Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer Travels Part I- Yosemite Valley and the Salathe Wall

I can't get enough of this place, really. After fall, winter, and spring in the Yosemite, I find myself right back there as soon as school ended, May 18th.

After a few days of live music, good company, and lots of laughter, I pack my things in a frenzy, per usual, for the summer. Two backpacks, a bike, and some crates of food. The next morning I'm sitting in the Camp Four line, making coffee, and catching up with my other friends in line. I am home.

The following day I got on Moratorium, 4 pitches, 11b, a beautiful corner system with lie-backing and stemming, my favorite. And to make the day even better, my partner, Owen and I were going to link it into East Buttress of El Capitan for a full day of epic climbing, 17 pitches in total. This grand day ended in a shattering heartbreak when I heard my elbow pop on the second pitch of the Moratorium and I took the whip.

This was day two of my summer vacation, and with so much psyche leading up to this, I was feeling so anxious about this injury and didn't want to stop climbing. I had a brilliant idea (as all of my ideas are brilliant) ...the Salathe Wall. I told myself over and over again that jugging wouldn't hurt my elbow, aiding would feel cruiser, and all of the wide pitches would be using other muscles. Perfect. I'd still be climbing without actually aggravating the injury, and climbing El Cap at that! Life is good.
Beginning of the Salathe- a long way to go
I texted my friend Elliot, "Salathe Wall!" We had climbed half a day together prior to the wall at the Cookie cliff, and the last time I saw him was at Indian Creek where we camped together for a few days, and now we were getting on the Salathe. Typical Alix style, always down to climb with anyone. Elliot, shredder of the powder and crusher of the rock, is stoked on climbing and down for anything so I knew he'd be in. He convinced me to take one more day of rest before pre-hauling to Heart Ledges (which I considered a rest day, ha!)

This procedure felt very familiar given that I did the first twenty two pitches of the Salathe Wall two weeks prior. We pre-hauled to Heart Ledges on Wednesday, and what a day it was. As we walked up to the fixed lines, there was a porta-ledge hanging from the first set of anchors, what looked like 5 haul bags, three people, and another  dude aiding up the base of La Cosita right. I stood there, perplexed, amazed, and slightly annoyed that there was such a traffic jam.

This is going to be a long day, I thought to myself.

That day ended up being super fun and Patrick, the dude aiding up La Cosita to retrieve some lost gear and his partner, ended up sharing the route with us and it was so much fun with them!

The next day we blasted up Freeblast which ended up being wicked cold and windy. Elliot linked one and two; I linked three and four, and then we swapped to the top. Aiding through the slabs took some trickery and for the love of god, that half dollar pitch pwned me. I lead this pitch the first time I got on the Salathe and fell once coming around the corner coming into an insecure and slick flare. This time, I fell twice and ended up aiding through the crux. We made it to Heart with some time to spare and Elliot fixed a pitch off of Heart that evening. Heart ledges is a plush bivy for four with an incredible view of Ribbon Falls and the Cathedrals and it even has an accommodating toilet on the far right end. The fresh scent of urine is a dead giveaway.

The sun doesn't hit us in the morning, but it's radiant enough to awaken us from our deep slumber 1200 ft off the deck. As we were packing up, an in a day party passed us, and to my surprise, one of the individuals was Brad, a Valley crusher I see often in Yosemite. Brad lead the pitch off of heart faster than I jugged the thing. Needless to say, it was super inspiring to see two individuals move with such fluidity and efficiency on this massive sea of granite. They ended up topping out in under ten hours, I later found out a boss.

That day I lead the hollow flake which was exhausting and a little spooky and I even had a Valley giant for protection. I deeply admire everyone who does this without protection, it's effing scary. I had a bit of a breakdown on the following pitch the first time I got in it.

Picture this: 5.7 flaring chimney, not too bad, right? Especially after the hollow flake. I chimney up this about 25 ft with a wall rack, including a 4, 5, 6, and a valley giant and I didn't even end up placing any of them because you can't protect it. I suddenly can't move anymore. My eyes swell up with tears, I think I'm going to die. There are some flakes on the outside of the chimney, but they are marked with X's and when I try to step around it, I move another block. I'm really in trouble now. I try to inch up some more, but no progress is made. I scream down to Daniel and eventually we find out that the haul line was caught under a rock. Once that problem was solved, I moved around the flake, placed good protection, and felt at ease once more.
5.7 Death Flare

I know this sounds very dramatic, but that pitch really scared me, and my belayer, too. I had no intention of leading that pitch this time around. No-sir-ree, not me! It was all Elliot's pitch.

After the hollow flake, I handed him the gear and sent him off into this chasm. Now, a background on Elliot, he has very little wide experience and hadn't climbed in six months, and I just sandbagged him into what I thought was the scariest pitch on the route. When he got on it, he felt the same way, too. After idling in the chimney for a while, he decided to come down. Annoyed and slightly terrified to do it again, I went up and finished it with some whimpering. It was still scary.

I turn the lead over to him for the next pitch, and then I lead the following 10c pitch that I french-aid-free climbed and the infamous Ear, which I was super stoked to do. I aided through the 10+ crux, beautiful steep thin hands, which felt like a sin because I'd totally lead it on the ground, but the wall rack was weighing me down (excuses!).
So much exposure!
The Ear was fantastic. I found the crux to be getting into the horizontal chimney and unashamedly, I pulled on a number four to get established. After that, it was super enjoyable. Just imagine, you're very high off the ground chimneying horizontally with in-cut edges for feet, so freaking cool. This is where we caught up with the party in front of us. This is where I waited for 2-3 hours before I could fix Elliot (which was awesome because Patrick and his friend were super cool), and this is where I found out I was missing one of my Guide Tennis Shoes. Facepalm.

I spent around 5 hours at that belay, chatting with Patrick and his friend above us, cracking jokes, keeping moral high, and belaying Elliot as he lead the C1+ with one four and one set of offset cams. Not ideal. Elliot had to back clean most of the gear and when most people use two number fours to cam jug (meaning placing and pulling a certain cam size because the crack is parallel and only fits that size), he had to use a very tipped out three and a four to make it work.
Gazing out at the Meadow
 [Gear Explanation: When I refer to number sizes, I am referring to the size of the crack based off the Black Diamond Camalot size. Cams are used as protection in cracks. They are spring loaded and can contract and expand. When you put them in cracks, you pull a trigger and contract the cam and once the cam is inside you let go of the trigger and the cam expands. When placed correctly in good rock, these cams are bomb proof and can protect you from falling into oblivion.]

I finished cleaning the pitch as the sun was setting. We had one more pitch before we reached our bivouac for the evening, El Cap Spire. This last pitch was also Elliot's lead, but the team ahead of us were kind enough to let us jug their fixed ropes so we could get to the spire in good time. We had settled on top of the spire around 10 pm. This was probably the most taxing day as a whole for me, but also the most fun. Patrick and his partner whose name I forgot were so stoked to be on El Capitan that they were full of joy and laughter which was very infectious. Elliot is also super fun, hooting and hollering and cracking jokes the whole time. It was a BLAST. This is why I am hopelessly devoted to the Captain now, days like this.
Gear cluster on El Cap Spire
The next morning I woke up very sore, but we had to keep going. This is right around where we bailed on the previous attempt on the Salathe.  I had lead to the base of the chimney twice before so I was familiar with the pitch and decided to lead it for efficiency. The first time nearing dusk on our first attempt, but I came down, tired, scared, and without wide gear. The second time, when we were pulling our ropes to bail, it got stuck, so I re-aided to the base of the chimney to get it out. I linked the two pitches off the spire with a lot of grunting and thrutching in the 5.9 squeeze. It felt VERY demanding for a 5.9 squeeze, which I typically like. The fatigue must have been setting in, my excuse.

Elliot followed the up, and then we let our new friends jug our lines to return their favor yesterday. I lead the following pitch as well, the Teflon Corner which was pretty casual. This led Elliot to lead the infamous Sewer pitch, and in fact, it was a mess of sewage slew.
The Sewer- 10c or C2
He linked this into the next which brought us to the Block, a super cool sloping bivy that could fit three and possibly four with some tetris action. Because our friends allowed us to pass and the Block wouldn't be ideal for four, we decided to push to Long's Ledge which would be a very LONG day (lol!) given that there were six pitches of C2.

Elliot was such a champion this day. He lead three more C2 pitches to get us to the base of the roof right around sunset. I took over, leading the roof, and headwall pitches to Long's Ledge. The full moon illuminated El Cap as I slugged up the Headwall. The roof pitch was wild. There was a ton of a fixed gear that littered the series of roofs I had to aid through. I was dangling in space with 2000 ft below me...wild. Patrick and his friend cheered me on as I slothed upward.

The C2 on the roof pitch was not bad at all if you have offset cams, and there were some fixed nuts as well. Elliot took some whips following the roof which made me very glad to have lead it. He reached the anchors around 10:30 pm, and we still had one mega-pitch to our next bivy (if you link the two together). The headwall proper was utterly breathtaking, steep and splitter forever, very easy to aid, but I back cleaned the hell out of it placing 3-4 pieces the whole pitch and clipping a few fixed pieces. It felt like a crime to aid something so beautiful, probably the most beautiful crack I have seen.

The short C2 pitch is what really shook me up. Some thin gear leads you to a shitty flare that would have been easier to free/aid, but I had NO interest in free climbing so I made things very difficult by placing pro in the back of the flare. The flare caused me much grief as I watched my feathers float effortlessly out of my puffy jacket as I went into a frenzy trying to get through this thing. A few more thin aid placement and clipping some fixed gear got me to one more placement before I reached the ledge. No nuts or cams fit in this place. I spent some time trying to fiddle in gear, and had no success.

I yelled down to Elliot, This seam is too thin. Cams and nuts don't work in here and I have NO idea what to do.

His response, Cam Hooks!

I have never placed a cam hook before, but I've heard that you'll never forget your first cam hook placement so I was in for a treat. I pulled out the two cam hooks we had, placed one, and gingerly stepped on it. Pop! I fell a foot onto my daisy. I tried the other cam hook and the same thing happened. It was pretty spooky. I fiddled with the gear a bit longer and found myself stepping high on it, and grabbing the glory fixed line.

I was so tired at this point that I was almost becoming delirious. Hauling felt incredibly hard given the state of fatigue I was in when it should have been easy. Very steep and a light load. When I finished hauling and docked, I moved over onto the ledge which was about two feet wide and just collapsed. Elliot reached the belay at 2 am. We ate some food, and I passed out very quickly.
Long's Ledge

The next morning was slow moving. We slept in knowing that there were just four pitches to the summit and all straight forward. A party of three rapped in from the top to stash water for their attempt at Freerider. They were super psyched and a pleasure to talk to. Coincidently, I ran into them at the El Cap Bridge bear boxes and they had found my dropped shoe on the Hollow Flake Ledge. Score! I didn't need to buy a new pair of shoes anymore.

We got a very alpine start of 11 am and summited around 4 pm. We climbed THE SALATHE WALL! ZOMG. I thought the Salathe was definitely a step up from the Nose. There is more mandatory free climbing, harder aid, and the climbing itself was just more burly. This is the proudest moment I've had rock climbing and its definitely my favorite route. The Nose is PURE fun, but the Salathe really makes you work for it and I enjoyed that. I'm also one of those masochistic people that enjoy wide climbing so I was thrilled on the wide pitches.
Almost to the top- PSYCHED
Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better time. Elliot was super positive, supportive, and pulled his weight. Patrick and his friend that we hung out with as well had more psyche than anyone else I've met, and the parties that rapped the Salathe to store water were super inspiring. Oh, and HUGE props to Luke Stefurak for lending us the Valley Giant twice. I wouldn't have climbed the Hollow Flake without it.

I'm dreaming big. One day I'd like to free it, but so far away...

The rest of the time spent in Yosemite was very relaxing given that I had these nagging elbow injuries. I did manage to climb Half Dome with a good friend, David Gealy, in 11.5 hours which I was super stoked on. I hiked from the Valley to Tuolumne, 21 miles in 7.5 hours and finally lead Butterballs for the first time and pleasantly surprised myself with a few falls. Other than that, I biked around, enjoyed the sunsets, laughed for days, swam in the Merced, and spent way too much time shooting the shit at the Curry bear boxes. Life can be so simple and fulfilling.

Hidden Falls

David on the summit of Half Dome
View of Cathedral and Mathes Crest on my power hike

Leaving Yosemite is always emotional for me because it's where I most feel at home, but it was time for a change. I'm eager to return in the fall with more goals than I will ever have time for and enough psyche to fuel many seasons there.

Oh Yosemite, I love you so.

1 comment:

  1. That was a very nice report!

    I remember leading that 5.7 chimney early in the climb back in 1971, with Jim Donini.

    You wouldn't believe the rocks I knocked out of that flake, which damaged my new rope. It looks real clean now, and I'm sure less scary with modern cams.