Thursday, June 4, 2015

El Capitan - The Salathe Wall !

I attempted the Salathe wall back in 2013, but an unfortunate injury sent my friend and I on a long self rescue mission from 2/3rds up the wall. Rappelling 23 pitches with a haul bag between my legs sucked, but felt much nicer than calling for a rescue. My wall climbing excitement did not really return till I did the Nose in a day in the middle of January 2015.  To say that I got excited to climb big walls is an overstatement - I enjoy long routes with lots of free climbing. Pulling on gear to get me up the wall is not something I find as fun as using a variety of free climbing techniques to move over rock. Consistent beaking, hooking and fiddling in offset cams feels like engineering my way up the wall, not climbing it. It is fine if I have to pull through a hard move or aid a few pitches, but pitch after pitch of hiking up ladders is not something that I find satisfying, at least for now. This is why walls like The Salathe seem inviting - lots of good free climbing mixed with incredible position. Aside from that, it is a very historic route that takes one of the few continuous crack systems up El Cap. Checking out the Hollow Flake, The Ear, El Cap Spire, Salathe Headwall is a must, so I found a partner and we set the dates.

Nick charging up el cap!
Nick inspired by the scenery. I don't blame him!
My friends Cris and Brian climbed the route a day ahead of us.
They played with my camera when I stashed it on heart ledges, I sprayed them on the interwebz :)
Nick bellow the Half Dollar
Cris about to send the hollow flake
 We planned to climb the route over four days, but the change in the weather forecast forced us to hurry up. The cold temps and the high winds did not allow for a very relaxed climb. That week a team bailed from the Nose because someone was getting hypothermia, so I should be happy about not bailing. What we ended up doing is climbing the Freeblast on day one and fixing the next pitch. Next day, we climbed to El Cap Spire, fixed the following few pitches and slept in the Alcove. On day three we climbed from the Alcove to the top of El Cap and hiked down to the Valley floor to enjoy a late night ramen binge. It was unfortunate that the weather forced us to hurry - it forced me to be a lead hog and to free much less terrain that I was planning for. It is much more efficient to aid some of the pitches than trying to free climb them. There was certainly no time or energy to top rope any of the tougher sections. So the climb wasn't as enjoyable as planned, but still was pretty damn fun, and those pitches we did not get to play on will still be there in the future.
Peace brah!

I am cold, it is too windy, I want more snacks...Harden the fk up!
Nick enjoying the day

Some honest impressions/highlights/random thoughts:
*Was able to free the 11b roof on freeblast
*Still felt spooked and fell leading both difficult slab sections - pitch 5 and 6.
*Felt much stronger on the pitch off the heart ledges than in 2013. Crimping on the traverse felt secure, in 2013 I just pulled through following it.
*Leading the Hollow Flake with no big bro or large cams is not a life changing experience, but still very exciting.
*The ear protects well but super exciting for a 5.8! Wild edges in there. Awesome pitch. 

Nick on one of the pitches above the El Cap Tower
The Leaning Tower

Nick about to get over the Salathe Roof!
Looking down the beautiful opened book before the salathe roof.  *#droolz*
 *The long aid pitch (alternative to the Monster OW) where I took about two hours and whipped in 2013, felt much easier. I was able to high step and do the long pitch in under an hour.
*Oh my GOODNESS! Can't wait to go back and try free climbing the two pitch dihedral below the Salathe Roof. What a beauty. Was able to free part of the first pitch in my approach shoes, but it made a lot more sense to aid further up. 
*OH MY GOODNESS! Can't wait to top rope parts of the Salathe Headwall. What a SICK crack.

Leading the headwall

Topped out! #monkeysarestillsendin!

*Hollow Flake is the mental crux? Are people on crack? Have not heard this mentioned but the pitch off the Long Ledge was a big mental crux for me. Since we started from the Alcove that morning, we got to the Long Ledge as the sun was going down. My partner, a guy who red pointed 5.12 face at Red Rock, started up the pitch and took a nice whipper on mandatory face climbing section. The whipper was followed by another fall and I gave it a try. At that point it was completely dark and the wind was hauling like crazy. It probably added a lot of drama to the situation. As I pulled the first little crux with my feet above shitty gear (no pin, which was supposed to be there somewhere per the topo), I suddenly felt quite gripped. The positive looking holds felt quite slabby. I climbed up, move by move, expecting to find better holds, but I didn't. In the end I was faced with a difficult move to get up to the ledge and by that time my gear seemed 20+ feet below my feet. I danced around in one spot trying to figure out a way to make the next move to the ledge in a controlled manner. I couldn't figure it out. Middle of the night, 50 foot fall potential, end of a long day, storm was supposed to start in a few hours, my calves and forearms pumping out because I spent the last 5 minutes dancing around on a sloping knob and chalking my fingers.  Not sure if getting sketched on something that is supposedly a 5.8 is something to spray about on the net, but I praised every divine being after pulling up on that ledge and clipping the anchor! I found that section mentally draining and don't give a shit if someone calls me a wanker. Cuz I am ! :) Next time I will try to avoid leading this pitch in a wind storm!
*Pitches above are pretty cool, aside from another squeeze chimney, which by this point in the day was a little epic. Winds were still strong, and the only way my friend knew I fixed the rope because I took it all in and it would not pull down when he put his weight on it. 
*Last pitch did feel like a 5.6 or whatever is there on the topo. It was fine in the approach shoes and I knew we will not be rained on while descending. The front of clouds was still in the distance and we were super happy about topping out after a long day!

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