It rained all day Saturday. After some one-pitch aid practice at the base of El Cap by 8 p.m. Bryan and I were trying to come up with a plan for the remaining two days we had left to climb in the Valley. "Do Silent Line variation on Gold Wall. Don't think about it, just do it! It has awesome free climbing and some good aid for beginners," said the guy we met in Yosemite cafeteria 30 minutes prior. Most people plan their first big walls over a long period of time, gathering gear, getting copies of topos, researching pitch by pitch analysis from online experts. The thought of jumping on an unknown big wall (one I had never heard of) seemed a bit bizarre at the moment, but I like bizarre, and apparently so does Bryan. By the time the cafeteria closed we took a photo of the wall's topo and were set to attempt our first C2 5.9 wall with a resume of four combined C1 pitches under our belt.
We had some offset Master cams, a few ropes, two sets of ladders and a few jugs. We decided to fix the first three pitches on day one and see how far we could make it on our second day.
One thing I've never understood about big wall climbing is why these guys are carrying such huge backpacks while alpinists could survive a week with a pack that is under 40 lbs. Now it was obvious. Two ropes, tent, stove, a huge combined rack, sleeping bags/pads, food, and tons of water. With backpacks of easily over 60 lbs each we started hiking up the trail toward the great unknown. The approach would not be bad at all if we did not have to carry huge packs. The trail is easy to follow as long as you are not approaching in the dark.
After we hiked up and had a snack we decided I would take the first pitch. I have no idea why I wanted this pitch since it turned out to have mandatory 5.9 face climbing with funny pro above it, a bolt ladder, topped with a c2 move at the end. Since I especially suck at face climbing it took me a bit of time to figure out the crux while being weighed down with the aid rack and bulky ladders on my butt. After I did figure it out, the protection I placed in the seam did not inspire any confidence. My pieces were; a half engaged green alien, and one of the smallest offset brass nuts. However, I got through that and the aid section above was straightforward.
Since the guys ahead of us recommended our best free climber take the second pitch, Bryan did. This pitch was a tough one. We spent the majority of the day on it (the guys that did this wall in a day on our day two combined the first two pitches into one, faster than our party of three jugged the lines!!). This pitch starts with straightforward aid in a seam, or 5.10/5.11 free climbing, and ends with an awkward flare at the top. Even cleaning the gear from the flare was annoying. Pitch three was not long and featured a 10c step-across that both Bryan and I pulled through on gear and then a 10b finger seam/crack to the belay ledge that we both free climbed clean. We fixed these three pitches with no desire to do any more that day. The guys that were in front of us bailed from the top of the third pitch and said "We will go climb something else." We felt morally exhausted and fairly bummed that we were slow, but then I pointed out "At least we are learning. This is exactly why we are here." In addition, the views were drop-dead gorgeous.
When we got down, to our surprise there was another group of two that came up to do Silent Line (in a day) on Monday (they were awesome to watch since they were a few levels above us). They informed us that a bear broke into Bryan's car. Turned out we forgot to take out some of the fruit that was in the car when we dropped the rest of the food in bear boxes. Since I had to meet Amy in the Meadow I volunteered to check it out. When I got down I discovered no car in place. Since the car was broken in the rangers decided to tow it. After getting the car out and meeting up with Amy we parked it outside of Yos.
On Monday we woke up early and did not let the break in to stop us from climbing. After we jugged the first three pitches and let the super fast guys pass, we began the best part of the wall. Our plan was to switch leaders and have both leader and followers free climb from pitch four up. From pitch four, the Silent Line variation features the best five pitches of moderate free climbing I have climbed in the valley. It was so good that even Central Pillar of Frenzy paled in comparison.
Pitch four resembled a slightly dirtier version of Lunatic Fringe- cool finger locks, hand jams and other moves. Bryan was on top of it after getting through the first part of hard climbing. Next pitch was called by me even before we got on the wall. It turned out to be better than I imagined. A perfect 2-3 inch 5.9 splitter crack with a few pumpy moves. The quality of it was even better than Reeds Direct IMO.
What was ahead seemed intimidating since we got on the wall. It was a 5.9+ flaring OW followed by a chimney into a huge roof. Although I told Bryan I would lead it, when Amy came up she decided to take the pitch. At the moment I was fairly happy to follow this thing. At this time the guys that did it in a day were already rappelling the route.
Rappels above the roof looked wild! They told us it is not worth it to go past pitch eight and that is where they rappelled from. These guys were fun to be around and their presence was enjoyed. After that we decided to follow their advice and avoid last mungy pitches.
Amy kicked ass and got to the top of the monster pitch six. It turned out to be one of the most original pitches I've climbed in my life. One word to describe it would be 'WILD!' After you finish the flaring OW and chimney, you come close to something that looks like a dead end, and to your surprise you get up to a window with a great view of El Cap and Cathedral rocks. You CRAWL through the window to the other side, flip over on your back, and start climbing up a perfect hand crack FROM LAYING ON YOUR BACK. Wow. That was cool.
At the top of the roof chimeny pitch we had some snacks and enjoyed the views - El Cap, Cathedral rocks, Leaning Tower and Bridalveil Fall. These views only got better as we advanced higher.
The next pitch was mostly a 5.9 hand crack with one 10b roof to pull. Bryan led without problems. This pitch was a joy and included a variety of cool moves.
The last pitch we wanted to do was mine and although by this point I was a bit tired I had the energy to enjoy this pitch, which was also a 5.9.
Although we technically did not 'top out' we got exactly what we wanted to get out of it- learn a bit more about aid, have fun, and do some cool free climbing in a spectacular setting.
Final thoughts: Trust random dudes in cafeterias. And if you want to climb something- JUST DO IT.