So this weekend my girlfriend and I went up Zodiac. We drove up to the Valley on Thursday night, shouldered our gear and in one fell swoop (as I have normally done this) we hiked to the base to bivy. There was a lot of water coming off that side of the wall, but as its so steep there is about 20 feet between the wall and where the water starts to hit the ground. We found a little spot near the base, snuggled up, and got to sleep.
In the night I woke up a time or two to strange sounds that I kept thinking was rockfall. It was a bad groaning type noise, it kept spooking me awake. I might be crazy, but I swear I heard these noises...
On Friday the plan was to wake fairly early because there was water and a poo tube at the base and I did not want to be stuck behind a party but we wanted to get as much sleep as possible, since the drive and hike put us tired and at the base around 1am or so. We pushed off the sleep as long as possible, despite a few psychotic parties hiking past at the EARLY hours of the morning headed to the East Buttress.
Anyhow, we awoke, started making a 6 egg breakfast with avocado and cheese (this is how you start a wall), a meal we would recreate each morning on the wall (only with 3 eggs each time). So as we start cooking a fella rolls up looking to get on Zodiac, but him and his partner still have a second load to hump, so no big deal (for me at least). We get fed and caffinated, racked and ropes flanked and I begin up the wall.
I was excited as I have been wanting to do Zodiac all summer (see Didders TR and references to Solo-Man) but had been previously thwarted on a solo attempt. Anyhow, we begin, the first pitch goes well, oh yeah, except for when I blew that inverted cam hook while reaching to clip the belay, taking a 20ish footer. Luckily it was no big deal, in fact it got me pretty psyched, especially since everything was fine. I short fixed the whole second pitched and Carmen didn't leave the ground until the bags were up off the ground (again, see the TR by Didder and you will understand the previous Bear problems the last time). Carmen was quickly on her way, bags were docked, and soon we were off on the third.
Thats when things got crazy. We are standing at the third pitch belay, I am about to lead off again, Carmen had just gotten there. Suddenly there was the worst noise you can possibly imagine when hanging from the side of the wall. A massive crack, more like an explosion. Our heads snapped left and maybe 100 feet? 200 feet? the most enormous piece of rock was detaching from the wall. I mean a piece of rock the size of a car. I think I saw boulder problems on this thing as it popped off the wall. This huge piece of black rock detached from the diorite system slightly left of Zodiac. It looked to me like it was just right of the free climbing pitches on Lost In America.
As this huge stone came loose from the wall, accompanied by several pieces of stone that would have caused soiled trousers on their own, all I could think was 'oh man, here we go' when I was able to decide it was for sure too far to hit us, I then was horrified as it looked like this thing was directly above this lady Althea set to solo Virgina. My girlfriend and I thought, in all honesty, we may have just seen someone die. It was the most aweful feeling in my gut I have experienced on the wall.
When this boulder smashed into the ground, from our vantage point several hundered feet up, it it looked like a video of a bomb going off on the History channel. There was an explosion of debris followed by a huge rock slide down the Zodiac talus. A cloud of granite dust lingered on the wall and began to rain down on us for what seemed like several minutes.
As soon as the noise of all the rock fall stopped, the shouting began. We shouted to Althea, a guy on the ground who had just dodged the rockfall by split seconds shouted up to her, then to us, the guys at the base shouted to us, we shouted to them, finally I was able to hear Althea shout back to someone and we could hear that she was ok. Heavy sighs of relief were breathed by all I am sure. Everyone was ok. I felt like we all connected for a moment, looking out for each other.
Carmen and I sat there for a few minutes, discussing what to do, up or down. We decided that either way from the top of pitch 4 we could get off just as easy as the top of pitch 3. So upwards we went...
The unreal thing about the whole event was that a few hours later while we were moving up to pitch 5 or pitch 6, we heard another sickening pop and crack. Heads whipping left we quickly found the massive flakes as the detached from the center of the NA formation. These flakes free fell for what seemed like an eternity, slowly spinning and twisting in the air before making contact with the wall, smashing into smaller pieces, colliding downwards and slamming into the huge talus pile right just left of the footstool.
Again we sat in silence. Discussed the situation. The reality was that there was a whole lot of that black diorite above us. Was the whole black tower going to come off? Was that detached piece of the tower, leaning away from the wall a normal feature? I didn't remember looking over at it... was that new or old I joked, without really laughing too hard, Carmen not finding it funny at all, as we set up the ledge just below the Black Tower pitch...
Again, we continued upwards, curious what the fluctuating temps and another warm day might bring on the Captain...
(Ill add some Tom Evans photos when I get them)