Holiday News update!

14 12 2009

Things have been a bit slow here at DreamInVertical over the last month or so. Life has been exceptionally busy and the climbing trips have been plentiful.

We are pretty behind on trip reports and hopefully many will get finished over this holiday season. I finally completed writing my reflections and trip report from my first attempt on Freerider and, thanks to editing from Lizzy, it just went live. It’s a bit long, but hopefully a good read.  As the year comes to an end, Lizzy just finished up her first quarter of grad school and I am in the process of changing jobs and moving to the Sunnyvale/Palo Alto area.  Things are chaotic and I expect to get back to a more normal schedule come January  or February.

Luke enjoys a lap on Gunsmoke.  Photo thanks to RockGrrl

Back in November Lizzy and I attended the 1st annual #jtreetweetup. It was very cool to meet the many people that we chatted with online and help show them around Joshua Tree. Hopefully Lizzy or I will be writing a post from the trip soon. The highlight for Lizzy was a send of Gunsmoke! This has been a long time project and she has gotten quite close in the past. This trip she aced both cruxes and had enough endurance to finish it off. I was psyched to do a bit of exploring around the park in the mornings before meeting up with the Tweetup crew and found a new project. The Acid Crack features powerful thin fingerlocks to a core intensive face climbing section once the crack pinches down to tips. I worked the line twice on top rope and was able to figure out all but once section. This climb is steep and my style and I look forward to going back to it once I get a bit stronger.

Lizzy on Gunsmoke

Over Thanksgiving break Lizzy and I went out to Indian Creek with a bunch friends. We meet up with people from all over and had a blast with amazing weather. Lizzy just finished her post and  I will be writing about our trip soon too, since we both climbed exceptionally well. Definitely check out some of our photos here or even better ones from our friend Andre.

One highlight of the trip for me was seeing Matt Segal and Jason Kruk working on a new route at Battle of the Bugle. On our last day while driving past Battle of the Bulge we saw a few camera men above the project. We pulled over and saw Matt climb the last 15 feet or so and clip the chains for the first ascent. It was awesome to watch these guys work on this climb over the many days we were at the Battle of the Bulge. This new age line uses tricky face sequence to connect thin cracks with infrequent gear.

Like A Prayer by Renan Ozturk

On a final note, we have added a few new pages to DreamInVertical. First came our Gear Review section to allow people to more easily find our Sweet Gear reviews. As well the new Multi-Pitch Route Beta page has links to topos and trip reports from many of the classic multipitch and alpine routes we have done. This page is a work in progress so feel free to leave comments if there is something missing or some additional beta that could be added to future trip reports.

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season,

Luke

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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

MugShot2

Enjoy,

Luke





More Gear Reviews Coming Soon!

17 11 2009

After testing out the Acrteryx R320 I was interested in trying out the competition. Right now I am testing the Black Diamond Chaos with the Kinetic Core Construction. So far I’ve mainly been cragging but it went up the Freeblast twice back in October. After a bunch more pitches I will be doing a full review with a comparison against the R320.

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The BD Chaos fully loaded on Hidden Arch in Joshua Tree

I just bought a pair of La Sportiva Speedsters so I will be contributing to Lizzy’s review so we can get a dual perspective on this new soft soled slipper. Expect this in the next two months after Lizzy and I have a chance to go bouldering on real rock.

Lizzy and I have been climbing multipitches for a while and have found that in some situations hauling the pack can be ideal for the follower. After putting holes in many of our packs we have recently switched to using the Metolius Haul Packs when we want to haul.

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A mess of gear and the yellow Metolius Shield Haul Pack

On the Original Route on Rainbow Wall I hauled a Zodiac pack, 15L, and on El Captain we used the Shield, 31 L, as a sub bag. These bags still look great after 10 and 22 pitches of hauling respectively. After a few more trips I plan on publishing a review and a few hauling tips.

Also I  think it would be nice to provided a summary of the summit/ follower packs that Lizzy and I have used. My current favorite is the Black Diamond RPM which is a bit on the large size (26L) but compacts easily and holds weight really well.

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Walking across the Mammoth Terraces on El Captain with the Black Diamond RPM pack.

After much searching and frustration with outdoor clothing companies, Lizzy has finally found a pair of non-cotton, non-yoga-style climbing pants that fit her in addition to providing sun and bug protection. After a few months of testing for durability Lizzy will be writing a review of the Columbia Womens’ Trekster pants. Also, Lizzy has been using the new Black Diamond Stone gloves and should have a review of them out shortly.

I have a pair of the Black Diamond N-Force Ascenders and will be doing a comparison with the Petzl Ascension.  After using the BD ascenders 4 days straight on Freerider I have a good idea about what I like and what doesn’t work.


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N-Force in hand, ready for El Captain!

For other Sweet Gear reviews make sure to check out the Gear Reviews page.

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.


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.

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





Weekends in Yosemite

13 10 2009

One of the perks of living in the Bay Area (other than getting to climb at Planet Granite Sunnyvale, which I love) is that I live within weekend distance of Yosemite now. And that’s pretty sweet.

My main obstacle in taking advantage of my awesome proximity to huge granite walls (and some not so huge ones too) is that I’m pretty intimidated by the idea of Yosemite. There’s so much history there and so many amazing rock climbers that I have a hard time bringing the confidence I have at my favorite playgrounds (Squamish, Smith Rock, etc.) to the Valley with me. Even though I know that I can climb 5.11, I drive into those hallowed grounds and feel afraid of 5.9. And it’s not that there aren’t plenty of great routes under 5.9 in the Valley, but I’m pretty sure it’s silly to let my intimidation limit me to that extent. So that’s what I’ve been working on on these weekend in the Valley.

The first weekend (Oct 3/4) was the weekend of the Yosemite tweetup – 6 twitter friends meeting at a campsite at Crane Flat and doing some climbing together. This weekend was fun, but didn’t actually involve a lot of climbing since I was recovering from a pretty nasty cold/flu/something and it snowed on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Nevertheless, it was fun to hang out at the crag and see that climbing in Yosemite does not always have to be a huge production involving many many pitches (and often haul bags). This was good for reducing intimidation.

This last weekend (Oct 10/11), Luke and Stein were going to the Valley to start working on Freerider, which they would eventually like to free. I wanted to go too, to get the most out of my week and a half of Luke visiting and to get some climbing in myself. This was my first time climbing outside with my new gym partner (and awesome climber girl) Sarah Kate.

On Saturday we had a slow start due to waiting in line at Camp 4 in the morning, then transferring all our food and tents from the Friday night campsite. We headed to the Five Open Books to try Commitment (5.9) because we wanted to do a multipitch together (this is a short, 3-pitch climb, so a good way to make sure we work well together on a multipitch before trying something harder and/or longer). However, there were lots of parties in front of us and two in line behind us, so we decided to bail and go cragging instead.

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Lizzy on the first pitch of the Salathe (5.10c) with lots of El Cap above.

We thought the El Cap Base cragging looked fun, so we headed to the meadow and hiked to the base. We warmed up with Little John Right (5.8), then intercepted Luke and Stein as they finished rapping down the fixed lines from the Heart Ledges. We had wanted to get on Moby Dick (5.10a), but it was crowded, so someone convinced me to do the first pitch of the Salathe Wall (5.10c). Ok – jumping right into Yosemite 5.10, but this pitch was supposed to be good. I kept expecting it to have awful pin scars and slippery feet, but I reached the anchors before I found any! The pitch was actually really fun and very reasonable for the grade. Take that, intimidation! Moby Dick was STILL crowded, so Sarah Kate took a TR lap on Ahab (5.10b sandbag) and we headed down with the boys to cook dinner in the dark.

The next day, we were up and at ’em a little earlier, so there was only one party ahead of us at Commitment. We waited a little at the base, but not too long. The route was fun and pretty low-key. I can understand why it would be the first 5.9 multipitch for people since it really only has a couple of 5.9 moves (and the 1st pitch 5.8 splitter is awesome!). We headed to the El Cap Meadow to eat our lunches and look up at the climbers, then decided to get on a couple more pitches by doing Jamcrack.

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Sarah Kate on the first pitch of Jamcrack (5.7)

We arrived to Sunnyside Bench to find it nearly deserted – only 2 climbers on their way down from Jamcrack. We were psyched. Sarah Kate led the first pitch and I got the 2nd. I’d done the first pitch before, but the 2nd was new to both of us and it was really fantastic – great, easy jamming and a lot less slippery than the first pitch because the slightly harder rating must keep the crowds off it a bit more. Then we toproped the 5.10s to the left of the first pitch of Jamcrack before calling it a day.

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Lizzy on the second pitch of Jamcrack (5.8)

Overall, it was a great, relaxed weekend and I think we both felt a little less intimidated about climbing in the Valley. Maybe one of these next weekends we’ll get on a harder, longer route like the East Buttress of El Cap (or South by Southwest, which Luke and I didn’t do the weekend before since I was still sick).

But for now, it’s raining (here and in the Valley, I think), so time to get some work done in preparation for the next climbing weekend.

Lizzy