Sunday, April 11, 2010

My first big wall, El Capitan

The Nose, El Capitan, March 20-24

Photo by Tom Evans 

Climbing El Capitan has been the only specific goal that I have ever had. From the second I heard about big walls sophomore year in high school, I was immediately attracted to the seriousness of the climbing, and taking multiple days to get up a wall. When I started climbing a little over 2 years ago, El Cap was always in the back of my mind. All the training I ever did, the ultimate goal of doing a big wall climb was my motivation. My aspiration seemed untouchable, and it was something so crazy and insane that I didn't know if I would ever be able to accomplish it. 

All photos obviously not taken by ourselves are by Tom Evans. We thought we were the only ones on the wall, but we were actually sharing el cap with Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson, who we unfortunately didn't see.

Packing a few days before we left. 

-everything bagels w/ nutella and peanut butter
-bars throughout the day, trail mix, fig newtons
-ravioli + peaches
--enough food, didn’t get too hungry on the wall, didn’t feel like eating most of the time…
-24L of water, 3L per person for 4 days. Had 6L left over
-gatoraid mix (blue kind) awesome
-water in 2L soda bottles, piece of utility cord clove hitched around neck, and then a double fisherman to connect the ends creating a loop

-metolius half dome haul bag; perfect size, packed very tight 
-3 sets camalots .4-3
-2 #4's + 1 #4.5 camolts
-black to red aliens + 3 hybrid aliens (awesome!!!)
-metolius cams 00-4
-cam hook (used 3-4 times) 
-2 yates ladders, 2 etriers 
-both had beefy wall harnesses
-misty mountain chest harness 
-2 8mm cordlettes 
-10,000 free carabiners 
-10.2mm lead line
-11mm haul line
-40ft. 6mm cord to lower out pig

Note for next time we climb the nose:
-2 sets camalots, maybe 3x .75, 1, 2
-4.5 not needed, 2x #4's necessary
-metolius cams not needed, maybe only 1 blue
-don't need as many free biners (we brought up 40-50)
-more lockers!  

After our classes the friday before spring break, we crammed 3 people, and all of our gear into Colin's '99 civic. Our friend Kiff came along for the ride, and we dropped him off in Vegas to climb in Red Rocks with the Alpine Club. 10:00 A.M we were off! 

We drove through the night, and the next day I woke up to techno and Colin's rally driving through the windy road into yosemite. I finally came to the realization of what I had gotten myself into.. and that this was actually going to be something more difficult than I had ever done before. My palms sweat with nervousness, and tried to think of excuses to get me out of it.. I had no choice. 

22 hours later, we stood in el cap meadow. No, it's not as big and intimidating as it looks in the pictures, it's actually twice as big and twice as terrifying. 

Fixing to Sickle Ledge:

We brought up 4 ropes so we could fix ropes down from sickle. The first 4 pitches are the hardest pitches on the route, and it goes much faster if you don't have the pain of hauling through the traverses. 

Me leading up the first pitch. Psyched to be climbing El Capitan!!

Colin leading pitch 2

Me on Pitch 4 rated at A2+. This was scary for me, it was the first time I had to use a cam hook and do any sort of pendulum swing. As Colin says, "Cam hooks, they just fucking work."

We got to sickle with the sun fading. We left the rack, and set up the rope for the first rappel, did the same for the next 3.

Day 1:

5am still dark, we woke up, made some oatmeal, got ourselves psyched and went for it.

6am jugging up our fixed ropes. Once we got past the ropes we didn't need, we dropped them to the base of el cap. 

I was still getting used to aid climbing, and wasn't moving as fast as I wanted. We finally got to Dolt Tower on pitch 11 at midnight. We ate dinner, and then got our sleeping pads and bags out. This was my first time sleeping with a harness on.. uncomfortable, but sweet!!

Day 2: 

When I first woke up, I had forgotten where I was. When I remembered, I felt sick to my stomach. I was completely overwhelmed, knowing that we still had another 20 pitches and 2000 feet to go after two full hard days of climbing (well.. hard for me). I forced down a nutella and peanut butter bagel along with a poptart and we started climbing again.

King Swing video on pitch 16

I think the following pictures are so cool because they give a glimpse of gigantic this thing was, and how small we were.

Colin just finishing up the Texas Flake chimney.

Me leading up the Boot Flake.

Colin making the grab on the King Swing. I didn't lower him enough, and it made it harder to grab the crack. Like most pendulums, I felt like we had to lower quite a bit more than we thought. 

Another view of Colin making the grab. 

Me leading up pitch 18. 

This is where we first experienced what would make the rest of our climb very difficult. The runoff.

Because we were climbing in March, there was still a decent amount of snow on top of el cap. We were getting high enough on the climb where most of the cracks were seeping and saturated with water. From the time I finished pitch 18 to when Colin jugged up to where I was, both the once dry ledge and I were both soaked. 

One pitch away from the Camp IV poor bivy for 2, we decided that it was safer to get into our sleeping bags and bivy sacks as soon as possible on the ok bivy for one. 

Very tired.

Day 3:

After a very, very uncomfortable night, Colin somehow was still happy. Haha.

Our first look at the Great Roof. Note how wet the wall is. 

Colin leading up the Great Roof. The crack was filled with grass and also had running water on the inside of it the entire way up. I would have rated it 5.13+V or C2 V. 
V for vegetation :)

Colin freeing Pancake Flake on pitch 22. So sweet!!

It was my turn to lead, and pitch 23 would be tough. It was C1+ awkward, but that's not what made it hard. (I would have liked to have a gear sling instead of a chest harness with tons of gear on both sides, the chest harness caused my body to stick further out of the chimney, which made it really hard to place gear and step up the aider.)

Half way up the route, the sun slowly began to fade, and then the runoff started to come down harder than it had the previous day. It was like climbing through a small waterfall. Although I was wearing a rain jacket, I still got completely soaked. I got to Camp V on pitch 24, and was devastated to see the both of our possible bivy ledges were getting pounded by runoff. I hauled, very pissed off, and very cold.

Clouds rolled in, and the weather was not looking good. This was the first time that I have ever experienced any type of mental breakdown. I tried as hard as I could to keep myself together. When Colin jugged up to me, he asked how I was doing, I said "..Ok..." I was lying. I was definitely lying. I kept asking myself why did I fucking decide to do this.

Colin's down sleeping bag had gotten soaked the night before. For those of you that don't know what happens to when a down insulated jacket or sleeping bag gets wet, it stops insulating, and won't keep you warm. When Colin finished jugging up to me, he immediately got his cell phone out to get a weather report. If the weather wasn't supposed to clear up the next day, and if we couldn't climb, there was a very serious and real risk of hypothermia. Thankfully, it sounded like it was supposed to be good weather the next day.

For some reason, through the miserable conditions and suffering, something inside of me enjoyed it.

Day 4: Climb as fast as we can

We were in for a second very uncomfortable night, sleeping sitting up, on a wet 1 person bivy ledge. When we got up the next morning I said, "that was like sleeping on satan's vagina.." 

We were trying to climb as fast as we could to get to the summit before the sun melted enough snow for the runoff came down on us. We didn't take many pictures because at this point I felt like neither of us cared, and just tried to focus on finishing the route.

Me jugging up the 'trough' pitch on pitch 28. 
Colin let me have the last pitch to the summit. Climbing the bolt ladder was epic. All the suffering seemed less painful, and I felt on top of the world.  

The summit next to 'the best tree in the world' as Colin said. 

 Climbing El Capitan made such a huge impact on not only my climbing abilities, but more importantly psychologically. There were points where I honestly thought I couldn't do it anymore, but pushed through it. I have never had a mental and physical struggle that coincided like this before. It was incredible to see how much farther I could push myself outside of my comfort zone. 

I realized how much psychological control your mind has over your body. Before climbing el cap, I had almost no aid climbing experience. I watched Chris Mcnamara's youtube videos on how to aid climb, and aided Country Club Crack in Boulder Canyon.. once.. I had also never jugged more than a pitch, or hauled. 

Because of how terribly bad I wanted to succeed, and how psyched I was, that was the only way that I was able to make it to the summit. Now what?? I accomplished my one huge goal. I'm going to have to set my sights even higher now. 


  1. Awesome TR, and great pics! I'm psyched now, too!

  2. Wow... great TR

  3. Thanks for the blog. It must have been a wonderful adventure

  4. Great job! Way to get it done.

  5. Kick Ass!
    congrats on your send...

  6. Awesome job man!! Congrats!!

  7. Cheyne, send me your email address. I have a photo of you and Colin on your NAID at Boot Flake. I was above you at the time on Tribal Rite.


    mark at

  8. Nice Work! Very inspiring.

  9. Nice, great photos!

  10. I need to go there. Maybe this spring or summer.

  11. "kuhl" or in engl. "cool"
    have to train my psych ;-))
    regards from switzerland - i'm on the way,,,,

    tx for inspiration...

  12. nice report guys, I enjoyed reading it.

  13. Nice trip report with the text, photos, and video! And a big congratulations for the perserverence to make it to the top. I can relate to all that you were saying, including how impressive the wall is in person. I attempted in during the first days of the Government Shutdown and we only made it to the top of the Stovelegs. I learned more in 2 1/2 days of climbing on El Cap than I have the last 25 years of cragging! What destroyed us were the constant winds and cold spell the first week of October.

    Maybe get back on it someday. I have major respect for anyone that tops out that hulk of stone!

    You guys pulled it off!