A few weeks ago I got back from a three week trip to Yosemite! This was my third time in the park. The first time I spent a week in Tuolumne and learned to Trad climb. The second time I returned and climbed some larger stuff in Tuolumne with a few short days of free climbing in the Valley. And this past time I was lucky enough to spend three weeks living in the park, climbing every day, and meeting some amazing and wild people from all over the world.
I drove down from Seattle in early September. It was perfect timing. It was hot, but the winds kept us cool on the wall. It was my goal to climb El Cap, but I first wanted to meet a lot of people and climb a lot of smaller things. Coming from my crag, Index, it didn’t take long to get accustomed to the style. I think Index overall is graded stiffer than Yosemite which made it easy to get into the groove.
In the first couple days I met Adrian from Toronto, Canada. We both really wanted to climb the Nose but decided first to climb to dolt to see how that went. He’d never really aid climbed and I’d done very little but we had the gear and went for it on my third day. We were lucky to have the lower section to ourselves to practice aiding efficiently and we made it to Sickle in good time. I think I lead up to Sickle then we switched and he took the lead. He freed up the 5.8 after Sickle, we spent a while figuring out how to go about the two pendulums to come, and by the time we had arrived to the base of the stovelegs the wind had picked up and we decided to start heading down as rappelling in winds like those takes a lot longer. I decided to keep looking for a partner for the Nose as I really wanted to do it with someone who was already an experienced aid climber and whom I could trust to take the lead.
In the first week I also did a lot of free climbing. I met Amanda who was just getting into trad climbing from sport and was happy to follow long 5.8/9 free climbs, so thats what we did! We climbed some stuff near camp 4 including Absolutely Free, Commitment, and Salaginella. I also climbed Serenity-Sons with a Will who was an english teacher in Oman, then I realized I no longer had 3 weeks and I needed to find a Nose partner.
I spent a few days around the meadows and bridge below El Capitan meeting some cool, hilarious, and kind people trying to scope out a partner. I was meeting a lot of wall climbers but as I’d never done a big wall before it was really hard to find someone willing to teach a first timer. Luckily during this time I did a lot of aid and jugging practice so I felt solid, strong, and ready for a wall. The only issue was I didn’t have a haul bag, portaledge, or know how to haul.
Will texted me about half way through my trip. I’d left a not up at camp 4 saying that I NEEDED a Nose partner and Will also really wanted to do the Nose. Problem was he didn’t have any hauling gear either, but he seemed like a really strong free climber so we decided we’d just go do it in a day. No sleep, no massive 80lb bag with food and water, just 2 gallon jugs and handfull of cliff bars. We decided to start the next night at 11PM in the hope that we’d get to the King Swing by dawn so that we’d have some light for the crazy pendulum.
I was nervous, I got a pretty good nights rest, but in order to be able to climb through the night I had to try to sleep as much as possible the next day which was hard. I was nervous, even in the shade it was hot, and I was pretty damn nervous. 31 pitches, committing, with only enough water and food for a day of climbing. We also had to talk a lot of beta because NIAD style is very different from wall style in the sense that there are a lot of tricks to remember to shave time off the climb. Because neither of us had ever been up above the first 7 or so pitches it was really hard and stressful to try and remember everything. I was thinking too much about the route that I was stressed so I took a step back from planning so that I could relax and rest more.
On Spetmeber 14th, after resting, we met at the bridge around 10:30PM and set off to climb the Nose. We got sort of off the path on the 10 minute approach to the base and ended up bush wacking to the start of the route. We spent 10 minutes untangling a rope, getting the first cam super stuck, and finally got moving just after 11PM. Good start! Luckily after that it was pretty mellow going. I short fixed to Sickle, we met on the ledge, then I continued up to dolt tower where we would switch leads. This was my first time really short fixing a lot and it went really smooth. The gear was all solid, I was constantly moving, taking the time to make sure that above speed we were being extra safe. Climbing to dolt is a jungle gym. A bunch of small pendulums, tat to pull on, fun quick french freeing, and crazy good long free sections! The stoveleg pitches start around 5 pitches up and place you on to dolt tower. They involve some 400 feet or so of splitter hand crack to fists. It was heaven, cruising up this amazing crack, the moon was full, iluminating the wall, just a headlamp in an granite ocean.
I lead up to dolt and we swapped leads. Getting to dolt was not bad, but getting on to dolt was a story. There was a party of two on a portaledge sleeping. I had to shimmy through a hole between the ledge and the rock to get to the chains trying to be quiet as to not disturb the other party. This proved to be difficult. We both eventually got to the anchors and Will clambered over haul bags to continue the climb. He got about half way up the next pitch and we ran out of rope! He couldn’t see anchors anywhere and yelled down to me. By now the party behind us was awake and the guy told me to “tell him to keep climbing its obvious the chains are straight up.” Will and I yelled back and forth trying to figure out what to do as we needed to keep moving, time was of the essence. The guy behind me trying to sleep asked how long we were doing the route in. I said hopefully a day and as we were only 1/3 of the way up getting stuck on a really easy pitch he gave a little chuckle said “good luck”, then tried to go back to sleep. He probably expected to see us bailing the next day as in this moment we were doing some really gumby things and weren’t even that far up the wall. I then realized that from having fixed the last pitch we had plenty more rope I had just forgotten to unhook the center form the anchor.
Once I got my mistake figured out Will took off with his insane free climbing speed, short fixing, and moving quick through all the French free stuff. We got to El Cap tower as the sun was rising just in time to get ahead of the groups that bivied there. Will short fixed Texas flake and started up the boot as I was slowly getting into the whole jugging thing. We arrived at the king swing in good time and will took off. It took him 2 or 3 tries but he was quickly on eagle ledge. I followed in my duct taped approach shoes with out bag on my back. I did not do it as smoothly… After 6 or 7 attempts I was exhausted and close to giving up. The sun was got, I was being weighted down by the bag, and running laps sideways on the wall had taken its toll on me. Shouting out around the corner to where will was I asked him to throw me a rope. As we couldn’t see eachother we had to coordinate the rope toss verbally and after a few more tries, more screaming, and exhaustion, I was standing on Eagle ledge with Will.
On Eagle I found out from Will that he had re injured his foot during the king swing pitch, and for the sake of time we decided I would take the lead again and see how far I could go and in the mean time Will could assess the situation of his foot.
Unfortunately as we climbed more it became clear that Will would be held back by his foot and as we were already moving at a 20 hour pace and didn’t want to spend much longer on the wall so I just kept leading.
I lead through the traverse pitches, up to Camp 4, cam hooked the great roof, and freed the pancake flake! Pancake flake was the last 5.10 I really freed on the Nose, after that I was exhausted and aided pretty much everything above 5.9.
We arrived at Camp 6, a small ledge, about 2200 feet off the deck. We had roughly 10 pitches left to go and we were exhausted. There was a party of Koreans up there who didn’t speak much English but were having the time of their lives. All a bit older, maybe 40’s, early 50’s, and they were playing cards and drinking and interesting smelling liquor. I was dead. I was so tired, all I wanted in the world was to sit on the ledge with them and play games, and drink as the sun set over the horizon but we had almost no food or water left and it was time to get to the top.
The coming pitches were steep. It was full on aid from here. Beautiful splitter cracks, but there was no way in hell I was about to freeclimb anything unless I had to. I was slow going, we were both exhausted. I was tired but I kept going. It was hard, I was physically and mentally wrecked, but I was still moving faster than Will would with his injured foot so I just kept going. Time was trippy. We completely lost track of time. One minute felt like an eternity, and hour passes in seconds, and 6 hours felt like minutes. Climbing trough the night and day it was now night again, We had been climbing for some 24 hours already and were only 3 pitches from the top. Next up was the alcove, the last technical pitch with really small stoppers and a few hook moves. I was moving slow, I was being careful, weighting one fixed micro nut after another with no way out. In the moment I would have given a LOT to just be on top but there was no easy way there so we just kept going.
We topped out at around 1am, 26 hours, and two days after we had started. I always though about what this moment would be like. I always thought it would be emotional, my goal, El Cap for the first time, complete. It was not emotional, I did not feel great, El Cap was much tougher than I was. I was mentally exhausted from hours of intense technical climbing, physically wrecked, hallucinating from sleep deprivation, and ready for bed. Bed was a long way away still. Instead of heading down the east ledges in our delusional states we opted for the safer options of sleeping on top. I had an emergency blanket and Will found a blanket tucked under a rock, we laid down on a rock, and were out in seconds.
We woke up to the early morning sun gleaming into the Valley and began our descent. It felt like an eternity but after a few hours we were back at Camp 4 with our friends. We cooked up some long awaited meal, chugged water, shared our stories, and soaked in the glory of it all.
A few days after climbing the Nose Amanda and I set out to climb Snake Dike on half dome. It was a long long long day. We had a liter of water when we topped which made the hike down a tedious endeavor. After that I was done climbing and spent the rest of my time in the Valley hanging out at camp drinking Cobras and spending time with friends.
The valley is home. I haven’t spent much time there but every day I think about the friends and adventures I had and can’t wait to be back! September 24th came around. Jamming to the the Grateful Dead in the meadows, El Capitan standing over us in all its might. As the sun set, one by one headlamps flicked on across the granite wall. The stars shone bright and it was time to go. School called, but I knew I would be back and there was nothing left to do but be happy for the adventures I had.