we decided to just gun it for the top and avoid the crowded ledge.

Graham stylin' on the Salathe. Photo by Tom Evans, www.

We knew that this would mean climbing fast, since last year on the route we had started from the same spot and only managed to make Long Ledge by headlamps. Luckily, I had the next lead, which was a spectacular 200' corner that leads to the base of the Salathe Roof. The corner is pretty hard free lead at 5.12b, but with a mix of 5.11 free climbing and easy aid it went quickly.

The French party leading the 12b corner below the Roof

That brought us to the Roof, which is spectacular, airy, and easy. Then the Headwall, which again is easy aid in a unbelievable position. We were able to lean back down and cheer on the Frenchmen as they fought their way up the corner. We reached Long ledge by 5pm, 3 hours of daylight left for the remaining four pitches. I speed off on the aid pitch of the ledge, and then link the next two pitches into a great, long lead. Graham sprints up the final 5.4 romp to the top and we're done!

Of course its getting late now, maybe 7pm, so we figure we'll just camp out on the top. This works great, since we found a great bivy cave (even stocked with pads!), and we didn't have a campsite in the Valley anyhow. Some quick searching yielded loads of great dry firewood, and our canned ravioli tasted fantastic, nice and hot.

Anyways, it's Saturday now, and we're back in the Valley poaching internet and showers, generally more of the same. The weekend crowds are in full force, the full carnival scene, and all the roads and parking lots are packed. So we'll lay low for a while and get psyched for the next big climb... I don't know, maybe Half Dome? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Needles Pics

I guess it's too hard for me to combine words and pictures, so here's a load of pics from the beautiful Needles. Coordinate them with the trip report below.

Me leading Airy Interlude (5.10a)

Our rockin campfire

More of Graham's rad photo trickery. Full moon light on our camp.

Me leading Sirocco, about to take a 30+ footer

Graham cleaning up my sew-up job on the first 12a pitch of "Romantic Warrior"

Me getting physical while following the 12a traverse pitch on "Romantic Warrior"

Me leading the crux "Book of Deception" pitch on "Romantic Warrior" (12b)

Graham following same

Also, while I've been doing posting all this, I've been rocking out to "Cage the Elephant", a super fun band.
Check them out!

Needles, Rain and Shine

We arrived back in the Valley yesterday night after a fun few days down in the Needles. The climbing was amazing when it wasn't raining; here's a quick TR of how it went down:

Wednesday the 3rd: We left the Valley in the afternoon. The crew was Scott E (of Canon City, CO), Graham (of Seattle and New Zealand), and Adam (of SoCal). Greg was also gonna join us, but ended up reversing direction shortly after we left the park and heading up to Squamish. Scott E had some truck trouble on the way, and Adam stayed to help, so Graham and I (both in Graham's truck) made it down and set up a hasty camp in the dark.

Thursday: Scott E and Adam roll in early, but we don't get to climbing right away since we decide to move camp. The main campground at the trailhead is surprisingly full, and we spot a prime spot about a half mile back up the road. We finally hit the trail mid-afternoon, riding our mountain bikes with our full packs of gear. One of the cool things about the Needles is, despite the 3 miles from trailhead to the rocks, the trail is very easy, and it goes quickly on bikes. Our climbing goal that day is just to get a feel for the area, so we get a short 5.10, "Airy Interlude". Graham and I climb together, as do Adam and Scott E, and we climb 2 different starting pitches, racing up to the base of the shared 2nd pitch. Scott E wins, so he starts leading up the crux pitch, which features a stellar diagonaling crack. Thouroughly impressed with the rock and it's great texture and friction, we finish up the climb. We had brought a big dry-bag, and we stuff all of our gear in it and stash it under a boulder. This will allow us to make the approach hike even easier, carrying nothing but a little food and water. The trail is mostly downhill on the way back, so it goes super-quick on the bikes.

Friday: The weather takes a turn for the worse, and we wake up to one of the most depressing sounds in the world: rain falling on a tent. Oh well, a good excuse to sleep in. The Needles is perched up on a high ridge in the Sierra; our campsite was at ~8000 feet elevation. Consequently, we staying in a cloud for most of the day, with light rain on and off. Absolutely everything was soaked to the bone. Luckily, our chosen campsite had an abundance of firewood, so we stoked up a massive fire and sat around, making food, telling stories, willing the rain away, reading, and generally being lazy.

Saturday: More of the same... Scott E and Adam decide to leave.

Sunday: Killer day! Blue skies greet us, and Graham and I are the lone survivors. The campground that had maybe 5 different parties three days earlier was empty, and we have the Needles to ourselves. We decide to try "Atlantis" a four pitch 5.11 route.
I take the first lead, a awesome dihedral/flake system which eats up bomber cams, and then Graham quickly dispatches the second. At the base of the crux third pitch, it looks like the hardest climbing will be the first few moves off the ledge. I spend a few minutes trying to fiddle in some tiny cams as high as I can reach, and then commit to the strenuous lie-back. It's both powerful and balance-y, really engaging and rewarding. This was another short pitch (we like the easy little "bite-size" pitches in the Needles), setting Graham up for the final 5.11a pitch. This pitch delivered more killer climbing, starting out with a desperate underclinging move, and finished up a rad arete with perfectly shaped holds. I make sure to keep up the concentration while following, since I don't want to foul my clean ascent. The top out is definitive, and we've sent! Yeah, that route made waiting around in the rain worthwhile!

Next up is Sirocco, a bolted 5.12a up a steep face to arete. After some serious engineering to construct a stick clip (I'm not psyched on the giant fall down a gully) we're ready to go, and I take the lead. The "first pitch" (we ended up linking the whole route into one) featured hard pulling on a steep face; really well protected. This leads to a small ledge, and from here the character of the route changes. The angle eases back a bit, but most of the holds disappear and you're forced to use the arete much more. The bolts also get much further apart. Oh well, the topo said that this part was only 11a. Hmm, not so much. I find the tricky and balance-y arete moves to be just as tough as the first pitch, and take a few (short) falls. Up higher, the bolts are really space-y, and I get pretty gripped when I find myself about 15' above my last bolt, with the next one just a few feet to my left but unreachable. I guess I got suckered off on some holds leading nowhere, so I had to carefully dowclimb and get back on route. Even higher, I clip a bomber new bolt, which inspires confidence, but I can't even see the next one. Taking off onto the arete, I quickly make progress, but with my feet about 15' above the last bolt, I start to lose balance and "barn-door". Desperately looking for some micro-hold to regain balance, I find nothing, and grease off... Weeee! Pulling back to the bolt, I set out again, this time easily regaining my high point. I make a few more moves up, but then get gripped. The last fall was huge, and now I'm going higher, I'm too scared and start to downclimb. Of course downclimbing isn't easy, and I fall again, about the same spot as last time... Wooo! Pulling back to the bolt this time, I'm hesitant to take off again and I start to consider bailing. This route is too good, though, and bailing from this high would be complicated, so I decide the easiest option is to sack-up and finish. I regain my high point, make one last hard move, and then the climbing gets easier for the last 10' to the next bolt. Then it's just the anchors, and they're not that far, so I finish without incident. I guess I need to go back to send this beast, it's certainly worth it. Definitely one of the best "Sport" routes I've ever had the pleasure of falling off.

Monday (or "The day Scott and Graham thought they could climb 5.12"): Our big goal for this trip to the Needles was "Romantic Warrior", a mega-classic and one of the biggest, hardest routes in the area. With 2 pitches of 12a, one of 12b, and one sandbag 11d, this is probably the hardest big route I've gotten on anywhere (aside from El Cap route which we planned on aiding).

The day starts with customary sleeping in, big breakfast, slow start. We've got the approach hike dialed, though, so we reach the base of the route quickly. Nearing the start of the route, we find disturbing signs of some unknown past epic: 2 new-ish but torn up ropes tangled in the bushes, a couple biners and a big stopper, all lying on the ground. It might just be normal climber trash, but perhaps somebody had to leave in a hurry? We don't know...

Anyways, we decide that our fate will be better, so we rack up and Graham leads the first pitch. Not an auspicious start, the supposed "10a" turns out to be slippery, funky, and difficult. We get through it, though, and the next pitch lifts our spirits. The "Living Corner" pitch is the best 5.7 pitch I've ever led, with gorgeous neon green lichen decorating the white granite. The climbing is great too, with not only a friendly hand-crack, but also tons of incut jugs on both side of the corner. And it's dead vertical!

Graham leads the first hard pitch (11a) which is straight-forward but strenuous lie-backing. This puts us at the base of the first 12a pitch, which is reassuringly short (maybe only 50'). This assurance dissapears, though, as I try to pull the first moves off the hanging-belay and quickly fall. So much for our glorious on-sight... Those first moves turn out to be some of the hardest, though, and once I'm actually moving I make up the corner with only one more fall. That is, I make to just below the end of the pitch, stopped short by a heinous blank-looking mantle. A few falls here before I spot the hidden holds and decipher the sequence. We'd been talking all morning about Micheal Reardon's on-sight free solo (rope-less) of the route a few years back, and at this point it seems beyond belief. To get up that hard corner and reach the sloping ledge, only to be faced with that tricky and desperate mantle move, it must have been a head-trip.

Next up is a hard (12a) traversing pitch. Though it's steep, it looks more comforting than the last pitch, since this one actually has hand-holds! Alas, it has no foot-holds, and again the moves off the belay turn out to be the hardest. Graham has to aid out a few feet before he can start moving, and I have tons of trouble figuring out the first few moves on follow. One short, but engaging, 5.8 traversing pitch leads us to the base of the route's crux: the "Book of Deception" pitch.

The pitch is a steep, blank corner, with a tiny and incipient crack in the back. It's my lead, and I have trouble again figuring out the first few moves up the corner (that seems to be the theme on this route). Finicky small RPs (tiny stoppers) protect the intimidating corner, and I fall a few times before making any upwards progress. The secret seems to be a combination of lie-backing (off non-existant holds), stemming (between non-existant footholds), and generally pretending and hallucinating holds into existence. Man, this thing is HARD! The pitch is short, though, and I reach the belay (not before another devious mantle-type move, damn...). Only one more hard pitch... "11d"? It felt just as hard as the 5.12 pitches, and Graham ended up taking a good size fall and ripping some gear. Shaken up, he offers me the lead. By now the stemming feels a little better (I guess we've had some practice), and I make it up the pitch with only 2 falls.

Graham take the final lead, and we're soon on the top... sort of. The formation (the Warlock) actually has three summits, and we're on the lowest of them. Easy scrambling leads us up to the 2nd summit, but the highest one is steep. It's getting late, and in the fading light I have trouble spotting the three bolts that lead the way to the top, but Graham sees them once he arrives. At this point we just want to get down, so we pull on the bolts to gain the summit. I guess we should have read the descent beta better, because I thought it was just one rappel, but we're much too high for that. I start rapping off the summit, and it's now dark. Luckily, I spot a shiny new set of bolts, and one more rap leads to another set. One final rap sets us happily on the ground, and the hike back to camp was thankfully familiar and easy. Wooo! Romantic Warrior! We were far from sending, but we had a great time and I'll for sure be back on this mega-classic!

So, today's Wednesday the 10th, and Graham and I are back in the Valley. Gearing up for.... the Salathe Wall! We're headed up tonight, maybe spending 3 nights on the wall, so I'll check back in a few days.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Photos

I remembered my camera this time, so I'll load up some pics from the last few days in the Valley before we head out to the Needles:

Scott racking up the evening before our Nose in a day push

Our NIAD rack

Two intrepid adventurers at 2:30am

Things stupid climbers do when we're bored (it's a squirrel snare. no, we didn't catch anything)

Our delicious burrito dinner about to overflow the pan

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gettin out of Dodge...

For anyone that's wondering, the most happening place in the Valley for all the cool kids isn't El Cap, isn't Camp 4, isn't the Pines, no, it's actually Bear-Box-tucky. The big dirt parking lot outside Curry Village is home to a cluster of public bear boxes, and all of us, whose presence in the park isn't completly legit, store our foodstuffs here. So, of course, we also hang out here to cook our meals, and shoot the shit about our latest big wall adventures.

But all is not well in the land of the dirtbags, for the Man is on to us. Earlier this evening, three different rangers, in two different groups, came by to say hi and ask a few friendly questions. Like "You guys have been here awhile, whereabouts you campin?" and "You are aware of the 7 day limit for camping in the Valley, right?". Now don't get me wrong, my buddy Scott and I have been legal every night we've camped in the Valley, we're just not doing it in traditional style. The rangers are sympathetic, they're climbers too, but the unspoken message they were sent to deliver was: you guys should leave, or we're gonna start harassing you.

So, we've all been talking about the Needles for a few days now, so I think the time is ripe for a change of scenery. I think tomorrow, after a short day of climbing, we're gonna roll down there and hopefully enjoy a week of no-hassel, free camping. Plus, the climbing is supposedly spectacular!

Check back soon for a backlog of photos from here in the Valley (I don't have my camera with me at the moment), and hopefully some stories of rad sending in the beautiful Needles.

Here's a nice shot I found on the web to get y'all psyched for the Needles:

14:06:22 !!!

Yeah, I'm super excited!! Yesterday my friend Scott (of Canon city, CO) and I climbed the best rock climbing route in the world, the Nose on El Capitan. We climbed it pretty fast, starting at 2:45am, working hard through sun-up, all morning, and into the afternoon, and topped out at 4:51pm.

Climbing the "Nose in a day" was our main goal for the Valley this season, and it's a big goal for many climbers (those of us in the know just call it the NIAD). Scott and I had climbed the Nose last year for my second big wall (Scott's third) in a more traditional style: We spent one day climbing the first 8 pitches (to the base of the Stoveleg cracks) and fixing ropes down to the ground. The next day we came back and "blasted off", ascending our fixed lines and climbing another 6 pitched to El Cap Tower. One more day took us to Camp Six, then the next brought the summit. The climbing was super-enjoyable, and I loved camping out on the ledges, but the task of hauling all of our gear for a multi-day trip was physical and draining. We figured that, if we didn't have to haul any stuff, we could climb much faster.

So this year, we went back with a much different mindset. Instead of a huge bigwall that would take a protracted effort, we looked at the route as simply another long day climb. We took one day to go up to Eagle ledge (about 14 pitches up) to relearn the first half of the route and work out a good system for climbing fast. We rappeled back down after our "practice run", confident that we were moving well enough to try the big push.

After one rest day, we were psyched to start, but the weather was iffy and we delayed one more day. So, Monday morning, mega-early but not yet bright, we woke up and committed ourselves to getting up El Cap!

The first 4 pitches were my leads, and they felt much trickier by headlamp than they had a few days previous. There's a bunch of slippier 5.10 climbing here that's pretty hard to aid, to I just had to commit to the friction and get moving as fast as possible. The system we were using, called short-fixing, has the leader lead up a pitch, and upon reaching the first set of anchors (usually about 100-150' up), pull up all the slack and fix the rope. The second can then start to jug (using mechanical ascenders) up the fixed line, while the leader leads out again on the remaining slack (usually quite a bit, since we were using a 235' rope). The leader belays himself with a gri-gri, which is kind of awkward, until the second reaches the previous belay, unfixes the rope, and puts the leader back on belay.

By short-fixing, we were able to partially eliminate all of the wasted time spent sitting at belays and enable both climbers to be moving most of the time. It's way more fun, since as the leader you are continuously climbing for 4-6 pitches.

So, the pitches were flying by, and sunrise saw us working our way up the Stove legs. It was now Scott's lead, so I could relax a bit and simply enjoy the position and beauty of the sun hitting the Cathedral rocks, across the valley. Scott quickly got us up to Dolt tower, and it was again my turn to lead. Another key to short-fixing and climbing fast is going as far as possible between gear placements, both to speed up leading and following, and also to conserve gear. When the terrain was easy, I would try to go entire pitches without leaving any gear, which wasn't as scary as it sounds since you can always aid through harder moves and backclean your gear.

Near the end of that lead block I was in the Grey Bands approaching Camp 4. The Grey Bands are the chossiest section of the Nose, where the normally immaculate white granite is intruded with less desirable grey crap. Since the climbing was loose, I was already on edge. I decided to try and run out the entire pitch, since it follows a C-shaped path, first traversing left, then up, then back right. I figured that if I could skip enough gear, Scott could simply jug staight up to the belay and avoid following the tedious traverses. So, I fixed my rope at the anchor, left out a huge loop of slack (not even bothering to clip in my gri-gri) and begain traversing left. It's easy for a while, and then you have to go straight up. It gets hard here (maybe 5.11), so I started aiding. Having already led 4 pitches, I was pretty low on gear, and I didn't have the right size cam (green alien) for the crack in front of me. I plugged a yellow alien a bit lower, and then tried to work in a stopper up high. I got one in (the wrong size) and pulled on it. It popped immeadiately, and I came off. Luckily I had placed the yellow alien below, and it was at waist level, but I still had a good bit of slack in my rope and no belayer. My instict was good though, and I reached out with my right hand and grabbed the rope, quickly stopping my fall. It wouldn't have been too bad if I'd taken the fall, since there was only 20-30' of slack out, but I was shaken up regardless.

Starting back up, I took my time, worked in a better piece, and finished the section, ending my lead block. Scott quickly joined me, and took off up the Great Roof. (Nice work on that, man!) Our progress at this point was a bit slower; as the wall got steeper, much more aid was needed (not to mention we were pretty tired). But steadily we moved upwards, and Scott took us all the way to Camp 6. My turn to lead again, and this would be the final lead block. The Changing Corners pitch, which is the free crux of the route at 5.14a, went really quickly on aid, and from there it was only 3 pitches of amazing 5.10 climbing leading up to the final bolt ladder. I especially enjoyed these last pitches, free climbing when I could (and the limits of short-fixing allowed). The very last pitch is the perfect ending: a bolt ladder up and over the ridiculously steep final roof. Though I was tired, I monkeyed up it with a draw in each hand. Pulling onto the slab at the top felt wonderful, and I let out a huge yell. I fixed the rope and Scott started jugging furiosly, spurred on by my calls of "Double the Power!" (imagine a Schwarzenegger accent). The last frantic run up to the tree at the top and a rush to stop the clock: 14:06:22 !!!

Scott moving quickly under the Great Roof. Note that this was the one and only use of the stick clip, and it wasn't really necessary. We won't bring it next time.

Photo by Tom Evans, a super rad dude that has a telescopic lens and a love of the Big Stone. Check out his page: