While many on the West Coast went to sleep, the alarm woke me up at 6 in the morning. It was the first day of 2015 – January 1st! For the fourth year in a row, I went to sleep prior to midnight. To gain an extra hour of sleep, I missed the countdown, the fireworks and the partying that comes with it. To me, a little more rest prior to a four-day climbing trip is much more essential than being shit faced. Putting energy into adventure and exploration is what motivates me to wake up in the first place. However, what do I mean by that? Defining adventure and exploration is simple if you open the dictionary, yet so convoluted when it comes to something as diverse as climbing. How could the definition be so different? Majority would state that the ability to go on original adventures and the exploration aspect of climbing is a huge reason for getting into this madness, it is the bones and soul of this activity. Notice how I did not call it sport? That's because climbing, like exploration, or adventure, could also be defined differently. For some it is a sport, for many it is an activity, at times it could feel like an obsession, personally I called it a spiritual path, meditation, a way of life, an art and for a few it could be more important than religion. With tens of thousands participating in some form of climbing, it is unrealistic to avoid major deviation in opinion or personal preference. Can it be that the individual interpretation of the thing that unites us is the reason that leads to (ego driven pointless) arguments in the first place?
|View of Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon|
|Goofing around on top with a nice view of El Cap|
|Richard leads the 4th pitch|
|The ice is IN! Or more like climbable...|
|View of Silver Strand from the approach|
|Me leading the first pitch|
|Richard following the first pitch|
|Richard leading the upper section of 4th pitch|
|View of a dome across the valley|
From the Tunnell View overlook I noticed the Silver Strand seemed fairly formed up. Filled with excitement I made a lap around the Valley to look at other waterfalls, and made my way to the Cookie Cliff to meet my climbing partner. Even thought I have not climbed with Richard prior to this outing, we planned to go to Patagonia together and climb for a month. Silver Strand seemed like a perfect first test and he quickly agreed. Before that however, we had a full day at the Cookie. Climbing classics like Catchy, Waverly Wafer, Butterballs and Elevator Shaft, seemed like a perfect way to start the New Year. Even though these climbs were not at all new to me, I felt an appropriate level of self exploration was happening.
|Monkeys are swingin!|
|Richard leading the second pitch|
|"Looks thin up there.." :)|
Like any big event in any community, the push to free the Dawn Wall brought out a mix of opinions from over-board hero-worshipping to ridiculously silly comments in the New York Times. In the mean time, many valid points and discussions were brought up. Many discussed the lack of adventure and exploration which is at the root of big wall climbing. The fixed lines that go all the way up the wall, the food that was getting hauled up to the climbers by their friends and the camera crews working on documenting every tick mark that was placed by Kevin along with every particle of food that Tommy ate up. To a knowledgeable climber the individual pitch red pointing tactics reminded more of a sport climbing video than a proper big wall adventure. What does it mean to a climbing community? How is this ascent gonna influence it? Should they wait till they can do it in a better style? As Richard and I bushwhacked through heinous approach to climb the frozen waterfall none of it really mattered. We did not know if the thing will be climbable, too dangerous or difficulties that were ahead. After an hour and a half of hell we racked up at the base. From the look of things, Silver Strand barely formed and will likely fall apart in a day because the temperatures were going up. We swong leads and each of us got an appropriate level of exploring, with the adventure and a dose of adrenaline on the side. Unless it forms again, it was very likely the first and the last ascent of the Silver Strand during this winter season. When we topped out on the rim we saw the beautiful El Cap, with the Dawn Wall, the circus that came with it, and two incredibly skilled and inspiring individuals that put years of work into a dream. Like personal preference for a romantic partner, can I be critiqued for being attracted ONLY to Caucasian chicks? Am I gonna destroy the world with my personal preference for a chick? Or a climb?
|El Cap and the rest of it...|
|Richard on top of the climb|
|Richard following on P3|
As I thought about things that influenced me as a climber, I remembered Tommy Caldwell’s slideshow, which I saw at the Donner Summit. It was about four years ago. That weekend was my second or third time climbing rock. A friend took me out to top rope some of the classics that spanked me. Spanked me so hard, I signed up for a climbing gym after that trip. But that is not important, the important part was Tommy's slideshow. He talked about this project he is obsessed with and has been climbing on for several years, without knowing if it will be possible for him, or anyone else. Guy who free climbed numerous other insanely hard free climbs on El Cap and other formations around the world, chose to give a slideshow about something he doesn't even know will be possible? HELL YES, isn't this the exploration? Going to a cliff, a frozen waterfall or a big wall with an intent to explore new routes, your personal limits and put in the best possible effort?! Not many will have a chance to relate to the pressure that pro climbers are going through. The pressure to complete the long term goal, the pressure to look good on the camera as you send, the pressure of having all eyes on you as you struggle on a multi-year project. Watching Tommy talk at Donner, I saw a guy full of excitement. Driven by hope. No million dollar rewards for sending. Excited to explore personal limits, putting hard work into a fragile dream. Yeah, I wanted to be like that guy! Finding own Dawn Wall through exploring my skills on classic test pieces, frozen waterfalls or unclimbed big walls. As Royal Robbins explored personal limits on Half Dome, Tommy and Kevin are exploring personal limits on the Dawn Wall in a logical step to improve on their style from earlier attempts. First it was finding out a climbable path, than it was trying to redpoint the pitches and now it is to free climb each individual pitch from the bottom to the top. Using these little rules could seem silly, but each climber can determine an appropriate challenge to their abilities. It is important to remember the Dawn Wall is unlike any climb in the world. If you take into consideration that Dawn Wall has seen approximately eight years of work put in by two of the top notch climbers, it seems they picked a challenge with LESS CHANCE FOR SUCCESS THAN ANY COMPLETED CLIMB IN THE YEARS THAT PASSED! Of course it does not have the objective danger found in high altitude alpinism, it does not have the same type of adventure one would find if they were dropped off by a helicopter in an unexplored Canadian sub range, it does not have a 5.15c endure pitch found in Chris Sharma movies, it is unlike any of it, it is different, and that's ok.
|View of the third pitch|
|Me leading the third pitch|
|Got a screw in....time for another picture! Looking down on pitch 3. The climb turned out to be more exposed than I expected!|
|Richard all smiles after the business on pitch 3|
|Richard leading the last pitch (4th)|
|Us back at the Tunnell View|
|Another view of the upper pitches|