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.