Turkey Day in Indian Creek

26 12 2009

Back in March, Lizzy and I decided the next time we went to the Creek we wanted to go with friends. Our trip had been awesome, but there is something about spending time with good company in such a beautiful place like Indian Creek. Over the week of Thanksgiving, we climbed with many people and ran into others multiple times throughout the week. To make logistics possible, I drove out with Konstantin and Lin while Lizzy drove from the bay with Sarah Kate.

The trip went amazingly well for me from the first climb to the last and I am very happy with how far my climbing has come in the last year and a half. I was able to redpoint many of the climbs I had top roped my first trip to Indian creek in 2008 and sent a ton of other four star routes.

Luke is getting quite pumped on Mad Dog. Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Unlike March, where we focused on easy routes and exploring new areas, this trip was about sending projects and pushing ourselves to failure. When toying with the edge of your fitness and mental space, failure can actually be very important. In a trend that I have been working on recently, I fell on gear and kept trying as hard as I could until the end. I saw fitness gains and had my most productive trip thus far. I climbed at least one route that I wanted each day and some day saw two or three exciting sends.

Luke is really excited the crack is finally getting bigger. Photo by Andre Kiryanov


Luke poses under Pit Bull Terror. Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Its interesting to figure out what feels hard especially as you go through the many different sizes. A harder finger crack can be quite powerful but feel much more secure than ringlocks of the same grade. The list below is of all the routes 5.11 and harder I did over this trip. I wanted to write this down and put an order to the climbs to note what felt harder so I can look back upon this in the future.  The grades in IC are totally subjective due to people’s fitness, skill set and the size of their hands. When you break into 5.11 and above the routes will demand odd size jamming and can often be quite continuous which requires good endurance and the ability to recover.

  1. Three Strikes You’re Out 5.11a/b Onsight
  2. Our Piece of the Real Estate 5.11a/b Redpoint
  3. Twitch 5.11b – TR Flash
  4. Mantel Illness 5.11b Flash
  5. Pit Bull Terror 5.11b/c  Redpoint
  6. Sicilian 5.11c Onsight
  7. Bachelor Party 5.11c Onsight
  8. Johnny Cat 5.11c Redpoint
  9. King Cat 5.11c   Two hangs
  10. Coyne Crack 5.11c/d Flash
  11. Mad Dog 5.11c/d Flash
  12. Layaway Plan 5.11d TR Flash
  13. Way Rambo 5.11d/12a Repoint
  14. Annunaki 5.11d/12a Onsight/Flash
  15. Quarter of a Man 5.11d/12a One hang
  16. Swedin-Ringle 5.12a Redpoint
  17. Cat Burglar 5.12a/b Redpoint
  18. Way of the Gun 5.12b/c – TR hangdog
  19. Digital Readout 5.12 b/c Redpoint

Luke gives Pit Bull Terror another burn. Photo by Andre Kiryanov

The two hardest routes were both finger cracks, which is fitting since that is my favorite/strongest size. It is fun to learn more about finger stacks (about a .75 camalot for me) and learn to do thin hands. I ranged from pumped on Coyne Crack, to very pumped on Mad Dog, to terminally pumped on Quarter of a Man.  Most of the trip I was able to manage my pump and really only ran out of juice on Quarter of a Man. Since I did so well I know that I will have to start trying harder cracks in the future. On this trip, Digital Readout seemed much harder than the other routes I tried and the only route I actually felt improvement on. For me the difficulty came from the poor feet and the insecure jams at the end rather than the pump of the climb. I found Cat Burglar to be easier but more pumpy since there is no midway rest. I could have done it first try if not for the pump factor. Digital Readout, on the other hand, required me to really pull hard, trust my feet, and commit.

Luke feels a bit beat up after Pit Bull Terror Photo by Andre Kiryanov

On the mental side of things I had a really good trip. On Johnny Cat I have to gun for the anchors to get through the bad size. There was a moment where I looked down at the cams below my feet and just smiled. I took falls on gear twice, both unexpectedly and the falls were clean. I still need to figure out how to push my self when the climbing is hard or insecure since I was a bit worried about falling before I finally peeled on Quarter of a Man and this lead to much wasted energy.

Enjoy the Photos!

– Luke

Sarah Kate onsights Soulfire

Lizzy enjoys some red Camalot hand jams on her redpoint of Soulfire Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Lizzy slots a cam near the finish of Soulfire Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke warms up on Long Island Iced Tea. Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke makes a few final hard moves on Annunaki Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke has the anchors in sight on his flash of Annunaki Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke on his way to an terminal pump on Quarter of a Man.

Andre redpointing Mantel Illness

Andre gets ready for some cruxy face climbing on Mantel Illness

Leah finds a pre-crux rest on Mantel Illness

Lizzy starts up Way of the Gun

Lizzy gets ready to pull the roof on Way of the Gun.

Konstantin pulls the roof on King Cat.

Lizzy works through a hard section of green Camalots on Mad Dog.





A Week of Splitters in Indian Creek

8 12 2009

There are many things that are awesome about Stanford. One of these many awesome-tastic features is the fact that we get an entire week off for Thanksgiving. At Caltech, we only got Thursday and Friday off, and most professors considered it a normal week of school when scheduling work for the week. We decided to take advantage of this awesome opportunity to head to Indian Creek for a week of excellent desert splitters.

Day -1 (Friday): Travel Day

Sarah Kate and I set off from Palo Alto around 2pm. After getting stuck in some traffic and losing over 2 hours because of a little snow over Donner Pass, we made it to Winnemucca, NV at around 11pm and passed out in a Motel 6. Meanwhile, Luke, Konstantin, and Lindsey had left San Diego around 6pm and were driving through the night so they could get some climbing in on Saturday.

Day 0 (Saturday): Travel Day / Cat Wall

Sarah Kate and I rolled out of bed at 5:45am and were on I-80 heading east by 5:55am. It was good that the speed limit was 75mph, because we had a lot of distance to cover to make it to the Creek by dinner time.

Meanwhile, the San Diego crew was just rolling in to Moab when we were leaving Winnemucca. Even if Sarah Kate and I had driven through the night, we would not have been in Moab yet. We were glad we stopped to sleep. Luke, Konstantin, and Lindsey drove out to the Creek, set up camp, and headed to the Cat Wall to get some pitches in. Luke sent Johnny Cat (5.11+), one of his former projects, as a warm-up. They also got on Mad Dog (5.11+) and Pitbull Terror (5.11). Luke took a (rare) lead fall on gear when a foothold broke unexpectedly on Pitbull Terror.

Luke flashes Mad Dog (5.11+). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

After a rushed water fill-up/gas fill-up/grocery trip in town, Sarah Kate and I managed to make it out to the Creek Pasture by about 7pm to find a crackling fire and three hungry climbers. We had excellent beer sausages for dinner. Sarah Kate and I were again happy that we had stopped to sleep on our drive out based on how tired the crazy drive-through-the-night folks were already.

Luke about to whip on Pitbull Terror (5.11). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Day 1 (Sunday): Optimator / Battle of the Bulge

From our previous trips to the Creek, Luke and I have learned that it’s good to start slow. Manage skin, get used to climbing splitters, get comfortable with your cam sizes. We had decided that Optimator was a good place to go for Sarah Kate’s and my first day. There was one sweet route there for Sarah Kate and Lindsey to try to onsight and me to get some revenge on – Soulfire (5.11-). I’d pumped out just before the anchor before…

Lizzy watches Luke on Long Island Iced Tea (5.10+). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

We got on Lady Pillar (5.10-) and Long Island Iced Tea (5.10+) for warm-ups. Sarah Kate, Luke, and I headed over to Soulfire, while Konstantin racked up for Annunaki (5.12-). Sarah Kate onsighted Soulfire, a great start for her Indian Creek trip! Then I got my revenge redpoint, feeling relaxed and unpumped the whole time, which really helped my confidence for the trip. Lindsey also onsighted the route (she hadn’t watched either of us climb it).

Lizzy sends Soulfire (5.11-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Meanwhile, Konstantin took some falls on Annunaki, but made it to the anchor. After watching me on Soulfire, Luke headed back over for a flash attempt, which was successful, for Luke’s hardest Indian Creek flash!

Lindsey onsights Soulfire (5.11-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke and I walked over to the base of Optimator (5.13-) and found two dudes toproping it, which was pretty awesome. Optimator is definitely a route I’d like to get on eventually, although I know I’m nowhere near ready for it yet (long very tight hands and stacks). It was cool to watch someone on it, though.

Luke sends Annunaki (5.12-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

After sending Soulfire, I was pretty much out of motivation for routes at Optimator and Luke and Sarah Kate agreed to go with me to Battle of the Bulge so I could get on Swedin-Ringle (5.12-), which, as you may remember, was one of my projects on both of our previous Indian Creek trips. It was a very low stress situation, since I still had plenty of days to send, so even though I fell, I felt much stronger and actually climbed through all the moves to the anchor (rather than cam-jugging the last couple feet, which I had done before). Then it was Luke’s turn to redpoint (he had lead it on my gear before), so he racked up and sent! He was happy to go second so that the quickdraws would already be hanging from the anchors. 🙂

Day 2 (Monday): Battle of the Bulge

After our warm-up day(s), it was time to go to Battle of the Bulge to get on some projects. We headed over to The Warmup (5.9 sandbag) to warm up. Luke, Sarah Kate, and Lindsey all sent Our Piece of the Real Estate (5.11-), but I needed to conserve energy. I racked up with the small cams and headed over to Digital Readout (5.12) with Luke. I had been on this route once before, on our first trip to the Creek, and had struggled a lot. I surprised myself and made it to about 3 feet below the anchor, where the footholds disappeared. I tried to figure out a sequence, but my feet slipped and I was off. After a short rest and the discovery of a very small face foothold, I got back on and easily reached the anchor. I was frustrated and exhausted when I got back to the ground, but in retrospect, it was pretty awesome to be so close to sending a 5.12 on only my 2nd try… I tend to be kind of hard on myself.

Luke closing in on the anchors of Digital Readout (5.12). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke got on the route next and fell a lot, struggling with the thin jams and tricky feet. Later, he got on for a 2nd time and nearly sent, getting just a little below where I had fallen on my attempt (so frustrating). We were both pretty tired by then. It took me probably 3+ hours to feel recovered enough to climb again…

Meanwhile, Lindsey tried The Jane Fonda Total Body Workout (5.11-, probably sandbag), managing to work out the chimney with some takes and figuring out the gear and size beta for the long upper crack. Konstantin took a TR lap on Big Baby (5.11), which Sarah Kate’s friend Dave had put up. Luke and I took a break to watch Andre and Leah working on Ruby’s Cafe (5.13-).

After I’d finally recovered from Digital Readout, I wasn’t very psyched on getting back on it, so I decided to try to onsight Quarter of a Man (5.11++). I knew it was a long, sustained route (35m+), so I hadn’t tried it on previous trips because I’d known I didn’t have the endurance. But, I was feeling strong this time, so I went for it. The crack was smaller than I’d expected – mostly sustained black Metolius cams (all the red Camalots were very tight) and there were not many rests. I focused on moving forward and not wasting energy. I had expected the top section, where the crack zigzags steeply, to be the crux, but luckily it was not – there were stem stances and layback jugs, which were great after the long sustained corner. In no time I was clipping the anchor – tying with Sunshine Dihedral (5.11d) for my hardest onsight!

Lizzy on the final section of Quarter of a Man (5.11++).

I gave Luke the beta and he set off on his flash go. The crack had felt tight for me, so it must have felt even smaller for him. He tried pretty hard, but fell just before the rest pod. A little rest and he sent to the top – it’ll go next time! Then Sarah Kate got on the route. I’d rounded up a total of 5 black Metolius cams from our gear and our friends’ gear so she’d have better pro for the route. Even though she didn’t quite have the endurance to send the route, she stuck with it, climbed every move, and even took a big whipper on a green Camalot near the end – a very proud effort.

Sarah Kate on Quarter of a Man (5.11++).

The sun had gone down while Sarah Kate was on the route, so it was time to head back to camp for dinner and campfire sitting.

Day 3 (Tuesday): Scarface

Scarface (5.11-), Wavy Gravy (5.10-), and Mantel Illness (5.11) were on various people’s to-do lists, so we headed to Scarface. Lindsey and I warmed up on Unknown 5.9 to the left of Wavy Gravy, while Luke, Konstantin, and Sarah Kate got on Wavy Gravy. Lindsey also sent Wavy Gravy after warming up. I was feeling pretty tired and not psyched about leading it (or TRing it, because I like leading anything that’s not a warm-up at the Creek – it’s good for me mentally), so I abstained. Andre, Leah, and Luke all sent Mantle Illness and Sarah Kate, Lindsey, and Konstantin headed over to get in line for Scarface.

Luke sends Wavy Gravy (5.10-).

Meanwhile, I had scoped out a thin crack corner called Way of the Gun (5.12) and wanted to go for it. I made it through the initial corner (easier than I’d thought) and the roof, but took when I realized I didn’t have the right rack for the corner after the roof. I got more cams from the ground support crew, which was good because, although it was short, the upper corner was definitely the crux, with some very sport-y climbing (i.e. not straight-up jamming). Leah and Luke both toproped the route, having more success on the upper section (they are much stronger crimpers than me) than I did.

Lindsey on Scarface (5.11-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke had belayed Andre on Twitch! (5.11), which he and Leah also TRed. We all headed over to Scarface to check on the other group’s progress. Sarah Kate had sent first try, Lindsey was in the process of sending after many falls at the beginning, and Konstantin sent soon after. Success! While Scarface was being sent, Luke onsighted the Sicilian (5.11), a short, fierce off-fingers crack.

At this point, everyone was starting to feel ready for a rest day, so we called it a day and headed back to camp.

Day 4 (Wednesday): Rest Day

It had been 3 days on for Sarah Kate and I and 4 days on for the San Diego crew, so it was time for a break. Luke got up early to go put an anchor on an unclimbed crack we had spotted on our last trip and the rest of us rolled out of our tents a little later and directly into Lindsey’s car. We had delicious breakfast at the Diner in Moab, then amazing showers at the Texaco, then some chai, internet, and sandwiches at the Love Muffin.

The Love Muffin closed early (2pm – winter hours) and Sarah Kate and I still had more work to do (this whole 1st year grad student thing…) so we headed to the Moab Library. In case you haven’t been there, the Moab Library is awesome. It is an excellent place to do work (if the Love Muffin is closed).

After a quick grocery store run, we headed to the Moab Brewery for some dinner and beers, then back to the Creek Pasture to sit around the fire a bit. It was an excellent rest day.

Day 5 (Thanksgiving): Battle of the Bulge

The post-rest day plan was to return to Battle of the Bulge to get back on some projects with renewed energy and the built-up endurance of the first couple days of climbing. We warmed up on Railroad Tracks (5.10-) and Unnamed 5.10-, then went straight to projecting. I checked out Christmas Tree (5.12+) and was totally inspired, but not totally confident I had the guns for the steep upper layback corner (the first half looked not so bad). So I decided to devote my energy for the day to some more attainable goals.

Lizzy chalks from a fingerstack on Swedin-Ringle (5.12-).

Konstantin wanted to try Swedin-Ringle, but let me go first so he could check out my beta. First, Luke onsighted Three Strikes You’re Out (5.11) with my camera on his harness so he could take photos. Thanks Luke! I felt really smooth and relaxed, solid even on the stacks, but my foot slipped unexpectedly when I was adjusting a cam out of a foot pod. I got right back on and easily sent to the anchor. I was frustrated, but also felt like the route was very attainable on the next try. Konstantin got on the route and essentially learned to stack as he went. He was obviously trying pretty hard and took some sweet falls that involved me (the belayer) flying into the air.

Konstantin trying hard on Swedin-Ringle (5.12-).

When Konstantin lowered off, I got right back on the route and, with only a little bit of struggling at the grey alien section (my worst crack size), sent the route – my first 5.12! It felt great to send, on only my 8th time on the route (all attempts on lead, which I am very proud of) and for most of the route to feel so smooth and relaxed. I’d even say I might use it as an intermediate warm-up for other 5.12s in the area in the future (yes, it is that fun).

Meanwhile, Lindsey had gone over to get back on her project, The Jane Fonda Total Body Workout . Although she made progress and climbed higher than her first attempt, exhaustion and pump took over and she had to take. I’m sure it was a valiant effort, because she was exhausted for the rest of the day. Afterwards, Sarah Kate (who had belayed) came back over to the Swedin-Ringle area and flashed Three Strikes You’re Out, her first solid 5.11 at the Creek.

Sarah Kate flashes Three Strikes You’re Out (5.11).

Luke and I then headed over to Digital Readout so he could have another redpoint go. He felt much more solid than on his previous tries and clipped the chains, for his first solid Indian Creek 5.12.

I had thought about getting on Digital Readout, but remembered how draining it had been on my other try. I really wanted to get back on Coyne Crack (5.11+), so I decided to try that first and leave Digital Readout for a later time (or day… or trip). Luke headed over to Supercrack Buttress with us ladies and we congregated below the base of Coyne Crack. Although it had been a busy day at the Battle of the Bulge/Donnelly/Supercrack area, I don’t think Coyne Crack had seen an ascent all day. That was about to change 🙂

I was FULL of psyche, so I convinced everyone else to let me go first (I guess they like to have my beta…). The initial crack felt WAY easier than when I had gotten on it on our first trip. I was able to get very thin hand jams from the very beginning (probably because I was much stronger on this trip) and quickly made it to the money section (which is most of the route) of red Camalots forever. IT WAS SO GOOD. I was a little sad when it ended. Sarah Kate flashed for her hardest trad lead ever! Yay! Luke also flashed, with a bit more struggling than the rest of us due to his larger hand size. Lindsey also got on, but ended up taking a couple times, being still tired from doing Jane Fonda in the morning.

Sarah Kate flashes Coyne Crack (5.11+).

It had been a great day of climbing and I would’ve kept going, but it was starting to get dark and we had Thanksgiving dinner to make. Together with food from Bob and Heather, we had a fantastic Thanksgiving meal, complete with mashed potatoes (real), stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and chicken cooked in the fire. Somehow everything was ready at the same time, but I guess that’s just the magic of Thanksgiving.

Day 6 (Friday): Cat Wall

We headed back to the Cat Wall. Luke and Konstantin wanted to try King Cat (5.11+) and Sarah Kate and I had been told that we should try Mad Dog (5.11+). After warming up on Unnamed 5.10 and Cat Man Do (5.10), we headed over towards Johnny Cat to get on the projects of the day.

Konstantin on King Cat (5.11+).

Luke and Konstantin both made valiant efforts on King Cat, but had trouble figuring out the beta for pulling the roof. I tried to onsight Mad Dog, but got pumped for essentially the first time all trip (while climbing, at least) and fell. After resting and unpumping, I sent the rest of the route cleanly, but my psyche and energy were pretty much gone for the day. Sarah Kate and Lindsey both got on the route afterwards and struggled with the tight green camalots, but eventually made it to the top also. A project for all of us for another trip to the Creek.

Lizzy on her onsight attempt on Mad Dog (5.11+).

Luke tried to onsight Cat Burglar (5.12) and fell just short of the anchor, but sent on his 2nd try for another Indian Creek 5.12! Luke ended the day with an onsight of Bachelor Party (5.11+).

I discovered a potential pre-Christmas Tree project in this vicinity, too: Cathedral of the Mad Feline (5.12+), a steep Lisa Gnade tips corner. It was gorgeous and would definitely be good training for the steep section on Christmas Tree.

Day 7 (Saturday): Way Rambo / Travel Day

Everyone was starting to feel pretty tired and we’d heard forecasts for rain and other bad weather coming in on Saturday afternoon, so we decided to pack up camp in the morning, go climbing, then start driving home whenever we got tired or it started raining. Bob wanted to go to Way Rambo to work on Slice and Dice (5.12), so we decided to go there, too. Luke and Konstantin were psyched on Way Rambo (5.12-) and I was considering trying to onsight Layaway Plan (5.11+).

Luke getting sucked into Way Nutter (5.9 OW).

We got on Blue Sun (5.10-) as a warm-up, while Luke and Sarah Kate also did Way Nutter (5.9 OW). Lindsey had brought a fleece Mickey Mouse Christmas themed onesy, so she wanted to do some climbing in it before we left. So she lead Blue Sun in the onesy, which was pretty awesome to watch.

Lindsey climbs Blue Sun (5.10-) in the onesy.

After warming up and checking out Layaway Plan, I decided to go for it even though I was deeply intimidated by the roof. Everything went pretty well until just before the roof, when my foot slipped off a sandy foothold – no onsight. Even though the pressure was off, I was still worried about pulling the lip of the roof, the crux. I placed my gear, transitioned into the undercling and, with much effort, pulled around the roof. The rope drag was awful on the last couple feet, but luckily there were good stances. An awesome route! Luke followed to clean my gear.

Lizzy underclings out the roof on Layaway Plan (5.11+).

Konstantin got on Way Rambo, but took several falls at the beginning of the stacks section, and lowered down off two cams so Luke could have a try. Despite feeling tired (on his 7th day of climbing at the Creek), Luke sent first try!

Luke sends Way Rambo (5.12-).

Meanwhile, Sarah Kate and Lindsey had both taken TR laps on Slice and Dice and we watched a dude flash it with beautiful style – very inspiring. Everyone was pretty tired by this point, so we decided to call it a day (it was already 4pm anyways) and load into the cars to head home.

Luke, Sarah Kate, and I drove into Moab to enjoy some dinner at Zax before driving north to Salt Lake City and finding a motel for the night, happy to have cut several hours off our driving time for Sunday.

Day 8 (Sunday): Travel Day

We had a pretty uneventful travel day driving from SLC to Palo Alto. There was barely any traffic, which was awesome (especially compared to the post-Thanksgiving Vegas-LA traffic). We took a little break in Reno to check out the Patagonia Outlet, which was pretty cool even though the prices weren’t quite low enough for me and most styles I actually liked weren’t in my size. Luke got lucky with a couple shirts and pairs of pants, though.

Reflections

This was by far the best trip Luke and I have had at the Creek. We came into the trip feeling strong, started slow, conserved skin, and tried really hard (at least I was super comfortable pushing and falling from above gear by the end of the trip, I don’t know about Luke, but he did take a couple falls, too). It was awesome to finally have some success (and some near success). Sending Coyne Crack and Swedin-Ringle and onsighting Quarter of a Man were really big accomplishments for me and I’m super happy. Coming so close to onsighting two other 5.11+ routes (1 fall each on Mad Dog and Layaway Plan) isn’t so bad, either. Too bad it’s not Squamish season, because I’d love to take my strength and confidence onto some of my projects there.

For more photos, check out our Picasa Indian Creek gallery.





Freerider: How I First Climbed El Capitan

4 12 2009

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El Capitan! So big, so beautiful!

I’ve been dreaming about Yosemite for a many years. I can’t quite figure out when it started but I quickly became infatuated with this mythical climbing area.  I had never been to “The Valley” but read as many books about it as possible in college. Perhaps the tales of John Long introduced me to these gargantuan walls. My imagination was captured by the Stonemasters and I wanted to experience all that California rock climbing had to offer.  In the summer of 2005 I planned my first trip to Yosemite. I had aspirations of climbing the Nose but knew that I had to test my aid skills on a smaller route first. With the help of the internet and books like Freedom of the Hills I had taught myself to aid climb, solo, at an abandoned Quarry in Pennsylvania. My friend Hartley, a Cali native, was eager to show me to the valley and off we went.

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Geared up and ready to go!

Our first multi-day route, The Prow on Washington Column, took way too long – 3 days and 2 nights on the wall – and Hartley and I knew that we were moving too slow for El Capitan. We retreated to Idyllwild and threw ourselves at Valhalla, still clinging onto the idea of becoming Stonemasters.  The general feeling during my first trip to Yosemite was one of extreme scale. I was overwhelmed with the length and commitment of the routes and Hartley and I were at a loss of what to climb. Lizzy and I had a similar feeling in the summer of 2007 on my second trip to the Valley. We climbed many classic routes like Serenity and Sons, the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, Royal Arches and Snake Dike, but during the days between lounged in camp no idea what to climb. Despite all these classic sends we were quite intimidated by El Capitan. Lizzy and I decided to go for it anyways but bailed off of Sickle Ledge. We had been moving too slowly and our water supply was quickly decimated in the summer heat.

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Hauling up the fixed line, El Cap looms above.

Over the last few years I have gained much confidence and most importantly the willingness to fail. In most of my climbing I like starting off with a near 100% chance of success. I work a route until I am ready, onsight near but not at my limit and enjoy sending hard routes when they feel easy. Trying mulipitch routes where you may not send all the pitches first try really opens up the possibility of doing harder climbs.

To 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 Ear. In a 12 hour day we had free climbed, with no falls for Stein, the first 18 pitches (according to supertopo) or 1000+ feet of El Capitan. I was pretty tired by the end of the day but we had done quite well, possibly a bit too well.

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Looking a bit fuzzy after a night on the Heart Ledges.

With this in mind Stein suggest we try to climb the entirety of Free Rider. Since this would not be our official send, we would jug up the fixed line from Heart and climb as quickly as possible to the new pitches above the Ear. The only pitch we had not climbed, the traverse to the Hollow Flake, could be saved for a later date or attempted if the fixed line to Hollow Flake ledge was gone.

I was thinking we would work on the hard pitches a bit first before trying the full route. However I was excited to climb El Capitan and even more psyched to have a have a partner with the same intentions. So we set plans in motion and as October quickly passed by we got ready to climb the Big Stone.

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Stein starts off on the slab traverse to the Hollow Flake

In an epic sort of way our first day started with Stein flying to San Fransisco from New York. I had driven up from San Diego the day before to pay Lizzy a quick visit before bailing to the Valley. IThe plan was to drive to the Valley, climb as high as we could, and sleep on the wall. Any progress made on Friday would be a bonus and, since we had climbed these pitches before, would hopefully go quickly. My estimation was that we would bivy on Hollow Flake Ledge, hopefully able to skip the Hollow Flake if the fixed rope we had seen previously was still there. Such quick progress was not in the cards.

Darkness came early and we were still hauling the pigs up the fixed lines. The hauling was hard work and our large supply of water, approximately one gallon per person per day for four days, was extraordinarily heavy and hard to pull up the slabby wall. A bit of jugging and hauling by headlamp put us at the Heart ledges where we settled in for the night, happy to chow down on Chipotle that we had picked up on the way. The days were short and we though it would help save time to stay on the wall instead of the standard approach of rapping back to solid ground.

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Morning light on the Monster Offwidth

The morning saw me warming up on the 5.11 slab to get to Lung Ledge. I had failed to free this pitch before, laden with a full pack, and was very happy to send. While crimping on two credit cards my right foot some how stuck to a tiny foothold, about the size of a grain of rice,  I was able to balance up and get to the easier part of the pitch. This put us in place to do the traverse into the Hollow Flake. The fixed rope, most likely used by a free climbing team, was gone. Stein made great work of the thin traverse, falling only once and some how making the crux final move into a crack. I followed cleanly until the final downclimb move to the crack across from the Hollow Flake. A failed attempt sent me flying 50 feet across the wall, a fall I had dreaded but ended up being not too bad.

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Luke leads up on of the many chimneys on the Salathe Wall

In no time I was laybacking up the Hollow Flake. As a follower I could stay outside of the crack and I laybacked at least 75% of it, spending much less time and energy than chimneying.  We switched back leads and I comfortably led the chimney in the photo above. I knew the right place to pull on to the face and made good time. At the 5.10 crux near the end of the end of the pitch I gauged my tiredness and felt better than when I had lead this pitch on our previous attempt (after doing the FreeBlast), a good sign! Stein lowered out our haul bags so they would avoid a big swing and motored up the pitch. Our bags however got stuck under a roof and after many attempts I had to rappel down to free them.  One more pitch lead by Stein put us below the Ear. For once we had an easy haul and I got ready for the next lead.

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Luke is having a blast on the way to the Ear.

From below I was worried, the Ear looked scary. First I had to get though some 10+ moves which required some trickery and a bit of grunting before the main course. In no time I was below the flaring chimney and looking up I couldn’t imagine how to climb such a feature. I looked all around trying to find a way around it but had no luck. I found traces of chalk and went right side into the chimney. Magically my hands found perfect edges as I shimmied deeper into the void. As the crack narrowed down I realized there would be gear and  I tagged up #4 and #5 Camalots. These pieces really helped my mental space as I squeezed up into the crack. My torso was jammed in tight but my legs were in a much larger section,  occasionally peddling in air. The holds I followed allowed for passage at a moderate grade but brought my head into a section so tight I couldn’t turn from side to side. Eventually I traversed to the edge, nothing but air below my feet, and wiggled around onto the top. The pitch was short, the grade irrelevant, and I was ecstatic. The climbing had been out of this world and I could not believe how holds showed up at the necessary moments.

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Stein is ready to push into the unknown.

Switching leads again Stein racked up for the Monster Offwidth. This would be the first crux and at the time we didn’t know how hard it would be. Stein aced the 11d downclimb to the wide crack on his first try and I was impressed. As he worked up I could tell it was hard. Ten feet up he encountered a very loose block, which I had assumed was a rest, tethered to the wall with a old piece of webbing. Intermingling laybacking with grunting, Stein made good progress. I should have guessed the difficulty when he asked me to keep talking to him. It was hard up there, at 7″ the crack is too big for a knee jam or leavittation.  After almost 100 feet of progress Stein was through. The sun was sinking in the sky and we still had another pitch to El Cap Spire.

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Stein exits the Ear. What a crazy pitch!

A bit of cam-jugging put us at the alcove which was camp for a team of Canadians, Will and Jason who were working on Golden Gate. We made small talk and they gave us beta for the next pitch as we hauled our bags. Since it was dark I assumed we would be sleeping here but Stein smartly suggested we keep going and I got back in the lead. With the Canadians’ beta I found the crack behind El Cap Spire and lead a very cool pitch by headlamp only making the mistake of clipping the haul line instead of the lead line… The final mantel onto the spire was phenomenal and the rising moon basked this incredible ledge in light. With the bag hauled, and Stein up shortly after, I started making a dinner of Tasty Bites. The Jetboil was great and I also enjoyed some mashed potatoes. While I didn’t know it at the time Stein was pretty wrecked and could barely eat.  Since I had jugged the Monster I had no idea how much effort it had taken to lead the pitch.

Bivy #2 on El Cap Spire.

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Starting up the Monster after cruising the traverse.

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Stein fights his way up the Monster Offwidth.

Wasting no time the next morning I racked up for the 5.11+ splitter off the Spire. It was super thin hands for a long ways and I really struggled as I plugged .75 camalots. After a night of sleep I was full of psych but lacking on power as my jams gave way and sent me for a morning whipper. Onsight blown, I went into aid climbing mode and cam-jugged up the crack. Tired from shaking my way up the first part of the pitch, I went slowly and cost us some time. The next part of the pitch, a 5.9 squeeze seemed doable as I scooted up. All of a sudden fear set in, as I was above a ledge with no gear in, and I couldn’t make the next move. I went up and down many times before wriggling into the back of the chimney and going up the much harder but more secure way. A number six camalot was useful here! The whole time Jason and Will had started working up their fixed lines and gave me kind words of encouragement as I struggled to commit to the wide crack.

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Another great morning on El Cap!

The final part of this monster 60 meter block (since I was linking two pitches) was up an amazing handcrack in a corner. I put a bunch of energy into it and came out on top, sending the second half of my block cleanly after aiding the first 5.11+ section.  The hauling on this pitch was horrible and I had to wait for Stein to move the bags. I didn’t want to waste any energy doing a 1:1 haul and didn’t have any gear for a complex system, a mistake for sure.  The next pitch was Stein’s lead and the 2nd crux of the route. The more popular Huber Pitch has broken changing the boulder problem from a tricky 5.12d into a 5.13b dyno. This made the more moderate option the Teflon Corner at 12d. It took us a bit of time to figure out where the Teflon Corner was and we had to relocate the belay to the far left side of the ledge at a pair of very convenient bolts. Unfortunately, the wasted time on the previous pitch, coupled with the route finding time, put the Teflon Corner in the sun. By the time Stein had climbed the easier half of the pitch the rock was quite warm.  After a few valiant efforts to overcome the “ninja stemming” Stein had to aid through the crux but managed to do a good job finishing up the pitch.

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Best Belay Ever?

Despite getting to the top of the pitch we had reached a turning point in the climb. This pitch was hard and it had taken a lot of time and effort to get to the top. Stein was worried about continuing up and I shared the same fear that we would not make it to the next ledge before nightfall. The original plan had us climbing two more pitches followed by two hard pitches that day. Since the Alcove the anchors had been very inconstant, either on gear or an array of fixed pins and tat, and  I did not want to bail and leave gear. I also knew that it would take us a lot of time to get back to the ground. I was especially concerned about having to reverse the pendulum from the hollow flake while rappelling with a haul bag.  I was confident that we could keep going since we had enough water to make it, possibly with a bit more aid than we hope. In fact, I was pretty sure it would be less effort, and more valiant, to continue to the top. The hauling was getting easier and the haulbag beat me to the next belay as I jugged up the Teflon Corner.

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Psyched that the Sewer is DRY!

Back in the lead again I was psyched for a 5.10 pitch. While the Sewer is supposed to be horrible I had quite the good time. There was a good deal of dirt but the cracks were dry and I made good work until the final roof on the pitch. Tired from previous days of effort I struggled across the roof towards the two bolt belay. Shocked to see two 1/4 bolts I continued on and stupidly placed a #2 camalot right around the roof. As I struggled to jam up the corner  after the roof my rope got completely wedged between the #2  and the crack. As I fumbled with what little gear left I could not pull the rope up to clip. 15 feet out I had to use my longest sling to clip the piece and sadly had to lower and remove the #2, blowing my onsight.  The send was most likely not in the cards as I had to pull on gear for the final two moves on to the block.

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Luke races the darkness to Sous Le Toit ledge

As Stein followed the pitch cleanly I struggled to haul the bags. The rope turned a sharp corner and created more friction than I could handle. Situations like these made me want a 2:1 setup yet again.  A bit of two person hauling later we had the bags on the big sloping ledge. Stein set off on the next pitch which was one of the most spectacular yet. The pitch started with easy climbing to a set of in obvious face moves and finished with awesome laybacking seen in the photo above. While I took my time to follow the pitch clean, Stein expertly hauled our bag to the next cramped ledge.

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Stein makes a morning phone call after a night on the block.

The following two pitches were mine and I wasted no time racking up and switching into full on aid climbing mode. 5.12+ at sunset was not for me and I slowly climbed bomber C1 as darkness fell. Headlight switched on, I was lost. The cruiser corner crack had podded out and I was confronted with unclimbable pin scars. I equalized a C3 with a tipped out alien and stepped on the connecting sling. My Easy Aiders could not get the necessary height to reach the next flaring placement. Two lobes of a red camalot went in and I reached high slotting a bomber nut. One more move and I was at the midway anchors, a nice bolt and a strange hanger that I had never seen on a rock climb. The hardware seemed like it would fit better in Home Depot than on El Capitan.

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Luke is keeping his energy level on HIGH!

The final section of climbing to the Salathe Roof was bizarre. The square pin scars continued but I had the advantage (maybe….) of fixed gear. Some poor soul had gotten to this point in the climb and decided the best thing to do was hammer in nuts the wide side facing out. I wish I had a photo to explain how the nuts and hexes had been fixed in the flaring square slots. I’ve never seen such a thing but I had to trust the gear and keep going. A string of these bashed in nuts lead to a nice finger crack and eventually a wide flare. With a single #3 camalot, I had to make a dubious aid move to bump the piece high enough to reach the anchors. There was one pitch remaining between us and Round Table Ledge and I was too intimidated and unsure to continue around the corner. I fixed the rope and rapped to Sous Le Toit. In a brilliant move we decided to fix another rope and retreat to the block. This would allow us a place to stand and walk around and would be fairly comfortable with our portaledge.

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Our portaledge bivy on the Block.

Unlike the previous night Stein was quite hungry and we both feasted on Backpackers Pantry. While dehydrated food is not the best on a wall, since you have to carry extra water, the hot food tasted great and was likely worth the effort. I took the exposed outside part of the portaledge, which was a bit scarier. I had dreams of falling off, but lucked out with the more level position.  The night was not too cold but I enjoyed having a pad on top of our ledge.

A bivy tour from the Block.

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Stein is back up to Sous Le Toit and excited to charge to the top!

The next morning Stein was full of psyche and his enthusiasm would carry us all the way to the top. We jugged our fixed lines and then I hauled the bags to the roof, allowing Stein time to prep for his lead of the roof traverse. As I dangled in space underneath the roof I really felt the exposure and extreme nature of our position. The next pitch wrapped around a corner to the left, traversing over almost two thousand feet of nothing. I was scared, maybe not for the first time, and was happy to have Stein in the lead.  The pitch was tricky at first with small foot holds and good crimps. Stein worked his way across, with a hang on some fixed gear before making a spectacular move and disappearing around the corner.  I kept feeding the rope out and would occasionally hear the clipping sound of a carabiner.  All of a sudden the rope pulled tight and Stein came swinging back around the corner. He had found the crux and taken a beautiful arcing fall into space. I saw a smile on his face and knew everything was all right. A few minutes later he was yelling off belay and I lowered the bags out into the void. The pitch was very short but it was crazy to see the haulbags hanging so far out from the wall.

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Unreal exposure!!

I started climbing the traverse, overgripping with fear and happily made it to the first fixed piece, a nut that barely seemed fixed at all….  After much hesitation I committed to to corner move and made the big reach left to a jug.  As I had seen Stein do many minutes before I relaxed and shifted my weight onto my left arm.  My body now dangled above more feet of air than I would like to think about. I made a small one arm pull and crossed over to swing around the arete. I was greeted with more fixed gear and a wild series of huecos. I rested a few more times on the rope and made my way to the crux. The holds blanked out and you had to get all of your weight around a final corner. I worked out a different sequence than Stein but did every move and eventually made it up to Round Table ledge.

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The knot of the century…

With an old rope and a huge fall Stein had welded his knot and it took us almost 30 mins to get it undone. This time was a good rest before Stein started up the next pitch. Things were looking up since we had no more pitches of 5.12 and only one more offwidth.  The next pitch was insanely steep and started with an amazing handcrack in a corner. Expertly Stein figured out that he could chimney the start of the pitch to keep from getting too pumped. This allowed him to bump along his cams since we only had a double set.  The crack widened to offwidth and when I followed had to use leavittation to get through. The finish of the pitch was equally amazing as you had to do a 180 degree rotation in a chimney to set up for the final layback to the anchor. I spent a ton of energy but managed to follow cleanly, which was very motivating!

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Stein hides from the sun in the hole belay.

There was supposed to be one more section, according to one of our topos, before the Scotty Burke OW so Stein set off again up the intimidating next pitch. While I had just climbed well, three roofs in 50 feet did not look too inviting. This bit of climbing, which was grey aliens, aka off fingers, was incredibly strenuous and both Stein and I had to aid through it.  In no time Stein was at the base of the SB Offwidth but there was no obvious belay. He tagged up a hand full of big cams: #4, #5, #6 and started up the crack. We had moved back in the sun and were in no shape for hard Offwidths on our 4th day. Cam jugging quickly commenced and I did the same when following.  Stein found a nice cave to escape the shade and allowed him to easily haul the bags. We were a bit below the suggested belay but it seemed to work out nicely.

Stein ponders offwidths

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We are going to summit!!

Stein went off to lead one more pitch before turning the sharp end over to me. He did a great job despite getting a bit lost and having do downclimb an incorrect crack. We had rejoined the Salathe and the correct path was hard to see due to the offset of the crack.  A zig-zagging lead put Stein below a final chimney. Struggling to climb the many off fingers cracks on the next pitch I dug deep to follow another pitch clean. I was really psyched and happy to take the rack and charge for the top. The pitch started with 5.11 face climbing which quickly turned in to C1 to take less time. I squeezed in the chimney and quickly wiggled my way to the top.  As the chimney closed out I was too high and had to climb down to the exit, photo below. With no solid holds I couldn’t make my way out. In went a #4 and with a bit more french free I kept going up. The top was in sight as  I raced up the 5.6 slab to the final tree.

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Luke struggles up one final chimney.

I reached the tree and fixed the rope as the sun set. Stein followed as I struggled to haul the bags. The flat ground made a steep turn back onto the face and it was slow going as the bags inched up the wall. Following in darkness Stein made his way to the top, happy to have summited El Capitan! We had managed to pull it off and climbed five hard pitches with a minimal amount of aid.  In the face of failure we had conquered the fear in our selves and made it to the top!

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Summit!!!

A dark summit video.

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Dinner time on top!

Food and water were my number one priorities as I set up the stove and cooked up some mashed potatoes and Tasty Bites.  We feasted on fruit cocktail for dessert and passed out as the moon rose. It was so odd not to be wearing my harness and I woke up occasionally wondering why I wasn’t wearing one. My fingers were swollen and my shoulders hurt so much that I had to sleep on my back. The previous nights Stein and I had gone to sleep with a feeling of burning in our hands. Thoughts of flat ground and normal life floated through my dreams.

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Luke racks up for the East Ledges 😀

The next morning we divided up all the gear and humped the bags down the East Ledges descent. The cross country travel to the drainage went very quickly but the gully itself went on forever. After being fooled by a fake wall of dikes we eventually found the amazing black wall with white dikes. The rappels were not too bad, though I found out it is much easier to rap with the pig on hanging below you than on your back.  I thought having the pig on my back would be faster but it quickly turned into an ultimate ab workout that I could not handle.

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Psyched we haven’t gotten lost yet on the hike down.

The hike seemed to last forever before we found the Manure Pile parking lot. Some Canadian tourists took the photo below and gave Stein a ride back to our car. It was really warm and despite the many days of wear and tear I felt pretty good. Stein and I had both lost a bunch of weight and were tired from the foreign lifestyle of living in the vertical. I don’t really know how to sum up the experience but it was positive.  We had overcome a lot and kept good attitudes almost the whole way. Our partnership worked really well and we both were key in getting to the top. I hope to write again in the spring we we return to work on the harder pitches!

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Back at Manure Pile! We made it!!

Some thoughts after making it down to the Valley floor.

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3000 feet of climbing, 8 gallons of water, 4 days on the wall and 2 happy climbers

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Enjoy,

Luke





Wide Wednesdays at Mount Woodson

25 11 2009

One of the areas in the back yard of San Diego is Mount Woodson. This area offers an interesting assortment of cracks of various sizes. Many are short enough to boulder, but others warrant a top rope. Despite taking good gear I think most of the routes are rarely led.  Since we can get out to Woodson after work, a group of guys, mainly dudes from Pullharder,  have been working on our offwidth skills. The main targets so far have been Right Long’s Crack, Mother Superior and Greg’s Crack. Stein and I thought this would be good training for Freerider but it’s turned into something more.  I’ll let the photos and the videos do the talking!

Videos were shot by various people and edited by Josh. Thanks to Roberto for the photos!

Stein gets psyched for some offwidth action!

Josh gets inverted on Right Longs Crack.

The first wide Wednesday.

Stein works his feet.

Our second trip of attempts.

Luke on his send of Right Longs Crack.

Enjoy,

Luke





Intersection Rock BBQ 2009

23 11 2009

After spending most of last fall projecting Equinox in J-Tree Lizzy and I have not been back in a while  and have mainly climbed in other places. However when a bunch of climbers are going to party in the desert it is hard to say no.

Back in October was the 4th annual Intersection Rock BBQ. A few of my friends, Jamie, Hartley, Whitney and Jake, came down from Santa Barbara and met up with the already large San Diego crew.

Getting all dressed up for the BBQ!

Shay is king of the party with his Roller Skates.

People are still heading up as night falls on Hidden Valley

The weekend plan was to do a bit of climbing, but most importantly have a raging BBQ on top of Intersection Rock. The logistics for this is pretty impressive and I hand it to the guys at Pullharder for pulling it off yet again.  Hartley brought some amazing steak and I grilled a ton of burgers and sausages. There were haulbags full of beer and ice and costumes a plenty. The party was a success and everyone got down safely!

Jamie on his way way up Left Ski Track

In what seems to be a tradition from the year before I followed Left Ski Track so Jamie could get the onsight of his first 5.11 at Joshua Tree. This was an impressive send since he had to downclimb the first crux to retrieve an essential piece of gear. I still think Left Ski Track is pretty hard for the grade and it felt cruxy even though I’ve lead it clean and followed it before.

Luke starts up Hidden Arch.  Photo thanks to Scotty

Jamie with a casual TR flash of Hidden Arch!

Earlier in the day I worked on and sent Hidden Arch a cool mixed climb that has some tough face moves a noticeable distance above two small but bomber nuts. True to it’s name  the crack arches to the left and a fall from the crux could have you hitting a large chock stone. Konstantin, a friend who worked the route, had brought out a pad to cover this block on some of his attempts. I had a spotter to keep me off the block but still couldn’t figure out the moves my first try on lead.  After the failed onsight I lowered from my gear and walked around to set a TR.  I tried the crux moves a few times with the comfort of the top rope and then I went for the lead again even though I had never linking all of the crux moves. On my second lead attempt I committed to the cryptic moves, crimped, stemmed and pressed my way to the finish. Having not done the last 50 feet yet, I slowly worked to the anchor, making sure not to blow the send.

Whitney, our weekend photographer.

Hartley enjoying a bit of the shade by Satanic Mechanic.

The next day I was pretty spent mentally from Hidden Arch so Jamie and I decided on some sport climbing. Despite being a mainly trad area there are a few high quality vertical to overhanging sport routes in Joshua Tree. I had heard things about climbs such as Bebop Tango, Father Figure, Desert Shield and Satanic Mechanic but had never tried them. On our first morning we had warmed up on the classic Loose Lady but despite all the bolts I think of it as a sporty slab and not a true sport climb. Our plan was to warm up a bit and hopefully do Satanic and if we felt good work on to Desert Shield.

Jamie gets ready for some intense belay action…

Luke goes big on Satanic Mechanic.

I got about half way up Satanic before I was confronted with the first crux, a long reach in the photo above. I  just barely latched the hold unable to figure out another sequence. Later on Hartley found some beta using a higher right hold that made this reach more manageable. A few moves later I was at another crux and after many takes and falls couldn’t figure it out. Jamie booted up and tried his hand at the moves but was foiled as well. Up went the stick clip and Jamie made his way to the top working out a few more difficult sequences on the way. Hartley made fast work of the various cruxes using cool beta that Jamie and I hadn’t seen. A few falls later he was at the top, nice work dude! I wanted to try the line on TR and made good progress but couldn’t do the last crux before the final bolt. A combination of heat and bad skin meant that I would have to return on another trip.

Jamie makes good progress on Stem Gem

Before moving on to some more roped climbing Hartley insisted that we try Stem Gem. Hart had mastered this problem a few years before but Jamie and I had yet to send this crazy smearing test piece. Whitney had a great fish eye lens and you can see dramatic appearance it added to the photo above of the crazy shape of the starting scoop. For the first time I figured out how to get on the wall and Jamie, after a few close attempts made it to the top!

Ho Man, this route is fun!

We finally left the Real Hidden Valley and made our way to Barker Dam to catch some shade at Dissolution Rock .  Hartley lead the splitter Life’s A Bitch And Then You Marry One which was very fun for 5.7 though a bit on the short side. I lead Martial Sin which was a bit more exciting than I expected. While the moves were not too hard I thought there would be  more crack climbing than thin edging and had to commit to tricky moves well above gear. It was a good experience and I pulled it off.  We exchanged top ropes, which Jamie, In the photo above, clearly enjoyed.

Luke is psyched to be pulling down

While I was moving the rope around to set up another TR Jamie figured out a cool boulder problem on a small arete. We both sent this climb using some cool bear hug moves and way too much body tension and opposition. You can tell I was excited to grab a downward facing hold in the photo above.

I forget exactly what happened next but I think I was being pushy about getting a belay or had started up the route without a belay. Regardless Jamie taught me a lesson with a wondrous 60 feet of wedgies. Each time I would move up the route Jamie would jump and take in the rope, often hauling me up the climb. My balance was totally off and my feet were useless. We all couldn’t stop laughing as seen in the photo below…

Luke has a blast despite the extreme tension in the rope.

The weekend was a blast and eventually we had to part ways to drive to our respective homes. I’m still a bit behind on trip reports and hopefully should be publishing about Free Rider after thanksgiving break and Lizzy will be doing a post about the #jtreetweetup.

All photos taken by Whitney Freedman except where otherwise noted.

Cheers,

Luke





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.

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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.


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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….

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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.


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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.

El Cap - Oct 09 050

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.

El Cap - Oct 09 066

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.

El Cap - Oct 09 069

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.

El Cap - Oct 09 035

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!

ElCapSpire

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.

El Cap - Oct 09 086

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

Enjoy,

Luke





Just Another Sweet Weekend in the Valley

27 10 2009

I first became interested in South by Southwest (5.11a, 5 pitches) on Lower Cathedral Spire when a dude from Colorado mentioned it when we were chatting at the Penny Lane crag in Squamish. He mentioned something about it being easy for the grade in the Valley (hey, if I’m trying to break into a grade, I have no problem trying the easiest objective first) and having red camalot hand cracks (RED CAMALOT HAND CRACKS!!!).

So I investigated – looked it up on MountainProject, checked it out in the guidebooks, and asked my personal climbing information guru, Luke, for info on the route. It sounded like a great objective – not too long, not too much hard climbing (but with good climbing on the hard pitches) and a spectacular summit. Even the long (at least by Yosemite standards) approach didn’t seem like too much of a negative because it would keep the crowds away.

Yosemite - Oct 09 002

Looking down into the Valley from the approach hike.

I’d planned on doing the route with Luke the first weekend in October, but I picked up a nasty cold/flu the week before and was in no condition to hike far or climb hard. The following weekends, I climbed with Sarah Kate and we realized that we had a pretty good climbing partnership going – we motivate each other to try harder. When thinking of routes to do last weekend in Yosemite, we tossed around the thought of doing South by Southwest and realized it would be an awesome idea. Although we knew the crux climbing would be challenging, the rest of the route would be pretty relaxed for us. Plus, it’s a rare opportunity to climb a hard multipitch route with another girl, where you can swing leads and both feel like you’ve really pulled your weight on the ascent.

We awoke at 7am in our Lower Pines campsite, broke camp, ate some oatmeal, made sandwiches, and headed for the parking near El Cap Meadow. We discovered that Sarah Kate’s partner from Friday had forgotten to give all her gear back (some of which we wanted to bring with us), so we made a quick trip back to the campsite (where he was luckily still packing up) and then back to the meadow. With tremendous effort, we took off our jackets (it was chilly) and hiked briskly to the start of the approach trail.

Yosemite - Oct 09 003

Looking up at the third (5.10d) pitch from the belay (you can’t see the crux section).

The approach was not as bad or long as we had expected (except for a short section of steep dirt when we got kind of off track) and we were at the base of the route in under 2 hours, including a short excursion further up the gully (slight confusion about which Spire was which). Sarah Kate said I could lead the crux 11a pitch (the money pitch) since I’d been psyched on the route for so long. This meant she would take the 10d boulder problem pitch.

We lead the first (Sarah Kate) and second (Lizzy) pitches without much trouble. Sarah Kate then lead a mini pitch to the base of the third (1od boulder problem) pitch. Then it was time for the business. A tricky 5.9 section brought Sarah Kate to the base of the 10d section, which was well-protected but a bit airy and mental (as soon as you commit to the pitch you get a lot of space beneath you). After some deep breaths and sequencing, she committed to the moves and sent to the jug and easier ground above to a small belay ledge. I followed, falling once at the crux when my feet kept popping (sadly, just a move below the jug), but then easily figured it out on my second try.

Yosemite - Oct 09 004

Higher Cathedral Spire

Rest, water, Shot Bloks, and deep breaths at the belay, before setting off on the crux pitch. The first part was in a small, kind of awkward corner. We both felt the crux came before the “tight hands crux” in the topo, where there was a wide pod we had to thrutch past. But I made it to the start of the roof, rested, and set off into the undercling section. Magically, it did not feel particularly hard (the undercling was a jug and there were some decent feet). The rest of the pitch was fun, wild laybacking to a bolted belay on a nice ledge.

Yosemite - Oct 09 007

Looking down at the fourth (5.11a) pitch.

Sarah Kate followed the pitch clean (awesome!) and we high-fived at the belay ledge – the hard climbing was below us! We exchanged gear and she set off on the final pitch to the summit. We ate our lunches huddled behind a rock (it was quite windy) before walking over to the true summit (no summit register 😦   ) to take some photos with El Cap in the background. It is a pretty sweet view from the summit. Two climbergirls, 5 pitches, 5 onsights, 1 fall, 1 gorgeous summit!

We rapped uneventfully and headed down the talus, ready for chips, salsa, and beer. We also chilled with a bunch of climbers at the Stanford Alpine Club campsite and Nina, Jeremy, Adrienne, Jeff, and Kelli, who happened to be camping two sites over.

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Lovely fall colors in the gully

In the morning, we were tired and sore, but still got up at around 8:15. We ate and packed up camp, then headed to curry for coffee/tea and decision-making about what to climb. After long deliberations and considering of soreness, we decided cragging at Reed’s Pinnacle would be a good decision. It was almost lunch time when we actually got there (after stopping in the meadow, then realizing we needed to go back and fill up water) but we were in no rush.

Yosemite - Oct 09 009

El Capitan from the summit of Lower Cathedral Spire

We’d hoped to warm up on Ejesta (5.8), but two older dudes said they were planning on doing it. After considering their speed (not particularly fast), we decided to climb a 5.7 nearby. We then headed to the base of Lunatic Fringe (5.10c) to eat lunch and wait for it to get less hot up there in the sun.

Two guys showed up to do the route and I decided to let them go first (I was in no rush to climb in the hot sun), but I didn’t watch (I wanted to onsight it…). I started up the route, trying to conserve my gear (I still ended up backcleaning and leapfrogging some pieces because I hadn’t anticipated the gear size quite right). The last moves were a bit exciting, but luckily I had two yellow aliens, so it was quite well protected. It was Sarah Kate’s turn next and with a little beta and gear advice she was off. She cruised the route (even the top moves), hesitating only at a tricky off fingers section.

Yosemite - Oct 09 015

Obligatory summit photo with El Cap

Afterwards, it was getting late in the afternoon and we were both a bit tired and sore, so we decided to call it a weekend and head home via Chipotle.

It was a pretty fantastic weekend. I think we both felt really proud of ourselves for doing South by Southwest together, because I think both of us have previously climbed harder multipitch routes only with guys, who tend to be the ones to lead the hard pitches. Both of us lead our hardest route in the Valley on South by Southwest and I think we really benefited mentally from not having the security blanket of a stronger partner. It was also nice for both of us to relax more on Sunday (especially Sarah Kate, who’d climbed all of Friday, too) because we’re so busy during the week that we don’t always get any time to relax. We were both psyched on sending Lunatic Fringe – definitely a very classic, fantastic route.

Lizzy