Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Yosemite Report (Part 3 - the Bail)

We woke up early on the morning of the third day. Although I thought we were off to an alpine start it seemed as if we were not. Before we had the first pitch of the morning led a party was fast on us. A kiwi by the name of Mayan reached our ledge and we offered to share a belay. Adam tried to spark a bit of conversation with her as she brought up her second but she seemed distracted to me. Fair enough... and I didn't think much of it. Later on she cruised the pitch above us at light speed in an attempt to quickly pass us. Adam asked me whether I recognized her.

'No... should I?'

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yosemite Report (Part 2 - Rescue)

I purposely left out a big part of the story in part 1. It seemed big enough to get it's own post.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon on that second day we saw a helicopter approaching. It climbed above us and hovered around making several passes near the Great Roof high up on the Nose. We couldn't see any nearby climbers so we figured that it was perhaps doing training maneuvers? At the same time that didn't really add up; the day was windy, and there were plenty of climbers on the wall so why risk knocking loose rocks on us for the sake of training? A few minutes passed and the helicopter eventually moved off, landing in the meadow below. I continued doing whatever it was that I was doing (probably hauling).

About 15 minutes later a voice came booming up from below. Someone was on a bullhorn in the valley. They started asking for a party on the Nose a pile of questions, indicating that they should use hand signals for yes / no responses. (I guess there must have been someone up there). They asked some basic stuff before questioning them about leader falls, and the extent of injuries suffered. From the conversation I gathered that a leader fell and somehow injured a hand.

A bit of time passed and I remember that it was starting to get late in the day. The sun was low and the wind started up by the time I saw the helicopter re-starting it's engine. This time it carried a YOSAR ranger dangling below it swinging in the breeze. It made it's way back to the spot it had been earlier. This time however it was much closer to the face. From our vantage point, the spinning blades seemed as if they were grazing the wall. It was impressive. It hovered there fighting the wind for about 10 minutes it seemed. I remember thinking that if the pilot blew it... it would mean fiery metal death raining down on us (Nice).
The YOSAR chopper lifts off from the valley with a climbing ranger in tow.
The helicopter moves into position.
And the rescue pick-off is underway. Look closely and there's a big helicopter hugging that big cliff!
Fortunately, this pilot had skills. I'd come to find out several days later that the dangling ranger had to throw a bean-bag in at the stranded climbers connected to a rope used to haul him into their anchor. He apparently had 7 of these bean-bag lines and the climbers fumbled the first 6. I'd also learn that the leader somehow managed to sever his thumb clean off in a fall. It somehow got tangled in a sling... although I have a hard time picturing the circumstances.

The most impressive and improbable thing about the whole event is yet to come. We quickly found out on the wall that any object not connected firmly to your party is lost. We managed to drop a cam, a wag-bag, and a helmet-cam (most of which were supposedly attached). Absolutely defying this universal rule was that instead of disappearing into space, the severed thumb somehow dropped and landed on a small ledge near the party's belayer. It was collected up and the rescue was completed in quick enough time such that the climber apparently had it reattached! Almost unbelievable but such is what we heard. Only in Yosemite could a big-wall climber have a reasonable expectation of a rescue 2000' off the ground and such a successful outcome. Anywhere else and the consequences would surely have been very serious.

Anyway... an impressive show thanks to the YOSAR team.

...the story about our climb to be continued tomorrow. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yosemite Report (Part 1 - El Cap)

We didn't send :(

El Cap (the big tower on the left)
Urgg... that was difficult to write. I thought I'd put that up front since this could be a long post. It probably wasn't news to anyone anyway. It was still a memorable climb nevertheless.

Organizing the gear and packing the haul bags
We packed up the haulbags and made our way to El Cap to scope out a potential line. The decision was made quickly. There was a slow-moving soloist on Zodiac, and the topos for Lurking Fear & the Nose were missing. As such... Triple Direct was the target. It was almost absent of climbers at the time, had a trivial 10 minute flat approach, and offered 31 pitches of climbing at moderate aid grades. It follows the first 10 pitches of the Salate' wall, the middle pitches of the Muir wall, and the final pitches of the Nose. It seemed doable and totally classic.

Carrying in heavy loads.

We humped in the loads Sunday afternoon and shortly thereafter Adam was freeing the stout 5.10c first pitch. The aim was simply to have our food and bags hauled to the top of pitch 1 by nightfall, and to sleep back on the ground. It all went well that evening, and we were tucked into our sleeping bags on time ready for an alpine start in the morning.

Sleeping at El Cap is a bit surreal... You really don't sleep; there's simply too many things competing for your attention. All night long your mind wanders and your eyes are drawn to the twinkling lights off in the distance. The lights aren't stars though; rather they are the headlamps of parties far above you moving around sporadically as they set up their ledges, cook their dinners, and in some cases... continue climbing through the night. All the while you are listening to the deep grunts El Cap climbers yell at each other.

'OOoooohh ooh oohhh'  (imagine the sound that you'd get from crossing a bear with a gorilla)

Morning comes at about 4:30 a.m. We get out of our bivi bags, and shake dozens of sliverfish off our clothes (the place was infested|). After a quick breakfast, we're blasted off. I lead pitch 2 fairly quickly leapfrogging big cams up a long fist / offwidth corner. Sometime during that morning we looked down at our campsite to see a good-sized bear roaming through it. Yoikes. The leading went o.k. for the rest of the day but the hauling was another story. The bags, full with 6 days food / water / supplies for the four of us weighed over 300lbs. At that weight, the friction on the slabby pitches meant that 3 people were needed full-time to haul. 2 men counterweighting the pulley and a dedicated 'wrangler' to dislodge them from every crack, mini-roof, and depression that would catch. In the heat the hauling punished us and we weren't able to keep up with the leader.  That day we managed to only make it to the top of pitch 5. We set up the ledges, ate a quick meal, drank what we could, and crashed.

Erick jugging

The heavy bags... 
It seemed like I had just managed to doze off when voices in the dark got closer and woke us up. A minute later a head poked over the ledge. We were being passed in the middle of the night! After asking our permission, the leader clipped a biner and a ropeman to our ledge anchor and took off at light-speed up a difficult looking corner crack. I watched him run it out at least 30' over us while I realize that another voice is getting closer below. The party is simul-climbing at pitch that clocks in somewhere around 5.12 and if either the second or the leader blows it... the leader will crater right through the ledge Erick and I are sleeping on. I decide to put my helmet on (not that it would help).  After a few more long moments the second appears, say's hi, and climbs past us. The remainder of the night goes by as I watch headlamps high above me, as it would be impossible to sleep after that.

That's enough for this post... more later