Saturday, March 30, 2013

El Capitan - The Nose (VI 5.9 C2)

I can go on and talk about how nerve-wracking it was getting on the longest wall my partner and I ever attempted, after confirming plans to jump on it a whole TWO DAYS in advance. But, I don't feel like it. To me this climb was about having time of my life. It's the NOSE- one of the most aesthetic rock climbs in the world! Splitting El Capitan in half, The Nose is composed of solid rock, splitter cracks of all sizes and a few bivy ledges that blew my mind. It's physical features are known not only to majority of rock climbers that fill up Yosemite Valley every year, but to tourists alike. This climb is so classic, there is a whole Supertopo guidebook dedicated to climbing this route – “Road to The Nose.” I wanted to do the King Swing, sink a hand jam into Stoveleg crack, spent a night on El Cap tower, discover how huge the “Great Roof” is up-close, and of course have a chance to stand on top of El Cap in day-light.
The Nose goes up the central buttress of El Capitan
Alix on King Swing - one of the highlights of our climb

Looking up at El Cap from the bottom
Climbing Lurking Fear two weeks prior was awesome, but something was missing. We missed all the views from the summit (since we topped out in the dark), did not sleep on the wall, and to be honest the line LF takes does not make you feel like you are on El Cap proper- it is too close to the western edge. This time Alix and I planned on a much slower ascent that would let us appreciate the climb at a reasonable pace, without too many epics. In addition, we picked a flawless weather window - no “30% of snow showers” this time!
Alix- first pitch of the Nose 
Alix on 2nd pitch
Me on pitch 4
On the day we drove in, I was as excited as I have ever been driving into Yosemite Valley. Even though the Nose was one of my big goals for 2013, I did not think I would jump on it so early in the year. Our ascent started from fixing first four pitches to Sickle ledge. While packing our haul bag in the parking lot, we decided to haul to Sickle after fixing the lines, mainly to avoid traversing/slabby terrain on first few pitches. Alix led the first two pitches and I took third and fourth. Day went smooth, and we were happy about our choice for hauling. We slept that night at camp 4 and woke up early to get back to work. Day two was a long one- move from Sickle to El Cap tower.
My shadow
Sean Leary (blue) and Chris McNamera (red) on their way to IAD ascent 
Alix in Dolt Hole
Alix climbing up the Stoveleg crack
Starting my block
Wide and splitter
Friday (day 2) started out with a bit of surprise. While racking on top of 6th pitch Alix noticed a fast moving party on initial pitches. Turned out it was Chris McNamara (who is responsible for making Supertopo), and Sean Leary (who held prior Speed Record for The Nose)! To say they moved fast is an understatement. Before Alix was done leading sixth pitch, they already passed us. After a super duper cluster-f**k on pitch 8 (had to rappel down to free an end of our stuck lead rope and our haul bag got stuck under a roof), things got better and we moved without too many other problems. I got to lead pitches 10-14, which I was able to mostly free climb (French free through the crux of 11th short OW pitch). Pitch 10 was probably my favorite, even though 12 and 13 were also really fun.
Me on pitch 12
View towards Cathedral Rocks
El Cap Tower. Ledge with an awesome view!
Alix obviously happy to have the best partner in the world
Frog that I saw from my sleeping bag

We got to the top of El Cap tower with enough daylight for Alix to fix 15th pitch. It was a nice head start of her block for day three (pitches 15-19). Even though it was a long day, she did well to deal with a run out chimney, which took us to the top of Texas Flake! Day two was my favorite day of our climb. We got to do some cool free climbing, topped El Cap tower before dark, had time to relax, enjoy the views, eat well, talk, and went to sleep early enough to recover.

Good Morning El Cap
Alix starting up the bolt ladder towards Boot Flake
Can you spot Horsetail falls?
Horsetail Falls eliminated by morning light
Alix on King Swing!
Third day started out with a bang. Alix led Boot Flake pitch and we both performed the famous King Swing. King Swing ended up being damn fun for both of us, but took a while to complete since neither of us have done it before. Right after that we witnessed a huge rock fall from the top of Middle Cathedral. Rock fall swept down DNB route and filled up the air around Middle Cathedral with dust. After watching that, a BASE jumper flew by not too far from us. Alix led pitches 18 and 19, and it was my turn to lead. Pitch 20 turned out to be straight forward with some free and aid climbing. 21st was actually memorable and had cool face moves which I was able to climb free. Since we hauled our pig from the top of 19 I had to rap down and free it. This is where a IAD team (David and Jim) passed us. In my opinion, hauling to the top of 21st pitch was annoying all the way from 15th. I believe we ended third day in the dark partly due to extra time we spent clustering with our haul-bag, and letting IAD guys pass. Not sure what could have been done differently though…

Alix on pitch 17
Jugging back up after releasing our bag- Great Roof right above

Someone is enjoying this day!
Me leading the Great Roof
My spacious (NOT)  ledge - no moving around tonight!

Next I led the Great Roof. It was exciting to be under that huge formation. Thoughts of Honnold soloing it while grabbing old tat on few of the fixed pitons were frightening! Even with a rope, potential for a pendulum fall into rock wall to my left had me placing pieces with care. Aid climbing here however is easy. Pancake flake was next, and the light was really fading. After only a few free moves I stepped into my aiders and did my best to get up that pitch quickly. One more (awkward/annoying) pitch got us to camp V. For me, this was the low point of our climb. I was tired and annoyed by the last pitch. All I wanted to do was take all my climbing gear off and go to sleep, but I still had to climb another 25ft up to another ledge. First ‘2 person’ bivy was not big enough for Alix and I to sleep on. Next bivy I found just higher was barely big enough for my body. For this night I tied in extra short!
Starting my block on Day 4 (Glowering Spot - pitch 25)
Alix jugging
Changing Corners
Some cool looking roofs
Beautiful crack on Pitch 28
Alix jugging
Closer look at Alix jugging

It was hard to get up in the morning, and we didn’t really get going till after 8am. My block of pitches for the day was 25-28, after which Alix had 29-31. Changing corners was a memorable pitch because both of us did not see any way how a human could free climb it. I tried to jump into free climbing mode for pitch 28 (5.10d), but made it only to the first ‘rest’ stance before aiding remainder of hard climbing. I ended up transitioning back to free climbing on 5.8 terrain, but was really annoyed crack on that pitch isn’t any bigger- red camalots is not my happy size.

Having a great day again! (or excited she does not have to jug any longer)
Checking out the exposure from top of pitch 28
Alix on pitch 30
View towards high Sierra
Pig is almost over the lip!

Through last 3 pitches I made sure our ropes stayed organized, we avoid clusters, but mostly I was looking down at the view of Yosemite Valley and tail of the Nose far beneath us - it was wild! When we got to last (bolt ladder) pitch I started to get electrified. Even though I was less than a 100 feet from the top, I couldn’t believe we were actually about to complete The Nose. Universally it isn’t a big deal, but for Alix and I it was a huge personal accomplishment in climbing! Watching the pig swing out into space and than doing a free hanging jug 3000ft off the deck was unreal. It was so glorious I took my time jugging this pitch (hope Alix does not read this), and acquired numerous photos (touron mode-ON!). We topped out around 4pm, but still had to sort equipment and hurry towards East Ledges descent. Since it was mid March, daylight was limited.
Looking down
View of Half Dome. Not a bad wall I see there...
Top of El Cap
Some of the garbage I removed
Our plan was to get down before dark, which we accomplished. Even though we wanted to ‘take our time’ by doing it in four days, it still was a rat race in the end. Next day Alix had classes and I had to work. Our only real celebration was two double doubles and ‘animal style’ fries at In-N-Out.  By 3am I was home in San Francisco. We didn't even take a Huber brothers wanna be poser shot in the meadows...
Maybe I need to learn how to use photoshop? 
As usual, day after we completed our ascent I was curious to why I had any desire to choose complicated and demanding outings…Next weekend I did a few fun and mellow free climbs in Yosemite (Kor Beck, first few pitches of CPoF, Catchy, Knob Job, Sherrie’s Crack, Super Slacker’s Highway). Now that I type this trip report I daydream of attempting Nose in a day, Salathe, The Shield, and other walls around Yosemite. My short term memory must be terrible! Perhaps a positive quality for a wanna be mountaineer.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

El Capitan- Winter Ascent of Lurking Fear

Granite walls of El Capitan make a huge impression on any tourist visiting Yosemite. On my first trip to Yosemite Valley in the fall of 2010, as an aspiring mountaineer I was stunned by it’s size. Back than, climbing a wall on El Cap seemed as realistic as swimming across Pacific Ocean- I did not even think about it. A few years down the road I found partners for my first trip up the "‘Big Stone," at a carpool thread on, a week prior to our ascent. In the end, it was a 33 hour camp 4 to camp 4 push which left us beat, scratched, exhausted, but damn happy and proud to complete our first El Capitan route in winter. Surviving less than ideal conditions, dealing with fatigue/stress as a team, and overcoming a big challenge will keep this climb fresh in our memories for years to come. 
El Capitan- massive and beautiful from every direction
Looking up from the base of Lurking Fear

Just across from El Cap are more walls begging to be climbed
Most people would not climb an El Cap route with someone they met for a carpool a few hours prior, but not me. When my new carpool buddy mentioned lack of third for an attempt at ‘Lurking Fear,’ I was all over it. I enjoy climbing with people who are psyched about getting out and doing things. Alix (new carpool buddy) seemed like this type of person. Even though I got to climb only a few routes with her on the weekend when we met, she made a good impression, especially by pushing me to onsight my first 5.10d - Catchy. To my surprise, her partner for LF was Daniel - a super nice guy I met in the Bugaboos last summer.
View of Middle Cathedral
Alix jugging first pitch
Hooking something funny
Looking back down
Our plan was to trash ourselves free climbing on Thursday and do LF over the next two days. We ‘warmed up’ at Five and Dime where I led my second 10d clean, and headed for the ‘Cookie cliff.’ Both of us tried Waverly Wafer, which would be a first 5.11 for both of us. Neither of us got the onsight but both whipped (fell) in the lie back section. Mini traxing five more pitches got us fatigued enough to call it a day. 
Window Pane Flake
Beak Beak Cam-Hook Free Move 
Alix in a sea of perfect rock
On Friday we begun the approach towards Lurking Fear by running into Chris MacNamara and his partner sorting gear in El Cap Meadow for their climb of the Nose In a Day. Must be typical, since supposedly he spent 3% of his life on that wall (according to my guidebook at least). That day we climbed and fixed first seven pitches of the route. It took two sixty and two seventy meter ropes to do that. I took the first three pitches, Alix took the next two, and Daniel took pitches six and seven. Being up there was a blast. Perfect weather, lots of laughter, and clean climbing. Since my block was first, I followed to the top of pitch five, fixed two 60 M ropes from the top of pitch three, and rapped off. 

Fun at the belay. Alix heading for pitch 4
Alix  leads pitch 4
Daniel ready to jug
Next day was gonna be a big one. With 30% of rain/snow coming in at night the monkeys wanted to get up to the top as early as possible. Avoiding an epic was our priority- we miserably failed here. With a 3am wake up call and a speedy approach we got to the base of the climb around 4:30am. After jugging to the top of pitch 7, Daniel racked up and started his block (pitches 8, 9, 10, and 11) at dawn. The climbing was again clean and enjoyable. There was an awesome #4 OW pitch which Daniel had to run out a ways since we only had two #4s. He was able to combine pitches ten and eleven for a rope stretching monster. 
Alix leading pitch 5
Psyched to be on El Cap
Cool balanced block
Rock is perfect
"Daniel put some pro in!"
Leaning Tower is so overhanging!
My block started out with pitch 12. "C2+" hooking was surprisingly not as scary as some of the fixed pieces I clipped lower on the pitch. One of the pitons I clipped above the belay was literary falling apart - bomber. Next pitch featured clean C1 section and some cool free climbing above. This is where the route quality changed to being more blocky and wandering. More free climbing mixed with tiny bit of aid took me through to 15, where I ended up taking a 25 foot fall after one of my cams blew while I was bounce testing the next placement. After checking myself for damage (just a bruised hip and scratches on my elbow) I continued to the top of my last pitch with not too much more trouble. Happy to be on an 'elevator' (since all I had to do is jug and clean) for the last 4 pitches, I handed the rack to our closer - Alix. 
5am jugathon to the top of pitch 7
First light from the top of 7th pitch
All smiles!

The Monkeys are sendin!
Daniel about to link pitch 10 and 11
Alix's block featured the last 4 pitches, part of which were a bit wet. To make things worse she only had just over an hour of daylight to work with after she started her lead. What was a sunny day just a few hours prior, turned to a sea of clouds which built up our anticipation. During the last 3 pitches we were hit with big gusts of wind and were borderline shivering at the belays, even with our puffies and shells on. Figuring out the start of pitch 18 was a bit tricky in the dark since Thanksgiving ledge is so damn big. Basically it was the first possible way up after you pass the bivy cave. At last we got to the top of the route just before midnight, coiled our ropes, high fived, but the crux of our climb turned out to be ahead. 
Me leading 12th pitch
Alix smiling at the belay
pitch 12 is a traverse bellow the roof
start of pitch 13
Alix with the usual big wall cluster
Me on pitch 14
After jumaring fixed lines above, we tried to get to the top of endless sea of slabs which were all around us. Lack of daylight, fatigue, howling wind, along with intermittent snow/rain turned our hike into a life threatening full blown epic. We continued up a slabby way going left of a headwall and at some point soloed a wet chimney in our approach shoes. It was probably not harder than low 5th class, but weight on our back along with wet friction climbing sure made it tricky. At this point the weather was turning into a full blown storm. We were surrounded by sea of wet slab and decided to keep it safe and rope up. Daniel led a long spicy pitch that took us to the summit of the formation, finally!
Alix on pitch 16
Daniel and I on the belay ledge
Alix leading 17th pitch
Bivy cave on Thanksgiving Ledge. 
My way of dealing with cold wind- a rope blanket
Since it was dark and snowing we tried to follow Yosemite falls trail down to camp 4, but majority of it was covered in snow (waist deep at times). We wandered around the woods for another hour or so and called it a day around 2 am. Finding a shelter under some trees we were able to stay warm enough through the night by huddling around a small fire. In the morning we realized that we were not much past El Capitan and backtracked to East Ledges descent. Our descent was a bit nerve racking since we had to do it while it rained and snowed all around us. Wet slab in beat up approach shoes was not fun at all. However, by 11 am we were done with our final rappells and ready for a hot meal... 
The monkeys- the summit at last! Tired and delirious. 
Fire that kept us warm enough while we waited for sun to come up

East ledges descent in the morning
Fixed lines- finally
T-shirt I wore on the climb
Thank you Daniel and Alix for letting me jump on the route with you, it was a blast. Also, huge thanks from all three of us goes out to Supertopo's own MICRONUT who hooked us up with a topo for the route (somehow we could not find ours, and all we had were pictures of topo that I keep on my camera as a backup). Huge thanks to JIM for getting our two extra ropes from the base on Saturday. Having to go get them on Sunday would be hell.