Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Silk Road, 5.11c

We climbed the 16-pitch Silk Road on Calaveras Dome in Eldorado National Forest south of Tahoe. We were limited on time so we drove up the night before and sped up the wall first thing in the morning. My favorite pitch was my smear-fest up pitch 6, a long 5.10 dihedral that turns to 5.11 for 40 feet where the crack turns into a seam. The topo showed two pitons spaced evenly in the crux section so I led confidently after placing a couple cams in the last of the crack.

Piton 1 came none too soon and I clipped it awkwardly while trying to keep purchase on my foot smears. I couldn't see the second one but I found that a chimneying technique worked on the rough rock. I hopped on. I was 10 feet further up when I realized there wasn't a piton waiting for me. My hands did nothing. My feet smeared so hard that my heels pivoted out and upward. The only way I stayed in one place was by slapping them on as fast as they slipped off.

Downclimbing is not really permitted in Alex's ethic, so I zenned out and went on. Twenty feet above my quickdraw, the seam opened up for a brief second into a vertical pod perfect for a purple Camalot - or four stacked fingers. I went for the fingers first. My feet popped as soon as I leaned in but the jam was solid. I hung from it and for the first time let myself look down. Then I worked myself back out onto a solid stem, slipped my fingers out of the hole, and plugged in some protection.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Return to The Nose, 5.8 C2

I thought I'd include this story, for the sake of those who have been unable to move on with their lives since hearing the news three years ago that I retreated from The Nose.

I went with Alex to the Valley on Tuesday night in the middle of a rainstorm. We slept below El Capitan in the car. In the morning, as the sun worked on the rock, we packed a backpack with a gallon and a half of water and 25 energy bars and laid seige to the rock.

We only had one rope, which meant we could only travel in one direction. We were heading for the Harding bolt ladder on the summit headwall, no matter what.

Hans Florine, a climber well-known for his El Cap exploits, happened to be getting on the route when we arrived. We graciously let him go first, then spent the rest of the day chasing him. He was dragging a friend up the rock, so we were able to stay with him for the first 20 pitches or so. At one point, as Alex and I executed a Florine-style simul-climbing speed maneuver on the pendulum pitches, Hans got stoked and filmed us. I'm not sure he was as approving of the old-school body belay I gave Alex at the end of the traverse.

We used Hans, a famous climber, as our ambassador. With each team that we had to pass on the wall, he gained permission and we all sped by. As darkness fell he pulled away and we were left to struggle up the steep, final third of the wall alone, in a totally pathetic state.

The night passed as in a dream, with us swinging leads in altered states of consciousness. Alex had a poop attack while on lead on pitch 28. He stuck in a piece, leaned back, and managed somehow to get his pants down while still wearing his harness before proceeding to crap all over the pitch. Later, as I jugged the pitch by the light of a Petzl Tikka, I noticed the stench before noticing there was a mound of doogy piled up on top of my jumar on the rope. I looked down and found that it was all over the wall. My knees were in it. It was on my shoes. We pressed on.

Alex nicely gave me the lead on the overhanging final pitch. I zombied onto the summit and turned on my phone. I expected midnight, maybe 1 a.m., but the clock clearly read 5:30. We had climbed through the entire night. I made a couple summit calls as the sun washed away the Macbethean memories of the night. I got off a couple off before by phone died and we were left to descend the East gully alone. But the crispness of the morning air gave us a second wind, and we were stoked to have done the route in under 24 hours, which got us down to the truck, and into our sleeping bags where we slept the rest of the day.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Rostrum, 5.11c

We knocked off three big routes in a row this weekend. We started with The Prow on Washington's Column, an 11-pitch aid route just to the right of the actual prow of the rock. With Alex's commitment to speed climbing, we made some dicey hook moves in old pin scars resulting in a number of three-foot falls.

Alex took a big whipper while shuffling blue and purple TCU's, each on an aider, up a micro crack. He had just taken out the blue to move it up when his purple failed. A yellow TCU caught his fall. The continuous aid isn't really our thing. We did the route mostly as training for the upper half of The Nose. But the line is pretty stunning. We finished in eight hours.

On Saturday, we slept in a little and went to the Rostrum to climb the eight-pitch North Face. It has some of the most amazing cracks in the Valley and is of the same grade as (but easier than) Astroman. Seven hard pitches, including three 5.11's, lead to a roof where the 12b "Alien" or a 5.9 off-width leads to the summit.

I followed the crux 11c finger crack without falling but failed miserably when seconding the awful 10a off-width higher up. The highlight of the climb was the overhanging 11b hands pitch near the top, which I led. The most excitement came lower, on the 10d fifth pitch. I was still hoping for an onsight of the route when I started into this pitch but was feeling drained as I moved into a lie-back around a roof near the top. My last piece was a long sling through an old piton ten feet below me and I went for a small cam while I was in the crux of the 10d. My fingers, wedged in the crack under the roof, entered another world of pain. My arms were fully extended and my head made big, full rotations under the roof to look for smear placements for my left and right foot below.

Seeing me struggle for protection, Alex shouted up, "Just go for it!" The fall would be clean, so I closed my eyes, forced in a breath, and went for the anchor, about seven moves up. By move three, I was belching out roars of exhaustion. On move four, I almost wrenched my shoulder out of socket. Then it eased up and I managed to throw my left foot onto the belay ledge and roll onto it, about 20 feet above the piton.

On Sunday, we climbed Steck-Salathe on Sentinel Dome, the long, wide-crack Valley standard. The mental crux, if not the hardest, is called "the Narrows," which involves going into a cave, working yourself into a 5.9 squeeze chimney and squirming for fifty feet. There's no way to cheat up it and very little you can do if granite walls 15 inches apart gives you claustrophobia. For Alex to lead it, we stripped him down to nothing but a harness, a #4 cam, and a couple carabiners for the anchor.

We went off route on pitch 12 but got summit fever and decided to just climb for the top. We joined the Chouinard-Herbert for the final pitches to the top.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

DNB, 5.11

Alex and I went to Yosemite again and met up with my friends from Italy. It was good seeing the gruppo again, and teaching them the fine arts of hand-stacking and knee-barring. We did a few easy routes with them, and some moderate routes of our own. We did some exciting simul-climbing on a dirty DNB on Middle Cathedral, as well as Lucky Streaks 5.10d and OZ/Gram Traverse 5.10d in Tuolumne Meadows. OZ, read O-Z for "ounce," has the most amazing, sustained 10c stem crack I've ever climbed.

Monday, August 15, 2005

West Face Leaning Tower, 5.7 C2F

With Alex Honnold, it's hard to have an adventure. Hard because for him everything is easy. Big Walls used to mean running out of water, getting benighted and taking wild falls. Now it's a dozen eggs for breakfast, a quick jog to the wall and an even quicker climb where the biggest hardship is deciding what we will have for dinner.

We ran up the death slabs to do the Regular Route on Half Dome. We camped at the base, woke up early, and finished the wall before 1 p.m.

Our first big wall, the West Face of Leaning Tower, had been a little more eventful, since neither of us were quite prepared for the swinging. The first half of the route overhangs by 30 degrees - mostly aid. When the follower jugged, he swung out 40 feet from the wall every time he unclipped a piece. Totally wild! Jugging up a thin line in outer space (the route starts about 400 feet off the valley floor) is as unnerving as it gets. I often took breaks from jugging just to get my breath under control. It didn't help that the wind was blowing and I was spinning in circles, my whole world a tornado of granite and sky.

Fishing the Middle Fork Feather River, California

My cousin Joey and I fished from Hanson's Bar to Hartman's Bar last week. It started off less than ideally. We dropped bikes off at the Hartman's trailhead and drove back to Hanson's, five river miles downstream.
In our hurry to get to the water, we lost the trail and ended up bombing straight down the mountain. It worked well until we got to the river, when Joey found that the upper half of his pole was missing. We clawed back up the incline for half an hour before giving up and deciding to share a pole - the lower half of his pole didn't even have a guide on it.
We ran upstream a ways to make up for lost time and were headed further when we saw a good looking pool. We decided to start fishing. The fast water ran along a wall on the opposite side from us. The good fishing looked like it would be in the pool at our feet.
When the pool failed to produce, I looked over to where a small eddy twirled at the head of the pool, on the other side of the rapid and near the far wall. I threw my lure several times before I managed to get into it. When I did, to my disappointment, the weight of a small fish took my spinner and darted toward the white water.
When he hit the faster water, he pulled with ten times his weight, much more than the current accounted for. Either Pop Eye had just eaten his spinach or I was hooked into something else.
My rod bent and my drag gave to my bewildered looks. Further downstream, I pulled whatever it was from the run and continued the fight in the pool. My line cut through the water away from me as the fish neared the surface. I pulled hard to get a glimpse. Sure enough, there it was: an eight-incher biting remorsefully to my shiny blade. And there another was, free of the line and my hook, clamped with Moby Dick determination to the hind end of my eight incher. A giant brown, a shark of a trout, irreversibly committed, not letting go.
He dove. I pulled him back. He dove again. I kept reeling. When he was close, I swiped down the net. He thrashed his whole body and sent the rainbow and my Panthermartin rocketing away in two directions, but I had him. "What a machine you are," I said. I will never look at brown trout the same. For all I could tell, neither the line nor the lure was ever hooked to him or pulling on him. We measured his 19-inch body before sliding him back in. I'm sure he swam straight out and pounded that scrawny little rainbow.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral, 5.9

My weekends are still dedicated to Yosemite squeeze chimneys and flaring off-widths.

Reed's Pinnacle Direct consisted of a drop dead gorgeous 5.9 hand crack up a vertical wall. The last two pitches, actually on the Regular Route, started with a tunnel where we were inside the belly of the rock for about 80'. In the cave - a deep, dark squeeze chimney really - the rock wavers back and forth from 8 to 20 inches wide. To find the path through the slot we had to slither up and down, back and forth, just guessing where the cave might open up next. It's totally wild!

The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral was fun, partly because we passed up speed-climber Hans Florine on the eighth pitch. He was cruising the 5.8 pitches in Nike ACG approach shoes, but was held back a little by his partner, a client I think. I asked if I could pass, not realizing that it was Florine, shortly before the eighth pitch, then took a quick variation around him and his friend. He came flying by us shortly thereafter and introduced himself as Hans. I noticed the boots on his feet and asked if he was Florine. "I is," he said.

By far and away the most gorgeous route to date was the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral. If you do one big route in Yosemite, make this one it. Incredible! Sustained 5.9, and a beautiful soaring dihedral up pitches 5-8. Chimneys, off-widths, hands, fingers, fists, lie backs, stems, wild traverses, everything you could ever want. A crazy journey!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Free solo goes awry, 5.8

A last minute snow storm on Friday prompted my climbing partners to bail on our Yosemite trip. But with the campsite already paid for, I decided to drive down in the case the rock dried out by Sunday. I spent most of Saturday on the hiking trails around Mirror Lake. Then on Sunday, when the sun did appear, I began climbing.

I had free soloed all 1400 feet of the Royal Arches Regular Route by 11 a.m. I took off my shoes and climbed barefoot to get past the waterfall on the traversing pitch 10 but found dry rock elsewhere. North Dome looked drier by the minute and promises of spectacular views into a freshly snowed-on Yosemite backcountry coaxed me up to the base of the 5.8 South Face, a brilliant line of lie-back dihedrals up a beautiful piece of rock.

I soloed up the first two straightforward pitches of 5.6 finger lie-backing, then pulled out a rope for a "wildly exposed" 5.7 traverse from one dihedral to another. Above the traverse, I anchored in, rappelled, and climbed the pitch again. The next pitches of 5.5 hand jamming felt easy and fun. But pitch 5 and 6, at 180 feet each, looked like less of a romp.

Again I set up my Gri-gri and went to work. The finger jams were positive but the last 20 feet of 5.6 to the ledge was an unprotected smear fest up smooth, wet granite. I climbed around to a more difficult but dry runway in between water streaks. I moved quickly on it, hoping that momentum would carry me past the wet parts to the manzanita branch hanging above. It worked.

With the sun starting to drop, I started another rope solo up a flooding chimney on pitch 6. My hands and feet couldn't get sufficient pressure on the wet walls so I put my whole back on the wall. Freezing cold water soaked and re-soaked my clothes and shoes and I moved out into a 5.6 dihedral. It too was unclimbable. Two pitches would have led to the summit and an easy walk-off but even with the blurred thought processes caused by a setting sun, wet clothes, and a rush of fear, I knew I had to rap.

There are no bolts on the route so I rapped off anything I could find. I rappelled off a manzanita bush only to find another one 30 feet down, so I clipped, pulled, and went again from there - anything to give me an extra chance at finding something else to rappel from. I rapped off some of the lower-incline sections on a single nut.

I reached the base of the rock in good time and made the somewhat complicated traverse over to the North Dome gully in plenty of light. The Supertopo guide book makes a big deal about this descent, but it was mild compared to some of the recent hack-fests I've done in Red Rocks, Nevada.