It loving memory of my friend, mentor and bad-ass human, Walt Shipley.
This story is for supertopo; any reproduction in any mag will be a violation of the Che Guevara power to the common people act.
I'll write as much as I can when I can, that's all I can do. The whole climb was an idea of Walt's, (Walt Shipley) he - in a mad bender - soloed the South Face Harding route, and in the process saw the line that would become Southern Belle.
He recruited, the boldest slab climber ever to grace planet earth to join him. Dave (Iron Monkey) Shultz. Dave had skipped bolts on the Bacher Yerian on-sight, and on a regular basis soloed 10 plus slabs in bare feet, up and down.
In a four - five day, ground up, big wall style push, the two climbed the Southern Belle, they tried to run it out as far as they could taking advantage of the plentiful and giant stances, all over the South Face. Years later, others would claim there are no stances; that is pure BS and an out right fabrication of the truth.
Walt and Dave both thought the line would go free, but Walt felt he lacked the free climbing skills to pull off the hard sections. Dave decided to fly to Boulder, Colorado and asked me to join him the following spring to free the thing, an offer I could not even consider turning down.
Between myself and Dave, we had climb almost every scary climb we could think of and wanted to do something beyond, something that would in the long run prove that the media darlings of the time, where not the only ones doing scary stuff.
Dave and I loved the idea of adventure and the beauty of the South Face-alone- above our own glory was really behind the idea of free climbing it; the magic dome truly seemed to be the greatest thing we could do with all the skills we had manage to muster.
It was a hundred degrees in the Valley, the day we hike to the base, sporting 100 pound packs and two girlfriends carrying their share. The girls-sun themselves as Dave and I thrashed up the first few pitches of the arch. I boulder out the first aid section and Dave had a go at the third pitch ( long OW to finger crack) falling short, pulling the rope and trying myself, I failed one move from the top.
We bailed and return the following weekend and stayed for four days, climbing the crack and launching onto the face proper only to be stop again at the crux 12d slab. The climbing to this point had been fairly safe and the quality- out of this world, we where adrift on a massive featured face. Dave manage to red point the crux slab and the 12a death-slab crack above. I lead the next pitch through some dam scary sections, I remember climbing one crack and then pimping to the next as the sun started to set.
The following weekend we climbed what remain of the aid climbing, except high on the upper pitches were - laid in wait for us, two more sections of aid.
I cried out in fear as we Jumared up our fixed lines and faced what Walt had named the Cuntress, a fine etch seam of tips lay backing and the rare bomber stopper. The Iron Monkey just dropped in stopper after stopper and floated the seam for a hundred and fifty feet of what must have been one of the best pitches on earth. I followed more marveling at the beauty of the climbing and location. It is like being in a golden desert surrounded by beautiful golden earth worms disturbing the surface in their sub-terrianing wanderings. Joining the smiling Iron Monkey at the belay, he said how hard do you think it was. "11b," I said, although I knew it was way harder.
It fact, Croft wanted to punch me after he failed on the pitch years later; for my sand bag. But, for the life of me it seemed just like a beautiful experience to climb. Then we ran out of fixing rope and decide to rap back down to camp for the night and rest the following day. I spent the day laying on my back looking up at the summit, the birds and the blazing hot sun and thought to myself, this could be my last day on the planet.
Dave assured me the following pitch, the one Hank would get off route on and break his leg was the most scary of his life. Walt had told the story of how Dave on that pitch, looking at a death fall from 12a moves, was calling out,"watch me, I could come off here." Walt said that he could only laugh, because the only thing he could do was watch him die.
I couldn't sleep, many aid section lay above, possible death and to make things worse I had lost my glasses. But I would wake, try or fall and die, there was no bail in my brain at that time. Dave just snored away and I was getting so pissed at him, that I threw a rock to wake him up, "What's wrong Coz." "I'm gonna die tomorrow and all you can do is sleep." "You can sleep too, just relax, you'll be fine, it's not up to us what happens." And with that he started to snore again as I toss and turned and dreaded the raising of the sun.
At first light we busted up our tattered lines, and drop them, committing to the summit. Traversing out a long dike I got to a blown out section with no bolt, f*#kers! I thought to myself as I balanced to the next section of dike. I threw in some bad gear and punch it up 40 feet of glass 5.11 to a big ledge with a bolt. The first in a 130 feet! A few easy moves, another ledge and another bolt and the wall steepen above me. Bouldering up twenty feet, now looking at a very bad fall... back down onto the serpent like dikes, mantling on a small ledge to my horror no bolt greeted me.
I was in a trance and committed to the 12a/b moves above, unsure of the next move, I felt like I was in another world, no thoughts, no fear, just pure survival, having been willing to fall and die I had no second thoughts, with a final slap I reached what I thought would be a good hold and wasn't, another three feet of hell finally got me gripping a large ledge and the belay. A changed man, and surely one of the only humans willing to do that section.
Little did I know the real amazing climbing lay above. Shultzy took off and flew up an easy but run out pitch that put us in the pot holes. Just huge scooped out holes of rock. Galen Rowel, said on the first ascent of the South Face that, a door would open, we'd walk inside and the key to all knowledge would be printed on the walls. But all I found was the crazed Iron Monkey with an old sling tied around a horn of diorite, that he called a belay.
I knew this was the second to last aid section left on the wall. Shultz and Walt both thought my size would help. Climbing up the outside of the first pot hole I reach up on to the blank vertical wall and found a small hole about 12 inch in diameter, pulled up, mantle, reach as high as I could and found another hole the same size. I repeated the mantle and looked in depression as the four feet to the next golden dike was overhanging and blank. I dime edged out of the hole, searched for an edge and to my complete shock found a four finger crimp. I pasted my feet high and threw a four foot dyno just grabbing the dike, mantling and walking the the top of the dike to the bivy ledge on the South Face route. I couldn't believe our luck and the beauty of the line, so impossible and improbable that if just a single feature where missing it would never go free.
I was near blind from the sun as Dave took over for the final aid section, a desperate slab in the horrible blinding heat, he fell off three times and we stop and ate our remaining food. I could almost not open my eyes, but Dave tried again this time nailing the crux and the 90' run out to a 11a mantle, the rock above the mantle turns to an overhanging dike, the rock by magic had large in cut jugs and you really couldn't believe the feeling of climbing through blank rock on overhanging jugs two thousand feet off the deck.
Walt's pitch at 11c was next and my nerves, eyes and mind had had it, I surge through not thinking or caring like a well oil robot just wanting off, 30 feet above my last bolt just cupping slopers and hoping for the best, I fell into the trance again and before I knew it the belay was in front of me.
I'd had it, my nerves where shoot and I couldn't open my eyes, Dave led the last two pitch that had one bolt for pro the last being 10c and has no gear, Leo Holding, years later, would lead this pitch with a rattled Dean Potter, and call it a life changing experience. The Iron Monkey just Laugh and joked and made it look easy.
I followed and soon found my friend at the summit, we knew we had done something amazing, something special. Walking down the outside of the cables with the amazed tourists watching, I remembered an old, overweight guy looking at me and saying,"you two are crazy," I look into his eyes and said," no my friend you are crazy."
We talk and dream of going back but never did and the years past and people tried to repeat the climb, we thought of bolting it to make it safe but when Walt died, we decided to leave it. We where very proud of our climb and thought that the next generation would certainly complete the many other possible (easy to see) lines on the face. We'd never imagine that in the future the boldest climbers would barely repeat the thing.
I remember being with my old friend soloing in Malibu Creek when we heard some guys had rap bolted a line next to ours and claim you couldn't do it on stance, I think I saw the Iron Monkey almost cry at the news,"It's just bullshit Coz," was all he managed." I said, "aw well, f*#k those guys," and my friend agreed.
Anyway, brief story hope u folks like it. Just my musing, if it means something to you then it means something. It's my hope you'll raise to the level of the past instead of beating it down with a heavy hand.