Well overdue and much procrastinated South Seas T.R.


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Big Wall climber
Blue Jay, California
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 3, 2007 - 01:24am PT
The South Seas[b/]

PING! The sudden rush of wind, the flash of smeared granite, all encompassed in a mere moment of weightlessness. Then, an uncomfortable jerk! “What had happened,” I asked myself. This was no ordinary fall. I felt absolutely no dynamic stretch in my rope. Maybe this was one of those factor-two falls that I had heard stories of. But I always thought they were just “sea stories,” that old salty climbers babbled on about. Well, what better place for me to experience this “story,” than high on the sea? The South Seas!

I stood in the El Cap Meadow, early on a spring morning, getting a pep talk from my friend and mentor. “You’re going to get up there, and things are going to start to feel like they are going slow. Too slow. You’re going to start trying to do math, and figure out how long it’s going to take you to climb at your current speed. All kinds of things are going to go through your mind. Will I have enough food? More importantly, will I have enough water? Once you do this, ‘wall math,’ you are going to want to bail… DON’T! The higher you get, the more dialed in your technique will get, and the faster you will climb. Also, the higher you go, the lighter your pig will get. You’re going to send bro! Ooooahhh! The monkeys always send!” At this point I was stoked, and nothing could stop me now. Nothing!

We both gazed up at the proud El Capitan. Even though he had made some 50 odd accents of this bodacious stone, and this would be only my first, we both had that same sparkle in our bloodshot eyes when we looked up at this massive granite monolith.

The first move on the route was difficult. “Damn Kristoffer,” I thought to myself. “You just may have gotten yourself in over your head this time. South Seas, as your first route up the Capitan, what were you thinking?”

After the first few moves, I swung into the rhythm, and didn’t have any problems. However, I did find an old bolt hole, or maybe it was an over sized bat hook, to be pretty scary. The legs of my hook were at least a ¼ inch from the rock, and just kind of rotating back and forth. All I could imagine, was that little hook sliding out, and then I would be riding the big one, right to the deck.

There I was, getting ready to climb the third pitch. I had spoken with “Peeping” Tom Evans down at the bridge a few days prior, and he told me that they called this pitch, “The Sidewalk.” Apparently you could just stand up and walk right up this pitch like a sidewalk. Now that I think back, I am almost willing to bet that Tom just told me that so he could capture pictures of me whipping off. To bad I didn’t though. It would have made for a cool photo!

The next pitch after “The Sidewalk,” I reached for a copperhead, only to have it fall out as soon as I clipped my aider to it. No bounce test was needed to find out that it was JUNK! I found no need to replace the head. Instead, I just got high in the steps of my aider, and reached for the second head.

Soon, I reached the so called, “A4 Expand-o-pitch.” At the time, I was pretty nervous about the pitch that lay ahead of me. After all, I pretty much had slim wall experience under my belt, and I had read in several other South Seas trip reports, that this pitch was scary. I climbed the first ¼ with no problems at all. It was a lot of fixed heads, and a rivet or two. Before I knew it, I was at the traversing, expanding flake. I pounded in a lost arrow to try and open up the crack as much as I could. Then I proceeded to leap frog inverted cam hooks, 20 or so feet, where I then placed another lost arrow. The crack looked like it could have eaten black/blue aliens up. Unfortunately, I only had one of each. So I was just saving them for absolute desperation. So I just kept using the inverted cam hook method, and before I realized it, I was clipping a bolt at the end of the pitch with both my blue and black alien still on my rack. Ha! What kind of B.S. is that?

Cleaning the pitch turned out being more sketchy than leading it. In my mind, the lead on that pitch was straightforward, and probably new wave A2+ or A3. I certainly got huge air under me when I was climbing. If I had fallen, it would have been straight into space, clean and cool. To clean the pitch, I deucéd a lot off of cam/edge hooks and an occasional fixed head.

The next several pitches were quite uneventful. I reached the rubber band man pendulum, and I was a bit skeptical about how it was going to go. But I sent it on the first try, catching a feature with a talon hook.

Half way up pitch 9, there is a bolt, before coming to some fixed heads, and an occasional pin or beak. The bolt was right above a tiny, sharp, ledge that protruded from the overhanging wall, about 2 feet. And the crack above it was leaking water, and oozing with moss and sludge. I had then been up on the wall for several days, and I had been moving pretty slow, I thought.

I started to do the “wall math,” that Ammon had warned me about. My calculations were telling me that I was going to run out of water! I had brought 12 days worth of water, based on what other people told me it took them to solo the route. To tell the truth, I was fairly worried about my predicament. All three of these guys that I had spoken with, that had soloed this route, were big wall veterans, and a sh#t-ton better climbers than I was.

So there I was, slurping water out of a crack in the wall, looking like an absolute mad man, trying to conserve my water supply. A good 20 feet, or so, above this bolt, I clipped a #2 copper-head that was soaking wet. I tested it a time or two, and then committed. I got high in my steps and began to place a beak, when POP! PING! POP! I whizzed by a sharp ledge, missing by mere inches. Then bounce and swing! “WOO,” and, “OOAaaHH,” I yelled, pumped as hell! That was the first whip of the route and I was stoked. I immediately ascended back to my high point, motivated now to send this pitch. I placed a small beak where that copper-head used to be pasted, and once again I got high in my aiders, and POP! PING! Falling, etc… This time, the lost arrow before the bolt, stopped my fall. Like they say, the third time is a charm. Meanwhile, I could hear some of the Monkeys over on Native Son, wailing up it at super sonic speeds. Occasionally, we would holler a monkey call back and forth, and B.S. on our radio.

That night I heard the Monkeys making commotion. I guess they got a line stuck or something. I went back to sleep, only to hear, every once in a while, Ivo’s heavy Bulgarian accent yelling something. That dude is something else! I would have been screwed if he hadn’t let me barrow his “bombproof Bulgarian pulley,” for my hauling system. Bombproof dude!

A day or so later, I had merged onto the Pacific Ocean wall, and was on pitch 15, intending on linking it with 16. I climbed to the anchor of 15, that was located under a giant roof, and nestled into a large “pocket,” hidden from the exposure of 2,000 or so feet of thin air that laid below it. I clipped the anchor, only as protection, and traversed out and left. Suddenly, complete exposure. It was incredible. My feet just hung there in space, while I reached for the next gear placement. Soon I was clipping old heads one after another, with an old rivet here and there. Too bad I had used up a lot of my slings, bineers, and draws on the lower pitch. I was running low, so I clipped the rivets for protection, and used the heads for forward progress only. There were times where I would clip ten plus heads in a row before I would get to a rivet that I could use as protection. By the end of the pitch, I was completely out of draws and extra bineers. I built my anchor with two lockers and a few racking bineers. I had, somehow, unclipped, and dropped my wall-hauler while I was climbing. So I had to rig that haul station along with the rest of the hauls with two ascenders, and some other crafty stuff. It was slightly slower but not much.

When I think back, if one of those heads that I had clipped, would have blown, it would have been one hell of a ride. Sometimes, I tempt luck too much.

The next pitch, I had a mission to accomplish. One of the bros that had soloed the route before I did got gripped and placed a rivet. My mission was to climb the pitch with out using the rivet. And then, if I succeeded climbing it, without use of the rivet, I would remove it.

I was able to place a fairly good cam hook to the left of, and a few inches below the rivet, and bypass it completely. Mid-pitch, I ran into a lot of old, rusty, fixed RURPS. One in particular, that I tested, snapped in half! The placement was shot. I half-ass placed a small head, which ended up being the only head I placed on the entire route, and continued on without further incidents.

Cleaning time! I worked on removing the chicken rivet for a good 30 - 45 minutes, smashing my fingers with my hammer several times in the process. Somewhere during the process of removal, I dropped my head pasting chisel into the oblivion below. The rivet was half out, and I no longer had anything to work on removing it with. So I pasted it flat against the rock with my hammer. Looking back at the event, maybe that wasn’t the best of style or choice. But I tried my hardest to remove it. When I finally got to the place on that pitch where I had pasted that copperhead, the sucker fell out as soon as the direction of the rope changed.

Everybody kept telling me, before I got up on the South Seas/ P.O. wall, how cool the “Bering Straights” was and that “it’s a fun pitch.” I don’t remember anything special about that pitch except having to poop badly! The anchor seemed like it was not getting any closer, and oh’ boy did I have to go!

I reached the “Island in the Sky” midday. The “Island in the Sky” is the first, and pretty much the only ledge South Seas/P.O. wall has to offer. However it is a DELUXE ledge! I decided to spend the rest of the day there just relaxing. Come the next morning, I inventoried my provisions. “Ha!” Well I’ll be damned, Ammon was right, as usual! I would have more than enough food and water. That “wall-math” I did was bullshit! I drank water off of cliff sludge for nothing! So I decided, heck, I’m going to just stay on the Island in the Sky for one more day. I spent the day just lounging around and when I finally got restless, I roped up, and free climbed the black tower pitch. Yeah, that 5.8R felt sandbagged, but the 5.9OW wasn’t bad. Half way up the pitch I realized that I was shirtless and was not wearing my helmet.

The topo for the next pitch said it was crammed full of “poor dowels.” I didn’t think they were that bad at all. Except for one bolt. There was one bolt, high on the pitch, which had a broken hanger. When you put weight on it, it would open up about a half inch. Now that was a “poor bolt.”

“The Illusion Chain!” (In my opinion, the crux of the route). I was told that this pitch used to have straightforward solid hooking, directly off of the belay, over to the expanding flake. But the large edge that was once used for hooking, sheared off, and a #1 head was placed above it for a pendulum, used to bypass this now “blank section.”

All three of the guys I had spoken with, told me they used this head to penji over to the flake. So I climbed up to it without thinking twice. Briefly tested it. Weighted it. Then lowered off to prepare for my penji. I swung back and forth, planting my feet on the wall for traction, running and pumping, until I created enough momentum to reach the next feature. With a hook in hand I reached at the apex of the penji… PING! The sudden rush of wind, the flash of smeared granite, all encompassed in a mere moment of weightlessness. Then, an uncomfortable jerk! “What had happened,” I ask myself. This was no ordinary fall. I felt absolutely no dynamic stretch in my rope. Holy shit! I had just taken a factor two fall, or maybe even worse. When I fell, all of the rope’s stretch had already been taken out, and I fell directly onto the belay. My back hurt, and I was jarred!

I ascended back to my anchor, and looked where the #1 head was once placed, only to see that the placement was gone. I tried to place a tipped-out-beak. Nothing was going to stick there except a damn rivet. Thank God I didn’t have a drill! This was by far the hardest part of the wall for me. I hung there for a good half hour, in absolute defeat. I looked around and thought about what I could do. I wanted to bail, but that was impossible. I could see the old sheered off hook placements that had once led over to the flake. All that was left of them was a discoloration in the rock where they once were. A few moments after that, I saw a tiny flake about the thickness of a fingernail, with a fracture running through it. It was about one foot beyond my reach, so I began messing around with awkward body positions, attempting to reach it. I ended up getting in a perfectly horizontal position by pushing on my aiders, with my feet, as hard as I could and I managed to catch the edge with my talon hook. I feared that it would just shale right off as soon as I touched it, but it held. I was able to slowly swing myself back into a vertical position, and weight this edge, while my hook made all sorts of SCARY noises. This was some thin stuff!!! Once I was completely committed to this micro-edge, I searched for another move. I didn’t think it could get worse. There was an edge slightly bigger, but just slightly, and maybe the thickness of a penny. But it was at a 45 degree angle. “What kind of crap is this,” I asked my self? I got a hook to stick. I weighted it, and surprisingly it held. The moves got better for a few feet, but they were still desperate.

I guess the next party that climbed the route took a chisel to the rock and made enhanced hooks across this apparently “un-climbable section of rock.” It really blows my mind that they were seasoned wall climbers, with quite a few routes under their belts, and they couldn’t manage to climb what a gumby had just climbed. Because, that’s what I was, in all actuality. That will be enough ranting for now. Back to the Illusion Chain.

Things didn’t get much better. I ran into the option of climbing under an expanding flake, or up a micro-crack that cut the flake in half. Both ways didn’t look all too inviting and I had heard that both ways were scary. For some oddball reason, I decided to go under. The first cam I sank was ok. It expanded the flake quite a bit, but it seemed fairly solid. But the next piece of gear caused sand to start pouring out. That sure as hell didn’t seem like a good indication to me. I got gripped. The next several moves did the same thing! Finally, I made it out from underneath this killer flake, that seemed to be just waiting to strike on its fear filled victim. I was pumping with a righteous rush. It was intense!

I cruised the next few pitches with no troubles at all. Several minutes into pitch 24, dark clouds began to form, and the wind picked up. Sh#t was about to let loose at any minute! I was wearing a cotton shirt at the time. Knowing that once I got that sucker wet, it was going to stay wet, and retain absolutely no heat, I was determined to make it to the top of that pitch as soon as I could so I could repel back down and change to a synthetic shirt and grab a light jacket. Cotton kills! Anybody that has climbed the Pacific Ocean wall, knows just how much old junk is fixed on pitch 24. It’s like climbing a damn museum! Homemade bolts/hangers, followed by old rusty homemade pins… just absolute junk. About half way up the pitch, the weather took a turn for the worse. It began to drizzle lightly and it was extremely windy. The slack in my rope was blowing above me. At that point, I shifted into high gear and aided the next 100 or so feet in several minutes! Ha! I wish I was always that motivated! I would be smoking all kinds of speed records. I made it to the belay just in time to set up my ledge, struggle to get the fly on, and hunker down. Then the heavens let loose.

The two pitches that followed after the Highbrow Bivouac, went mostly free with a C1 move here and there. The climbing finally led to the last belay. It was gnarly looking! There was one good bolt, and about three others that were old and weird looking. I had never seen anything like them before. They looked sketchy. All of them were bent into an oval shape from so much use over such a long time. Thank God my pigs were light by now.

My topo said that the last pitch was C1 and Awkward. I climbed about 30 feet of it and was thinking to myself, “awkward my ass.” Well, I spoke to soon! I turned the corner to find a nasty squeeze that proved to be… well, awkward! My rope got stuck at the top of the pitch, so I ended up rigging up my final belay directly on the edge, which I think ended up making the hauling a lot easier.

There it was, the summit of my first El Capitan route. I was stoked. A grin from ear to ear! On the summit, I began to sort and repack all of my gear, for the decent down East Ledges. Turns out, I had a ton of water left over. Four days worth, to be exact. I had climbed South Seas/P.O. wall solo, in 8 days, including one rest day on the Island in the Sky. This went to prove that “wall-math” is usually dead WRONG! I had calculated at pitch 5 that it was going to take me 4 to 5 days longer than it had actually taken me.

It didn’t really hit me how big the rock was, that I had just climbed until I was right back where I started. El Cap Meadow.

Once I was down in the meadow, I was actually ridiculed for my climbing gear! Some dude actually laughed at me for sporting a PETZL sport climbing harness. Hey, that’s all I had at the time. Plus I couldn’t justify the purchase of a cushy big-wall harness, when I thought of the hardmen of the old days that used to suffer on big walls in swami belts! But I gave in to conformity, got soft, and eventually made the purchase of my cushy Yates wall harness.

I would like to give thanks to every one that encouraged me and helped make this climb possible!

Climb hard n’ high,
~The Zephyr

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Mar 3, 2007 - 01:40am PT
Thank you! That was excellent. I guess you don't have a lot of photos, but if you can, please post some.

Trad climber
Mar 3, 2007 - 10:22am PT
Good send. Nice trip report. Thanks for writing it.
It sounds like you had a great experience.

Gym climber
Otto, NC
Mar 3, 2007 - 11:54am PT
Great trip, great TR! I was right there with you a couple times. Nice job!

Social climber
kennewick, wa
Mar 3, 2007 - 12:04pm PT
Nice TR and Send dude! Thanks!
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Mar 3, 2007 - 12:56pm PT
Nice TR and Proud Send!

The "Big Wall Math" thing is so true. I started doing that math 3 pitches up soloing the Wall of the Early Morning Light (with a big heavy bag naturally) and figured I couldn't get back back before my vacation (had a job in those days) was over. Bailed.

Silly, I would have totally made it and had just done all the boring, tedious and nasty parts of the climb (Packing, Approach) and could have just enjoyed the dangle and thrash.

Oh well, Good on ya


Trad climber
Mar 3, 2007 - 01:25pm PT
killer trip report, and a proud send! thanks for sharing.


Big Wall climber
Reno NV
Mar 3, 2007 - 01:43pm PT
Great TR!
I got a pump just reading it!

and YES more pics please?
Those shots from Tom E. I'm guessing?
Standing Strong

Trad climber
the secret life of standing strong
Mar 3, 2007 - 06:45pm PT
nice t.r. i enjoyed reading about some of the spicier moments as well as the fun with your fellow monkey buddies. nice pics and thank you for sharing :)

Trad climber
Mar 3, 2007 - 07:54pm PT
really good tr.

Oakland: what's not to love?
Mar 3, 2007 - 08:11pm PT

Great TR, thanks for putting it our here. I get a sense from your writing of the bulletproof mentality you've got to have to pull something like that off, and the best part is how non-chalant you are about it.


Social climber
No Ut
Mar 3, 2007 - 08:30pm PT
Great trip report. Pretty amazing to solo that route as your first El Cap climb!

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Apr 3, 2010 - 04:16am PT
Bringing back the bizzness!

What a read.......This TR is at the top of the list.


And only 14 posts.....WTF?


Trad climber
Apr 3, 2010 - 11:07am PT
Nice mon!

Trad climber
Sittin' Pretty in Fat City
Apr 3, 2010 - 11:33am PT
Nicely done. I really appreciate the depth of the report. Glad that factor 2 wasn't any worse!

Trad climber
Joshua Tree
Apr 3, 2010 - 12:23pm PT

Proud effort!!


Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Apr 3, 2010 - 12:27pm PT
"I guess the next party that climbed the route took a chisel to the rock and made enhanced hooks across this apparently “un-climbable section of rock.” It really blows my mind that they were seasoned wall climbers, with quite a few routes under their belts, and they couldn’t manage to climb what a gumby had just climbed. Because, that’s what I was, in all actuality. That will be enough ranting for now. Back to the Illusion Chain."

yeah we drilled one hook placement where the flake blew off. Big deal. There is a video of the PO with Conrad Anchor showing him using the placement. Flakes break off holes go in, but I am glad you feel good about your crumbleing top rope hook traverse. Nice TR
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Apr 3, 2010 - 12:49pm PT
Amazing to solo such a route as your first El Cap route!

Big Wall climber
San Diego, California
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 3, 2010 - 02:25pm PT
This was written years ago when I was a lot younger, i was just a kid playing wall climber. since then my views on everything have considerably changed. I have actually spoke to you since then and I thought we buried the hatchet, but apparently not, you continue to call yourself out even when your name nor your partners name was ever mentioned in this peace of writing. Geez, I think we had even planned to do a winter assent on a team together since then.. What’s the gives man? Why are you still bitter?
I could choose to go back and edit this peace of writing but im not, because I feel like the past is never anything that should be edited. I don’t know, do you feel it needs editing?
And you know what, no I don’t feel anything about this top rope hook traverse… but it sure seems like you might be feeling something.
Why don’t we drop this Matt? Its just a stupid rock and a stupid game. Sorry for calling you guys out. Can we finally turn the page?

I sincerely wish you a speedy recovery from your leg injuries.

-Kristoffer T. Wickstrom

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Apr 3, 2010 - 02:42pm PT
Oh, hey sorry if my post reads as bitter Kris. There's no hard feelings.

I just thought since this was dug up to the front page I'd speak on behalf of my partner. It was his lead and we decided together that it was the best thing to do. He couldn't make the moves you describe go...

Totally hope to crack a beer with you on the bridge. Thanks for the well wishes, my leg is getting stronger! Not haulbag strong yet, but it will be!

Nice send man, for real.
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