35 pitches and 3500ft of climbing, it is the longest thing Kelly and I have climbed. Previously having done The Nose on El Capitan too, we knew that Salathe Wall would be a level up from climbing The Nose, since there is more wide climbing/offwidth in the route and many spicy chimney pitches including the Half Dollar pitch and the Ear.
After just 4 days getting off Mount Watkins, my mind was set on Salathe Wall, knowing that this is the most probable block of climbing days we have left before our clients are here for the Yosemite Rock Trip 2014. So we throw Ribbon Fall Wall’s plan out and focus on the preparation for Salathe.
The main crux for me on this route is the Hollow Flake pitch, a quick search online will show you endless horror stories of people bailing or freezing half way up this pitch. That definitely sounds like a show stopper for me and I did not want to get up to that pitch only to realise I cannot climbing this 5.9 runout off width flake.
We started training on off width climbing since we arrived in Yosemite and that includes, Moby Dick, Captain Ahab, La Cosita left(5.9 variation), Sacherer Cracker, Copper Penny and more. Trying to climb 5.9 and above off width which is inline with my army teachings, train hard fight easy. To be frank, after all those wide and off width climbing I have been working on, it all seems more natural to climb with one side of the body in the crack and the knees, elbows quickly become very accustomed to be the weapon of choice.
However, bringing a set of really good off width skills is one thing however being up there with 100oft of air below you, knowing that a fall onto that pendulum can possibly land you the fast way to hospital. Kelly and I decided that I should spend the money and get a big ass cam.
So we got on Freeblast on Monday and as usual we had a late start at about 9.30 knowing that its 1o pitches of hard climbing (at least hardest we have attempt to free) there was no time to waste. Flake the rope, got the tag line out, rack up and off we go on the first pitch of Freeblast which is 5.10c fingers. I would say finger crack would be more of mine and Kelly’s thing as compared to say wide cracks or chimney. The climbing on Freeblast went pretty well and I would onsight the 5.10 and below pitches (except Half Dollar pitch) and pull on gears on the 5.11 pitches. It was great to climb with a small rack without hauling and move quickly through the 10 pitches of superb climbing. The only pitch which we really had problems was the Half Dollar pitch which was a chimney with good hand jams but very slick on both side of the rocks. I think I was facing the wrong direction when I went into the chimney and that’s why I fell.
In total we spend about 10 hours getting to Mammoth Terrace and back drop to the ground via the 6 raps on fixed ropes. Not the fastest but enough for our standard. =) The body however was feeling it and we decided to drive to Wilson Eastside in Bishop to get my big ass cam the following day. The big ass cam isn’t really that big after all, if you put the Wild Country size 6 claiming to be 7.6in side by side with BD’s size 6, you will be surprise they look the same size! However the shape of the cam for the WC size 6 gave it a larger camming range at the end which allows it to be used when its almost tipped out. Paid for this expensive cam and drove back to Yosemite the same day to get ready for the long week on the wall!
Day 3, we woke up early, cooked a lot of food, ate a lot, drank a lot and started to packed our haul bags. drove to Fern spring to fill up close to 35 litres of water for the haul bag and started off with hiking! Here’s our packing list,
- 35 litres of water
- 2 haul bags
- 9.8mm 55m climbing rope
- 9mm KM III static haul line from New England
- Camalot C4 double rack to 4, with 1 #5, 2 #6 ( 1 from WC)
- 2 offset TCUs + 1 offset masters, 1 set of C3 to #00, 1 set of nuts and 1 set of micro nuts.
- Cam hooks, 1 of each size
- Arc’teryx Atom hoody X 2
- Campers’ Corner light down sleeping bags
I have to say getting the pigs up to the fixed lines of Heart’s Ledge is not that bad since we hike 2 manageable loads. However the hauling is mad, there will be always a small little roof to get the bag stuck on or the rope will be running over a ledge that made the hauling impossible. Kelly and I spend a lot of effort and time to get the bags to the Heart’s Ledge before taking a rest. It was close to 4 hours of effort to jug the 5 fix lines and bring the pigs up.
Sat around waited for the sun to set and I set off for the pitch to Lung’s Ledge. P12 is a weird line, moving off with some face climbing to gain a crack then up to a roof and traverse to the left before traversing back to the right. I had too many gears down low and the rope drag was just incredible. There was a time I could hardly move and I had to down lead back to the last gear and remove it. Close to 1.5 hours to get the bags up to Lung’s Ledge where we spend our first night.
Lung’s ledge is a great ledge, as there is loads of space and you can choose to sleep on a sloping ledge, rocky bed or right at the edge. I chose right at the edge since its the flattest.
Day 4, is a early start, we have a whole bunch of climbing up to El Cap Spire consisting of 8 pitches of climbing with 3 pitches of wide climbing. First off the class 4 pitch was Hollow Flake, the fixed ropes from the belay to the flake meant that we will end up directly at the 5.9 crux of the flake. The crux was short and the WC size 7 works superb in there. I work my way above the crux bring the WC with me to a point where there would be little rope drag and I started to climb above the gear where the crack starts to widen. Taking my time and being very care (my belayer cannot see what I’m doing) I placed another Big Bro #4 about 20 feet above the WC #6 and started to climb the Hollow flake facing towards the Valley. To look at El Cap Meadow and climb this flake at the same time actually made me feel very calm, there wasn’t actually a lot to do except to jam the thighs in and keep pushing the body upwards. I also have a A0 wooden block attached to my BD #6 for the last part of the flake in case I needed to take a break.
The pitch after Hollow Flake is worth mentioning, graded at 5.7 there is little gears that you can use on this chimney as its kinda big. First good gear is about 45ft off the belay and its a mental game to keep it together and not fall, as falling would means falling onto the ledge below. 3 more easy pitches (we took the optional belays) and that get us to the Ear pitch. A Bombay chimney that becomes smaller and smaller upwards, I took off my helmet and hang it off my daisy just 15ft into the chimney and started to squeeze and leap frog the 2 #6 outwards. This is indeed a spicy pitch! I back cleaned the whole chimney leaving a free rope to jug so Kelly wouldn’t need to waste time squeezing in to retrieve gears.
One more hard pitch and we got to the Alcove, its such a relief to be at the Alcove as we can bivy there if it gets late or if we are too tired but also its such a big spot to hang out and rest the tired body! I decided we should push on and get to El Cap Spire since its such a beautiful place to spend the night and I still have some gas left in the tank. Kelly at this point of time look trashed.
Day 5, we climbed a few easy pitches to Teflon Corner followed by the Sewer pitch. Luckily it is in the middle of summer, Sewer pitch is all dried up with a huge garden to climb through and a quick link up to the Block, a sloping bivy. I fixed 1 pitch to Sous Le Toit (below the head) to a bird shit infested ledge and head down to enjoy the beautiful sunset. While doing so, a big piece of bird shit hit me on my pants. What great luck I have today!
Day 6, after waking up from a ok sleep, I did not slide on the Block as I used a haul bag to cushion my ass against some loose blocks. Kelly however had a nightmare and scream as though she fell off the Block and I actually thought I would find her hanging off the wall somewhere.
Following morning we ate our usually breakfast, bread with tuna and salami and gunned for the last bivy! Guarding the Long Ledge is the head wall, a split pitch of 12a and 12d which we took the optional belay as our rope is too short. The aiding on this pitch is tricky with some flaring pin scars and long reach for good placements. I took a few falls before getting to the belay under the huge roof.
The roof is great and manageable for free climbing and the great position you are in when pulling those steep moves and having the whole El Captian under you is pretty rad. I skip the chains right after the roof (bad move) and went for the bolted belays instead. This could be the hardest aid climb of the whole route with tiny gears, steep wall and hard to communicate with the belayer (under the roof) I pulled a few pieces of small nuts before getting to the belay. I would think this bit would be a really hard free climb clocking in at 5.13s!
Tired and moving very slowly we catch a full view of the El Portal fire from the start on the head wall. The fire spread really quick and soon Kelly and I were just covered in smoke and dust from the fire.
We got to Long Ledge which really lived up to its name, about 35ft long and just shoulder width apart, it made the last bivy really interesting place to be at. As usual I would rest drink some water and eat some cliff bar and try to fix a pitch before the sunset. Knowing that we have 3 more pitches to climb, the mood of the climb suddenly lighten up and we ate and drink all we could for that night. One word of advice for Long Ledge is there is almost 15litres of water left there and if you could drink some of those and bring the empty bottles with you, it could prevent the place from becoming like Camp 6 on the Nose.
Day 7, was straight forward climbing, the body could hardly free 10d cracks but it doesn’t matter anymore since getting to the top and jumping into the Merced river for a quick wash off was all the body is asking for.
I’m happy that we free climbed more on Salathe Wall, instead of the full aid mode we were in on the Nose 2 years ago. I’m also glad I have muster enough courage to climb the Hollow Flake which ended up being not a big deal. The Ear was actually the scarier one. Kelly and mine 8th big wall together and 2nd big wall on El cap, I guess we have come a long way and I will work towards being a better climber so I can free all the 5.12 pitches when I get on Salathe Wall the next time!
Hope everyone enjoyed the read and look out for the trad course and Taiwan climbing trip in Oct 2014! Hope to see more aspiring big wall climbers and trad climbers soon from Singapore!