Triple Direct, El Capitan, Trip Report in December


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 20 in this topic
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 16, 2005 - 10:55am PT
I’ve always thought the best time to climb in Yosemite is a warm November. The temperatures on south-facing climbs are perfect. The sun casts a softer light on everything. And you feel like you own the Valley because there is nobody around.

Since this December has been as dry as your average November (or October, for that matter) Hans Florine and I decided an El Cap ascent had to go down. We hadn’t climbed together in 9 years since we did the first one day ascent of the Muir Wall.

I left the Valley for El Cap meadow at 6:30 just as daylight was creeping into the Valley. I took this shot of Half Dome.

I realized I didn’t have any food and that there was nothing open. So I can proudly say that this speed ascent was fueled by the vending machine behind the Yosemite lodge:

1 bag Famous Amos cookies
2 Mothers oatmeal cookies
2 snickers bars

I met Hans at 7am. El Cap Meadow was arctic. Ice covered everything and it felt like the forecasted low of 18 degrees. Since we were doing the route in free shoes only, we got to walk to the base with just 5mm of sticky rubber between our feet and the frozen tundra-like ground. For clothes, I just had a t-shirt and a thin polypro top. Two minutes into the approach Hans jokingly suggested turning around and going back to the car for more clothes. But I told him about the phenomenon where the cold sinks to the valley floor and its actually 20 degrees warmer once you get 50 vertical feet up to the base of the route.

“Yeah,” he replied “That is true. But its about 8 degrees warmer, not 20.”

He was right. But I was used to climbing with numb hands from my last week in zion. No biggy.

I started leading and Hans would yell up “That pitch took 8 minutes, at this rate we will have a time of…” Every so often he would call up and recalculate our projected top-out time. “Well, its now taking you about 10 minutes a pitch…” Hans clearly earns his title as being one of the best and most enthusiastic speed climbers in the world.

At pitch 3 we climbed into the sun. It would be T-shirt temps to the top.

Here I am on pitch 4:

On Mammoth Terrace, a team called down from about two thirds the way up Sunkist. “What’s the weather look like for the next few days?” I was really hoping that we would have El Cap to ourselves. But if we had to share it with someone, then it at least it was cool that these guys were doing such a demanding route. I couldn’t even imagine the sub-freezing temperatures they had to endure between 5pm and 7am. “Good weather for at least two days” I screamed back up. We were the personal el cap weather service for the day. There was a purpose to our climb after all.

I led the first 16 pitches in a little over 2 and half hours and then Hans took over. He got the crux aid pitch, a long and sustained C2 corner. I was going to give him the two bigger and more comfy aiders, but he insisted on taking just one of the smallest ones. “The more uncomfortable you are in the aiders the faster you move. The ideal might be to just have 4mm cord… but that could cut through your arch.”

While I still was still in a two aider world, I had to admit that he moved FAST. Two and a half hours later, we were on Camp VI on The Nose.

Here is Hans on the traverse into The Nose

Here is Hans leading the great roof:

Hans on the Pancake Flake

I took back over the lead. I now have that last part of the nose pretty wired, so I only took half the rack and made it last for four pitches. This meant that I topped out with three micro-cams and no extra biners. Hans had to jug with it all of it… which is not fun on the severely overhanging last pitch. Sorry hans.

Me leading the last pitch

We topped out in 6:27 which was a new fastest time for the route. On top, we stuffed 2 x 2 inch pieces of foam pad in the heels of our climbing shoes. This is a trick Peter Croft gave Hans. It made a big difference on the descent.

Team Primary Colors on top.

The view from the top. Its winter up there in the high country!

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 16, 2005 - 11:11am PT
Hard to imagine...!

Amazing what we can adapt and acclimatize to as humans. That we can hone ourselves against what is relentlessly at hand to the point where vertical sprinting becomes not just possible, but a "new normal" state of being. Kudos, not just on the climb, but on fashioning a life that makes it possible...

Dec 16, 2005 - 11:11am PT
Great photo report Chris. Thanks for the nice start to my day.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 16, 2005 - 11:15am PT
Holy frig! It's [url=""]another El Cap speed record![/url] The previous record for the route was 8:20 by Rolo. Looks like stellar climbing conditions. I can't believe how free the Valley is of snow! Man, that rubber must be sticky on that cold rock, eh?

Who's the team on Sunkist, Chris? And why the hell don't you have Sunkist in your newest McTopo??
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Dec 16, 2005 - 11:25am PT
Congrats Chris but, not to interrupt the flow, how about some input over at Pages in the Court of King Mac?
Russ Walling

Social climber
Dec 16, 2005 - 12:22pm PT
Hey Chris,

I'm getting so tired of your Superman sh#t...... every couple of days ticking a wall here and there, in record time, posting a great report and then going off to tick another one..... WTF man.... You're even making the "real" climbers look bad. I swear to biscuit that after I finish this donut I'm going to start training and try to grab some of that magic for myself. Watch your back dude... revenge of the fossils is at hand.

Trad climber
New York
Dec 16, 2005 - 12:52pm PT
congratulations guys, simply fantastic!

Gym climber
San Francisco, CA
Dec 16, 2005 - 01:07pm PT
.. .inspiring bro!

Big Wall climber
So. Cal.
Dec 16, 2005 - 04:17pm PT
Ditto what Russ said...except I have a whole box of donuts I need to finish first.
John Galt

Big Wall climber
puerta Natales, Chile
Dec 16, 2005 - 05:20pm PT
I had a buttermilk donut and BP coffee in Groveland one hour before Chris and I went up the triple direct. I know the good wall food.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Dec 16, 2005 - 05:22pm PT
so cool! thanks for the inspiration Chris.

Crestline CA
Dec 16, 2005 - 08:46pm PT
Sweet Chris.... looks like you are a climber again...
regards Tom

Sport climber
St. Louis
Oct 24, 2006 - 08:03am PT
I'm digging around and found this great trip report. It's worth giving another look at! Great report and photos. And it makes me want some donuts.

Social climber
No Ut
Oct 24, 2006 - 06:47pm PT
Fun to read this report, Chris. Man, things really have changesd! In 1971 I made an early climb of the triple direct, with Harry Frishman, a fellow Outward Bound instructor. We made it with one bivy at Camp 6 and about 22 hours' climbing time. We thought we were really cruisin' ...NOT! Unfortunately, Harry died in the late '70's when he fell while soloing ice in the northwest couloir of the Middle Teton. He really was a great natural athlete and a wonderful guy. One of the many unsung characters of American climbing history. That was the only real climb we ever did together.

EDIT: Thanks for giving this a bump, Crimpie - I hadn't seen it before.

Standing Strong

Mountain climber
a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago
Oct 24, 2006 - 06:54pm PT
jello you were an o.b. instructor back in the day?! rad! did you meet peter hahn? man i so wish i had a scanner so i could show some of the pics from my wls in 2000. i graduated from highschool a semester early, worked full time for a year, saved saved saved & got a scholarship from OB and did the course then went to work in yosemite. it was rad. met great kids on course who touched my life. we're still friends, i love it. someday, someday, someday, i'd love to teach for them.

edit: it was the southwest semester w/COBS - Collegiates, Cochise, mt. lemmon, canyonlands... i'd backpacked and hiked around tahoe and yosemite but had never been to the southwest or climbing or paddling or skiing. the trip turned my humble little world upside down. i just went back for the first time last spring, with my ecology class, over spring break. (another excellent experience)

Social climber
No Ut
Oct 24, 2006 - 07:02pm PT
No, Standing, I never met Peter Hahn, but I supported myself from 1970 to '73 instructing for Colorado Outward Bound. I would work 3 winter courses each year, then climb the rest of the year on that small amount of money, suplemented by occasionally pounding nails. I, too, made many friends among staff and students, quite a few have remained close through the years. Glad you got turned on to the ol' outdoor lifestyle. Hope you realize your dream of passing it on.

Standing Strong

Mountain climber
a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago
Oct 24, 2006 - 07:06pm PT

thank you!
john hansen

Oct 24, 2006 - 11:08pm PT
Good bump crimpie.

Relic Hominid
Jun 24, 2010 - 02:07pm PT
Speed Bumpa

Social climber
Jun 24, 2010 - 03:36pm PT
was so fast i missed it the first time.

Messages 1 - 20 of total 20 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta