PTPP is lost alone on ElCap


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'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jun 25, 2013 - 12:38pm PT
So I’m sitting here in my “office” at Curry Village, waiting on the frustratingly slow internet connection to come around, but I somehow managed to load all 74 responses to Carol’s post, and have been laughing my ass off as I read everything! But from your responses here on McTopo, I’ve figured out what was going on up there on the wall when I got lost – so huge thanks.

The bottom line is what George Leigh Mallory would have said had he been there with me. But he wasn’t. He’s dead. Some [w]Anker found him up on Everest. But what do I know? I’m just a Big Wall Parvenu.

Anyway …

It seemed like a good idea at the time, to climb the Waterfall Route. I’m kind of running out of routes to climb, and this is one I haven’t yet done. Maybe because it’s under a waterfall. But the forecast showed nothing but sunshine for the foreseeable future, so why knott? Dave Lee and Keenan Waeschle gave me a hand schlepping loads up to the base, and some kind bailers left me a dozen gallons of water at the base of NA Wall which we picked up along the way. Since I have retired from free climbing, Dave led the first couple pitches up the slippery rust-stained rock, and Keenan led the third and just a bit of the fourth. Dave’s dad even came along to join in the fun – rumour has it a few beers were involved.

Unfortunately Keenan had to w… He has a j….. [Sorry, those words are not part of my vocabulary] At any rate, he was unable to continue for the duration, so I was obliged to press on alone, in the company of only Wee-Wee the Big Wall Crab. We hauled my Junk Show up to 3 – me on top using my 2:1, while Keenan jugged as counterweight and nursed the piggage up the slabs and around various roofs and overhangs. Definitely the Better Way.

The bivi ledge at the top of 3 is superb – perhaps fifteen feet long and one to four feet wide, with a perfect flat spot at the right end six long by four wide. Here Keenan and I sat the first evening, drinking some beers and marvelling at how bitchin’ we were. Keenan rapped off, and there I stayed. The nearly-full moon appeared around the East Buttress, and life was good.

With Keenan departed back to the Real World, it was time to get out on the sharp end the next morning. Now “morning”, in Dr. Piton parlance, begins sometime around the double digits, and can linger almost until sunset, with any luck. It is rare for me to be on the move before noon. But move I was prepared to do, if I could simply remember how. You see, I’d been telling people how to solo big walls for years. Look at Mark Hugedong. We exchanged a few hundred emails over the winter, where I traded Dr. Piton tips for Hood River Coffee. Inspirational stuff like, “Shut up and climb,” and, “whatever you do, don’t bail.” The next spring, Mark soloed El Cap. How hard could it be? But I hadn’t actually soloed anything myself in quite some time, except for maybe the occasional short fixing bit. I had kind of forgotten how to do it.

First I had to re-rack my subracks [how could two free climbers completely bugger my perfect big wall aid racking system in only three pitches?!] and then figure out how the heck to solo. How does this Grigri thing work again? Was my anchor the climber, or the hand? And what’s with the fifi and the slippery overhand knot? Isn’t the trick to make sure that you don’t open the gate on the carabiner when you tie the slipknot backup? Maybe I’d better duct tape it shut, just to be safe. Pull it a few times, yeah, seems to work. Man, how do I manage all these rope bags? Frig, is this supposed to be fun? I guess we’ll see. And what was that other thing?


No, dammit – the other other thing. Oh yeah: “ALWAYS tie a backup knot.”

Right. Away we go.

One advantage of climbing with a Big Wall Crab is that he is probably the most patient belayer I have ever had. In fact, Wee-Wee has never uttered a single word of complaint. Unfortunately, he’s pretty useless at hauling. And believe me, you don’t want to leave him alone with any of your beers, because if you do, you’ll come back to find a bunch of empty cans and him wearing a Big Sh|t-Eating Grin.

Keenan had wisely chosen to quit climbing a short distance up the fourth pitch, rated as 5.9 in the Reid topo but not really viable as a free climb, unless you are substantially more testicularly endowed than me. There is no clean pro, and I had to nail a bunch of peckers. My jitters subsided once I got going, and I actually got up the pitch – yay. The bivi at 4 is pretty good, a decent stance with one new bolt and three old ones. I hauled kit to there, and looked up at 5.

From 5, I nailed up and left, working carefully around a detached column to a fixed lower-out pin – a rusty half-inch angle – with a piece of sunbleached tat which had definitely seen better days. From there, it was a long penji down and left to another pecker crack. So far so good. I continued nailing and camming up past a little ledge, then up a more moderate corner to a ledge on the left. There was a huge zed in the rope – I was glad I was soloing otherwise the rope drag would have been horrific.

From my little ledge, the topo shows moving left here, but it said on hooks. Yet here I was standing on a ledge – rather comfortably I might add – with no hooks required. To this point, I had found the occasional pinscar and I seemed to be on route. So I stuck some cams in the crack up high, and then tension-walked left along the ledge for a bit – no hooking – then I continued fr… I mean, I wasn’t using aiders, I was moving with my feet actually standing on rock with my hands for balance. What kind of climbing do they call it? Fr…. Sorry. That word is not part my vocabulary, either.

Just as it was getting dark, I reached what I thought should be the fifth belay ledge. Certainly, it was a large ledge out and left, and matched the topo. Alik had told me that each belay has one good bolt – which had been the case thus far – but here no bolts were in evidence.
What the ….?!

This made no sense. I was where I was supposed to be according to the topo – the ledge out and left – but where was my route? The sixth pitch was shown to be a straight-up A3 dihedral. Yet above me was nothing but white and grey rock, and it waren’t no A3, mate, that’s for damn sure. I suppose it might have been possible to construct a natural anchor here on the ledge – at least in theory - but where was the one good bolt Alik had promised? Was I off route? Maybe I shouldn’t have made that left turn at Albuquerque?

Whatever. It was evening, and time to imbibe. Nothing to do but simply tag up my gear piglet with the end of my rap line attached, and rap back down to camp. Except … the piglet got stuck. Of course. Stuck piggage is not Big Wall Theory, it is Big Wall Fact. Frig. And since I had traversed so far to the left to easily rap the lead rope, I was forced to rap down to the piglet, free him, jug back up, fix my rap rope, and then boogy on back to camp.

Over a Gatorita – complete with lime and a salt-rimmed glass – I considered my situation. It was getting dark when I was looking around from the big ledge on the left, so maybe I overlooked something? Or maybe the way on was straight up and right? Above the little ledge I had rapped from – which I was pretty sure was on route – there are two ways on. The ledge to the left with the white rock above, or up and right towards another ledge, above which appeared to be a straight-in dihedral. But the crack was completely choked with grass, and looked pretty grim. This had to be the way, surely.

Voice of Leslie Neilson: “Maybe it is. But don’t call me ‘Shirley’.”

The next morning dawned bright, the sun illuminating the Wall of Early Morning Light. Accordingly, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Some hours later, I eventually got up, made some coffee, and had Little Debbie cupcakes and Entemann’s donuts. Bulking up for the wall, don’t you know.

Right. Time to head back up to the high point. Start with the big lower-out, then jug back up. Clean a few peckers and screamers along the way, get back to the little ledge with my piglet. Yup – the way on has gotta be up and right. There’s a big ledge up there, obviously I stopped too soon. So up and right I went, but where were the pinscars? This place didn’t look very well travelled, if at all. I stuck a few big cams behind a big flake on the left, and then looked up to the ledge – Eureka! The bolt!

Except it wasn’t the shiny new stainless steel 3/8-incher that Alik had promised. It was a rusty old quarter-incher, with nothing else to back it up. Even a psycho like Eric Kohl wouldn’t have considered this a belay. Or would he? I wouldn’t put it past a crab-napper like him. Maybe I had come to the wrong end of the ledge? I walked across the ledge to the right – a good fifty or sixty feet – and it is actually a superb bivi ledge. You’d have to clear off all the rubble, but what a cool place. But still, no bolts! No way! They have to be here!

I walked back to the bolt, and here I am staring at the damn thing, wondering how I messed up.

Standing akimbo: “You have got to be kidding, dude…”

Convinced I had missed something, I went back across the ledge not once but twice more, but alas, there was no belay here. I was, in a word, flummoxed.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I grabbed my cell phone and called a certain Thelonius Fan – a non-climber but tenacious cyber-sleuth. If there were an answer, she would find it.

“I need you to contact Tom Evans, have him look through his scope, and tell me which way Waterfall Route goes! Maybe he can spot the belay anchors for the next pitch, and tell me if I’m supposed to be up and right on this big ledge with the single old bolt, or if it really is down and left on the other ledge with no bolts. Better yet – make a post on McTopo, with some dramatic-sounding title. You know what Oscar Wilde would have said. If he weren’t dead. “ Tom doesn’t have a cell phone, nor a radio, but I figured he could get a touron on the bridge to text me the answer.

So with no other recourse, I had to get back down. I found a rather clever way to descend from this ledge. I took my tag line, doubled it through a crab on the rusty quarter-incher, then tied one end to me and put the other through a munter hitch. Then I lowered myself down with one hand, while pulling in the slack through the Grigri on my lead rope with my other hand, and cleaned the pitch one-handed. If the bolt blew, I was still belayed on my gear that I had placed on the way up. Get it?

Once I got back to some good gear, I equalized a couple pieces, and once again swung-penji’d left to look at the other ledge. This had to be the place! I was running out of options.

Once back on the ledge down and left – again – I confirmed what I had found in the failing light the night before: there was no bolt. And in the daylight, it looked pretty scary. Directly above and right – between the two ledges – were enormous Dangling Dans, huge flakes of rock twenty or thirty feet wide, secured to the wall with little more than a dab of glue. It looked as if you sneezed too loudly, they would come crashing down on you. Not good. You could see behind these things, and it was inconceivable that anyone could have or would have climbed them. Not even Klaus.

To the left of this house of cards, and directly above me, the rock is grey and white. All of the other rock in the area looks black, but it’s not the rock – rather it is coated with dry lichen that has turned black. This lichen grows profusely on all the rock in the area thanks to the water that drenches the joint when Horsetail Falls is running. But why is the rock above me not black with lichen? There is no roof to block the falling water.

Then suddenly it hit me: the route must have fallen off! There was no other reasonable explanation. I remembered reading Ammon and Kait’s trip report when they had climbed Bad Seed, and they had witnessed a huge rockfall in the Waterfall Route area. Maybe this was the place!

So I got back on the phone, and offered the rockfall suggestion, which Carol added to the post. Tom’s response was incredibly helpful:

“The topo shows straight up and there is a corner that goes straight up right above him... I would think that after 49 ElCap routes a guy could see the line. The rockfall didn't alter that route.”


Once again out of ideas, I rapped back to camp. This section of wall was becoming far too familiar. I had just busted open the first beer, and was eyeballing my bottle of Chardonnay. Generally speaking, I believe that the use of alcohol on a big wall – except in the case of emergency – should be strongly discouraged. However, emergencies do occur from time to time, and it’s best to be prepared. And if this didn’t qualify as an emergency, I don’t know what does.

Meanwhile, Tom was busy examining the high-res photos he had taken of me in the area that afternoon. What wasn’t obvious through the telescope became apparent on the computer screen. He modified his smart-assed post and wrote,


About the same time, Cragman was posting ominous photos like this one:

and writing,
“Only place to go right DOWN. Major weather on the way.....either rap, or possibly get washed off! PTPP = Pass the Plastic Pants”
Only minutes later, Kate was on my cell phone:

“Dude, you need to get down. Now. There’s a freak storm headed your way – they’re calling it the Pineapple Express. And here’s what Tom wrote….”
I don’t know what a Pineapple Express means, but it didn’t sound good.
“Are you kidding me?” I responded. “I have to go back up to my high point – AGAIN – to grab my ropes so I can get down?”

What choice did I have? I didn’t think it prudent to be on a climb called the Waterfall Route when a gigantic storm was about to hit. I imagined my obituary:

“Man dies on big wall.”

“What was the name of the climb?”

“The Waterfall Route.”

“How did he die?”

“He drowned.”


So I jugged back up, grabbed my tag line and my rap rope, fixed a single rope down, then rapped back to camp to gather the basics. I wasn’t about to bring everything down right away, and I had calculated that if I joined all my ropes together I would have just enough to reach the ground. So before bailing, I joined all the ropes together, stacked them in rope bags in the correct order, and cast off “caver style” with the rope bags clipped to my harness. I wasn’t about to toss down four hundred feet of rope and hope for the best. It worked, but not without incident - try crossing a knot in free space with sixty pounds of crap. Twice.

But I was down. Yay. I guess I’ll go back up for my gear when the rain stops. Which hasn’t amounted to much, incidentally. If I had been anywhere else on the Captain except under Horsetail Falls, I would have stayed up there. I would have been plenty happy to enjoy a few storm days, reading my books and consuming my copious supplies. Having hauled everything up there, it seemed a pity to bail. But I kept thinking about my obit.

Yesterday morning when I got to the bridge, I made Tom a Gatorita. Then I had a look at the Clay Wadman poster, and the Reid guide. The ledge up and right is part of Klaus’ route Get Whacked, but the single bolt is not his belay, which is higher up the grassy corner. The Get Whacked topo in the Reid guidebook doesn’t show a bolt here, so maybe someone else got lost here and rapped off? An hour later, Ottawa Doug came by after having just completed his solo of South Seas, in the rather zippy time of only nine days. It seemed like another emergency to me.

But last night when I finally read this post, I laughed out loud! Thanks so much to everyone for your responses which were greatly appreciated. Thanks especially to Carol for making this post, Tom for examining his photos, and to Ammon for his research, and for posting this excellent photo of the rockfall area by Greg Stock:

The little ledge where my piglet currently resides is at 4:30 in the circle. The big ledge up and right with the single rusty quarter-inch bolt is around two o’clock, but is hard to see in the photo. The best way to recognize it is to look at the white “flag” of rock which you can see below and right of me when I’m staring at the bolt, and which you see at around two o’clock.

But most telling is this: The ledge that used to be the fifth belay anchor of Waterfall Route is at six o’clock in the circle. You can see the “before” photo on the left, and the “after” photo – which is how it looks today – on the right. No doot aboot it – the entire sixth pitch has fallen off.

But I know where it is – it’s lying on the ground at the base of the wall.

So if George Leigh Mallory had been climbing with me, and you had asked him why we bailed, he would have answered:

“Because it’s not there.”

Jun 25, 2013 - 01:06pm PT
Climb 2 Ski bagging on Klaus now thats some funny sh#t right there.

Please post your resume Climb 2 Ski and we will compare it to that lame-o Klaus's.

I have fifty bucks says you never topped out on El Cap.

Ian Jewell

Jun 25, 2013 - 01:39pm PT
pete, are you still fixed to your high point ?
Big Mike

Trad climber
Jun 25, 2013 - 02:11pm PT
Too funny Pete.. Thanks for the update ;)

Trad climber
Nevada City
Jun 25, 2013 - 02:48pm PT

State of Mine
Jun 25, 2013 - 02:50pm PT
excellent post pete.

Big Wall climber
Ashland, Or
Jun 25, 2013 - 02:52pm PT
go get some freshiez...;)

Big Wall climber
Jun 25, 2013 - 03:51pm PT
There was definitely not a good bolt at every belay when we did this route in '08. Not sure why pete is quoting me as saying this...

Fun route when we did it. Maybe there's some new rock to be climbed now!

Big Wall climber
Reno, Nevada
Jun 25, 2013 - 04:21pm PT
That's what I thought, Alik. You and I climbed it the same year, so I figured you guys must have beefed up the belay's... but couldn't remember if you climbed it before, or after us.

In the video link above, I think the top of pitch 5 is at :40.

At 1:04, it shows a belay above (I think the 6th) with one 1/4" and natural gear. I'm even commenting about "crappy pieces".

The Waterfall route is pretty obscure and doesn't get done that much. You also have to keep in mind that grass/vegetation grows FAST in the cracks with all the water it's being fed.

I think Pete was in denial and was actually at the 5th pitch, at the "unsafe bolt". You really have to be creative with some of those belays.

I guess time will tell.

Social climber
joshua tree
Jun 25, 2013 - 04:38pm PT
Thanks for the words,Pete!! We thoroughly enjoyed them from our end of the rope(we gotcha on spiritual belay) down here in 106 deg. JTree. Sipp'in a Tecate. Cheers!!
We're waiting for the Sun to sink, and 90's deg.
then we'll go bouldering in the "backyard".

Are you go'in back up? What's that "Freshy" pitch look like?
Will it go? Huh Huh? FA?



Trad climber
June Lake, California....via the Damascus Road
Jun 25, 2013 - 05:29pm PT
Pete, Might I suggest, rather than doing some POS route, go back and do one you've done before...but ALL CLEAN!

Up the ante,'ll be an all new experience!

Your books are overdue, wanker!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jun 25, 2013 - 05:57pm PT
Thanks for your input everyone. And Alik, I'm sorry about the misquote. I'm not sure where I got that idea from. Thanks for the text message, too.

Ammon, the rusty quarter-incher is at a ledge that is on Get Whacked, but is not a belay. So I don't know who drilled it, but it probably wasn't the first ascensionist. Your Greg Stock 'before' and 'after' photo is crystal clear - the fifth belay anchor, and the pitch above, are gonzo.

And your rockfall video is damned impressive - too bad you can't see exactly where it's coming from! It's an even bigger rockfall than the one in the video I have of the first two pitches of Gulf Stream falling off. I posted it up, but Kate asked me to take it down. She had just been up on that section of rock only a couple weeks before, and her language was rather "colourful".

Cheers, eh?

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Jun 25, 2013 - 06:30pm PT
Nice report Pete - but you left out the other call you got from Vegas telling you to get the frak off that wall! :p

Granted, Kate has a hell of a lot more pull then I do but still :p

Glad you made the right call.

Big Wall climber
Reno, Nevada
Jun 25, 2013 - 06:47pm PT
Right on, Pete. I guess you would know more than anyone because I don't think anyone has been up there since the rockfall. Like I said... time will tell.

'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jun 25, 2013 - 06:55pm PT
Travis - geeez, sorry man. Frig. Duh.

Ammon - I was down on the bridge today, and was looking up there. The rockfall zone is actually much MUCH bigger than I imagined.

Have a look at your Greg Stock photo again. You see the pyramid with the white tip, right? Look on the right photo of the two:

Between 5 and 5:30 on the ellipse there is a dark pillar visible. The right hand side of that pillar, which is a right-facing corner, is where the 5th belay used to be. I assumed that this right-facing corner was the leftmost = westernmost part of the rockfall.

Knott so!

On the left side of the pillar, there is an even wider spot! And you can't even see that from the wall, because the pillar is in the way. I only noticed it when I was down on the bridge today. It's harder to tell in the black and white photo, too, than it is in real live colour.

But it was one big-ass rock fall. Maybe a hundred feet wide, and two hundred feet tall? Maybe even bigger.

Have you done Get Whacked yet?? It probably has a "lovely" independent start up the slippery red streak. Maybe you climbed some of that stuff? Man, it's like someone took a jar of Vaseline and dumped it on the slab!

And oh yeah, there is some delightful FA opportunities in this "fresh" rock! And if that's the sort of endeavour you enjoy, may I suggest you put back up the first three pitches of A.O. Wall, and the first two pitches of Gulf Stream? {wink}

Oh yeah - big ass rescue off the Leaning Tower today. Buddy took a whipper on the first pitch of Wet Denim Daydream and crashed into Ahwahnee Ledge, busting up his femur or pelvis or lower back. They helicoptered him off into the Meadows.

So I said to Tom, "So much for your 'last ElCap Report of the season', eh?" Watch for it tonight. No doubt he is busy typing and photoshopping right now.

Big Wall climber
Reno, Nevada
Jun 25, 2013 - 07:20pm PT
Have you done Get Whacked yet??

Yes, McCray and I did it in just under 13 hours in 2001. I've done most of the established routes in that area.

Yeah, I didn't know if it was the lighting, or what, in the GStock's photo. It does appear that entire tower fell off when Kait and I were on Bad Seed. Skiy and Andy were on Bad to the Bone and even closer, that's who we were yelling to see if they were ok, in the video.

The scary part was I was down in that gully less than an hour before jugging the fixed line... doing my business.

Wouldn't have that been a rough way to go?

"OH SH#T"... while taking one, ha ha.

Hope the guy on WDD is ok.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jun 25, 2013 - 07:28pm PT
Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!! Remember that scene in Jurassic Park - where the tyrannosaurus bit the guy's head off while he was having a dump?

And now for the ElCap Report:

"In today's news, a man did not bury his dump at the base. Instead, he was buried whilst taking a dump."

OK, so .....

Tell us all....

How do you climb a route as hard as Get Whacked in only 13 hours? What are your tips and tricks? It can't have anything to do with bounce-testing or anything testing! What do you do - just write off your life ahead of time so you don't really have anything to lose?

And what about the concept of "fear"? You seem either immune, or crazy. And I don't think you're as crazy as you look! {wink}

And as a for instance, take that dihedral. Please. The one full of grass? I've climbed some grassy-ass cracks, the all-time worst being Pacemaker. It takes a huge amount of time to mine out a placement. How can you do it in only 13 hours??

And furthermore:

Today is my 31st Un-Anniversary! What a way to celebrate. 1 El Cap route before. Then my Post-Divorce Renaissance began, and 48 El Cap routes afterwards.

Take my wife. Please.

P.S. What on earth did I do getting married on the opening weekend of bass fishing season?? Listen, you Young Bulls - if you are ever stupid enough to get married, don't do as I do, do as I say. Choose a date so that when your anniversary occurs, it doesn't interfere with anything important like opening day or wall climbing season or whatever.

And choose a girl with a similar birthday. Forget those internet searches for eye colour or bra size or whatever - choose her based on when her birthday is. Or more important, isn't.

Big Wall climber
Reno, Nevada
Jun 25, 2013 - 07:58pm PT
How do you climb a route as hard as Get Whacked in only 13 hours?

Don't bring the kitchen sink, short fix... and throw caution to the wind.


Mountain climber
The Deep Woods
Jun 25, 2013 - 08:56pm PT
And choose a girl with a similar birthday. Forget those internet searches for eye colour or bra size or whatever - choose her based on when her birthday is. Or more important, isn't.

Does 1997 ring a bell

Trad climber
Reno, NV
Jun 27, 2013 - 01:57pm PT
Pete, Might I suggest, rather than doing some POS route, go back and do one you've done before...but ALL CLEAN!

Up the ante,'ll be an all new experience!

Clean gear would indicate a desire to free climb - NOT HAPPENING
Sheesh! Pitch a Day Pete doesn't even own a chalkbag.
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