Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31

Hearing the forecast lately makes nearly every climber cringe. The funky weather this year is definitely making things difficult. I have been attempting to except that fact that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. The amount of worry and frustration that I put into it is completely pointless. 

Trying to make the best of it, our crew from Boulder headed UP the east ledges descent to get to the top of El Cap. I have gone down them 5 times, but this time we weren't on a climbing mission.. 

Adrenaline junkies (also known as climbers) have set drilled bolts on what they call the 'launch pad' at the top of el cap not for the purpose of climbing, but for a rope swing. 6 kids and 4 ropes later, you have The Alcove Swing. 

With a rope attaching you horizontally 60 feet away, and another that you can rappel off, you have one massive swing. Using a gri gri, you pull the trigger and rap off the end one of the ropes, sending you flying into the abyss. (I know this description probably makes no sense, watch the video at the end of this post for a visual)

Everyone took a turn, and would be sent screaming into space, getting lost in the fog

If you've never been on the top of El Cap, there's something different and almost spiritual about it.. it's difficult to explain. If you climb El Cap, you will know exactly what I'm talking about. The crazy weather and quick moving clouds made it a totally rad experience up there. One minute you would find yourself in a complete whiteout, getting pounded by rain and snow. A minute later the sun would pop out, and the huge rock features throughout the valley would be visible not even long enough to take a picture.

Colin jugging up after the swing

Sean Kuusinen on the top of the captain

Sitting in El Capitan meadow is one of my favorite places ever. I can lay there for hours.

Colin and I got hired as porters to bring Mark Hudon and John Finne's gear to the base of El Cap to climb the route Zenyatta Mondatta, and off the top once they got to the summit.

Photo: Uncle Tom

Can you see Mike and John's orange portaledge?

I stopped by El Cap bridge today to see how Mark and John were doing on ZM. I was disappointed to find out that it didn't end up working out past the fourth pitch, and had bailed. I know they were both super psyched. Knowing how much gear they had up there, I knew they would probably need help getting it all down.

Copper head: a piece of soft copper, brass, or aluminum (most common) attached by a metal cable. These are among the poorest pieces of protection, and are only supposed to hold body weight. They are hammered into a tiny crack or seam where any other type of gear will not fit. To summarize... these things are scary to climb on.

A few weeks ago a team headed up on the route and took a fall on pitch 4. They ripped 5 copper heads out, fell straight onto the anchor, and broke a dyneema sling in the process. The absence of these copper heads is possibly what made this pitch difficult for John to lead.

Here is a picture of Colin on pitch 4 from my Zenyatta Mondatta trip report. Colin is leading up on fixed manky heads into a hooking section with not a single piece of good protection for 20 feet off the belay. You know a pitch is scary not only when the person leading is scared, but when the belayer gets scared also...

This sort of makes me think that we got lucky this winter when we were on that route.. we only had one fall, and only 1 fixed copper head pop out. With no nailing or hard aid experience, I got away unscathed. The planets aligned, and I kept using the seemingly endless fixed heads to make upward progress on rock features that were never meant for humans to climb.

My friend Kirill and I got up there and sure enough, they were happy to see us. I somehow managed to make it down the trail with as much of their gear as I could. You've never lived until you've had to carry a haul bag and portaledge any distance.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lurking Fear, El Capitan

The 5:00AM alarm came too soon as my joints creaked and head filled with nervousness. The cold air nipped at our bare skin as we peeled off our sleeping bags and slid into our puffy jackets.  'We've got business to take care of today..' I thought to myself.  

Known as the easiest aid line on El Cap, Lurking Fear isn't visible from the meadow as it is is on the far left side. 19 pitches, grade VI, 5.13 or 5.7 C2F. 

With only one rope, a 20 liter pack, and minimal amounts of food and water, our strategy was to climb the route in a single day. We were both nervous to try to climb a new El Cap route in this style. Before we attempted to climb The Nose in one day, we climbed the route over four days. This gave us an advantage to strategize how we could climb as fast and efficiently as possible. 

Both Colin and I are leaning towards the style of climbing walls 'in a push' opposed to 'wall style'. Wall style refers to climbing a route in multiple days hauling up bivy gear, tons of extra junk, and all of your food and water for multiple days. 

I forced food and water into my stomach, and we were soon on the approach to the base of the climb. El Cap loomed over us as we skirted around the base, and successfully intimidated me. By the time we reached the base, somehow I untied the knot in my stomach and punched it into overdrive and started leading. 

Me catching up to Eric Sloan on the bolt ladders that get you off the ground.

It's really funny how more times than not we actually know or have met the people that are on route. This makes for friendly exchanges and no conflict. Passing slower teams can be tricky. Insert your reason here __________ why we can't pass you. We're going to slow you down, it's unsafe, we were here first, I'm stubborn, blah blah. Luckily we haven't ever had to deal with this.

I was a bit hesitant to ask Eric to pass. After all, Eric IS one of the guide book authors for the Yosemite Big Walls book... He enthusiastically let me lead right up behind him and let Colin and I try to climb the route as fast as we could. Which is exactly what we did.

Me on one of the bolted traverses. I back cleaned as much as possible to make it easy for Colin to clean the pitch. 

We split the climb up into two sections. I got the first half of the route, and Colin had the second. I ended up with the splitter cracks and awesome free climbing opposed to Colin's somewhat weird pitches that featured wet slots and chimneys. 

The man himself, Eric Sloan leading up the pitch behind us. He said that this was his last big climb before 'father's day', as he is having a kid in two weeks. 

The hard 5.12 cracks offered quick aid placements along with awesome bits of easier free climbing. I was moving steadily up the route, and was using the short fixing technique to its full advantage. I even almost missed one of the bolted anchors. I guess I was moving too fast and having too much fun. 

Four hours later and 9 pitches under our feet, we found ourselves 1000 feet off the deck. I felt the exposure, but it didn't phase me in the slightest. 

Mediocre fixed gear and weird cam hook moves straight off the belay

Looking down the captain, SO sick!!

Getting out of the last bit of tricky aid into 5.10 face climbing.

Colin sewing up the weird flare. I almost thought he was joking... or didn't want to cary as much gear as he had or something.. no, he was just scared.

Colin happy in his aiders moving through the 5.11d offwidth

Aside from the wet sections that slowed us down a bit, we cruised up the route without issue with a time of 10 hours and 32 minutes. I am very satisfied with how well we have been climbing. This was a great route to start climbing on the captain this season.

This was definitely harder than The Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome, but easier than The Nose. I will give wall style teams full credit because of the difficult hauling on the entire second half of the route. Even though it is an easier and shorter wall on El Cap, having to get all of your junk through the 400+ feet of slabs on the top of the route will be very difficult.


It's Not Always Easy

My experience with fear:

It’s everywhere in our lives. It controls more than you commonly think. Fear of loss. Fear of losing control. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of vulnerability..

Part the fascination that I have for climbing is the aspect of fear. Reading The Rock Warrior’s Way hasn’t helped me to get less scared, but helps me understand it better.  I am learning to understand the causes and habits that have come from my seemingly natural reaction to the fear of climbing.

To say that I don’t get terrified while climbing, especially in Yosemite, would be a lie. Yes I am afraid of heights, yes I am afraid of falling, and yes I am severely intimidated by this place.

I sit here, anxiety fills my head, and I doubt my abilities as a climber. Motivation overcomes the hesitancy I have, and as soon as I get into the lead, all of my worries and insecurities drain out. I think clearly and I realize how ridiculous it is that I have such a difficult mental battle to overcome before I start up a route.
I still haven’t been able to figure this out…. I’m working on it.

I’m going to get scared and have some fun tomorrow on the route Lurking Fear on El Capitan, a 21 pitch route rated at 5.13 or 5.7 C2F. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Working on the Nose

Super psyched, 2:52 to climb the first 11 pitches. I shaved off over an hour from our previous time on NIAD last spring.

We climbed this section faster than we ever have, but also have a ton of things that we can improve on... I think we can cut off another hour. I climbed really confidently free climbing through the 5.10+ sections belaying myself with a gri gri while Colin speed jugged and cleaned the pitches. 

On the first couple of pitches Colin would only put me on belay for a few minutes before I would down that I was at the next anchor. 
Colin yelled up "Dude!! You're climbing too fast!!!" 

Photo: Tom Evans

Chillin with the bridge crew and Eric Sloan, talking shit about el cap

Photo: Uncle Tom

Tom sniped a shot of us just before we headed up for our run up the first 1/3 of the captain. Note Colin's sick visor shades. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday, May 22

I'm back in the valley now. Though the weather has been good, all of the bad weather is still oozing out of all the cracks. Climbers haven't flooded the valley yet, I'm pretty sure it's because of how scary El Cap looks. Ahh!!! 

Here are more pics from Jail House

Camping just outside Chinese Camp 4 on BLM land 

Colin trying to stay dry on the first few pitches on our Royal Arches to Crest Jewel linkup. Check out the full on waterfall! This made for an interesting few pitches. 

The dikes in the granite make some really sweet formations, and eases up the sustained slab climbing.

Leading up the first pitches of Crest Jewel 

We decided to go skiing today instead of climbing...

But seriously, a super fun day getting into cardio shape on our sub 30 pitch linkup. Car to car time: 8 hours. We didn't rush anything or try to climb fast, we just kept moving.

Me leading up the 10d tricky protection section on Freeblast

I made another run up Freeblast yesterday with Colin. We got a super early start around 11am and finished with the time of 5 hours 20 minutes, both freeing every pitch. We are planning on climbing The Salathe Wall in a day, and the first ten pitches are mine to lead. I led all of the pitches that my friend Julian led last week, so I am now really familiar with all of the climbing up to this point. 

Everything was going smoothly and we were having a great time climbing with 'American Style' (remember... no aproach shoes, no food, no water, no jackets, no excuses). Some guys let us pass them, but we ended up messing that up by getting a cam stuck, taking Colin 20 minutes to get out. My fault.. 

After getting up this morning and making the standard 4 eggs with sharp cheddar cheese, Colin came up to me and said 'bad news bears...' Uh-oh... Thankfully a bear didn't break in, but I did get a $50 parking ticket. I have parked in the same exact parking lot across the street from Camp 4 over 40 times and I have never even seen anyone get a ticket.. bummer.

The rangers have been wrenching down, it's not as easy living here as last year. Me and the other monkeys just have to get a little smarter about staying here longer than the 7 day limit.

Well, I'm off to join my friends around a camp fire.

Here's another video, enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rainy Days Sent To Prison

So the forecasts were right... precip in the valley is full on. Me and several other Yosemite refugees fled to Jail House rock. Trad climbers, and even more so big wall climbers sometimes have a bit of a negative connotation towards sport climbers and all of their bolted routes. I don't really care who you are, or what you climb... this place is sick!!! 

This is one of the coolest crags I have ever been to. The place is known for the difficulty of the climbing, and the obvious steepness that shelters the rock and keeps little monkeys that climb it dry. The easiest climbs rated at 5.11+, and there are only two of them. These are known as 'warm up' routes. 

Brad Gobright and Mason Earle working on their 5.13 project.

There is a special technique used on these overhung routes called knee barring. You can see that Brad is wearing a special knee pad. It's basically a neoprene sleeve with climbing rubber on the frontside that comes in contact with the rock. You get to certain sections where you can use your leg to lock your body between two holds and rest your arms.

Chris, one of the hilarious British guys, leading the 5.11d 'warm up'. 

After two full days at this place, I officially have not climbed a single route without falling. I gave the 5.12d route 'Soap On A Rope' enough tries to fire up the tendonitis in my elbows. I finally finished the climb falling 3 times on my fourth attempt. 

I'm sort of bummed that my elbows are hurting again, but that means I'm trying hard. It also means a nice rest day in the little town of Sonora at a coffee shop where I'm writing to you. 

Tom Evans, who writes the El Cap Report, keeps an update on the valley and all the action on the captain. Here's a pretty funny excerpt from one of his latest posts. 

"At the moment the only climbers on the rock are Kate Robertson, solo on Native Son and Holly Beck, solo on VA to the Trip. So…. well…. The obvious question arises…. Where are the men??? The men are hold up in the cafĂ©, talking shit and contemplating retreating out west to Jail House rock, where they will stay warm and dry on meaningless sport climbs. Nice work men!!"

Tom Evans is the guy that takes all of these cool pictures with his telephoto lens from El Cap bridge. Hopefully he will be able to get a few pics of Colin and I sometime soon! This climber is on a route just to the left of the route that I climbed in January on El Cap. It's plenty steep, so all of the wetness is avoided.

In other news, I had to go on a rescue mission yesterday morning to drive out to Oakdale to pick up my regular climbing partner Colin Simon and our friend Kirill Langer. He had an incident the previous night and totaled his car by hitting a curb. It was nothing serious, other than a $1500-2000 bill to get it repaired. 

I have been in a bit of a mental funk since I got here, but feel like I have come out of it. Yesterday I felt like I was able to shut off the noise in my head and completely focus while I was climbing. It's moments like this when I feel I am truly at peace with myself. The overwhelming joy as endorphins are pumped through my veins reminds me how much I love climbing. 

Colin and I started discussing logistics and pitch by pitch beta on The Nose, The Salathe Wall, and the Regular Route on Half Dome. As soon as this soggy weather clears up, we're planning to get on the wall. 

It's finally happening!  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yosemite Valley: Week One

Well... almost a week..
Finally! I'm so excited to be here. Even though this is my fourth trip to The Valley, I keep getting blown over by how enormous and beautiful this place is. 

Fiddling with small gear on Crack-A-Go-Go at The Cookie Cliff. 

Poor kids won't ever let any food go to waste. As climbers, we are all problem solvers. This mistake was reversed by cooking the egg by putting a jet boil stove inside the bear box and scrambling it on the outside.

After cragging for a few days, my infatuation for longer climbs was satisfied when a kid as tall as a sasquatch but as thin as a rail rolled into Camp 4. After a 17 hour drive and 6 hours of sleep, my friend Julian that I met here last year was psyched. It was 9am and we decided to go climb one of the most iconic climbs in the valley, Astroman.

Because we were getting started a little late we opted to climb as light and fast. 'American Style' is what Julian called it. Flip flops instead of approach shoes, no food, no water, no helmet, no extra gear that wasn't absolutely essential for the climb.

We reached the base of Washington's Column where we would follow a crack system rated at 5.11c for 1000 feet. Just before we started up we spotted a team that was moving awfully slow. We were moving quickly, but were stopped by a team of Spaniards that were basically aiding the route. We climbed 4 pitches in the time it took them to climb a half of a pitch. We then realized that there was an additional slow party ahead of them. With no way to quickly pass both teams, and not wanting to finish in the dark, we rapped back to the ground.

Freeblast was our second choice for that day, a free climb the climbs the first 1/3 of El Capitan. We sped over to El Cap meadow, slimmed our rack, and we were soon climbing again. Holy shit it was windy!!! I have no idea how to estimate wind speeds, but it was blowing us over, making the delicate 5.11 crux slab moves very difficult. Total pitches for the day: 15.

I feel a little rusty getting used to climbing long routes, but I'm getting that uncontrollable excited feeling again.

Getting FreeBLASTED by the wind.

Julian leading one of the finishing pitches on Freeblast.

Evan Deis with his pig packed for a Lost Arrow Spire highline mission.

Cobras in the meadow 

Getting pumped on Cookie Monster at the Cookie Cliff. 

Several teams high up on The Captain around 10pm. It's really cool that you can see the glow of people's headlamps on the wall. They are in a completely different, vertical world up there. 

Here is a quick video

Perfect temperatures on my first few days here was too good to be true. I woke up this morning to our tent getting pounded by rain and snow. The forecast is looking pretty bad for the next few days, so we are headed out to this place called Jailhouse Rock tonight. It's a really steep sport crag about an hour and half outside the valley that is sheltered from all of the elements.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Leaving To Live My Dreams

I'm quite anxious, yet ready for the experiences that are going to mold me into a better person. 

Here are a few pictures to show you from my last few days in Colorado. 

No particular order.. 

Unknown Climber On the Bastille Crack

Boulder disposal

How to: climb fast

Unknown climber on Werk Supp

Good vibes back in Aurora

Back porch with my brother Jordan

I'll be keeping my blog updated like I did last summer. I'm really excited to write about my upcoming adventures.
Psyche level: 9.4

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Stoke Level: 9

All of my energy for the last 3 months have been completely consumed by the gravitational force that is pulling me to the center of the climbing universe; Yosemite National Park.

I was extremely excited last spring, but this year, I feel it even more. All of my effort and training for this trip has left me psyched beyond belief. I want it more than ever.

I am now armed with some of the best and lightest gear to be able to climb faster and harder. The climbing shop in my bedroom has been compressed into haul bags, and is ready to be stuffed into my old Honda Wagon where I will make the 1200 mile trek out to the valley. 

I'll be spending my last weekend at my parent's house, where I will have my last chance to consume a surplus of calories. Good vibes and encouragement from my Mom and Dad is always a great way to start a climbing trip. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Black Canyon, Accidental Adventures

I wish this was a post about how we climbing something big, it was hard, and we did it. This post is a little different.. 

Everyone's got a story to tell. Here's one...

Wednesday night a group of my close climbing friends got together to make plans to go climbing in The Black Canyon. Details were sorted out, and we we found ourselves on the long stretch of I-70 while everyone else back in Boulder did their homework and got ready for the next school day. 

The objective for this weekend: Stoned Oven (5.11+)
It seemed right, it would be at the onsight ability for both Colin and I. Psyched! 

After quickly glancing at the topo we split up the non-glorious pitches. I called dibs on the pitch called "The Womb Fight", (This is my new strategy to tricking myself into wanting to climb a section or pitch that isn't going to be fun in the slightest), and he planned on getting the 5.11a offwidth pitch, yikes! 

A quick look at what we might be getting ourselves into. I would have never imagined that it would end up that way it did.

I decided to start off with the first lead block. We located the inconspicuous start of the route without much fuss, and before I knew it I was confidently moving up a muddy, dirty, loose chimney. As I led higher on the pitch, the fluctuation of safe and do-not-fall zones started to weigh more heavily on the dangerous side. I found myself already off route, and was unable to reverse moves and down climb to get back into the correct crack system.

Not to worry though, a sketchy unprotected 15 foot traverse would put me back on route where I could belay Colin up.

An hour for me to lead, and an hour for Colin to follow. I shook off our slow start, and started up the next pitch. 10 feet above a marginal belay anchor, that we were both nervous about, I placed a red camalot into a flake that would not even hold my body weight. The picture above is the sketchy second pitch.

We both accepted that we were slightly in over our heads, and with our lack of experience climbing in The Black Canyon, it would be a responsible and safe decision to go climb something a little bit 'easier'. 
We officially bailed for the first time. 

Next on the menu: The Scenic Cruise
    Featuring two psyched climbers starting at 1:00pm! 

Colin ran up the first few approach pitches and I simul-climbed behind him. I stepped on the first granite foothold and it didn't feel right. I often get more scared when I am following or top roping a pitch than when I am leading. For some reason I can't quite find the focus that I have when I am on the sharp end opposed to when I am safely following up a pitch. 

I led up the next pitch and couldn't get rid of the knot in my stomach. I was tried to climb as fast as I could because the limited amount of daylight, but the feeling of insecurity prevented me to move quickly.

It's a pretty terrible place to be in..... 500 feet off the ground wanting nothing more than to be back on the ground. The last thing I wanted to do was to try and climb my way out of this canyon.

"Ok the good news is that we are about half way, but the bad news is that route finding from here a little more difficult," said Colin as he handed me the rack. 

I led the next few fairly straightforward pitches without any issue and reached into my soul to get a little psyche and gain a bit of confidence to get through the pitches. 

"I'm pretty sure the route goes straight up from here." 
I then led a full 70 meter pitch traversing out of sight thinking I was completely off route. I sigh of relief quickly came as I got a decent piece of protection and then saw chalk residue at the belay

The sun had disappeared, and I resorted to using our single $4 headlamp from Wal Mart. The crack system I was in faded away into a vertical scree field, and again.. I found myself off route. This time, we wouldn't be able find any weakness that would let us finish the last 200 feet of the climb. Around midnight we decided that the safest decision to bivy and finish the following morning. 

Yeah, it was going to suck and be very uncomfortable spending the night on a very tiny ledge, but I knew we would get through it. I had mixed feelings of frustration and fear, yet still felt in control of our situation. 

This was by far the coldest and worst night that I have ever experienced. I would attempt to dose off, only to wake up to by my body uncontrollably and violently shivering all night long. 

This is a great picture. Exhausted, dehydrated, cold, hungry, and definitely not psyched.

Our 'bivy ledge'.

Eventually the sun came up, and our bones slowly thawed out. Our friends 'Big Will' and 'Little Will' were there waiting for us at the summit. It was odd an uncommon for something like this to happen to Colin and I. Everyone that we were with couldn't help but wonder what had happened, and why we didn't come back that night.

The next day and a half we recovered. Colin eating a peanut butter and nutella bagel, respectively.

I am trying to hold my head high, but my ego is forceably leaving me with my tail between my legs. We messed up, and paid for it. There are a series of mistakes that we made that caused this to happen. We were climbing too slow, started too late, didn't have a topo, and didn't have sufficient headlamps. We also realized that the energy spend trying to sleep and stay warm was far greater than trying to find our way back on route. 

I have been progressing as a climber, yet I am completely aware the precautions that need to be taken. This truly is a serious game. This Scenic Cruise was well within our ability level, but we lacked the necessary logistics before we even started the climb. In this situation, the issue of safety was greater than successfully climbing the route fast, or in-a-day. We made a responsible decision to stop climbing that night. For that I feel satisfied. 

I love climbing. I want to ensure that I do everything I can to keep doing what I love.