Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Spaceshot 5.7 C2 - Zion National Park

I headed to Zion National Park with Tom Kavanaugh for the Thanksgiving weekend to climb Spaceshot. My first big wall lead. A big wall is any wall that is over 1000 feet high, requires aid technique, is vertical or overhanging and requires overnight bivy(s).

Climbed the first two pitches of Organasm 5.8 C2 on Friday to warm up, and just to see if I still remembered how to aid climb. That second pitch is sick, an overhanging crack overhang to a giant 20 foot roof.

When we were on Organism we heard a very sharp loud crack/bang -- which we thought was rockfall. But actually a woman had fallen from the Angels Landing hiker trail right down the line of Prodigal Son and just around the corner out of site from us. That's the second fall from that trail since August.

We got on Spaceshot 5.7 C2, Saturday morning at dawn with no traffic and supplied for two bivys if needed. Free climbed and hauled to the ledge at the top of pitch 3 by 11:30. We hauled about 25 feet up pitch 1 and left the bag on the right side of the tower. From there it was an easy 50m haul straight up to the top of pitch 2. On pitch 3 we climbed the flared chimney straight up rather than going out right. Hauled straight up the wall just to the right of the climbing.

We ate lunch and started up the bolt ladder on pitch 4. I had to do a hook move once and get in my 5th step once to reach the bolts. The C2 section above the bolt ladder was C2 trial by fire. I did a move on a tiny HB. (I was up to my 4th step on almost every piece I placed on the entire route.) Above that I did a move on a fixed DMM yellow offset, and was in the third step when it popped sending me for about a 30 foot upside down backward whipper. Didn't hurt much and I was not really freaked out. I just got back on it. A little higher I came to a section with only flaring pockets and a minute seam. I worked for 20 minutes from my 4th step to find a solution; nuts, cams, etc. Then I got out my nut tool and started cleaning sand out of the seam and it caught on a lip, so I jammed it in there like a bird beak and did a move on it, and it felt bomber. Then I was in my third step on the nut tool and I had placed a nut above that. As I transferred my weight the piece popped and I took a 10 foot fall onto my daisy onto the nut tool. It frickin' held, although it moved a few centimeters. So I got back on it quick because I needed to get through this section. The next placement held and I pulled through. So I got to the anchor at 4:30, 3 hours on the pitch. We were a little behind schedule as we had intended to fix to the top of pitch 5 that day.

Tom jummared and cleaned and we decided to continue to the intermediate belay on pitch 5. The climbing is C1 below and C2 above that anchor. Tom put me on belay and I took off. About half way to the intermediate belay I fired up my head lamp and continued in the dark with no problems. We fixed the lines and arrived back at the pitch 3 ledge about 7:30pm feeling pretty good about our progress. We ate and basked in the glory of those giant walls in the near full moonlight.

On Sunday we got up at dawn, got it together and started jummaring about 8am. I jummared to the top of pitch 4 and did the haul. Then Tom joined me there. I jummared to the half way point of pitch 5 and went on lead. The first moves were tensioning right to a bolt, and then up to a drilled piton, then up into the C2 section.

I placed some good nuts and a bomber #2 cam in a pocket, which is good because the next piece popped on me twice. You know "crack" and the floor drops out. First I placed an HB in above the yellow cam, tested it and climbed to the fourth step in my aider. It broke the rock as I was placing the next piece and "surprise". Next I put a yellow DMM offset in the same spot and this seemed bomber too. As I got up into the fourth step it started to move so I said to Tom "I think I'm about to take another ride", and sure enough, surprise. These were just clean falls maybe twenty feet with rope stretch onto the yellow cam. Then I placed a HB turned sideways in the same spot and passed that crux. I took another fall higher up on the pitch when a black DMM offset popped on me. Those aluminum DMM offsets just don't grip very well in the sandstone. 5 falls in all on the route. I think these are good for me to teach me that the rope will catch me, but they still rattle you a bit and make you suspicious of everything.

I finished the pitch 5, and did the haul as Tom jummared and cleaned. It was now about 11:30am. It took me about 3 hours on C2 on the route including the haul, and about 2 hours on C1. I am somewhat novice at the advanced placements and a bit out of shape and hung on my daisies more than ideal. I pulled in my adjustable daisies every time to get up to the fourth step, so I had to stop and extend them each time too. I was on two Misty Mountain ladders and I wonder if Black Diamond aiders would be faster because they don't constrict the steps above when you stand in them. I think with some practice and some gear adjustments I can double my speed, which I think will bring me into more of an El Cap ability range.

The next 2 pitches to Earth Orbit Ledge were uneventful C1 with bomber placements. Pitch 6 took more .75 Camalots than anything else and pitch 7 took many yellows. I arrived at the ledge about 4pm. I did the haul from cam placements in a crack all the way on climbers left on the ledge. Right about that time, our friends Matt Pickren and his buddies from Durango showed up just off of Issac, Tricks of the Tramp 5.10+ C2, to see how we were doing. I yelled down that we were a "a ok" but would bivy up top tonight. They pulled out chairs and watched the haul.

We spent the night on Earth Orbit Ledge. Even though the ledge is slopping and uncomfortable I decided it was best to stay here rather than push to the top as it was getting dark.

The descent in the dark was out of the question although after doing it I don't think it would be hard in the dark assuming your ropes don't get stuck or something retarded like that. I was tired and mentally ready to call it a day.

We watched the sun set from our amazing perch. We ate well and drank well. We entertained ourselves by putting mouse bait next to the edge and trying to sweep the mice over. Couldn't kill a single one.

The next day we did the big air bolt ladder on pitch 8. I placed an HB to reach the second bolt. We topped out by 10am and were back on the ground in 5 raps by 12:30pm. I took a shower in the spring at the base of the rappels and that felt good.

I feel good about my preparation for the climb. I chose the climb because it had that upper ledge for a second bivy. And we were prepared for that. We made no major mistakes, and generally speaking worked together in a smart and efficient manner, although I was pretty slow on lead.

We underestimated the amount of water we needed only taking a gallon each. There was a 3/4 of a gallon at the top of pitch 3 and several quarts at the top, so we were ok in that regard too.

I'm not sure that I like aid climbing in the desert. I think I will do it again, but Zion has a sort of dark and spooky aura. And when you are on Sandstone there is always an underlying fear about your safety which I didn't feel on El Cap. I definitely look forward to more aid climbing on granite. Thanks for reading. Vids here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

El Cap Zodiac Wall

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I was offered a chance to climb El Cap with Ben from Oregon, a pretty good offer considering all the preparations were made and all the gear was already at the base. Zodiac is on the far right side of El Cap, a shorter route at 16 pitches but very vertical and technical at C3+ A2. I bivyed in Ben's campsite at the Pines and we left the next morning to get on the wall. Ben had the first pitch fixed so all I had to do was jummar up and I was hanging on El Cap. We made slow but steady progress up the Zodiac over the next 6 days moving at the rate of 2 to 3 pitches a day.

Above The Mark of Zorro - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
On a typical day we would awake about 6 and spend about two hours preparing to climb. This included storing the portaledge, eating breakfast (sweet rolls, nuts and dried fruit), taking a crap and getting the gear reracked.

Black Tower Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com

Ben Leading the Nipple Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
Most days Ben would take the lead and I would spend two or three hours in a belay seat belaying and organizing ropes and gear, and just enjoying the magnificent surroundings, the wall in front of me, the Cathedral Rocks opposite and the busy valley.

Stuart at the Belay - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
Once at the anchors Bern would haul the bags and I would jummar up the ropes removing the gear and pitons. Usually around dusk we would finish up, deploy the portaledge, have our dinner (cashews, fish and dinner rolls and snickers for desert) and go to sleep about 10.
I lead the 4 C1 pitches on the route so I did all the leading and hauling as we moved through pitches 4-6 on Day 2. The leads included several bolt ladders, hooking through a traverse and an interesting inverted cam hook move. On day 6 I got to lead pitch 14 above Peanut Ledge which is an 80' 4.5" vertical crack followed by airy moves out over a roof to the belay. I walked three cams as I aided over a 50' section of the crack.

Stuart Leading the Pitch Above Peanut Ledge - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
On Day 3 as Ben was leading up an overhanging pitch in the gray circle a massive thunderstorm rolled through the valley. Sheets of rain and hail closed in from the direction of Half Dome. Amazing in this overhanging section we were completely protected by the wall and unaffected as climbers on the Nose dived for cover. Horsetail falls 100 yards to my right turned into a flash flood pouring off the top of El Cap. Pretty exciting. That night at dusk a massive rock came off the top of the Nose and plunged loudly through the air to shatter 3000 feet below.
On Day 6 we topped out in the afternoon, organized the gear, hung the portaledge from a tree and bivyed before the heinous descent to come the next day. Getting off El Cap is the worst part of climbing it. You have to scramble down steep class 3 and 4 terrain, bushwack and rappel all with huge. top heavy haul bags on your bag. The descent took us 5 hours and was the hardest day of the climb. When we reached the bottom Ben's mom was there waiting for us with pizza, beer and water. Thanks Becky!
Thanks Ben for taking me with you on this awesome journey. Thanks for your guidance, friendship and patience. This was an amazing opportunity for me to put it all together. And now I am ready to go again. Perhaps in the fall with Rudy McIntire.
Our climb was captured and documented by Tom Evans on the El Cap Report so if you want to see that just go to ElCapReport.com and check out the posts from May 16 to 21. Thanks Tom for letting me use your pics on my site.

Friday, May 15, 2009

NE Buttress of Higher Cathedral

A week ago Friday I climbed the NE Buttress on Higher Cathedral with Robert from Poland. We ascended the 11 pitch 5.9 route in 8 hours thanks to Robert's brilliant leads on sustained 5.9 cracks and chimneys.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The next day I climbed Kor-Beck 5.9, 6 pitches on Middle Cathedral with Brian from Hawaii. Only three stars and a bit manky but a Yosemite classic regardless.
On my way back to Camp 4 I saw some people setting up a slack line so I decided to go check them out and see if I could make some friends. Well it turned out to be the same group that had set up the slackline at the top of Yosemite Falls the other day but this time the slackline was only 15' off the ground but 800' long. The dude was going for the world record. I jumped right in helping to tension the line which involves using a pully system and 6 guys to tighten it to about 3000 pounds.

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Unfortunately the dude wasn't able to walk the line very far because the wind made the center wag up and down about 10', but I made some nice connections with the guys and girl there including reconnecting with Phin whom I had met last winter in Ouray.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lost Arrow Spire

Next on our agenda - The Lost Arrow Spire, a 300 foot spire that sits at the top of the wall just below Yosemite Point and to the right of Yosemite Falls, 2500 feet above the valley floor. To climb the spire you hike up the tourist trail to the top of Yosemite Falls, rappel into the notch between the spire and the rim on two ropes fixed on the rim. Then you climb two pitches to the spire tip trailing the fixed ropes. To get back to the rim you have to fix the trailing ropes to the spire tip and do a Tyrolian traverse back to the rim.
Our plan was to do the 2800' hike/climb Friday evening, bivy at the top, and climb Sunday. We packed our gear and headed up the trail an hour before dusk.
The Spire is directly above Rudy's head in this pic.

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As we climbed past the upper falls the sun went down and a full moon rose over the southern horizon. There was enough light from the moon to climb without a headlamp. We met some guys who had been walking a slack line that day across the top of the falls. At the top we dropped our packs and detoured to the upper falls overlook to look straight down on the falls. The wind was howling at about 40mph, just a taste of what we might be in for the next day. We made camp a few hundred yards back from the rim and Rudy and Scott went to bed. I walked over to the rim in the moonlight to get a look at the spire. From Yosemite Point I caught a glimpse of the spire below. It was terrifying to look at, lower and further away from the rim than I had expected, glowing in the moonlight in the howling wind.
The next morning we fixed our rope and rapped into the notch. After stepping out left onto the exposed face Rudy performed a bold and powerful free lead on the first pitch up to the Salathe ledge which included a 10a fist jam into a 9 off width. I tried to free the pitch but grabbed for my aiders almost immediately. I took the clean aid lead on the second pitch stepping off the ledge left I traversed left on some tricky placements and then straight up on bolts 120' to the spire tip. What a rush. I got to sit alone on the tip for thirty minutes while the other guys jugged. I was thew first on tyrolian and to scoot off the spire tip onto a rope took everything I had - but once in md-air it felt just fine. Amazing climb.
Scott on Tyrolian in this pic.

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Rudy told me he wants to learn to aid climb after doing the spire and we have said we will train this summer and return in the fall to climb El Cap.
Scott left Sunday morning and Rudy and I went cragging at the base of El Cap. The highlight of the day was Sacherer Cracker, a five star 10.a crack.
Sunday night Rudy left so I set out to make new friends. One thin g that's great about the Yosemite climbing community is a real friendliness and many opportunities to meet new partners.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Central Pillar of Frenzy

Friday morning I headed out with Rudy to climb the Central Pillar of Frenzy 5.9 on Middle Cathedral Rock - an imposing crack climb directly up the NE face.

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I wasn't sure how I would do on the 5.9 finger crack on pitch 2 but I found that I can climb those better than the wider fist jams up higher. We completed the climb before noon and headed back to camp.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Climb ON

Yesterday we climbed Nutcracker which was my first ever Yosemite climb last year. It was really cool to lead with ease the 5.8 pitches that I struggled with as a second last year.

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Then we took a ride up to Glacier Point which is an overlook a few thousand feet above the valley floor -- stunning views of Half Dome and all the high peaks in the distance.
Today we got up early to climb Braille Book on the Higher Cathedral Rock -- 6 pitches of very vertical sustained 5.8 stemming in a book and climbing on jugs.
Tonight Rudy McIntire joined us in the Valley and we will climb even harder now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Alcove Swing

Yesterday was a rest day because of the rain during the night and because Scott wanted to hike to Nevada Falls - we went our separate ways in the morning.
I stopped by the mountaineering store and found out that the HB Offsets are supposed to arrive any day now - I left my number.
I headed back to Camp 4 to put on some shorts and witnessed an eviction ala Pinkie the Ranger. I trolled the boulder fields and met some cool Germans from the Munich area and a group of guys from Portland.

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I went over to El Cap to retrieve my sunglasses that I had left at the base of Pacific Ocean Wall and ran into three guys swinging in the Alcove. One of the dudes loaned me his harness and I took a ride. I did a bout ten swings and i was super fun. Videos of the swing here.
I returned to Camp 4 and met the two new guys in our Campsite -- Andrew and Ben from Tasmania. Super friendly - hope I get to climb with them.
Slept well last night.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Day One

I am sitting in the cafeteria at Yosemite lodge Larry and Harry from Long Beach, Phillip from Heidleberg and Scott.
I am enjoying my second breakfast of V8 and Red Bull -- one can of each. I had green tea and frosted mini wheats in Camp 4 as it awoke this morning.
For dinner last night Scott ate canned baked beans with potted meat and mashed potatoes -- what is potted meat? -- he said that the potted meat sort of dissolved into the beans. I ate Velveta shells and cheese with canned tuna and canned peas -- yummy! For lunch I ate one peanut butter sandwich and one sandwich made with Pecorino Romano and Yard of Beef -- Yard of Beef is a giant summer sausage that I got at Sam's Club for five bucks -- I expect it to last the entire month.
Sunday and Monday nights we slept at Camp 4 in our Coleman tent mansion -- its 9 ft x 14 ft with plenty of room for guests. I am on a queen size Coleman inflatable bed with I blew up myself -- took about thirty minutes but I saved twenty bucks.
Monday we climbed M Bishops Terrace 5.8 200ft - awesome 5 star crack climb. We continued up a short pitch to the actual Bishop's Terrace, a giant sloping ledge, and lolled in the sunshine.

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Next we climbed Church Bowl Layback 5.8. Scott led with good style, but took a twenty foot whipper doing a finger layback on wet rock -- he fell on my yellow c3. He thanked me for saving his life -- I told him no problem. As Scott set the anchor a bear ran by and scared a group of school kids -- running and screaming.
In the afternoon we decided to practice some aid climbing. So I packed up a haul bag, drank some green tea, put on some house music and we drove to El Cap. We hiked in past the Nose and up the the south-east face to the start of the Pacific Ocean Wall.

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We saw a bear in woods so we detoured around. I geared up while Scott went on a booty hunt. I led the first pitch of Pacific Ocean Wall, C1 or 5.11c, a vertical crack, in a hour and a half -- not bad. Scott dozed in the camp chair he carried in -- me on a Cinch. So I have led my first pitch of aid on El Cap. Yeah!!

Land of Giants

Last night we bivyed at a KOA plopped in an industrial park at the edge of Fresno -- an acquired taste. We stopped at Walmart in Fresno to buy white t-shirts and return broken sunglasses. Scott bought me a pair of children's pink arm swimming floatys -- I thought it was a nice gesture but I'm not sure what he is implying by the pink color. Thanks Scott.
We arrived at Yosemite about noon time, with Pete Seeger on the radio, along with low clouds and some rain.

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We hiked a 2 mile loop through the Maripose Sequoia Grove and saw a 3000 year old tree called Grizzly and the then made for the valley. Entering the Valley is a spiritual experience -- as before I was overwhelmed with beauty and joy to be back -- the great stone giants shrouded and glistening welcomed me home.

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It rained here all last week and with the snow melt the Merced River is running high and the waterfalls are super fat. The valley is lush and green and wet, and Camp 4 is drenched. But the rain is ending and we expect the month of May to be nothing but sun and blue skies.