After our 2 big wall experiences on Washington Column – South Face and Half Dome – Regular North West Route, we embarked on what we came to Yosemite for; to climb The Captain.
Plan A – 3 nights on the wall, on Dolt Tower, Camp 4 and Camp 6.
Plan B – 4 nights, Sickle Ledge, El Cap Tower , Camp 4 and Camp 6.
Of course Plan A is the more ideal option but it will mean climbing 11 pitches on the first day and hauling our fat ass heavy bags to Dolt Tower. That will be hard work and we will have to start at 4am and most likely climb into the night like the party ahead of us.
We decided to start at 8am on Friday 08/07/2011.
A few things happened before this photo was taken,
1) The 10 min hike turned into a ass kicking 30 min walk with the haul bag.. weighing at about 30kg
2) Kelly took a dump.
3) The GoPro did not have an SD Card in it. ( so I ran back to the car and get a new card)
We started the climb at 9am.
The gully climb was the worst hauling we experienced on The Nose. It took us 2.5 hours to climb and haul the bags up and I knew we would be sleeping on Sickle Ledge on our first night. The first 4 pitches of Sickle had been hard free climbing, clocking in at the 510 – 511 range, I french-freed most parts of the Sickle without using aiders. The hardest part in my opinion is the pendulum just before the Sickle Ledge.
We left our haul bags on the Sickle and fixed our ropes to pitch 5 and 6. We slept our first night on the sloppy ledge where my feet were near Kelly’s face and Kelly’s legs were constantly slipping off the edge. It had been a bad sleep and it was very demoralizing as we spent the whole day to only sleep 4 pitches above the ground.
I knew the 2nd day was the make or break day. El Cap tower was at pitch 14 and that meant we had to climb 10 pitches with 2 pitches fixed on the second day in order to keep to Plan B. Sleeping on Dolt Tower would mean we would be too tired on Day 3 with all the harder hauling on the traverses.
We started at 7am, hit the jumars and got to start at pitch 7 which was the pendulum and climb to Dolt Hole. It was a big pendulum and I had to back clean a whole bunch of gears on 5.6 terrain. It was very scary and communications with the belayer were very hard. Kelly also had a hard time lowering out from the belay.
Pitch 7-9 were all long pitches with bad belays. Hanging belays made it very hard to haul the bags. I was so tired by the time we got to pitch 9 and the wind was merciless.
Pitch 10 and 11 could have been linked but I was too tired and was worried that our haul rope was a little too short. These 2 pitches are wide cracks which require Size 4 BD cams. I was so glad that I brought 2 size 4s as I had to back clean like mad leaving no protection for up to 15m on pitch 10. It was a never ending pitch of a mixture of aid and free climbing. The great surprise was Dolt Tower where we found 2 litres of water from a party who bailed some time ago. I screamed to Kelly with joy and drank the water. Kelly got up and drank up a whole load before filling our water bags.
The time was 1715 at Dolt Tower. We had 4 hours to climb the next 3 pitches before it started to get dark. By then we already knew our average pitch would take about 2hrs and so we really had to haul ass to get to El Cap Tower although the 3 pitches were only 100ft. We got to El Cap tower at 2000hrs and the sun was almost setting. We were super happy to be on El Cap Tower, because that would mean that we would have to climb 6 pitches a day for the next 3 days, which meant we could sleep a little longer and enjoy the view and climbing a little more.
We ate a whole lot of food and slept in. I knew the next morning I would need all the focus I’ve got, my nightmares about falling in chimney on Texas Flake. The flake is about 15m high with 1 bolt and no protection to place. I’ve heard of people falling in it and breaking shit on their bodies. I am a terrible chimney climber and had to ask Chad and Jake on betas on how to climb chimney after my epic on East Buttress of Middle Cathedral and Half Dome.
I got Kelly to belay me from the higher ledge so there was less rope drag and I could warn her if I was going to fall. The pushing using the arms and legs was weird and I used ass smearing and back shuffling techniques to get up. I was very happy that I freed that pitch in a sane and composed manner. No obscene grunting or cursing.
The next pitch was Boot Flake, a prominent and beautiful feature on El Cap. It was Day 3 and my body could hardly climb anything so out came the aiders for the first time and I aided the shit out of the Captain for the next few days. Standing on top of Boot Flake, it was the highlight of the day move, The King Swing. The video says it all. I took 800 attempts before getting to Eagle Ledge. This was also the time where we underestimated the length to lower out and our haul bag jumped off Boot Flake taking a 20m dive down. That could have easily ended our climb on El Cap if any of the water btls leaked. We got lucky….
The rest of Day 3 was spent hauling side ways and waving to tourists in the green Yosemite buses. Kelly and I were just cruising and enjoying the day. We ended on Camp 4 at 2000 hrs really thirsty and tired despite having an easy day. I guess the fatigue was really getting to us.
Day 4 is Great Roof day and everyone knows about how Lynn Hill freed that thing. I had problems just aiding it, the C2 grade is real as I had problems reaching fixed gears to fixed gears. The placements on the roof were small too. We took about 3 hours just to aid and clean the pitch. I seriously think Lynn Hill is goddess to free that roof.
Pancake Flake is a perfect 5.10 feature to free climb after Great Roof but the body was unwilling and the weather was cold to the max. We went past Camp 5 which was a perfect spot for bivy, but we headed towards Camp 6 instead. Camp 6 was really dirty with loads of trash in the cracks. However we were too tired to care so we loaded up on food, trying to finish as much as possible and drink as much as possible as we had more than enough water. My mind was just thinking about the topping out + sweet summit + The Nose’s Ponderosa Tree.
Changing Corners was a sharp corner that threatened to cut Kelly’s rope when she was jugging up. I was hanging on the belay just praying hard that the rope would stay good. The aiding on that pitch was small nuts and far moves that Kelly couldn’t even reach on the ‘changing of corners’.
We topped out at 1532hrs on 12/07/2011. We then took the East Ledges descent and headed straight to Ahwahnee for a big dinner and some bubbly to celebrate. The waitress didn’t mind the smelly climbers, and Kelly was happy as hell to have her dinner..
Thanks to Campers’ Corner for gears support, Patrick and Brian( the climbers’ who bail ahead of us) who gave us a lift from Manure Pile Buttress to our car, Chad and Jake for your betas and Bivy HQ and to Bujak for your 2 litres of water. Of course and to all those who supported us in a way or another.