Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shooting Hoops On El Cap With Michael Jordan

I reached into my pocket to check my cell phone and read "One missed call and one new voicemail". Poor cell reception always causes missed calls. I stood on top of a tall rock in the middle of Camp 4, and attempt to listen to the message. My stomach drops.

Alex Honnold needed a partner to climb The Nose, and my friends Ben Ditto and Mikey Schaefer gave them my number. I couldn't believe that Alex wanted to climb with someone that was nowhere near his ability level. I called him back, and nervously rode my bike over to the Pines Campground.

There is no lying in climbing. There is no showing off. You either commit to the route or you bail. You send or you fall. Expressing my ability with complete honesty would surely deter Alex from ever wanting to climb with me.

"Well, you are super solid on 5.10 right?" Alex asked.
"Yeah, and I can also jug really fast.." I replied.

"Ok, we'll simul climb the whole thing, it should only take 4 or 5 hours," said Alex.
"What the hell..... What did I get myself into??" I thought to myself.

I came up with a plan on how to bail on Alex, I couldn't climb that fast, there is now possible way I could do it.

5:00AM, I met Alex in El Cap Meadow, and started a leisurely hike up to the base of The Nose. I committed.

I found myself relaxed, calm, and unusually confident in myself.  Alex and I simul climbed to the great roof, where I led 17 pitches, and simuled under alex for 3. From The great roof I jugged as fast as I could, while Alex climbed at a leasurly pace, stopping to chat with a few teams that were on there 4th day climbing the route.

Alex nearly free soloing the pancake flake, Tom Evans photo

Alex and I at the belay below the slot pitch just before Camp 5, Tom Evans photo 

I stood on top just before 11AM, 4 hours and 50 minutes after we started. I ran down the East Ledges in a little over 40 minutes, and caught the second half of a scheduled search and rescue training. The first half of the training included a mandatory 'pack test', where you walk for 40 minutes with a 40 pound pack. I opted to climb El Cap that morning instead.

I think I am the least skilled climber that has ever climbed El Cap with Honnold. With all the time that I have spent climbing in The Valley, and on El Cap, I have figured out tricks to climb efficiently. I'm not super star climber and I am not ridiculously strong.
If believe that I can do something, I try hard as hell to make them happen. Believing in myself is something that I consistently struggle with.

A few days later I got a call from Pete Mortimer with Sender Films, asking if I was interested in filming Honnold on his attempt to solo three grade 6 walls in a day.

I rope soloed up to the top of the boot flake, and waited for Honnold to come climbing by around midnight. I had packed my mini haul bag with camera gear, bivy gear to sleep on El Cap Tower, and a second rope to rappel down to the ground.

I saw a figure steadily moving towards me, and I armed myself with a DSLR and a lens that works well in low light. We chatted as he passed by and did the king swing. He said he was glad that I was there to talk to, as it is sad and lonely soloing at night.

Check out Pete's report of the mission to film Honnold: Behind The Camera