Sunday, May 17, 2009

El Cap Zodiac Wall

(click image to enlarge)
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 -
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 -

Ben Leading the Nipple Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans -
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 -
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 -
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 and check out the posts from May 16 to 21. Thanks Tom for letting me use your pics on my site.

No comments: