South Face, Washington Column, May 19-20
So I thought it would be cool to solo a big wall. What that means is I feed myself the rope through a device that will stop a fall, instead of having a partner that feeds out the rope for you. This also means that you have to lead every single pitch, rappel down, clean the pitch (taking the gear out that I placed when leading), and then haul your bag up (this climb would take two days, so I had to bring up food, water, and stuff to sleep in). In learning how to solo climb, it was going to teach me how to short fix (a simul climbing method for speed climbing) for one of our upcoming goals: to climb the nose in 24 hours.
I had never aid soloed, but had talked to a few people who had done it and had a picture in my mind of how to technically do it. The day before I headed up I went over to swan slab and practiced on the climb called aid route, an old aid climb that people used to practice on. I couldn't even figure out how to get off the ground to the first bolt. With the 50 pounds of gear I had on, I miraculously made the friction move in my approach shoes to clip the first bolt. Not having any cam hooks, offset cams, or offset nuts mad the entire climb very difficult. I moved off of my first few pieces of gear, and then I bounce tested a cam to see if it would hold my weight. When aid climbing, you use your body weight to test a piece of gear to see if it will hold a fall. PING the cam popped and I fell about 5 feet on to my daisy chain that was still hooked into a piece of gear below. It hurt, but I was alright. I slowly climbed the rest of the route and then felt that I had enough experience to solo a big wall.. keep in mind that nobody really ever practices aid soloing once and then goes and solos a wall.. whatever, I was psyched.
I hiked hiked up 4 liters of water, my harness, rack, and a rope to the base of the climb so the next morning I wouldn't have to carry up so much stuff. When I got there I saw a guy that I had met in indian creek, UT a year ago. I talked to him for a while, and he was going to go up a slightly different route then me.
I decided that it would be a good idea to solo this route for my first wall because of how many people would be on it. It's one of yosemite's most popular routes, so if something went wrong, I wouldn't be completely alone. I made it up to dinner ledge (three pitches up) without much difficultly, and then had to wait around for an hour or two for other people before I could start climbing up the kor roof, the crux pitch. I lead up, and then rapped down so I could clean it. I realized that I had not fixed the lead line into the ancho, and had only tied in the haul line. So I had to jug (using devices that allow you to climb up a rope) back up the haul line, and then realized that the lead line was actually tied in.. so I just wasted some time and energy.. this is part of the difficult part of climbing by yourself. I lead up the next short pitch, and then fixed a line back down to dinner ledge. These two guys came up behind me, and bailed because they found out that there was a 60% chance of rain and snow.
dinner ledge on pitch 3, sweet bivy!!
I was bummed though, this was one of the most popular big wall climbs here, and I was all alone for the night. I ate my canned ravioli and peaches, and then had nothing better to do than go to bed. I got woken up by these two colombian guys that had done the route and were rapping back down in the dark. After a short conversation, I was back asleep.
I am definitely not as motivated when I'm by myself. I even contemplated bailing. I thought about what Colin and Chris would say if I came back and I told them I bailed because I didn't feel like climbing... haha. That was enough to keep me going.
The next day was a bit easier, and I definitely was enjoying my slow pace of solo aid climbing. When I was cleaning one of the traversing pitches, I left one of my cams. That's pretty devastating, it wasn't even stuck. Because of all that I have to think about while soloing, I just forgot to grab it.. bummer.
I was nervous about the 5.8 awkward chimney pitch. It was a little awkward, but it wasn't too bad. At one point I had to take my chest harness (where I racked all my gear) and and all of my gear off my harness and threw it into the chimney so I could squeeze my body into it. I made it all the way to pitch 10, sweet. This is where most people stop, the rock quality gets worse, and it puts people below you in danger if you climb it.
I began rapping down the route, and on the third rap I thought I got a rope stuck. That is one of the most terrifying things ever.. i don't know what I would have done if it actually was stuck and I was all alone. I would have been alright, but it would be a while before anyone came up to get me off the rock. I used all of my body weight to pull on the rope and then it let loose. Then I missed one of the rap stations by about 60 feet. Sweet. I had to swing about 50 feet to my left to get to 2 pitons. I carefully anchored myself in, and then pulled my rope. I finally got back down to dinner ledge and was relieved. Only 3 more rappels to go. The next rappel I was almost sure that It would make it to the next anchor with one rope. it was about 2 feet too far. I had to flip upside down to be able to clip the haul bag into the anchor. I clipped my daisy chains in, and then could down climb the few feet. 2 more raps and I was so relieved to be on the ground again. I slowly and painfully hiked my heavy haul bag back to my car. When I got there I threw my bag on the ground and sat on it. Then something miraculous happened. A guy got out of his truck and said "hey, you look tired, want a cold beer?". That was awesome. I did it.
Aid soloing is a ton of work. I did the amount of work that it would take to climb something double in length. It was a good learning experience though, every mistake I made was my fault, and I had to figure out how to fix it. Being able to accomplish something like this by myself was awesome.