My Yosemite trip is coming to an end, or it has already since the park is closed for about a week now due tot the US government shutdown.
I can’t complain though, since I was able to do a whole bunch of climbs, from very relaxed and enjoyable to incredibly adventurous and horribly exhausting.
It started when I flew to San Fransisco, drove into the valley and teamed up with two buddies Ben and Max to attack the DNB on Middle Cathedral Rock straight away. Almost 20 pitches of half 5.10+ slabs half 5.8 chimneys gave us sore feet, a good view on El Capitan (Yosemite’s and America’s most known wall) and a fun day, especially since I was still jetlagged.
El Cap part 1:
Since Max was about to leave, we felt a final attack on the captain was called for, so we racked up for ‘The Nose’, the most famous route on the wall, and perhaps in the entire world. Loads of climbers are drawn to this route every year, and since we wanted to do it in a day, we knew to expect a lot of (slower) aid parties to pass. Our tactics were far from flawless and our haulline was nonstop cuddling with the halfropes, so we spent more time on the belays undoing rope clusters then actually climbing, which went pretty fast (occasionally yarding on bolts and friends though). 5 Aid parties and 14 hours later we topped out in complete darkness and after a quick descent via the east ledges we got to our well earned El Cap beer.
El Cap part 2:
While Ben and Max left for San Fransisco to chase some waves and a certain female, I carried up loads for a next route on El Cap, this time a free push. ‘El Nino’, a 5.13c variation of the classic A4 aid line ‘North America Wall’ freed by the Huber brothers 10 years ago, was to be the one, and when Ben got back to the valley all gear, 25 liters of water, and food for 3 days was prehauled to the 2d pitch.
El Nino starts off super hard and slabby with 3 5.13 pitches that hadn’t seen a lot of traffic lately (none that is).
Already on the first pitch just after the crux my foot popped and I came flying down the slab. After a bit of work I manage to climb these pitches and we continued on easier ground to ‘Big Sur’, a great ledge where we put up our 1.5 man portaledge.
The next morning the other crux pitches were up, inlcuding the ‘man powered rappel’, something funky the hubers thought up to call an A0 part and the ‘Royal Arch’: a short and stunningly hard 5.13c that was quite a challenge to me at 07:00 sharp. I really had to wake up for those moves.
We continued after these strongly traversing pitches (fun with the haulbags) into the ‘Black Dihedral’, a couple of laybacks/chimneys that went pretty well, same for the ‘Black Cave’ a super steep 5.13 roof climb.
After a second bivy that was even cosier then the first, the next day led us through some difficulty to the final hard pitch: ‘Eismeer’, former 12d, after a broken hold changed to 5.14- (8b+!) according to the Pou brothers. After a bit of bitching around I managed to do this bouldery section, it’s more like 5.11 V6 (6c, 7A) to me.
Anyway, with major skin loss, still too much water and food left and in good mood, we topped out. Captain freed! Major thanks to Ben, who taught me so much about bigwall tactics, and who showed big balls on his leads of the ‘Dolphin Chimney’ and the ‘Enduro Corner’.
Intermezzo Washington Column:
Now Ben was off home too, and Rustam still not in the valley, so in lack of a climbing partner I found it was time to learn how to aid climb. ‘The Prow’, 12 super steep pitches of mellow C2 climbing was perfect for that, so I had 2 rough days of bolt, friend and copperhead pulling, and especially of carrying loads on and off the wall. Super tiring! I was proud to set my first camhook, birdbeak and micro-nut, all after each other :) It was a fun experience but I think aid climbing only becomes fun, when the pro is that bad it’s risking to pop.
El Cap part 3: thrilling finale
Then came the time the US government decided to take a holiday and go into shutdown, causing all the national parks to close down. This sucked for the visitors and climbers, but off course even more for all those people that work there, and found themselves jobless for the while…
Most people left the park, nobody could get in, so that made me without a climbing partner again. After lots of pondering I decided against my original plan to try ‘Tangerine Trip’ A2 because I just hungered for more El Cap freeclimbing. The Masterplan: Try ‘Freerider’ on my own. 35+ pitches up to 5.13a with a grigri. I kind of knew it was a bad idea when I started, but the psyche was too high, and the challenge was set. I parked my car outside of the park, and at night sneaked back in, hiding in the bushes every time a car passed by. El Capitan gave a beautiful sight in the dark with more than 20 parties’ headlamps looking like stars in the sky. Prehauling to ‘Heart Ledges’ at midnight went well, and the next morning I ran up the ‘Freeblast’ (first 12 pitches) in 5 hours, without the bags, that were already on the wall. Rope soloing can be a big pain, especially when you’re not using a silent partner or modified grigri, but it went quite well, being able to feed rope easily on the low angled slabs.
Some big downclimbs followed, including the Hollow Flake, a terrifying 5.8 offwidth, not too bad with my #6 Cam.
First bivy on the ‘Hollow Flake Ledge’ was comfy. I had decided for a fast and light approach to the climb, so I didn’t bring a portaledge, nor a lot of water and food. I even saved on clothing and gear, so my haulbag was nice and light.
Next day’s major obstacle was the feared ‘Monster Offwidth’, 60 meter of vertical 5.11 big crack climbing. I ducktaped ankles, knees, elbows, thought about a duck-tape-bandana that only would look cool, but there was no one there anyway. An hour later I proudly reached the anchors, not an offwidth virgin anymore.
Then 2 superfast fellows showed up, that were trying (and sent!) ‘Golden Gate’, a harder variation, so my second bivy on ‘El Cap Spire’ was not so lonely, thanks guys.
Day 3 the wall steepened and I had to work a little on the crux pitch, a bouldery 5.13-, shitty to lead, in spite of bolts. Shortly after I ran into the ‘Enduro Corners’, two hard pitches of 5.12 slick dihedrals, of which one I sadly needed to toprope. I got half way on the lead, but I found no possibility to give slack on this pitch, already the pitch below being a big problem for me and my grigri.
Just before the ‘Salathe Headwall’ ‘Freerider’ cuts out left and joins the neighbouring route ‘Excalibur’ through a tremendously exposed traverse. Here I bivied on a small ledge called ‘The Round Table’, probably the most enticing place I’ve ever bivied: A 50 cm ledge above almost 1000 meters of void. Plus a nice sundown, where only is my girlfriend???
Day 4 I was getting really tired. Note that rope soloing you have to lead a pitch, rappel it, undo the knot at the anchor, jumar back up again, and then haul the bag. Soooo much work.
In spite of only 6 pitches left, a couple of overhanging handcracks got me pumped pretty badly, only to be followed by more offwidths. Late afternoon I reached the summit feeling incredibly tired, lonely, sad about the end of my Yos-trip, but as well super satisfied!
All in all I must agree on my original feeling free rope soloing El Cap is a dumb idea, and although I pulled it off, I did in not so great style: I toproped one pitch and pinkpointed (free from no-hand to no-hand) some easier stuff (when for example my ropes dropped out of my shoppingbag=ropebag and got stuck). There is at least one guy who has done this route in the same style: Stephane Perron. He did so in much greater style, but with a bit more time and a soloist (belay devide for solo climbing).
I would hardly advice anyone to do the same, I cannot say it was all safe, making no back up knots and giving a LOT of slack from time to time, and it’s just a lot more fun with a partner that reponds when you talk to him/her…
That said, it was a great adventure, and to be alone on the Captain, fighting with it to achieve a challenge that big was hardly an experience I would like to have missed.