Horse Chute, Horse Play, or Magic Mushroom


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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Oct 5, 2007 - 11:38am PT
Duncan- Did you get the first solo of Sunkist? Good job in any case. The ST is big fun. Come for the funk, stay for the folks. Cheers
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Oct 5, 2007 - 11:52am PT
Hey Duncan,

Sunkist is one of the best routes on El Cap, and it hardly ever gets done because it's not in the McTopo guide. It was my only my sixth route or so, and it's really not that hard. Definitely want a couple big cams for that one section.

So tell us what happened when you broke your arm - sounds pretty epic! Only Steve seems to know what happened.
dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Oct 5, 2007 - 01:44pm PT
The Magic Mushroom climbs the Shield without the crowds.

Trad climber
London, UK
Oct 7, 2007 - 10:17am PT
Sunkist 1984 – A retro trip report

By early July I had been climbing non-stop for four months and had the frightening confidence of a twenty-three year old that had just soloed the Steck-Salathé and climbed The Nose in nine and a half hours (1). I fancied an aid route to top off the season, something on the west side for a change. A couple of friends had recently made the second ascent of Sunkist and raved about it, so that was my choice. Most climbers had left The Valley by this time which meant soloing. Unfortunately it also meant gear scrounging possibilities were limited so I set off with a light rack (2).

The first day on Sunkist felt like a continuation of The Nose. Pitches flew past, the climbing straightforward and fun. The self-belaying and cleaning all worked smoothly. The haul-bag, much lighter than usual, was almost a pleasure to deal with. I counter-balance hauled, almost too effectively on the last pitch of the day. As I ran down the cliff, the bag suddenly swung free from the rock and shot upwards. I ended up dangling far out in space over the lip of the Heart roofs, slowly spinning and bouncing, suspended from a single, frayed, 9mm rope. The Salathé slabs, greying as the evening shadow crept up the face, rotated leisurely a thousand feet beneath me. The exposure was overwhelming. A lonely copperhead sprouted from the roof, showing the line of Jolly Roger. It looked wild.

Sitting in the hammock, building burritos for dinner, I watching the line of headlights crawl along the valley floor. It was a warm Friday night and the campsites would be filling up with weekenders. I had managed eight pitches, far more than I had anticipated, and glowed inwardly. Another day would see me onto the headwall. There was one other party on the Salathé Wall, head-torches occasionally visible far below. Otherwise, I had the cliff to myself. I felt totally comfortable with this and blissfully happy.

The following day the climb continued to fly past and I soon found myself at the base of the chimney-offwidth. Above, I could see the headwall for the first time. A slice of golden granite, the only flaw a thin seam rising for hundreds of feet. This was what I was here for. But first, the chimney-offwidth. Every great Yosemite route has it’s grim wide-crack; Sunkist’s starts amiably enough as a secure squeeze chimney and I made steady upward progress. No protection unfortunately, none of my gear was wide enough to fit (3). The chimney gradually narrowed and I thought my number four Friend would work in the off-width section a little higher up. After some fifty feet, the crack tapered, forcing me out. It bulged awkwardly, the situation was becoming precarious and I was committed, fast loosing energy just trying to stay in contact with the rock. I stuffed a Friend far in the back of the chimney, it stayed in place but I could not tell if it offered any real security. The crack was narrowing all the time and in another two or three moves I would be able to reach the sanctuary of fist-jams and good protection. Only ten feet more to the belay. I had to find some way of feeding more rope through my clove-hitch self-belay system, but couldn’t free the rope with one hand. I placed another number four Friend as high as I could. It was near the limit of its range but looked like it should hold and I no other options. I clipped in and eased my weight onto it, focussing totally on the four cams. It held...

...but only for a moment. I watched two cams shift slightly. Then I was off. There was the subtlest tug on the rope as the other Friend pulled. I felt like I was observing the whole event from a distance, watching someone fall a long way; long enough to count the seconds it took. I saw myself bounce off the wall like a pebble skimmed on water. I hit the end of the rope with a crash of iron, cart-wheeled about, the horizon jerking violently. The rock slammed into my side. Then all was still. I hung motionless. My chest was a little painful but otherwise I seemed to be in one piece. I looked up to where I had fallen from. A bright red smear appeared on one of the lenses of my glasses, contrasting the blue sky. It was a long way back up to the belay, but I rigged Jumars without thinking and climbed. I unfurled the hammock and eased myself in carefully. Other bits of me were beginning to hurt now. I could feel a grating sensation from my ribs against the tight nylon of the hammock that was breathtakingly painful. My left ankle was beginning to feel tight inside its boot and I couldn’t move my left wrist or elbow.

I considered the options: go down or wait to be rescued. I decided to rest up and see how I felt the following day. A direct descent was out of the question as I would end up over the Heart roofs so I wanted to have a full day for any retreat. I was also a bit concerned about the blood from my head, thinking I might be concussed. A friend had died retreating from Shivling after being hit on the head, somehow he had become detached from the rope when nearly down. I wanted to wait a while and see how I felt.

Early the next day I set off and managed to make a long diagonal tension traverse and pendulum into Magic Mushroom. I knew I could get down from there. I fixed the rope, jumared back up and abandoned my tinned food, wedging it into the chimney (4) and cut loose my haulbag. I managed a straight-forward descent, hobbled to the road with a couple of rescue guys and checked into the medical centre.

(1) The NIAD was first and last route I ever did with Romain Volger. If anyone has any memories or pictures of Romain, I’d really like to hear from them.
(2) One of the advantages of owning very little big wall gear is that you are not tempted to take too much crap. Dr. Piton would probably not have approved! With hindsight, going up with only two #4 friends was just the wrong side of that fine line, but at the time I considered myself a bit of a wide crack stud (well, for a Brit anyhow). I thought I could climb out of nearly any trouble, an attitude waiting for an accident to happen. I was so lucky that I had a rope on when the inevitable occurred.
(3) In 1996, I borrowed a Yates Big Dude. I used it here, for one placement on the entire route. I felt it was well worth carrying.
(4) See ‘Climbing’ issue 136.


Trad climber
Provo, Ut
Oct 9, 2007 - 11:50pm PT
dude, sick.

Oct 10, 2007 - 12:10am PT
Great account, duncan. One of the best things I've read in a good while on ST or anywhere. Great effort on the climb. Cheers...
nick d

Trad climber
Oct 10, 2007 - 12:49am PT
Wow! Should have gotten knighted for that. Those Royals need to get their priorities straight. Topnotch plus!

Big Wall climber
South Side Billburg
Oct 10, 2007 - 12:26pm PT
For sure one the proudest stories around the taco these days!!

Thanks for the post Duncan!

Trad climber
Mountain View
Jan 18, 2011 - 07:38pm PT
Bump for Sunkist.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Jan 18, 2011 - 09:06pm PT
Kickass bump for Duncan.

photo not found
Missing photo ID#187029

Jan 19, 2011 - 12:23am PT
Sweet stuff!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jan 20, 2011 - 10:46pm PT
"Dr. Piton would probably not have approved!"

Well, Duncan, any fool can be uncomfortable. I somehow missed your epic descent previously - very well done! Cheers for the report, eh?

Trad climber
Living Outside the Statist Quo
Jul 4, 2013 - 11:28am PT

Great climbing tales by Duncan
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