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.

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