Climbing Free While Having a Blast, a Weekend on El Capitan.

29 10 2009

Lizzy has spent almost two months in the bay area and I was due for a visit . We started off with a weekend with new friends in Yosemite where I was happy to redpoint my first Yosemite 5.12a, Underclingon. A bunch of fun was had sport and trad climbing at Pat and Jack’s Pinnacle before snow fell on Saturday night. Only the first weekend of October and snow already…

I spent the rest of the week reading, working from home, and sleeping – trying to recover from my cold which had flared back up. My friend Stein was flying in Friday morning so we could head to Yosemite to start working on Freerider, an easier free variation to the classic Salathe Wall on El Capitan.

It had been almost two years since I had been to the valley and I am quite a different climber.  These two weekends helped break down mental barriers and encouraged a go for it attitude. With these thoughts in mind Stein and I were at the base of the Free Blast at first light. Surprised by the warm weather I ended up climbing in a t-shirt all day.

El Cap - Oct 09 003

Stein starts off on the first crux slab pitch of the FreeBlast.

Despite warnings otherwise Stein and I enjoyed the Free Blast. The pitches had dramatic variety and pin scars were ever present. I made quick work of the first two pitches linking them and enjoying the glorious fingerlocks.  The next pitch was the first 5.11 crux and I made my way across and while searching for holds when my foot came off. A nice rope burn and a hidden hold later I figured out the crux move. I lowered and repeated it again, making sure I could do it again in the future. I linked this to the next pitch for a fun long romp of fingery fun!

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The pin scars require tricky pro.

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Looking up at the Big Stone after Stein climbed the first crux slab.

The tricky first slab pitch was Stein’s lead. Odd pin scars and tricky friction lead to a bolted slab that I’ve seen rated anywhere from 5.11b to 5.11d. Stein made good progress before coming off a bit over half way up the pitch. He worked out the moves and made it to the anchor. I somehow squeezed it out clean as a second, almost coming off at a tricky horizontal move shown in the video below. I was sliding off and Stein told me to jump for it. So I set up a crappy cross through foot and pressed right dynamically catching the next hold. Very cool!

Stein wanted to be sure he could redpoint the pitch at a later date so he lowered down and figured out the moves on TR (seen in the photo below and video above).  It was getting a bit warm but we still had another 5.11 slab pitch to go. This one is less sustained but with a very tricky move between the 5th or 6th bolt and a fixed pin. Stein fell on this pitch and I did too, but we both figured out the moves and continued up the route. There was no one behind us and we had all the time to relax and sort things out.


El Cap - Oct 09 022

Stein on the first crux slab pitch.

I was back in the lead and had a easy pitch to get up to the Half Dollar. We decided to link these two pitches to get us quickly to the Mammoth Terraces. This required a bit of simuling on 4th class and 5.8 terrain which is pretty reasonable. Some how I figured out the really awkward entry move into the half dollar chimney and onsighted the long ~250 foot pitch. On the Mammoth terraces we were almost done. Doing everything in good style we did Rock-Paper-Scissors for who would lead the downclimb to the Heart Ledges. Going first (on lead) was better than following since you would essentially be on top rope the whole time. I won, and lead down placing lots of gear to protect Stein. There was one tricky section and then I chose the wrong way and climbed down an awkward unprotected chimney. I didn’t want to have Stein risk a 20 foot ledge fall so I had him rap the fixed line which seems more logical. It was good to do the downclimb and I doubt we would ever do it again since it is pretty contrived….

El Cap - Oct 09 046

Stein the Ropegun, El Cap edition

We finished rappelling down the fixed lines having to wait for a few guys who were hauling. The lines were in fairly good shape and we only had to pass a few knots.  It was only about 3 or 3:30 but we decided to hang out so I could spend some time with Lizzy and relaxed at the base of El Cap. Lizzy onsighted the first pitch of the Salathe for her first 5.10c in Yosemite. Sarah Kate and I did a lap while Stein explored the base and saw Tommy and Kevin working on freeing Mescalito.


El Cap - Oct 09 052

On the Mammoth Terraces on my way to rap to the Heart Ledges.

The next day saw another pre-dawn wake up so we could climb the Free Blast again and venture as far up El Cap as daylight would allow. This day the route was super crowed with four parties of free-climbers and one aid team.  We were first to the base but a Swedish team, as mentioned in Stein’s post, showed up soon after. Had I known they were so talented I would have let them pass but there was no way to know and it’s awful to get stuck behind a slow party, especially if you arrive first.  The respective leaders redpointed the 5.11 pitches from the day before and we were soon below the Half Dollar. Despite moving much faster, the sun was in an awful place and the entry moves into the chimney were quite hot. I was tired and failed to figure out the tricky move again, opting to aid into the chimney and continue up.

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Stein pointing back down at the FreeBlast, after redpointing the slab pitches!

With the Freeblast behind us we rapped to the ledges and had a relaxing lunch around noon. The climbing had taken a lot less time and we were about to launch into the unknown. Feeling tired, I was happy when Stein volunteered for the first 5.11c pitch. He made quick work of the pitch, showing his crimping skills on the hard balancy slab. I was unable to commit with the heavy pack and aided the 11c move and freed the rest. We switched leads and I set off up the Lung Ledge. I was unsure where to belay and ended up going a bit too high. Stein was up the 4th class quickly and I was soon lowering down to the Hollow Flake. I was happy to exchange the hard leads for the first of the “Death Chimneys”. This section is a No falls zone since 8-10″ gear is hard to come by and heavy to boot.  On the advice of the Swedes, I brought two finger sized cams, one of which I placed in the singular small crack. This gave me horrible rope drag but prevented a swinging falling.

El Cap - Oct 09 051

The party ahead of us getting ready to lower down and pendulum to the Hollow Flake

The Hollow Flake was not too difficult but was not as secure as I as hoping. Due to the lack of protection and possibility of 50+ foot falls, I moved very slowly and wasted a lot of time on this pitch. Finally I made it to the top and we hauled the pack (putting a nice hole in the front) so Stein could climb gear free.  Without the possibility of falling, Stein climbed in about 1/3 of my time but still said it was quite strenuous.

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Stein crimps hard and onsights a 5.11 slab.

Even though I was exhausted, I wanted to keep leading to allow Stein to conserve as much energy for the Monster Offwidth.  After fooling around deep in the next chimney I remembered that its easier when its wider so I set off, no thought of placing gear, as far out as seemed logical. I made good progress and it almost felt 5.7 (well, not really). After skipping a few super hollow gear placements I got a hand full of pieces in and continued up the chimney. This was a mistake causing another loss of time. I was supposed to go on the face and climbed a likely 5.9 (Yosemite Sandbag) chimney requiring our #6 C4 as protection. I linked this to the next pitch and made it to the belay exhausted but happy with the onsight. Stein had no problem with the crack, stemming out at the right spot and was to the ledge in no time.

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Luke gets lost in the dark Chimney…

It was starting to get late and the wind had picked up. For the first time all day we put on our jackets and Stein took over the lead. The next pitch was one of the best of the day and started with some easy 5.10 before the angle steepened. There were long sections of 5.10+ laybacking – very cool features. Stein really had a blast on the nearly 60m pitch, skipping an optional belay/rap station in the middle. Realizing we were out of time, I left the pack and followed weight free. This was an amazing change of pace and I got to enjoy each fingerlock and bit of movement. The view was icing on the cake as the sun was dipping low in the sky.

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Ah the glory of El Capitan!

Darkness was coming and we were almost halfway up El Capitan. With two ropes we started rapping and noticed that a 70m rope would have worked as well. We got really lucky with the pulls and managed not to get our ropes stuck. There was also a fixed line from Hollow flake ledge to Lung Ledge that we used. This allowed us to rap really easily and I hope it is there in the future.  A 35m rap put us on the Heart ledges (but not at a bolted anchor) from the lowest Lung Ledge station. From here we took the now familiar fixed lines down to the ground. At the base by 7 pm, we had a full 12 hour day but had much success and Stein had not taken a single fall!

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Luke looks up at the at the Monster Off-width

The next day we worked on ascending by going up the Fixed lines to Heart before driving back to the Bay and flying back to San Diego.  Our next trip will hopefully have us climbing the remaining pitches from the Ear to the top over Halloween Weekend. I am excited since it seems the best of El Cap is still waiting for us. Stein and I both enjoyed the last pitch which indicated the steep sections that are yet to come. I am a fan of steeper angles and look forward to a few more holds on the harder pitches.

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Last chimney of the day sent! Luke is excited but way tired…

Enjoy,

Luke

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4 responses

29 10 2009
Marc

Very enjoyable pictures and read. Thanks for sharing!!

4 12 2009
Freerider: How I First Climbed El Capitan « Dream in Vertical

[...] make El Capitan seem more doable, Stein and I climbed the Free Blast back in October.  On our second day we continued past Heart Ledges and made it right below the [...]

15 09 2010
Dieffer

What finger size cams do you need forthe hollow flake? Are they bomber? If I put double length slings on them would there still be rope drag? Where is the thin crack?

20 10 2010
lstefurak

A yellow alien or similar cam would be ideal. You can most likely fit a grey alien too but it would not as good. I hear that some people bring a #6 camalot for the middle. I’ve never used this but it would be too small for the end.

The crack is on the flake side. It is about 20 feet up from the group of chock-stones. The gear is about the same height as the pendulum point so you would need some significant sling-age like two double length slings to help….

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