Monday, May 27, 2013

Half Dome - Reg. NW Face (car to car)

Regular NW Face of Half Dome was fifth completed big wall for me this spring, and probably last wall of the season. Turned out I saved the best for last! It had everything I wanted - great views, free climbing, aesthetic line and a great summit. This time, not only did we complete our first IAD grade VI climb, but did so car to car (with 16+ round trip miles on Mist Trail). In addition, we packed out a load of garbage and had a lot of fun in general.
The Man (Photo edited by Scott B.)
To give us some extra luck we brought Cheburashka, who free soloed through Thank God ledge, becoming the first stuffed animal on internet to do so.

Alex who?
For approach, we picked Mist Trail option for a few reasons:
1) After a few days of thunderstorms Valley floor was soaked, and death slabs were wet.
2) We did not want to get lost taking death slabs for our first time at night.
3) Both of us had enough cardio to not care about extra few (16) miles, and it is good training anyway.

Mist trail was easy to follow. Waterfalls were booming and both of us got soaked - Hamik got soaked because he did not have his shell on, and I got soaked because I did have my shell on while running up the stairs with a pack. Crux of this approach option was to pick the right spot where to turn off main trail in order to reach base of NW face. There are no cairns and no obvious trail that splits off. Two things to remember is not to go further than a big warning sign (as I remember) which is posted at the start of switchbacks/stairs. Also, it is helpful to follow the line of trees which skirts the base (there is a faint trail here which is not hard to follow).

Starting the route

Hamik on 2nd pitch
Views towards El Cap, North Dome etc
Our strategy was to lead and follow majority of the route free. Linking up pitches was a great way to speed up our climb. Since Hamik had a few bolt ladders and low fifth in his blocks, he also got more pitches to lead to make it fair. His first block was 1-4. With a few feet of simul-climbing he was able to link up 2nd and 3rd pitch. Fourth had one of the best thin hand cracks I have climbed in the Valley. I took over and linked pitches 5 and 6 with Hamik simul climbing through third class stretch. With more simul climbing I was also able to link 7 and 8th. By the time I was getting close to the end of 8th pitch rope drag was killing me (it is important to extend those draws!).
NW Face
Hamik somewhere on NW face
Hamik on Big Sandy
Me on Double Crack pitch

Mt. Watkins
Hamik took 9th through 11th pitch. I thought 11th had a few cruxy moves that seemed harder than 5.9. After that I took over for my final block of pitches (12-17th), first of which turned into hell. I took the 5.9 squeeze variation but went too far up before exiting. For what seemed like an eternity I was trying to inch my way up or out without any success. At last I was able to down-climb a few feet down and escape. There was a horizontal crack to place pro, before taking a 20 foot offwidth (for which we did not bring any pro) to the top. After this pitch, chimneys became much more enjoyable to climb. To be honest, I wouldn't even call them chimneys since majority of climbing here involved a mix of handcracks, stemming and chimneying.  My favorite pitches on this stretch were 15th and 17th (double cracks).
Views towards Conness
Hamik on Thank God Ledge
Hamik on pitch 22
Took out a bunch of crap from up there
On top of 17th pitch I handed the rack off to Hamik till the top. Zig Zags had so much fixed gear, that it looked like a sport climb. It did help speed up the aid on this pitch (neither of us even tried to free it). This stretch had a few highlights - Thank God ledge for one, and 5-6 BASE jumpers that buzzed over our heads at sunset. It was an incredible experience to be on a vertical wall and witness them flying by in their flying squirrel suits. Both of us watched with our jaws dropped as one of them cleared a ridge by a few feet. We took an alternative variation to the last pitch, which provided more excitement than we wanted to have in the end of a long day. After some shenanigans we figured out where the route really goes and were happy to take our free climbing shoes off on the summit. Since we finished after sunset, the tourists were gone and we missed out on playing celebs (at least I got that treatment after climbing Snake Dike a few year back). Even though we still had to pick up our stuff from near the base of the route and hike out, we didn't care - we climbed Half Dome in a day!
Beautiful face we climbed!      

Monday, May 20, 2013

Middle Cathedral - North Buttress (V 5.10a)

Ever since I saw a trip report  about an attempt at North Buttress of Middle Cathedral I was interested in going for it myself - it appeared like a burly challenge. Lack of information about this climb elevated my desire to explore this rarely done climb for myself. Tales of broken bones, huge whippers, sandbagged pitches, rock fall, sketchy belays and multi-day epics did not motivate me to make a pre-mature attempt. In addition, DNB is a V 5.10b (5.11a in Supertopo guidebook) in Reed's guide, North Buttress does not look much easier at V 5.10a.  After spending more time on Yosemite granite this Spring, I decided it was time to sack up.
Middle Cathedral
Gleb and I left our car sometime after it got light and made it to the base without too much trouble. I led first block of 3 pitches which we simul climbed. Gleb took the second block to the top of pitch 5, which we also simul climbed. This is where the real fun begins - a notorious 5.9 lie back.
This is where the route starts
Gleb starting 4th pitch
View of El Capitan
I re-racked, and left our spacious belay ledge. After stepping out and doing a bolt protected face move I moved into a corner. I saw an easy crack that you could kind of lie back, which was followed by a chimney. "Hey Gleb, this lie-back is a hike! Not hard at all." After getting through the initial chimney I got to THE lie-back, which did not look at all easy. At the bottom of it there was an old fixed nut which I clipped and requested for Gleb to not give me much extra slack. Beginning of it seemed secure, but all of a sudden it got more difficult. On my first attempt to do a dynamic move to a jug, I slipped. That is how I learned about why the old nut is fixed. On my second try I was able to free climb this section and avoid testing that old stopper. Chimney after this lie back was clean and enjoyable.
5.9 lie back pitch is just around the corner from this bush
Gleb following a chimney past the lie back
Gleb starting up pitch 7

Monkeys are sendin
Cool roof ahead
Pitch 7 starts with another 5.9 lie back which we both agreed was easier than prior lie back, but not at all trivial. I felt proud about following this one clean with a pack. :) Remainder of this pitch had some enjoyable climbing including a cool roof, but finished with tree wrestling and a battle versus ants that were crawling all over me by the time I got off for my next lead. Next pitch was probably the hardest 5.7 I have done in Yosemite so far, which also has a short lie back in the end. Crux of this pitch however is short and we both got it clean. I climbed a little ways up past the big ledge that was above the 5.7, and made a belay.
Lower Cathedral
Me on pitch 8 (5.7)
View of El Cap
Gleb starting up (long) pitch 9
Gleb took next 5.8 pitch which he did a great job on. After a pretty long run-out he had to do some committing face moves, which would have serious consequences if he blew it. Next belay ledge had a funny belay anchor which was spread more than 10 feet apart. Pitch 10 is also rated as a 5.9 in the guide book but we thought it was the crux of this climb. You start up a corner-looking thing with some kind of a crack that you use for gear. Half way up there is a thin knob with an old gray sling around it. It provides some pro in this section. Majority of pro I placed on this pitch did not feel bomber but I thought something would hold. I was especially bummed that a bolt I saw from the bellow was rusted and old. New generation of climbers are not used to these rivet-looking things. Somehow I got past the crux without falling, and was rewarded with 25 ft+ of unprotected climbing till I reached a belay ledge.
Pitch 10 (5.9) (white sling can barely be seen half way up)
Done with pitch 10
Middle Cathedral
Gleb following pitch 10
Belay anchor wasn't bad here- old piton and a bolt which I backed up by a BD#3 cam. It wasn't obvious where this pitch was going at first. It traversed past a pin to a corner for a few moves, than moved back up to face, and into a thin crack with a fixed cam. This pitch was rated 5.10a but we both felt it wasn't as cruxy as any of the 5.9s we climbed lower. It had super fun face moves and just enough protection to make it through without panicking. In the end Gleb traversed right to a good belay ledge with good gear for an anchor.
Finally a bomber anchor
Gleb at a belay station (after leading pitch 11 - 5.10a)
Looking across
I linked next two pitches (12 and 13), which were short. People may want to split them up due to rope drag. On pitch 12 you go up a dihedral and traverse right to a chimney. Wrestle a tree (crux) and make it out to another corner with a small roof (5.8). Above the roof you traverse left over some loose blocks that can take your partner's head off if you knock em down. Belay ledge is just above with a bunch of bushes, trees, and more loose blocks on it.  Gleb took pitch 14 (5.6) and was calling off belay int a few minutes. This pitch is really short and simple.
1st bolt on pitch 15
1st is a bolt. What is that 2nd thing?
Me on pitch 15 (5.9)
15th pitch is another 5.9. By this time I was not excited about anything with this particular rating. Gleb offered to lead it, but I refused from giving it up. When I saw first protection that was available on this pitch I felt regret over that decision. It was an old rusted bolt, sticking half way out. Above it was another rusted bolt, which was at least all the way in. It was followed by another rusty object I have not seen before, but it looked as solid as a second bolt. For me crux of this pitch was a face move at the second bolt, but I was able to get it clean without too much whining (there was a good bolt at my waste level, so very well protected move). 5.9 finger-crack/lie back above was brief and simple.
Creative anchor at top of pitch 15
16th pitch traverses straight. 17th and 18th take path of least resistance up (Gleb on 17th)

Views from top are awesome! As usual.
Never tired of looking at El Capitan!
16th pitch is a 4th class traverse, which we simul climbed to the top of pitch 17 (5.6). For last two pitches (17th and 18th) we followed path of least resistance to the top of north buttress. It ends up right by Kat walk. We ate last of our food and begun heading down. Both of us liked this route, and enjoyed adventurous side to it. It kept us cautious, but never got hard enough that we considered bailing. We were able follow Kat walk and hike out without needing to use a headlamp. With modern gear this climb feels like a solid grade IV rather than V. It felt longer and harder than NE Buttress of Higher or East Buttress of El Capitan. As far as ratings, if you think Reed's Direct, Phobos or Deimos are classic Yosemite sandbags, try North Buttress of Middle Cathedral. ;)
Stay thirsty my friends

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

El Capitan - Nose In A Push

After climbing the Nose for a first time, just a few weeks ago, I was proud of my achievement. Three years after I went on my first scramble in Sierra, I had scaled the most sought-out big wall route on planet Earth. It took my partner and I four days, not fast, but not at all slow for a first attempt. After moving on my mind wandered off to different heights, those way above my head. Can I possibly do it in a day like some of the people whose skills are far more superior, like those who inspire me, and like that video I find hilarious suggests? Even though I do not climb 'hard,' I sure am stubborn, and like testing my limits. Why the hell not?

The Nose is a prominent prow separating SW and SE faces
I got an opportunity to test myself when my friend Hamik and I picked a day to attempt it- April 13th. "I been looking at the Nose for too long driving into the Valley on 140," Hamik said, "It is now time to climb it!" To prepare we did not do Dolt runs, did not practice short fixing, Hamik never climbed the route, and I was going to lead majority of pitches I have not led on my first trip up the Nose. This can sound foolish to most, but not to us. We did not want to work the route like a boulder problem, or cruise it, it was now time to face El Cap, and likely get our asses kicked. Hamik's explanation bellow describes our reasons really well:

"I had done three big walls before attempting the Nose-in-a-day: West Face of Leaning Tower, The Prow, and Southwest Face of Liberty Cap. The latter two were done in a day with Vitaliy without short-fixing. As far as free climbing, I onsight 10d in the valley and can squirm my way up harder routes. Most climbers would agree that this isn't the glittering resume of a NIAD climber, and I agree. Our attempt was premature and overambitious, but it was that which made it romantic and enthralling. It's sterile and spiritless to wait to do something until success is assured; why not do it when success is unsure? When the unsureness will throw your brain into insomnia-inducing loops of unease and apprehension; when it will strain your friendships and romances; when it will push you into the furthest corners of your character and strength? One of our friends told us, “I'm going to wait to do the Nose-in-a-day until I won't flail.” Fine--if the point of climbing is to progress via carefully crafted pyramidal progressions, each step neatly rewarded with MountainProject onsight ticks; or if the point is to spray about running the PDL and really going for it and to collect laudatory comments from sick brahs; or if the point is to woo glitzy sponsors and score Youtube views--maybe then it would make sense to wait. After all, the first ascent of the NIAD was in 1975 and in merely 17 hours, 45 minutes, and we were destined to take much, much longer than that. But like I said, we wanted a bona-fide adventure, and if we waited another year we would cruise the sucker way too fast to claim we really suffered. So voila, we undertook The Nose."


After I placed a cam this frog jumped on top of it, I was surprised..frogs on El Cap are brave
About to pendulum into Stovelegs
View of Cathedrals in the early morning
After working all week, and not sleeping for couple of nights prior, it was finally Saturday, 2 am - we were psyched to start our journey. High on coffee, I felt pumped and ready to tackle the 'Big Stone' - literally! Yes, it did help that in the dark of night I could not see it towering 3000ft above me. To avoid bailing, we brought a single rope - if we had any desire to quit we wouldn't be able to. By 3am we started on Pine Line. We made ok progress through first four pitches. Since I knew the way through Dolt Hole variation, we went through that section. Free climbing there was very enjoyable after which I reached a bolt ladder, and followed by a wild pendulum into Stove Legs. This was not as fun as King Swing, but had a cool twist - you make a final leap and sink a perfect handjam into Stovelegs crack in a dyno-like motion. Awesome.

Does anyone want some crack?!
Happy monkey
Hamik following a pendulum
Hamik on 9th pitch
It was unreal how perfect Stovelegs crack is, but to be honest it gets a bit boring after 60ft of perfect hands. Hamik took over and was rewarded with great varied climbing all the way to El Cap tower. Part way up one particular wide cracks he overcame a considerable run out after leaving our #4 down low on that pitch. It was easy for me to jug, but hard to imagine self having as much composure, well done!

Hamik on pitch 10
Hamik on pitch after Dolt Tower
Looking down from top of Texas Flake
 At the top of El Cap tower we were reaching an end to our high. I led a fun chimney in the back of Texas Flake and we caught up to another IAD team that passed us earlier, unfortunately for the last time - they put their foot on gas after this pitch. After the bolt ladder I free climbed, and aided to the top of Boot Flake - one of the most iconic pitches of the Nose. I threaded the rope through the rings, back cleaned my gear as Hamik lowered me, and performed the coolest pendulum I have done - the King Swing.

 King Swing is accomplished by running back, than forward, jumping across a large gap, sprinting some more and lunging for a hold - with 1500ft of air bellow. This time I surprised myself and got it on second try. It was much less epic than few weeks prior, but still exciting. Hamik rocked the swing as well, even in his approach shoes. This is where it went down-hill for us. I took longer than I would want leading the next two pitches. After which our rope got stuck behind a flake when we pulled it. This screwed us for about an hour and delivered a blow to my psyche.

Me on pitch 17 or something
View across the valley
Hamik leading the Great Roof
This location is incredible
When we got the rope unstuck and started aiding we moved at a slow pace. After I followed Hamik on The Great Roof  he started Pancake flake as the sun was going down. I got up to the next belay after the darkness has settled. We tried to do our best and keep moving, but lack of short fixing on aid intensive terrain really hurt us. I took over leading from pitch after Glowering Slot to the top of 28. Few of these pitches were covered with water, which made 5.8 free climbing before Changing Corners real tricky. That belay station was running with water and constant drops were coming down at me as Hamik cleaned. I was really happy to get away from that belay ledge. I tried my best to make good progress, but pace I set was slowed to a crawl when I changed the corners a bit too quickly. Instead of going to the end of the bolt ladder I transitioned at the first bolt. Immediately I found tiny insecure placements - after a whole day on the move I was faced with difficult problem solving. Some of the micro cams held my body weight on two lobes, and it was a miracle they didn't pop. Somehow I managed to get up this section to a fixed cam (where you are supposed to transition from the bolts), after wasting what had to be 20 minutes clusterf*$&#g up 20 ft, if that.

Looking at the Great Roof
Hamik on Pancake flake
Still having fun with my shadow
40 gu packets and a liter of water
At least it felt good running up a short pitch after in good time. Hamik took next two pitches and I finished our climb with the final pitch. Highlight from that section was when just before 30th pitch we realized it was actually getting light - sun was coming up. Prior to our climb I was kind of disappointed we were not going to experience all the exposure from the top - turned out I worried for no reason. When you are climbing something in a day and see the sun rise twice, you know you are not setting a speed record!
Belay ledge bellow Changing Corners was a mess
Sun is hitting the upper pitches as I finish the last pitch
Cathedral Spires and Upper Cathedral Rock
29 hours after we started our climb we both collapsed on top - two tired bodies bathing in the sun. We took a 40 minute nap before deciding it was time to get down. I was thirsty, hungry, filthy, sleep deprived, sore all over the place, but in the same time happy about picking a climb that challenged me in so many ways.