Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Biz

The marketing manager Nathan Smith over at Liberty Mountain gave me an invitation to the Outdoor Retailer Show. I guess if you have been in the 'biz', you know what O.R. is, so I have been told. Because I have been working with Edelweiss Ropes, it seemed like a good chance to network with some people.  

Official badge, making a dirtbag climber an 'official' dirtbag climber

Fingers crossed.. Luck is an important aspect to driving my car.

+2 hours on the drive to SLC due to a wrong turn.

 "Oh shit," I thought.. "I thought this was just going to be about 10 different climbing brands.." I road a meticulously cleaned elevator down to the main floor of the show, and was overwhelmed by the thousands of people buzzing around hundreds of booths.

I walked through 'the ghetto', the climbing side of the auditorium, and saw the faces of rockstars that I have only seen in magazines.

"How the hell am I supposed to get sponsored when I'm standing right next to Lyn Hill at the 5.10 booth?!" I thought to myself.. "I'm not a rockstar, and I'll probably never be. I write a silly blog, and attempt to make a few videos about climbing.."

Gwen and Keese at Alpinist Magazine met me at the show and gave me the confidence I needed to speak up. I took a deep breath and exhaled nervousness as Nancy Prichard (The 5.10 athlete coordinator) and later Samantha Killgore (The RAB Marketing Manager) were both introduced to me. I can't honestly say that I deserve their support, but maybe they liked my smile and goofy glasses..

Hustlin' at the trade show.

I am hard on myself, but I can't help it. I'm standing in she shadows of giants, only trying to recreate their love and passion for climbing. I can hardly afford to pay for my own climbing gear, and now feel incredibly lucky that I have the support I need to keep climbing.

I needed to get back to where things feel normal. I needed everything to be quiet. A 10 hour drive back to Yosemite provided me with solace.

Sunset in the parking lot, prior to leaving the city.

Knobby sport climbing in Tuolumne with Jess.


"Luck" ran out. My car profusely sprayed radiator fluid and caused my car to overheat. 

**Note: the mechanic in the valley is a heinous place to try to get some help..

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Fallen

Life hit me hard a few weeks ago. Two friends died, another friend escaped death, and personal family issues left me feeling helpless. I always want to fix problems and resolve issues. I can't control everything in life, and had to take the punches. 

Gill Weiss and Ben Horne, Ben Horton photo

I scrolled down my facebook newsfeed, and was informed that my friends Gil and Ben were missing. Climbing in Cordillera Blanca, Peru, they were 5 days overdue. The next day, I checked around the internet again, hoping to find that they walked out unscathed. Who knows, maybe they got psyched and decided to do a gnarly linkup because their 6,110 meter peak wasn't big enough.

Two bodies were found on the descent of Gil and Ben's new route. 

Gill Weiss Pull Harder pose with immitating com. lines

A few hours later after hearing the tragic news, I found out that another friend had been in another accident. Lisa Stern was learning how to aid climb on the first pitch of Freeblast, and fell 160 feet from the anchor. My friends on the YOSAR team informed me that she should have died, but didn't sustain any life threatening injuries. 
"It was a fucked up rescue..." said my friend Bud. 

I met Lisa climbing in Indian creek, and I'm looking forward to climbing again with her.  

Lisa Stern crushing an unnamed 5.12 at Broken Tooth, Indian Creek, UT

Joel Kaufmann hanging out with Carlyle Norman during a Centro Alpino asado. Screen shot from footage I shot in Patagonia. 

I stepped off of a 50 hour epic bus ride down to El Chalten, Patagonia, and was mesmerized by clouds swirling around Cerro Fitz Roy. Reality set in, and I felt very alone. I made an enormous effort to make it all the way down to Patagonia on my own, and could only pray that I wouldn't soon regret my decision.

I was loaned an old tent by Hayden Kennedy, who I had just met, and was cruxing trying to set it up by myself in the campground Del Lago. A kid with big goofy glasses, similar to mine, walked over and helped me feed tent poles through their respective slots and holes. Cian Brinker and his partner Carlyle Norman were the first friends I made in the new an foreign place. 

10 days later, all the climbers in town were interrupted from a common daily routine of bouldering, eating empinadas, and drinking quilmes beer. The first good weather window of 2012 in Patagonia showed up, and we all went climbing. Carlyle didn't make it back to town, a dislodged block fell and hit her head near the top of Aguja Saint Exupery. 

Impressive efforts were made for her rescue, especially by Rolondo Garibotti and Colin Haley. Rolo and Colin were unable to climb the last few hundred feet to reach her due to epic weather conditions. She died most likely due to her head injury and hypothermia.

Bjørn-Eivind Årtun at a Centro Alpino asado. Screen shot from footage I shot in Patagonia. 

A month after Carlyle's death, Bjorn and his partner died attempting a new ice route in Norway. Bjorn and I had only briefly met before he left Argentina.

My friends have been ripped away from this world because of a love and obsession for climbing. They all deserved to experience much more beauty in life, and their passions had many more people to inspire. Some live by the philosophy that glorious failure is better than mediocre success. As climbers, we accept the fact that we can't guarantee every outcome, and we that there is an element of danger that we cannot control.

I can't help but think to myself.. is it really worth it?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The North Pillar Sit Start

Viva Patagonia - First Ascent from Cheyne Lempe on Vimeo.

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Half Dome Solo

My quadricep muscles burned, my lungs burned, it was just too damn hot. I hiked at a leisurely pace up the death slabs to the base of Half Dome. My intention of rope soloing the Regular Northwest Face fell in the shadows of my self doubt and insecurity. "BAIL! BAIL! BAIL!" My mind kept repeating..

I was ok with the fact that I wasn't going to climb the route. I was too tired, out of shape, and not psyched. I was still feeling the effects of a mental hangover from already climbing El Cap 5 times this season. I decided to stash my gear near the base of the route, and come back in a few days.. or next week.. or never..

"Maybe I'll just climb up part of the way up the first pitch.." I thought to myself. I knew I could easily bail from pitch 6 with a 70 meter rope.

My sweaty hands found relief with a fresh layer of gym chalk, and I turned up the volume on my iPod. I sunk my had into the first perfect hand jam of the route, and then decided to follow that with a thousand more.

Attempting to get psyched.

Sun creeping over the visor. The heat is on.

Seconding the first pitch of the chimneys. 

Justin and Trevor letting me pass them in the middle of the chimneys. Trevor was a bit nervous as I free soloed passed him.

Justin giving me his rope so I could fix their line at the end of the zig zags in exchange for beer when we got back to the valley

Justin coaching Trevor how to jug up through the zig zags

An alpine style luxury bed at 1am. I needed to hydrate and sleep after I got back down to the base. The muscles in my legs were cramping, and I felt too dizzy to immediately start hiking down the death slabs.

I found myself in the reoccurring situation towards the end of the route, dry with no water. My focus diminished and my energy level plummeted. I got to the last anchor at the very last pitch, and I was hammered.

Climbing by myself takes an immense amount of motivation and willingness to be vulnerable. Soloing big routes is a way that I prove to myself that I don't rely on someone else to succeed. Half Dome was my fourth grade 6 wall in a push, I don't think I have much more to prove..
Now I'm going to go sport climbing.

The stats:
Climbed route valley to valley, with a little nap in between
10 ~70 meter pitches
6 pitches free solo
10:50 On route
23:30 Camp 4 to Camp 4
3-4 hours spent sleeping and hydrating at the base of the route after I had climbed the route

Sunday, August 5, 2012

East Ledges Haircut

My love for climbing El Capitan has evoked a sense of personal responsibility to ensure that El Cap takes care of climbers, and climbers take care of El Cap. After climbing this monster piece of granite, every climber uses the East Ledges Descent. ~500 feet of technical terrain require 4 rappels featuring fixed lines. By the end of the spring season, the ropes were in bad shape. 

One of the many core shots seen on the old lines 

Though the fixed lines were still 'safe', constant use and abuse left the rap route in need of some new cord. I have personally ascended and descended the lines over 10 times in the last few months, and am used to navigating through the maze of unusable and dangerous ropes vs. usable ropes. 

Which one do I use? Only one rope didn't feature numerous core shots or knots to pass. When climbers leave a new rope to replace an old one, often times the old ones don't get taken down. 

Edelweiss hooked me up with a spool of 10mm static line to give the ol' descent a haircut.  

200 meters of Edelweiss static rope

Cord ready to be put into commission 

An old rope featuring a sheath that has slipped so far that it is unusable

Cutting old line

The new rope in action

The casualties. ~1200 feet of dead or nearly dead rope.

Everyone, climb the captain and and enjoy a nice ride down the East Ledges!