Monday, June 21, 2010

West Face, Leaning Tower, SOLO

6:20am my alarm went off. Still hung over from the other walls that I had just climbed, I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag. I had planned and packed the night before, but I didn't want to climb, especially not solo. I decided ok, I'll make some breakfast and see how I feel. I didn't feel like doing it. Ok, I'll drive to the parking lot and see how I feel, I still didn't feel like doing it. Ok, I'll just hike to the base and see how I feel. I finally decided... well I'm already here, I might as well climb this thing.

This was my first grade V solo in a push, and second solo ever. It's a bit harder than washington column, and it's rated at C2. It took me 14 hours car to car, about 10-11 hours to climb it. Most people do this with a partner, take two full days, and sleep half way up. Nervous.. I didn't know how to get to the base of the route, and I didn't know how to get off. I was also only going to bring one rope.. which meant I couldn't bail. Bringing two ropes would mean that I would have to bring the only other rope I had, a really fat, heavy static line. So I figured that I would have the best chance of making it to the top in a day if I went light. I also didn't bring my camera for that reason. I was worried about wasting any time, and did NOT want to get stuck on the wall over night. It's not like normal climbing where you kind of wait around when you're belaying. When solo climbing, if you're not leading or cleaning, you're wasting time. So sorry everyone.. no pictures or videos. 

This climb is 11 pitches, you can link every one of them and end up with 5 looong pitches. As I got to the base of the tower, I started up the 3rd and 4th class section to get to the base of the route. This was probably the scariest most insecure part of the whole climb. I felt like I was soloing 5.5 moves with a 400 foot drop right below me.... which is exactly what I had to do. It made it even more difficult because I had my full rack, rope, and pack full of water. 

The first and second pitch are all bolts, so it was a good warm up. I cruised up them no problem, and into the rhythm of soloing. It's kind of annoying because of how close the bolts are. There so close I only had to be in the second step of my aider, yet couldn't skip any because that was too far. This thing is steep!!! They really don't call it the leaning tower for nothing. The third pitch was that hardest pitch for me, I had to do two hook moves in a row a few times, and that was definitely scary for me. For aid climbing, sometimes when you can't put any gear into a crack, you can either use a cam hook, or a hook. It's not like placing a cam or nut, where you can see exactly how it fits into the crack. I still probably don't have the experience with this whole aid climbing thing to feel good about placing these. 

Cam hook: you place this in a crack, usually sideways, and when you put your weight on it the torque keeps it from popping out.. hopefully. You use this usually when you can't get a nut or cam to fit in the crack. As you stand on it you can see the thing bend and flex. 

Talon hook: there are 3 different sizes on this thing. It's pretty sweet. You normally place it straight down on a small edge, or drilled hole. 

Cliff hanger hook: same idea as the talon, it is a little bigger so it can hook around bigger sections of rock. 

So I placed the talon for the second time (it was brand new), when absolutely nothing else would fit, and then I dropped it when I was unclipping my daisy chain. I watched it free fall past the steep rock, and was scared because it was an essential piece of gear. Mad at myself, I continued on, knowing that I'd be able to figure it out. 

I got to the ahwanee ledge without much problem, and then started up the traverse. It was difficult, but after the short section of C2, most of the gear was fixed. I kept moving quickly, and was done with pitch 6 by the time the sun hit me. It's west facing, so it doesn't get into the sun until the afternoon. When the sun started beating on me, I definitely slowed down but kept moving. Before I knew it, I only had one more long pitch to go. The end of it was supposed to be C2, but I enjoyed all the fixed gear left behind and it was super easy, besides the fact that it was very steep. There I sat, one move from the top, and I couldn't figure out how to get on top of the bivy ledge. I sat there a few minutes and then had to make a difficult free move without any good holds for my hands or feet. You can see where there is a small shallow drilled hole to aid through the move. If I still had my talon hook it probably would have worked but I didn't have it anyway. 

On the last pitch when I was rapping down to clean, I stopped four different times to clove hitch the rope off so that my rope wouldn't get sawed through when I jugged up. You sort of bounce when you're jugging, and you're rope really can get sawed in half by sharp edges..scary. Tying the clove hitches at certain points doesn't allow the rope to bounce up and down.... sorry if that doesn't make sense.. I'm having trouble explaining it. If you are interested I could show you. I jugged up the last few feet of the technical part, and free soloed to the summit. 

I was nervous about the descent, you need two ropes to rap most of it. I climbed as fast as I could so that I would reach the summit with some sunlight left. I got to the top with about an hour left of light. Thankfully, it was really low angle so I could just carefully down climb most of it. I rapped the really steep stuff. If you are carrying a haul bag, you NEED two ropes. There is no way you could down climb  with a pig on your back.. maybe if you're superman. Usually you think getting to the top you yell that you conquered something. You actually have to summit twice when you solo, and when I got to the top the climb wasn't over. I still had to get down. When I got to the ground is when I had sent the route.

I rocked my ipod most of the time while I was climbing. I have never climbed with it before, but it was really awesome. It made me concentrate really well, and I stayed in super lead mode the whole time. I downloaded the new modest mouse cd a few months ago and didn't like it initially. The night before I blasted off, I found out that it was a sick cd! I listed to it 3 times while I climbed.. that's how good it is. I also listened to mew and deadmau5. Techno is good for jugging haha. Occasionally I would take one of my headphones out to listen to how the cams (usually offset) sounded. If it was a placement that was a really far reach sometimes I couldn't see it that well and would make sure that it didn't make any popping sounds when I weighted it. Also when I would bounce test anything.. the popping sounds usually wasn't a good sign that it was a solid placement. Sometimes it was good though, the cam was just setting. 

This was the steepest thing I had ever climbed. Cleaning the route when I rapped down (taking out all the gear that I placed in the rock) was very difficult on every pitch. I would have to pull myself into the wall at every piece to take it out, then take a big swing, repeat until i got to the anchor. Does anyone know how to make this easier?????? Then jugging back up the rope was hard the entire time. Every pitch was somewhat overhung, so I would be jugging in free space. It is much more strenuous compared to when the wall is vertical or slightly low angle. 

I tried to get into the rhythm so that I wouldn't waste any time at the transition between leading and cleaning. 
When I would get to an anchor, this is what I would do:

Put my daisies into the anchor, take the rack off
Set up anchor with double length sling, putting end of rope at power point
Rappel (using gri gri) and clean the pitch I just led
Clean bottom anchor, put backpack on
Swing way out because it's so overhung, and jug back up the rope (get scared)
Get to anchor, take backpack off
Flake rope into sling (CAREFULLY) or on ledge
Put myself back on belay
Put on rack, re-rack all the gear I had cleaned
Lead the next pitch (get scared)

I'm still getting used to this whole soloing thing, and this is the system I use because I don't know any other way. If anyone has any tips let me know. It was really awesome soloing this route because I felt like I knew what I was doing the whole time, and was never confused about what to do next. My rope never got caught on anything, and everything went smoothly. This was the first time I felt very confident soloing, and wasn't worried about my system. I learn more tricks every time I solo. I also finally figured out how to avoid my daisy chains from getting twisted while leading. I went an entire pitch without having to unravel them! 

The rack: 
2 sets camalots .4-3 (only one #3) 
black to red alien
blue to red offset alien
1-3 TCU's 
1 set BD stoppers
4 DMM offset brass nuts (smaller ones)
16 quickdraws (6 alpine, 10 normal)
6 locking biners
4 non locking biners
2 double length slings
gri gri
petzl ascenders
atc guide
talon hook, cliff hanger, medium cam hook
yates shield harness
metolius gear sling (the one with loops)
1 60 meter rope 

did not use TCU's
perfect rack of camalots
placed 5 nuts maybe... only one offset
need more quickdraws
clipped TONS of fixed gear

The fuel:
2.5 liters of water
2 king size snickers
1 clif builder's bar

The gear beta said to bring a rack to #5 camalot.. well I only have a #3 so that's what I brought. You definitely didn't need a 4 or 5. I back cleaned a ton, and clipped the fixed gear for protection. I'm always scared of running out of gear.

Sorry this post was so long. I've got all this stuff running through my head and didn't want to forget it. The whole soloing thing has been a really big learning curve. 

I did as much work if not more, than climbing a 20 pitch route with a partner. It was really rewarding, and it was awesome to solo something so big in a day. 


  1. dude this is RAD! good job i knew you wouldn't have much trouble. Did you figure out that you can rap the whole descent with one 60m? good stuff.
    when i soloed it i did the same sequence but next time i think I'll lead, fix, rap while passing gear, unfix the bottom, then jug back up cleaning so that you don't free hang as much and cleaning should be easier.


  2. Cheyne,

    Will here from Salathé Wall. Awesome work on all your recent wall travel.
    You may have already been doing this, but on overhanging terrain it's wayyyyyyy easier to jug frog style:

    On something like Leaning Tower, that's ALL overhanging, it might be worth using the setup described at the above link, but you can also set it up without any special-purpose gear (nice for walls like Salathé, where normal jugging is best most of the time). To do it with just the stuff you would normally use for Yosemite style jugging: Pass a big locker thru your leg and waist loops (same path your tie-in and belay loop follow). Clip one of your jumars to this THRU THE HANDLE, NOT THE BINER HOLE. You could clip thru the biner hole, but the lower you can get this bottom ascender, the more you'll get out of each stroke. The Croll ascender really shines here, but again, that's special purpose gear. I have one, and it's definitely better, but not essential. Next, put a sling around your neck and clip it to the TOP of the ascender you've just placed. In the setup above, this sling is a Petzl Torse harness (which is indeed nicer than a sling). Clip your other jumar to the rope above you with 1 etrier attached (the setup above shows using a specially tied piece of webbing instead of an etrier, which I've found to be of NO benefit). Put both jumars on rope. Put both feet in THE SAME step of your etrier, I believe mine go in the middle of the 5 steps, but it might be 2nd from the bottom - play with this placement for max benefit. The rope goes IN FRONT of the etrier, between your shoes, and BOTH hands go on the upper ascender. Pull down on upper ascender while pumping with legs, and your feet will pull the rope thru the bottom ascender, which you will promptly sit on. Push up the upper ascender and repeat a million times. It is really, truly MUCH easier than "Yosemite style" jugging on steep terrain. Note that I tried once leaving 1 ascender at home, and using the Gri-Gri as the bottom ascender. It sucked. Don't do it (unless you've dropped an ascender). As for whether or not to clean on rappel or jumar, on something that overhangs that much, I like the way you did it, cleaning on rappel. Other times, if the pitch is straight up, and especially if I'm carrying 2 ropes, then I'll clean while jumaring. I'll always do everything in my power to clean traverses on rappel (for obvious reasons).

    You have me wanting to get out there and solo the tower now. Keep tearing it up!


  3. Thanks Will. That seems like a good way to jug. I did frog style jugging the whole way. I didn't really have much problem with it... it's not as efficient as the way you described though. I didn't have a choice with cleaning, I had to clean on rappel because I only brought one rope and every pitch was almost a full rope length. Bringing a second rope would have made cleaning easier, and given me the option to bail. It would have added extra time, and the fact that I couldn't bail made me climb faster.

    The tower is definitely a super good wall to solo. There are a bunch of bolt ladders that go really quick, along with a ton of fixed gear.

  4. Very nice.
    Although....The Leaning Tower Chimney goes with 1 cord. Downclimb a little & you'll see.
    Really. no troll.

  5. That's cool you sent the West Face solo with just one rope. And jugging the free-hanging rope with a pack is sort of bad-ass. And I assume you were jugging with a good bit of the rack as well since you cleaned stuff on rappel. Would there have been advantages to leaving the gear in and re-clipping the rope while you rappelled? At least that way you wouldn't have the weight of the whole rest of your rack while jugging the free-hanging rope, because you would retrieve it while cleaning the pitch as normal.

    It's a good idea that you tied the pieces off with the Clove Hitches as you described to avoid the sharp edges on the jumar back up the final pitch. Some people call it a "re-belay" others call it "tacking off" . That seems like an advantage you had as a soloist.

    I like the continuous loop method of soloing, but I would probably have been slower than you. Great Job!

    Chad from CT

  6. Chad, I wouldn't see much advantage in re-clipping in every piece on rappel to save weight. If you've done the route you will notice how much fixed gear there is, and how many bolts there are. Because of my light(ish) rack, I back cleaned a ton to save gear. I would clip every 7th bolt or so on the ladders, and clip all the fixed shit as pro and save my gear. I could have definitely left more gear and it may have been a little bit more safe. What I'm saying is, I really didn't leave much gear on the pitches. My pitch 4 (textbook pitch 7&8) I only left one of my own pieces! It was C1, I felt really solid, and ran it out.

    Because I got into the habit of leaving as little gear as possible on other walls (NIAD, half dome) to save speed, I just did the same thing on on this route.

    Thanks for the comments!! I totally appreciate suggestions and criticisms (just don't hurt my feelings haha).

  7. Nice job! If your worried about chopping ropes when you jug, dont tie clove hitches. If that hitch happens to rub on the rock somehow that will cut the rope. If you tie a butterfly not you however will only chope the loop instead of the whole line.