I guess this became a little long winded, but I was having a good time recounting the events as they happened? Hopefully it isn?t too boring, you can just scroll through to look at the photos if you want. Cheers.
At some point I got it into my head that I wanted to solo a wall. I don?t know what I was thinking. Last year I started my wall climbing shenanigans in June, climbing the Regular Route on Half Dome and then a week later climbing the South Face on Mount Watkins. I was bit by the wall bug, but because of work and school I didn?t manage to get on anything else that summer or fall.
I was doing a lot of free climbing all Fall and Winter but really looking forward to the extended stay that wall climbing provides, the suffering, the misery, the pain and of course, the joy and pleasure. As soon as the weather started looking stable I was determined to get after it.
It started the last weekend in March, my buddy Scott and I headed up to the Column to do Southern Man. That was the weekend I was fortunate enough to see the massive rock fall take place. I was excited to climb with him, he is a Jedi wall climber, and I planned on sponging as much info as I could to refine the way I do things.
We fired Southern Man and the stoke was high. The following weekend I headed back up to the Column with my girlfriend to take on the Skull Queen. This time I would be leading and hauling everything with her coming along on the jugs. A little short fixing took place and we fired 8 pitches the first day, bivying atop 6 above a big bush in the giant right facing dihedral out of the wind and fixing the two pitches above. Sailing the new Metolious double ledge on its maiden voyage and enjoying the luxury.
Carmen was a champion on her first wall with only minor jugging and basically no cleaning practice under her belt (while on jugs). There was some suffering, the wind was as strong as I have ever felt it and brought the moral down at times, but we suffered on. Carmen would arrive at the belay (especially after battling it out getting over the Kor Roof) pissed off and asking why we were doing this. When I would respond ?But Carmen, Look around, its amazing, look where we are?!? All I would receive in return was a grimacing ?I could see this view while hiking, it would be half as much work.? Despite trying to convince her of how wonderful wall climbing was, I was unsuccessful. That is, until the summit was reached. At the summit the tides were turning, victory was setting in. By the time we hit the main trail coming out of the talus headed for the car, she couldn?t get the grin off her face and was already asking ?whats next?!?
So I decided that I hadn?t suffered enough. Not enough blood, sweat and tears had been shed. I would not be satisfied until I wanted to quit but couldn?t and was forced to push on transcending the line between a physical experience and a spiritual experience. I knew to find this level of misery I had to go alone. So a week and a half later, I packed my gear, loaded up the haul bag, hefted it into the car with Carmen standing by saying ?You are going to carry that thing alone?! It must weigh more than I do.?
I left for the valley at 8:00pm Wednesday night, arriving around 11:15 or so, ready to start hiking. A guy was walking through the parking lot and saw me, awestruck he asked what the hell I was doing. After a quick attempt to convince him to hike to the base with me and carry some of my stuff, which he politely declined, I set out.
The Pack. The Beginning.
It took me about an hour and a half or two to get to the base, dump the pack, and breath a sigh of relief.
As I started unpacking I decided to take a look at the topo and see what was in store for tomorrow. So I started looking through the pack to find the topo, pull it out of my climbing shoe and unfold it. Right away I knew something was wrong, the stack of paper was far to thick! There were 5 or 6 sheets of paper here, not the 2 copies of the topo I made. Much to my dismay, I had about 5 different topos for El Cap routes, but no Prow topo! So a quick phone call to Carmen and I had her dictating the topo over the phone (thank God for cell service up there!). I ended up with this beauty, pretty good compared to the original, huh?
The next morning, after a freezing cold night (in the 20?s for sure, low 20?s probably) with not too much sleep. I got up at 6:25 made some Mat? and granola-oatmeal and started getting my stuff up to the base of pitch 1. Pitch 1 went down without much difficulty, getting all the systems fine-tuned and my mind into the rhythm it all. Soon my bags and I were at the top of pitch 1 and I was looking up at a seeping, scary start to pitch 2.
My Anchor at the start of P2, notice my awesome rope bag, the thing worked beautifully the whole time, if it had been one of those larger Costco tote bags it would have been perfect.
After getting set up and checking over everything now that I was officially off the ground I set out on the second Pitch. Scrambling across the slick low angle slabby ledge to the base of the crack that was slimy and green with moss I tried to figure out how to get gear. I plugged a green alien into a pin scar and tested it, all good, step up onto it and BOOM. Back onto the ledge, on my left ass cheek and sliding towards the the big plunge and penji I just stopped myself on a small rail before tumbling over. Pitch two and this is how its going to go? I brushed it off, and got right back at it without a second thought. Pitches 2 and 3 linked into a long, sustained strenuous pitch.
Finally on Anchorage ledge, the hauling was nice and easy, with the bags pretty much hanging in free space, allowing me to pull them up pretty quickly.
Trying to stay motivated at the start of Pitch 4. Not that I was unaware how much work this whole ordeal would be, but at this point it definitely was hitting me anew. I was pretty focused, I think it reflects on my face.
Looking up at pitch 4 (I am pretty sure).
I can?t quite recall, but I believe that the C2F on pitch 4 had many a blown away and scary ass copper head. It took me a little longer than I thought it would and down right scared the crap out of me for a moment. I remember thinking ?C2?!? as I did some of the funkier and harder aid moves I have done. Jenky nuts, creep cam hooks, 2 lobe biting cams to get around blown or ratty heads.
I dispatched the reachy pitch 5 bolt ladder without too many problems, just a bit of high stepping and some grunting. I figured out I could go a lot quicker by turning my draws around, and hitting the fixed-in-place biner normally for the rope end onto the bolt, gaining me an extra 8 inches of reach, making that much easier.
I was feeling pretty fried and decided that I would bivy atop pitch 5. I was feeling a bit de-motivated and terrified of what may to come on the ?Hooks and Heads? pitch 6. I kept thinking that if the heads were like they had been to that point, I would have no shame bailing because that shit was scary!
I set up the double ledge, which is a pretty damned strenuous process alone at a hanging belay. Finally it was together, I climbed on, ditched the rack only to realize I needed the ledge to be a foot and a half lower or getting into the haul bag would be a pain. Off the ledge and adjusting the straps I finally had it together.
De-motivated from what seemed like harder-than-they-should-have-been moves, tired as hell, and feeling fried I decided I shouldn?t just sit there, I should really be fixing pitch 6. Reracked, reflank, unpack the headlamp and off I go, setting out to settle the pitch that was making me feel nervous and anxious because of what it may hold. 20 feet up, I realized the sun would probably set on me, I didn?t want to climb in the dark and might not be able to retreat if only marginal gear lay ahead (which it looked like it did). So back to the ledge I went off of two good cams.
That night I talked to my girlfriend, telling her I could bail right then and wouldn?t care, and I was going to see how I felt in the morning then make a decision. I slept pretty good, it was a little warmer than the night before, or I was more tired.
The next morning I realized that bailing held 2 problems. I would have to rap with all my shit, which would be a bitch. But more importantly, I had mentioned to too many people (maybe 2 or 3?) that I was going to do this. If I bailed! Oh the shame! Up I went with a new determination to reach the summit that night.
Pitch 6 after a surge of motivation in the morning. I saw the first good heads on the pitch, which gave me hope for that to come and knew only 2 more pitches of C2 remained.
I blew a shallow cam hook getting past a blown head on pitch six and blew out the bag tacks on my aider. It acted like a mini-screamer and cushioned my fall, no doubt it helped, as I fell onto a bomber copper head! I ended up getting around the deadhead with a marginal hook
Atop Pitch 6 and the blown out aider.
The Strange Dihedral and Tapir Terrace pitches linked together easily, feeling like the easiest C2 of the climb without a doubt. I was talking to myself, telling myself how it was quite a strange dihedral and how Mr. Robbins was quite adept in naming it such. I was so zoned into my systems at this point, I was moving quickly and efficiently and didn?t want to stop for many pictures.
Easy climbing on pitch 9, although I blew an easy placement of a blue TCU and rocketed onto a fixed, brand new blue alien. Lucky for me when I jugged past it to clean, the thing had been human funknessed free and it poped right out, brand spanking new!
Two pitches from the top.
I was feeling good about making the summit before dark. I just had to get past the haul bag eating flake for pitch 10. I tried to avoid it, and split the pitch into 2, belaying at the base of the 5.0 gully, but I avoided it wrong and thus it partially consumed my bag. I almost had a bad situation when the ledge got stuck and started to lever sideways!
One pitch from the top. Feeling good.
I was going to make it before dark, I was sure of it, I set out for the summit. Now, I made a big mistake on this pitch, not realizing it through the exhaustion for some reason I saw the bolt out to the right and thought that that was the ?squeeze variation.? So I scrambled across the unprotected, rotten, wet, slimey and horrifying belly craw variation. (it skirts under the big roof in the above photo) I only realized it was the variation after I finished the move and said ?Oh, you dumbass? aloud to myself. I practically did a belly crawl to a dyno to get free from it.
Regardless, I finished the pitch so excited to be on the summit. To my horror, due to a miscommunication or misunderstanding when translating the topo over the phone, I found out that there was actually a 12th pitch. A rotten, horrible, hauling-hell of a pitch. But finally I was on the summit.
So happy. So very happy.
The next morning, sleeping in and basking in the sun.
I had plenty of food.
Lots of water!
At 9:45 I was packed up and ready for the hike down. I would have never imagined the North Dome Gully would be so difficult. I had done it once, sans pack with only minimal gear and remembered it being no big deal. Throw a haul bag that felt like it could weigh a thousand pounds into the mix, 2 13 hour days of climbing like a mad man and it changes things.
There were moments on the hike down I was terrified and afraid! Call me a sissy but I won?t lie. I got lucky with reading the trail right, most of the time. Finally at the bottom of the gully I turned on the iPod blasted some Damien Marley, sucked it up and charged. I let out a huge shout and a woop when I finally saw the trail after the talus field. I shouted and cheered for myself like a psycho and scored a second win when I passed the first few groups of tourists who gave me crazy-eyed looks, whispering as I passed ?Oh my god, did you see that guy? Did you see his pack?!?
Finally I was at the car, 3 hours exactly, after I started the hike down North Dome Gully.
I had done it, and I felt proud. Hell, I feel proud. I have a whole new respect for all the big boys out there doing the sick shit though. My hats off, maybe one day I too can suffer like the best of them. Looking back at it, it was totally worth it, one of the best experiences of my life. Proving to myself that I could push farther when I thought I couldn?t, that I could go on when I thought I had to go back and that I could do it all alone. It was the type of experience that makes you a better climber and a better person (I think?I hope?)
Thanks for reading.