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 mountainproject.com, 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.

WHAT'S NEXT?

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