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?'

'Yes', he said, 'if you watch anywhere near as much climbing movies on the net as I do'.

A few days later she'd go on to completely free the Salate wall which clocks in at 5.13b - 35 pitches. Impressive!

This was the day we needed to step it up. The previous day we managed to only haul 4 pitches. At that rate, it would take us 8 days to top-out and we only had 5 days of supplies. In order to get back on track, the math suggested that we'd needed to lead and haul 8-10 pitches. Otherwise, I think we all knew we'd face a tough decision at dinner. The first pitch went quickly.

This put us at the base of a massive leaning chimney called 'the half dollar'. The topo suggested some trickiness and this would be Erick's lead. He set off solo while the rest of us started the haul off a massive 7-piece gear anchor. It wasn't long before more parties were on us. A 2-person Czech came up quickly and asked to pass. Erick had been moving slowly and we'd asked them to wait until he reached an anchor since it seemed the pitch was more difficult that we'd expected. They waited for nearly an hour at a hanging belay when we saw another party approaching us. Still not secure, Burly had only another 25' of rope. We let their leader continue on, thinking that Erick must be getting close, and weary of the prospect of a 7 person clusterfuck at our belay.

Tom Evans at the ElCapReport shot this image of the traffic jam. Cool!
All told, that half dollar pitch must have taken us hours. Before I left that anchor the lower party had caught up to us. This time it was Black Diamond athlete Nico Favresse. Seemed like a really nice fella. Adam asked him what 100' whippers made him think of.

Nico Favresse and The Nightmayer. from nick bullock on Vimeo.

His response was pretty classic:

Although the half dollar pitch would be the most difficult climbing of the day the rest of the hauling was horrendous... and we could never catch up with the leaders.

Erick lowers out to wrangle
The three person space hauling setup!

That night we made it to a huge system of ledges known as the Mammoth Terraces. Beaten, tired, and at a logical point, we made the call to stay there the night. It would be another 4-pitch day... and as it turns out... it would be our high point.

Chris & I piling calories & fluid into ourselves as fast as we possibly could.

Looking across the valley at Lower Cathedral Spire at Sunset
Setting up the ledges and hanging food to try and beat the wall-rats.
  That night we spent some time coming to terms with the decision to bail. Given our rate of progress, it was really the only reasonable decision. With certainty, if we continued on we'd run out of water and the Mammoth Terraces was a simple place to bail from with fixed lines reaching all the way to the ground. There was a combination of reasons that contributed to what went wrong:

  • We probably chose the wrong line. While the easy grade and stunning line of Triple Direct were appealing, the hauling on the lower slab was ghastly. Coupled with this was the mistake of battling the crowds all gunning for the first 10 pitches of the route (which is known as the Free Blast). We'd come to be told by several parties that 'nobody hauls the Free Blast' .  Sage advice.
  • We plain and simply had too much stuff. Largely this could have been due to the 4-person party approach. We had too much food, too much water, too many ledges, and ultimately too much weight. If a single person counter-weighting the bags can't move them effectively something is wrong. I doubt any of us would try the 4 person party on such a large wall again. Fun... but not effective.
  • Our haul line was too short. We couldn't combine 2 pitches into a single haul. I think this might have helped. Also we rigged the bags side-by-side. One-under-another would probably have been able to reduce the snags and spin better.
  • The weather was unseasonably hot. I think we drank our daily gallon early each day. This certainly didn't speed us up or help to stretch out our water rations.  (We actually found out that last night that several of the water bladders were leaking... yikes).
All in all, we were too slow. I think we all had the right physical conditioning and the climbing wasn't the issue. It was the logistics. That night the boys mused about several options. Erick had suggested that he'd go down alone and give us his water. Chris wondered whether he'd have better luck if he solo'ed the rest of the route. Neither option sat well with me. I thought we start together, and we finish together. In the end I'm glad that's how it went... although I'm not sure if everyone agrees with me. 

The next morning we rapped the fixed lines to the ground. What had taken more than 3 days to get up took us an hour to get down. We returned to the car, licking our wounds and cracked open a few warm beers that we'd risked stashing despite of the warning of bears. Exhausted... the only thing left to do was to explain the story to an entire busload of tourists that mobbed us when they saw the pile of gear we were sitting on. It was actually pretty funny. 

Henni gives a crash course to a busload of seniors. Woaw. 
That marked the end of our El Cap attempt. All in all, I had a lot of fun. The rest of the trip to Yosemite would give us some great free climbing but nothing would top that adventure. It's tough to think about all the training and investment I made for that climb not to succeed. The rock taught me a few lessons over those few days, and I am o.k. with that. I think if it were a 100% guaranteed success, it wouldn't have been what we were looking for.  

Cheers and thanks for reading.  

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