"To apply human standards of measurement to this monarch
of mountains is sacrilege. To attempt by mere words and
figures to convey some idea of its stupendous massiveness,
its nobly-defiant impressive individuality is rankest folly."
-- Herbert Earl Wilson, writing about El Capitan, 1926
A Day on the Trip: November 12, 1996
by B. B. Bindner
A barely-perceptible fading of the night in the
eastern sky heralds daybreak. The world is
a vast bowl of darkness; the jet-black presence of
massive rock walls above, and to all sides, blotting
out half the milky way.
A Bibler hanging stove is suspended in space below a
blue portaledge, clipped to the outside corner by a
single oval carabiner. Wisps of steam waft from the
pot, drifting into predawn gloom. The scent of fresh
brewing coffee mingles with myriad other odors--
cold granite, crisp morning air, capilene and
climber sweat, climbing shoes, honey, bagels and
The sssshhhhh of the stove and the slight rustle of nylon
sound loudly in the silence as we steal a few more moments
of quiet slumber before the activities of the day
The bright stars overhead are washed away by the
incoming tide of morning.
Thus begins our fifth day climbing Tangerine Trip on
El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Eric Coomer, Craig
Francois, and I slowly stir from our snooze, eyelids heavy,
unwilling to move and yet unwilling to face the
consequences of excessive delay. Sluggish consciousness
brings a gradual awareness of our location on
portaledges perched in the sky.
Two thousand feet below, the hungry chasm of air
ends at trees dwarfed by distance, at jumbles of
house-sized boulders now so far below us as to
resemble grains of sand. Emphasizing the intensity
of exposure, ropes hang free in lazy space below:
Occasional sine-waves from our slight movements
travel down the strands, to reflect off the looped
ends and back up to us, echoes of our own presence
returning to their origins through a vast engulfment
As the lightening sky slowly takes on visible
pastels, Eric extends a hand over the edge of the
ledge to the brewing coffee, our brief hiatus
from the intensity of this climb coming to an end.
It's time to begin what we hope will be our last
day on the wall.
Craig, already well-awake in the morning twilight,
peers past an incredibly tangled jumble of equipment,
ropes, slings, and water bottles, up the overhanging
curtain of rock, probing the mysteries of the next
pitch with anxious eyes. It will be his lead.
Still groggy, we carefully prepare for the day ahead.
Each simple, routine task demands full attention.
Decanting coffee into day bottles, munching a
bagel, taking a dump, swilling gatorade,
puttering and packing gear all have once again
become incredibly significant activities, upon
which our very survival depends. Dreams of
frolics in sunlit swimming holes, of pizza and
merry-go-rounds are soon forgotten as the day
gains momentum. It's time to move.
The yellow-white sun peeks over the tree-lined rim
of the eastern horizon, much as it has since the
dawn of time. Today could very well be the first day
of the world. The new valley floor, and beyond that the
universe, freshly created, spread out sparkling before
us, waiting to be explored.
By the time breakfast and morning rituals are
completed in the bright daylight, Craig has sorted
the rack for his lead. Eric takes a front row seat
on the belay chair and cranks up the tunes. "Rumble
in Brighton Tonight" echoes off the golden-hued, glowing
granite as Craig starts up a series of rivets, bolts,
dowels, and hooks. We have four more pitches to
the summit, and one day of supplies remaining. It will
Far across the wall, Willie and Damien Benegas are
pausing for a moment, watching the sun/shadow line sweep
across Dawn Wall. They, and one other poor soul,
started yesterday and climbed through the night.
They will top out this evening on Mescalito after a
32-hour speed ascent.
As Eric sorts through equipment within his reach, I
begin dismantling Craig's portaledge.
Suddenly the un- ////////////////////////////// "FALLING!!!"
mistakable jangle of /////////////////////////// The fall goes on and
airborne carabiners \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ on.... far too long.
interrupts the routine \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Slack, too much slack
tasks of the morning. ///////////////////////// in a huge loop out in
Our eyes snap upward ///////////////////space near Craig,
to see Craig whipping \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\stacked under zero
through the air, \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ gravity. The tenuous
earth-bound. Eric \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\/////\\\\\\ ladder of rivets Craig
hunkers on the belay\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\///\\\\\\\ was climbing is
seat............ ///////////////////////////////////////// shearing out, the tiny
In slow motion I see/////////////////////////// blobs of aluminum no
his hands fumbling the \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ match for the forces
ropes, searching for//////////////////////////of the fall. Craig
the lead line. I hear/////////////////////////////hits the end of the
him mutter "oh god..." ///////////////////////// rope like a marlin
Eric catapults upward////////////////////////// striking a lure... and
to the limits of his\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\stops, mid-scream,
anchor, the Gri-Gri \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\level with the belay,
having flawlessly \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\10 feet out from the
arrested the fall.\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\wall.
The fall is over 1.5 seconds after it began.
Craig slowly rights himself, shaken but apparently
unhurt. "Everybody OK?" I ask. Both Eric and Craig
reply in the affirmative.
"COOOOOL FALLL, DUDE!!!" I shout.
Howls of appreciation echo across to us from the
Benegas brothers on Mescalito, who witnessed the
Craig digs out his ascenders, and resumes the lead,
drilling new rivets past the scene of the damage.
Once back on the sharp end, he informs us that a
sling broke, and two rivets sheared. What finally
held his fall was a bolt and Yates Screamer to absorb
the shock. The stitching on the screamer is blown
Entertainment over, I continue the task at hand...
packing the remaining gear, stowing the ledges,
cinching the haul bags for hoisting. Efficiency and
economy of motion, effective utilization of the
passing seconds, is our prescription for success.
Just as I finish the last of my preparations,
Craig's "OFF BELAY" floats through the air.
Craig establishes the anchors at the next station,
as we swing into high gear. I am ready to jumar.
Eric lowers me out from the belay and eventually
cuts me loose. I spin slowly in space as I swing
across the wall, El Capitan and the sky drifting
lazily past my field of vision. Our three haul bags
are enroute and Eric is cleaning next pitch by
the time I finish the jumar. Craig pauses hauling,
and we transfer what gear is left over from his
Jug. Haul. Flake ropes.
All too soon, I swim up a string of rivets and
ancient, hangerless quarter-inch bolts reminiscent of
Craig's 40-foot whipper. As Eric jugs and cleans the
previous pitch, I ooze up the blank, overhanging wall
through a series of hook placements into unprotected
5.9 free climbing. Eventually I flop belly-first onto
a brushy belay ledge, having combined pitches in a
200-foot, hours-long struggle. Only one more pitch,
5.6, separates us from the rim.
Eric swings into action, disposing of this section
so quickly I can hardly pay out the rope fast
enough. To be sure, it is time to be done.
After muscling the haul bags up the final slabs, we
re-unite at the rim in late afternoon of an
overcast fall day. The sun backlights the twisted
form of a solitary pine tree, deepening evening
light setting each pine needle ablaze with a fiery
Another wall has ended. Tomorrow's spine-crushing
loads and foot-bruising descent are far from our
minds as we sort gear and coil ropes.
Without spoken word we three pause as one, no
activities directed toward the climb, no concerns
for the moment, and as if for the first time, watch
an orange-red sun, distant beyond vast granite
walls, slip between crimson cloud blankets into the
silence of the night.