Thursday, June 16, 2011

The BIG Linkup - Nose (Pt. 2) + Half Dome

20 hours in, some part of me shut off.. exhaustion, dehydration, and .. If I wasn't actively climbing or trying to organize our gear, I would fall asleep. I went far beyond what I thought 'exhausted' meant.

Nose: 8:28
Half Dome: forever
Total: 26 hours
54 pitches

Part of the joy and satisfaction from climbing is constantly pushing myself harder and harder. Our goal was to attempt to climb two grade VI big walls under 24 hours. The Nose on El Capitan and The Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome.
The Nose typically takes people 3-5 days.
The Reg. Route typically takes people 1-3 days.

Some people call it "big wall speed climbing". I think if you have to actually label us, we would be called the "two kids that are sort of good at climbing that try really really hard".

With all of the details and logistics sorted out, we were ready. Because of unknown conditions on Half Dome, we decided to do the linkup in the reverse order. Climbing Half Dome first avoids the Death Slabs approach, and the East Ledges descent off of El Cap, cutting off hours of hiking time.

HD -> Nose
Death Slabs descent (1.5 hours)
Approach Nose (5 minutes)

Nose -> HD
Approach Nose (5 minutes)
East Ledges descent (1.5 hours)
Now you have to approach HD AFTER you climbed El Cap
Death Slabs approach (2 hours)

Because of the huge snow field at the base of Half Dome, no one has started climbing it yet. Our plan was to try to get our personal best time on The Nose, and then if the Regular Route was in climbable, we would do it. We didn't have the logistics in our favor, but we went for it any way.

This time on the nose, we had to actually get up early (bummer). I was insanely nervous. 54 pitches, and a vertical mile of climbing, we had a huge day ahead of us.

I was really stressed, I couldn't help but have doubt and worry fly around in my head.. What if I don't climb as well as I did last week? What if I fall again and get hurt worse this time? What if I just can't do it?

"It's only one pitch at a time Cheyne, you're a good climber, you are ready, you CAN do this." I said to myself..

6AM, we started off. I was so nervous that I climbed the first pitch slower than I had the previous week. After 40 feet of climbing, my insecurities, nervousness, and doubt drained out. I felt strong, focused, and climbed harder than I ever had before on the route.

My first lead block, which puts us up 1000 feet up the route, I only used a gri gri for 10 feet on the second pitch while short fixing. The rest of the pitches I used the PDL (Pakistani Death Loop) method. The PDL puts you into far into the DO NOT FALL ZONE. The only thing stopping you from falling is a huge loop of rope, sometimes up to 100 feet, connecting you to the anchor. (Sometime in the near future I will demonstrate a few of the techniques we use in a blog post)

The Legs. Perfect hands = no need for gear :)

Photo: Uncle Tom
The Great Roof

Photo: Uncle Tom
Congested King Swing

 Headed up the glowering spot pitch. Colin's creative camera angle makes the slightly overhanging pitch look slabby.

We cruised up The Nose, passing 6 teams, and ending up with a time of 8:28. A decent number of the upper pitches slowed us down because of how wet they were.. given the conditions, we are very happy with our time.

Now that we were at the summit of El Cap, we were only half way. Normally people get to the top of their route, and have thoughts of pizza and beer in their minds as they make the slog down the East Ledges descent. Colin's parents were waiting for us in the parking lot to give us a ride to the mirror lake trailhead, along with sandwiches (aka 'sendwiches') and gatorade.

The Death Slabs were brutal. Whatever, it's just hiking. We started up Half Dome, which would later turn out to be one of the hardest things I have ever climbed. Colin and I were completely exhausted, but pushed hard. We were so tired that our plan of simul-climbing and short fixing fell through because of how tired we were, and resorted to pitching everything out, and jugging when possible.

The snow is 50 feet deep where it hits the wall.. 

A few hangups along the way such as tricky route finding and re-leading a pitch because of a stuck rope after a pendulum, we climbed all night. We only stopped to drink our last few drops of water and rack gear.

I checked the time.. 5:59AM.. tick... tick...
24 hours after we started our objective, we found ourselves only a few hundred feet from our second summit.
... tick... tick... 6:00AM.
I exhaled a sigh of disappointment. Only 3 pitches from the top, we didn't make it 'In A Day'.
The sun had come up by now, and we slowly, painfully climbed the end of the route. We finished with the time of 26 hours. 

My throat swelled up from dehydration and I could feel my enlarged epiglottis every time I took a breath. At least I already knew what suffering felt like. Our freezing night on The Scenic Cruise a few months ago prepared me mentally for this.

10 pm the night before we blasted off, I got a call from my friend Zach Parke's number. I had texted him a few hours before, asking if he knew of the conditions on Half Dome.
"Hi, this is Zach's Mom..."
My stomach dropped, I could hear in her voice what she was going to say..
Zach had been hit by a drunk driver on his bike, and died a few days ago. We talked for a few more minutes.
"I want you to know something," Zach's Mom said..
"Whenever you are climbing, you need to know that Zach is a guardian angel protecting you. Whenever you climb, a part of him will always be with you.." 

I didn't know what to think, I didn't know what to say..
The Big linkup was for you Zach. You were an inspiration to me, and you will be deeply missed.

Photo: Becca Skinner
Zach is left of me in the picture.


  1. Sorry about your epiglottis. Way to get after it!

  2. I'm sorry about your friend. Even when you control everything you can, climb safely, take no unnecessary risks, shit happens.

    Climb on, Zach.

  3. Hey man. Cab here. So sorry to hear about your friend man. Praying for you, his family, and friends.
    By the're an animal.

  4. Rick Graves, who hired Zachary Parke to work at Clutch Couriers, wrote, "Zachary loved mountain climbing and spent most of his weekends in Bishop or Yosemite. Here was a man who had found a way to get as close to God as possible, and he wrapped his whole life around getting back up there as often as he could."

    Read more:

  5. nice climbing, very sorry to hear about your friend. btw is that ron kauk sitting at your table? I worship that guy