Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tangerine Trip, June 2nd

Continued from previous post:

Tuesday morning. Having just topped out the Zodiac, I was feeling great, and hungry. I spent a few minutes trying to chew on my remaining half a clif bar, and then hastily stuffed as much stuff as I could into my tiny backpack, strapped the rest to my and my harness, and started down the East Ledges.

The hike down feels shorter and shorter every time I do it, probably because I'm spending less and less time lost in the manzanita. Noon finds me chowing down on eggs and hash browns back at the Bridge, the hub of all El Cap related climbing plans/spray. I'm relaxing, content with my Zodiac solo, but still a bit disappointed that it didn't go down "in-a-day". IAD is a magical phrase in valley speed climbing, it separates the bad-asses from the wannabes. It represents a change in mentality, from the multi-day, fixed lines, mega-haul-bag mindset to the fast and light, "do we really need to bring a headlamp?" mindset. Once the conceptual shift is made, so much more is possible.

So, when my good friend and climbing partner Ben D shows up at the bridge, newly arrived to the Valley and absolutely brimming with energy and excitement, it doesn't take much to convince me to start planning the next El Cap mission. Tangerine Trip- IAD. Tomorrow.

Tangerine Trip 5.9 C3, VI

Tuesday night. So Ben and I left the bridge with vague plans to talk later that day. While I was very psyched on the idea of the Trip in a day, I was maybe less psyched on doing it tomorrow. Maybe a rest day would be nice. So I while away the evening up in Curry Village, surfing the internet and drinking beer. I've left a message on Ben's phone, and when I don't receive a call back by 9pm, I feel some secret relief. Yes, I get to take a rest tomorrow!

I leave the Community Center building where I've been hanging out and internetting, and my phone beeps. "3 missed calls" "New Voice Message". Sure enough, it's Ben. Turns out I don't get cell reception in the Community Center.
I return his call. Ben is amped. His enthusiasm, carried through the ether, quickly gets my blood flowing as well. I jump in the car, meet Ben down at the Lodge, and by 10pm we've got a huge amount of gear spread out on a tarp in El Cap Meadow. An hour later, we trudge up the approach trail, the white circle of our headlights bringing out the sparkling crystals in the jumbled granite boulders. The wall is a massive, yet silent presence looming to our left.

We find a bivy spot in the eerie forest tucked up against the base of the cliff. A very indistinct waterfall is coming down, but thankfully the wall is steep enough that it falls thirty feet out from the base. We stay dry. I still didn't manage to get much sleep, though, as I was woken up a few times through the night by a ring tail cat trying to steal my food bag, which I was using as a pillow.

Ben starting up the first pitch.

8am, we start up the wall. Ben takes the first lead block, leading us up out of the tree canopy and into a dripping wet series of roofs and cracks. The first pitches are time consuming, with Ben mixing aid with delicate free climbing on the slippery terrain. A huge roof overtops us, and to get out from under it we must make a long traverse down and right. Ben is still leading, and I'm forced to re-aid pitches since they angle too sharply for me to jug (climb the rope with mechanical ascenders).

Me following the pitch out from under the big roof. Note the black water streaks. Tom Evans Photo.

Soon, though, we're out from under the massive roof, onto the beautiful, golden, and thankfully dry granite. A few pitches follow a striking left-leaning splitter crack. I entertain thoughts of insane thoughts of high-end free climbing on the flawless, overhanging crack. It could be the next Salathe Headwall! The angle of the crack still makes following difficult, but it doesn't really matter too much. Ben is short-fixing every pitch, which means that, while I'm following and cleaning, he's already off belaying himself on the next pitch.

Ben leading, gaining the gorgeous splitter crack. Tom Evans Photo.

We make great time, and around 1pm we trade leads. It's my lead block, and it features tons of wandering, surprisingly moderate free climbing in the middle of this otherwise steep and feature-less wall. Fun 5.9 corners, some dicey 5.10 face climbing, the occasionally scary hook move; my lead block is loads of fun!

Two more shot of the amazingly clean cracks low on Tangerine Trip. Can you say 5.14? First photo by Tom Evans.

Finally we reach the very blank, very steep headwall, and here the not-so-fun part of the route starts: endless bolt and rivet ladders. Sometimes, when first-ascentionists are confronted with steep sections, devoid of cracks, they break out their hammer and drill, and install a line of bolts and rivets, maybe 4' apart, to cross the otherwise impossible section of rock. On Tangerine Trip, many such sections were encountered, and some pitches were almost entirely A0 ladders!

They might not be fun climbing, but the rivet ladders are a great way to make quick progress. And that's probably what we needed at that point in the day, as the sun has left our face, the sky goes through its phases from blue to red to orange to purple to black, and the stars begin to assert themselves. My lead block has taken us within three pitches of the top, but I'm worked! At the end of a long steep pitch, I reach a hanging belay, clip in, and call down "Rope is fixed!" Ben quickly joins me. He seems full of energy, the perfect antidote to my lethargy. He takes the lead, and heads out on the next pitch.

I hang at my belay, which would normally have been very uncomfortable, but I'm able to savor the simple act of doing nothing. I belay (easy enough, I've got a gri-gri, pay out huge loops of slack, and tie back-up knots occasionally). I rifle through my backpack, digging for some sort of sugary snack. I stare at the crystalline granite, my sleep-deprived eyes hypersensitive to the mixture of black, white, and golden hues. Tiny bugs crawl across the face. What is their life like, perched on a vertical ocean of rock, 2000' feet above flat ground? Would they even understand "flat"?

Weird Bug

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the tag line falling rapidly. Crap, I think, Ben dropped his end of the tag line. Then, through the crisp night air, I hear "Falling!". I grab the brake end of the rope, pull through an armload of slack, and then the impact of his weight lifts me up sharply in my harness.

"You alright?" I address the darkness.
"Yeah, that was silly. I probably just took an eighty footer!" Ben comes back, seeming giddy, maybe a little lightheaded.
"Can you get back on?"
"No, I'm just spinning out here in space!"
"OK, I'll tag you the jugs"

I tie the jugs (our ascenders) to Ben's tag line, and he reels them in, trolley-ing the cargo through the emptiness. Soon, he's back to his high point, and methodically works through the section that had spit him off.

When I finally finish cleaning the pitch, I find Ben sitting at the anchors. I had expected him to short fix here and continue, there were only two pitches left.
"I'm having trouble seeing in the dark without my glasses" he explains, so I reluctantly take back the sharp end. The next pitch goes quickly, again a mixture of free and aid, by now I'm getting used to this stuff. One final wandering 5.6 pitch and I'm on top! I let out the customary war-whoop, and then turn around to see some prone figures in sleeping bags a few hundred feet back. They must have topped out earlier in the evening, sorry guys.
Ben in a hyper-aware state atop the Captain.

3am, Ben pulled over the rim and joins me on top. We've just completed Tangerine Trip, earning the elusive IAD ascent with out 19 hour effort. Too worked even to hike down, we build a little twiggy fire, dig out our ultra-light "space" blankets, and pass out.

Ben refolds his space blanket and prepares for the hike down.

A few hours later, I wake covered in condensation in the clammy and cold space blanket. The sky is lightening, and I get up to gather some more wood. Some dry twigs and a few lungfuls of air re-ignite our fire, and I'm warm again. Maybe I'll actually take a rest day tomorrow.


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