Never Never Land Trip Report - first one days ascent


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 1 - 46 of total 46 in this topic
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 27, 2004 - 11:49am PT
Well, after about 5 years, my el cap addiction is back in full force. Which means i gotta climb it every chance i get. i got that chance two days ago with Ammon McNeely.

Here is a shot of the line

OK: a little background: for those who don't know him, Ammon is probably the most talented "aid climbing speed climber" today. which is to say that while Dean Potten and Hans Florine are the fastest at going up the big wall climbs that have been free climbed (Nose, Half Dome, etc), Ammon is probably the fastest at going up the aid lines. After that big push in the late 90's where everyone was speed climbing and speed climbing got all that coverage in the mags, most people (myself included) kinda lost interest. Meanwhile Ammon, along with Hans Florine, Dean Potter, Brian McCray and others have continued to climb fast, break records, etc. This year ammon had already climbed el cap 7 times and broke speed records on most of those ascents, including a 33 hour push on pacific ocean wall with Ivo Ninov.

Since I got my el cap mojo back this year, I’ve been trying to get ammon to climb with me. He finally had a window in his busy el cap schedule and we decided to climb never never land. Why? Because its one of the few el cap routes that neither of us had done that could be done in less than 18 hours. (After 18 hours of continuous climbing, you start to suffer.)

we got a nice 4:30 am start from the car. Here is a little self portrait. (That is the look of being psyched, not insanity... I think)

by 6:09 we were climbing. Ammon started off. Here is him racking just before the launch

Never Never starts after the first 6 of Aquarian Wall. What is cool about the Aquarian start is that you traverse out on the second pitch and are instantly 400 feet off the ground. BAM! -- Instant exposure. Ammon was just starting the second pitch when he yelled down, “Uh… bro… where are the number 1 camalots?”

My reply, “Uh, bro, you sure you don’t have them?”


Somehow I forgot them. but I figured how necessary can they really be. I mean, in 2400 feet of climbing how many places can that size be crucial? We kept on climbing because, lets face it, one of the lamest feelings I know is getting all fired up to climb el cap, then bailing. It sucks to sit around all day questioning whether you really needed to bail or not.

Here is ammon leading out the second pitch, 5.6 A2.

Ammon led the first 6 in 3 hours. Then handed over the lead.

Before I had made my 3rd aid placement I looked down to see Ammon puking. I made a few more placements, then looked down and he puked again… at a pretty high volume I might add. Turns out that he had “overhydrated.” Drank way too much water the night before. Way too much water that morning. All that water+no food+3 hours of speed climbing=suffering.

I kinda thought about bailing because I knew I couldn’t lead to the top. But I also knew that ammon was a machine and would probably bounce back after a few hours.

Pitch 7, brought us to Timbuktu ledge. Now, this ledge might be reason to climb the route in itself. One of the best ledges ever. just a notch below El Cap Tower on The Nose and El Cap Spire on Salathé Wall.

Here is a John Dickey shot of Erik Sloan and yet unidentified friend.

The next few pitches were classic. Vertical to overhanging, C2-C3. some fun free moves thrown in. then came pitch 10. I had always imagined this side of el cap being pretty low angle. But this pitch was steep! After a strenuous hour+ lead the haul bag was cut loose and it hung more than 10 feet away from the wall. Wild position. Big exposure. Big grins.

Midway through the pitch a red helicopter came up to me and hovered for about 15 seconds to check me out. That has never happened to me before. Was that you link?

The next pitch was the worst on the climb. C2+ ooze and “barnacles.” The rock had this weird calcified texture that made it feel like climbing on the bottom of an old ship. Every time skin touched the rock I recoiled.

This pitch dragged on and on. by the time I was done, ammon was all psyched to lead again. I don’t know if he was finally feeling better after puking or if he just was tired of waiting for me. I was starting to drag. I can’t think of any really good excuses why. I was just a little out of shape from post college graduation celebration… which is now on its second month. At any rate, he started leading fast. And really picked up the pace.

Here is a shot of him on pitch 13. This was the only truly grassy crack.

The climbing got a little harder but ammon kept cruising, doing everything pitch in under and hour. Meanwhile I ate Raison Snails and drank blue gatorade while listing to our mini stereo. As far as speed ascents went, this was pretty cush. The crux of the climb for me was using the tuner on the radio. You had to have just the right touch to get NPR or B93.1 or the Hawk. Too much or too little and it was Christian or Latino radio. Not that I have anything against either of them. They just hog the radio bandwidth and come through crystal clear while everything else requires a surgeons touch with the dial.

It got dark two pitches below thanksgiving ledge. A bunch people started screaming up from the Meadow and got us psyched to keep charging. I led the last few hundred feet to the summit. We topped out 10:09, exactly 16 hours after starting. I this we both felt like we could have gone a lot faster but we were psyched to get the first one day ascent of the route.

This is one of the best routes i have done left of the Salathe Wall. Great climbing. great ledges. surprisingly big exposure. And almost all the belay bolts and lead rivets have been replaced with support by the
American Safe Climbing Assn

On the descent we started to suffer a little. But when we got to manure pile parking area we could see that Hans Florine and Bryan McCray were suffering way worse than us. They were climbing Wall of Early Morning Light and were about 20 hours into a 27 hour push. They topped out the next morning a few hours shy of the record (nice work boys!). And even though they were climbing probably the coolest section of rock (Dawn Wall) on maybe the coolest rock in the world (El Cap), I don’t think Ammon or I could have been paid enough to be up there at this point. Ammon couldn’t resist calling Bryan’s cell phone and reminding the team that it was going to be a LONG and HARD and PAINFUL night. Ammon turned to me and said, as Bryan McCray once told me, “It just doesn’t get any better than watching a good friend suffer.”

Trad climber
Aug 27, 2004 - 12:04pm PT
Freaking sick guys! Nice job.


Big Wall climber
Bay Area
Aug 27, 2004 - 01:47pm PT
Hey Chris,

Thanks for the TR and making me sound like such a bad-ass. I guess I've got everyone fooled because I'm actually kind of light.

It was really good climbing with you and I think we make an excellent team. I'm looking forward to future ascents together.

Anyway, I thought I would chime in about EML. Hans and Brian actually missed the record by a couple of hours. They wasted a LOT of time trying to fix the parts of the route that "someone" ruined while putting up "the hardest route on El Cap" a few years back.

Here's a TR that Hans sent that should clear some of the confusion.

Cheers, Ammon

(Report by Hans Florine)

Big Wall climber
Carversville, PA (USA)
Sep 27, 2004 - 11:00am PT

I'm lightly considering Aquarian Wall, in the spring of 2005 nonetheless (Aquarium Wall). Can a haul be done from the 2nd pitch anchors? Two 60m ropes? Mid-point hauling station? I'd rather not have to hump the bags up and around the LF/West Butt corner. Otherwise its Excalibur, Dihedral, or Muir.

Thanks and great trip report for Never Never Land. Now you need to (1) get married, (2) have kids, and (3) paint your house. I'm in the middle of all of that right now and need a wall route :)

Scott Ghiz
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 27, 2004 - 12:49pm PT
hey scott,

yes, you can haul from pitch 2 to the ground with 2 60m ropes. there is an intermediate station, too. the bag may get stuck about 40 feet below the pitch 2 anchor.

have fun!

oh, i am sure you know this but... aquarian will be pretty wet in sections in the spring

Trad climber
Asheville, NC
May 23, 2005 - 02:46pm PT
Hey Chris, How is pitch 18? Good Trip Report!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - May 23, 2005 - 03:55pm PT
i forget what pitch 18 is and dont have a guide in front of me... is that before or after the pinnace of hammerdom?

Trad climber
Asheville, NC
May 23, 2005 - 06:46pm PT
One before Thanksgiving. Says A3+ loose.

Headed out to the Valley in a couple of weeks and was thinking about NNL.

Thanks Chris. Oh and the new book is great!

May 23, 2005 - 07:04pm PT
Good job Chris and Ammon, no matter where it is or what it is, it’s a nice adventure to be able to do this.

You could instead be stuck on the freeway on your commute home, or you can happily be having some fun on El Cap.

We definately know which you would rather prefer .......

P.S. I award you a SuperTopo virtual "golden piton"

Trad climber
Mar 5, 2008 - 03:08pm PT
Some afternoon psych.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Mar 5, 2008 - 03:17pm PT
Nice job, guys. We could use more TR's from C-Mac.
Fish Finder

Social climber
Mar 5, 2008 - 03:59pm PT
thanks for the report chris, looks cool and very difficult.

i think i almost hit you crossing the street by the josephs market in bishop. a few days before you were in yos.

you were with a friend.

i would of stopped but i was late for an appointment.

give me a holler next time your in the shop.

gregg (cm)

Trad climber
From a Quiet Place by the Lake
Mar 5, 2008 - 04:24pm PT
Glad to see you got your El Cap Groove back C Mac. Great Stuff.

Malibu, a Cheetah shirt
Mar 5, 2008 - 04:30pm PT
Great TR from '05. We need more like this today.

Social climber
A prison of my own creation
Mar 5, 2008 - 05:15pm PT
Great TR! Thanks!

Social climber
Prescott, AZ
Mar 6, 2008 - 08:11am PT

Trad climber
Mar 6, 2008 - 02:52pm PT

Social climber
Prescott, AZ
Mar 8, 2008 - 09:47am PT

Mar 8, 2008 - 02:24pm PT
Thanks for bumping this entertaining TR. NNL was my first El Cap route. Due to the heat, we brought a large amount of water for a party of three. The hauling down low was brutal so I was soon the designated haulbag counterweight. Having not been up there before, cutting loose into space like that was quite a thrill! And yes, the route definitely gets steep higher up.

Nadime Melkonian, RIP.

Shot from that most unique feature, Neptune's Revenge. The crystals formed in the algae coated seep provide the rough feeling of barnacles while climbing through it. Aptly named. Timbuktu can be seen below.

Trad climber
Mar 8, 2008 - 02:27pm PT
nice shots, mimi! what year was that?

Mar 8, 2008 - 02:39pm PT
GDavis, after checking the journal, we fixed and hauled four at the end of June 1986, blasted on June 30, and were down on July 5. My notes for the 5th state: Down, hammered, alive. I'm glad I can laugh about those words today.

On June 28, Eric Goukas was killed on Cosgrove's new route next to Crucifix. Needless to say, being on a wall diverted those thoughts from that tragedy and definitely helped me to deal with it rather than being stuck on the ground.

Big Wall climber
arlington, va
Mar 8, 2008 - 05:15pm PT
Well done guys! Nice trip report. I love it when guys aren't afraid to show their "aid" side!

Trad climber
Sacramento, CA
Mar 8, 2008 - 05:39pm PT
Nice, really nice.

Trad climber
Quartz Hill, California
Mar 8, 2008 - 10:34pm PT
Great TR....Thanks. Just disappointed that posts like this get swept off the first page in a matter of minutes when all the rest of the "jerk off" off-topic posts stay forever. Sad !!!

Captain...or Skully

Social climber
Mar 8, 2008 - 10:49pm PT
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Mar 21, 2008 - 07:13pm PT
I climbed Never Never Land in October, 2003 with a couple of friends – J.P and Sean – it was their first El Cap route, and my 25th. You can click here to [url=""]have a look at my detailed beta sheet.[/url] Never Never Land is a superb route, actually, and isn’t really hard. I rated its hardest pitches NTB, which would translate to A3 or less. Accordingly it's a route that really ought to get climbed more often!

The route starts out rather inauspiciously with a long traverse, and then you have to haul up this huge slab towards the water-streaked headwall above. You can see Horse Chute, Dihedral Wall, Cosmos and Excalibur up and right.

Despite the traversing on the first seven pitches, there is good climbing on solid rock. You'll find a rivet ladder on the slab that requires you to make genuine top-steps right out of the hero loops in your aiders. This is impossible to do with the Russian Aiders I use, so I had to clip a small sling to the rivet and stick my toe in that.

The real selling feature of Never Never Land is its superb bivi ledges, which from my beta sheet above you can see occur at the tops of pitches 15, 18, 20 and of course on Thanksgiving Ledge. But all of those pale in comparison to Timbuktu Towers. Unfortunately, to get on top of the Towers, you have a pretty crappy haul, so we hooked up our haul monkey Sean on the 2:1 hauling ratchet and sicced him on the pigs. Nice headphones, eh?

So this being another of my big wall camping trips, we set up Advanced Base Camp on Timbuktu and fixed pitches above. Evidently it was not very windy.

We liked the place so much, we spent an additional three nights on it while fixing pitches. You can see that I’m eating tomato soup and chili for super – the real question is, what was I drinking? Oh, I see four comprimed beer cans...

I decided to set a new big wall precedent by dropping one of my aid climbing shoes, and the only spare shoe we had was one of J.P.’s free climbing shoes, which was several sizes too small. I had to put water in the shoe every morning to stretch the leather out enough to fit it on my foot. I’m sure you can guess how well I enjoyed the descent, too.

Another view down on Timbuktu Towers as Sean jugs up while we were fixing pitches.

We finally hauled above ABC, heading seven pitches up to camp at another great bivi ledge at 15.

Once you get high above the slabs, the route gets steeper and the hauling easier.

There’s another superb bivi ledge area down and right from the Pinnacle of Hammerdom, which you see here. Nanook told me it's possible to free solo up to the summit at about 5.4.

Sorry, these are about the only pix I have available – all of my pictures are in slide format [which I have yet to scan] and most of these were taken by J.P. Brackin.

We ended up on Thanksgiving Ledge a day later, and with all our camping gear endured quite an epic going up the West Buttress finish and down the East Ledges. I promised myself that if I ever ended up on Thanksgiving Ledge again, I would not go over the top, but would instead rappel Lurking Fear. It’s a promise I’ve kept three times, after Cosmos, Dihedral Wall and Horse Chute.

I hope you like the photos, eh?


Trad climber
Mar 21, 2008 - 08:04pm PT
once again pete, you rock!

la la land
Mar 21, 2008 - 11:01pm PT
Was looking at pics like normal then read the shoe dropping part... had to get back on my couch after falling off laughing... well not really but that was one of the funniest things I've ever seen you post.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Mar 21, 2008 - 11:40pm PT
Oh dude, you'd have laughed even harder if you saw my toes after wearing those damn things for a few days....

Social climber
Prescott, AZ
Mar 22, 2008 - 09:07am PT
J. Werlin

Mar 22, 2008 - 11:28am PT
Pete, very nice addition to the thread. Thank you.

I was looking at the pict. of Sean hauling--it looks like he is attached to the haul rope with a clove hitch and would have to keep slipping that knot as he hauls?

I'm probably seeing the system wrong.


Mar 22, 2008 - 03:52pm PT
Good to see this one again...haha, no #1s. Very cool...
J. Werlin

Mar 23, 2008 - 05:48pm PT
bump for a cool thread.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Mar 23, 2008 - 09:36pm PT
J. - have a closer look at the system Sean is using to haul. It's a 2:1 mechanically advantagous setup known as the "hauling ratchet". The cord you see clove hitched isn't the haul line, but rather a separate piece of 6mm cord that is formed in the shape of a letter "zed" using two pulleys.

Below the zed-cord is an inverted ascender, which is upside down on the haul line. The zed-cord is fine-tuned to precisely the correct length using the zed-cord.

When Sean goes down 3 feet, the pig is raised 1.5 feet. Get it?
J. Werlin

Mar 24, 2008 - 01:28pm PT

Got it now. When I look closer I see the zed-cord is of thinner diameter, missed that the first time. System looks a little like a spanish burton.
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
North of the Owyhees
Jan 26, 2009 - 10:09am PT
Zed bump.A blast from the past(well, fairly recent past, considering.....).

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jan 26, 2009 - 12:37pm PT
Way to push it you guys!


Trad climber
Somewhere, CA
Jan 27, 2009 - 11:03pm PT
I've heard Aquarian is a stinker. Good to hear this line is so much fun. Looking for some kind of A3 mellow for this summer - recovering shoulder injury - put away the rock shoes, get out the cam hooks.

Captain...or Skully

Social climber
North of the Owyhees
Jan 27, 2009 - 11:05pm PT
I hear good things, Mon.....The Left side!

Yowza....It's a Wall!
A4 old school is what... A2 max new wave?
You're on it.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Social climber
valley center, ca
Jan 27, 2009 - 11:50pm PT
Enjoyed this cool Thread and Pics....jess wishin'.....
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Mar 26, 2009 - 01:16pm PT

Jan 5, 2011 - 12:19am PT
Indeed! Great thread and pictures. Thanks! (mid-winter climbing bump)

Big Wall climber
bay area, ca
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:10pm PT
super enjoyable.

What was the route issues on EML that Ammon refereed to in his post? The link to Han's TR doesn't seem to work anymore.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jan 5, 2011 - 09:06pm PT
I think Chris is retired from going up El Cap fast. I believe he mostly goes down El Cap these days ... and a lot faster, too.

Trad climber
JackAssVille, Wyoming
Jan 5, 2011 - 09:10pm PT
Holy Shizz;

A TR!! nice work.

Trad climber
Feb 20, 2015 - 02:10pm PT
Fun TR, with a bonus TR from Pete.


Messages 1 - 46 of total 46 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews