Early May 2009
So once again there we were a day’s worth of climbing (our slow pace) up El Capitan hanging from two closely spaced belay bolts struggling to set up our Metolius double portaledge in an increasing deluge running from above. What started as a gentle drip from the 6th pitch roof just above us on Dihedral Wall was now turning into a steady waterfall and we were in its path. While struggling to establish camp, the (unarmed) shit-tube went sailing down into the void (I’m a retard) – thankfully there was no one below as evening was approaching. The waterfall persisted onto our fly for most of the night. Predictably enough, morning saw us doing the bailing routine. At the base we had the pleasure of meeting Craig and Carolyn who were starting up their Dihedral Wall climb. We chatted a bit and then tucked tail and fled Yosemite for the safety of an easy Zion trade route.
What went wrong? I could conveniently say that it was the soaking we got on our first night…but if I dug deep, I would call it bullshit. Frankly we simply could not wrap our minds around the task ahead: the c. 20 remaining pitches, the hanging belays, the hauling, the unyielding steepness…
Early July 2009
With an extended 4th of July weekend and a pair of Alaska Air tickets to Sacramento, we spent a better part of the preceding Sunday trying to squeeze our grade VI loads into the allotted luggage quota. Following a late night flight from Portland, Wednesday morning saw us waking up late and having breakfast in Oakdale (day 1 plans being short and all). By 11 am, we were hiking along the base of El Cap headed for the start of Lurking Fear (free topo). Our lunch time running regimen from the last 2 months seemed to be paying off as we huffed and cursed a bit less than usual while weighted down by a pig and gear. As expected, the sight of El Cap towering above shook my determination. Nevertheless, after humping the loads up the 4th class step (it was warm) we started up pitch 1. The “direct” bolted variation went as untarnished aid with the help of top-stepping and a couple trivial hook moves. Pitch 2 offered more of the same including the “C1 hooking” while the 3rd was a nice C1 crack to a penji. Though we brought a portaledge, our plan was to bivy in spots that offered at least a hint of an edge for the feet to assist in setting up camp. With that in mind, we called it a day on the nice ledge atop pitch 3 and dug into our supply of bagels and canned dolmas. Rest of the evening was spent watching forest fires somewhere above the Rostrum and sucking down smoke - a trend that would continue for the rest of the climb. I had a restless night due to the fact that I’m too long for the portaledge and Shirley had a restless night due to my restless night. Oh well – day 2 was going to be a pretty short one too.
For breakfast, pitch 4 offered some more easy hooking above good bolts leading to an easy crack system that eventually petered out atop pitch 6. Pitch 7 was mostly a direct traverse on bolts (all with hangers) and a couple hooks. While messing with the belay atop P7, I accidentally airmailed the pulley – a big wall gumby that I am (also see the aforementioned “I’m a retard” comment). Fortunately, a spare was riding along with us. Pitch 8 was a beautiful splitter granite crack that I could totally see myself hang-dogging all over and cursing (wide) had it been at a local crag. As it was where it was, it went at C1 on three #4 Camalots. For those sifting through this bs for beta, I think I placed a #3 Camalot at the very top but can't be sure now. One more crack pitch and we arrived at our planned bivy spot #2: The Pillar Of Despair. Though it would have indeed been a tough night without the canvas, The Pillar offers a fine spot for setting up a portaledge. I think it was here that we knew we would not be giving up on this climb. Not that we were relaxed but our determination was high. Once again, we both had a restless night. During my intermittent bouts with sleep, I would have this recurring dream that we were already nearing the top of the route…then I’d wake up in the breaking dawn and realize we haven’t yet moved at all. I was also worried that we were going through our water too quickly (did I mention it was warm?).
Day 3 started with pitch 10 which I thought offered some of the thinnest aid thus far…again, noting too stressful as a bomber piece was always close by. Following the traverse of pitch 12, the nature of the climb did indeed change. The angle kicked down a bit and most belays offered at least a sloping ramp for the feet. Though I did not examine “Ned’s Mantel” option, the “better way” on pitch 14 was interesting with the bigwall rack and just as interesting for the 2nd. The pitch ended on a series of good ledges (“Ned’s Ledges”) that were just too good to pass up especially given that it was 4:30pm. We decided to fix pitch 15, which I thought was the crux of the route. A few creative placements (including the tiniest tricam) were required and the most in & out of the aiders maneuvers.
Not having made Thanksgiving Ledge the day prior, we got up an hour earlier on day 4 and jugged to our high point . Pitch 16 offered some strenuous aid and 17 landed us on Thanksgiving Ledge. There we found a stash of water jugs. We used about 2 liters worth to refill our nalgenes & took the empty bottle with us. This turned out not to be needed as we had 2 liters left when we got down. I was worried for nothing. After a quick ferrying of the loads across the big ledge, we quickly dispatched the last 2 pitches shown on topos. Somewhere here, Shirley made the comment that she could smell the summit. Someone did not take kindly to this burst of optimism, and the final ~500 feet proved to be the physical crux of the route. The routine was to fix a rope and then Shirley would carry the rack and the haul line while I dragged the pig and portaledge...about 3 repeats of this exercise were required. Finally, we hit the unroping point and shuttled our pile to the top.
Quick summit photos, kisses and it was time to descend. We (foolishly) opted for the hike vs. the east ledges raps as it was about 6pm and we’ve never done the latter. After a mile of hiking, as the trail entered the forest we were engulfed in black clouds of mosquitoes. These would keep us company for the next 3 or 4 miles until just below the Lost Arrow turn-off. It was nothing short of fucked up -- couldn't stop despite the heavy loads and couldn't really spend the energy trying to swat the buzzing fuckers even off of our faces and out of our ears. We finally arrived in Camp 4 exhausted from our battle with the loads and the flying beasts. While I hiked 20 minutes to get our car, Shirley sat at the table in Camp 4 next to our gear and wrapped herself in a sleeping bag. This is a big no-no as she was interrogated in depth by 2 separate park rangers…apparently sitting at a picnic table wrapped in a sleeping bag next to a pile of climbing gear can be considered as illegal camping. Oh well.
I finally picked up Shirley and gear and we drove to just outside the park gate where we slept undisturbed on the side of the road till about 3am when severe hunger woke us up. A big Denny’s breakfast at 5am in Oakdale was followed by a day of resting and further pigging out in Sacramento while waiting for our Monday morning flight home. A good long weekend.
PS I read this cool TR not too long before our trip up LF...enjoyed it & could relate to much of what the author mentioned!