Going slowly fast on El Cap's Horse Chute


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 15, 2004 - 09:53pm PT
El Cap speed climbs often feel really slow. At 1:30 am on October 8, Ammon McNeely and I were at hour 18 trying to make the first one day ascent of Horse Chute. I was belaying one of the last few pitches to Thanksgiving Ledge and drifting in and out of sleep. I’d look at the time, pay out some rope, and close my eyes. When I looked at the time again, what seemed likes second later, 30 minutes had gone by. What we hoped would to be a nice and speedy 14-hour effort was now dragging on. We had both lost steam and transferred from being psyched, to tired, to physically exhaustion and mental numbness. Maybe next time we should have slept more that 4 hours before such a big climb.

This year has been my El Cap comeback. After many years just feeling like there was nothing left I wanted to climb on the big stone, I’ve rediscovered that unsupressable urge to have two thousand feet of air under my toes. My return to El Cap has confirmed what I have always suspected: my general psyche on life is directly proportional to the number of times I climb El Cap in a year. This would be my 6th El Cap ascent of the summer and number 12 Ammon. Of those 12, 9 were speed records. Needless to say, Ammon McNeely is on fire.

Ammon and I left the Bay Area around 8pm. After reaching the Valley and racking up, we got to sleep at 12:45am. We slept 3 hours and 45 minutes, woke up at 4:30, and started climbing just before 7am.

Here is a photo of our rack. A typical El Cap speed rack: a couple tiny aliens, two sets of hybrid alien, two sets of medium sized aliens, two sets of camalots. 20 nuts, a couple hooks and cam hooks. 6 draws, 8 slings, some free biners, and a small selection of pins. The topo we had called for 26 arrows. Between the two of us, we had 3. But, as we learned on our last climb together on Never Never Land, when I forgot the number 1 camalots in the car, you can usually get by, somehow. Besides, lost arrow size is cam hook size.

I led the first 6 pitches which were mostly on the Dihedral Wall. It was cool to see chalk from Tommy Caldwell and others who were free climbing the route. Out of respect to the free climb, I didn’t bring the hammer on these pitches, in order to make it less tempting to nail. I would encourage everyone to do this on Dihedral Wall. The route goes clean safely. (Of course bring the hammer and pitons just in case).

Here is a shot of me flashing some kinda gang sign (??) on pitch 3:

Here I am just reaching the belay at pitch 6:

Ammon took over. Here he is on pitch 9 or so doing a cool pendulum

Here is a shot of me cleaning pitch 11. Ammon back cleaned a ton. Which meant I got to take to rad swings… like I am about to take right here.

Pitch 11 started with a roof.

The first piece was and inverted cam hook. It looked super crappy. But, adhering to the rule of “if it holds, you must step up on it” Ammon stepped up and… promptly whipped back onto the anchor. Twenty feet higher, he moved right from some pins to fixed heads. After a light bounce test, he stepped up on a head that then blew. He sailed 20 feet into space. No biggy for Ammon who took 3 HUGE falls on his last El Cap push. However, when he got back up to his last piece he found a nasty core shot:

Unfortunately, the core shot was 50 up the rope. So for the rest of the climb we had to deal with it in one way or another.

This brought us to THE pitch of the route. Perhaps the coolest aid pitch on all of El Cap. Big talk for sure. But I can’t think of another pitch that is cooler.

This is the pitch that you supposedly need 26 arrows for. But with a lot of cam hooking, Ammon placed 3. The next photos are of me looking up at Ammon right before he led the pitch, Ammon Leading the pitch, and me cleanin.

Shortly after this photo it got dark and I took over the lead. I pulled some wild roofs. I was glad it was dark. As I could not see the exposure.

At this point the climbing started to slow. Physical climbing combined with the lack the sleep the night before took the speedyness out of our speed ascent. The 14 hour pace we were on in daylight shifted to an 18 hour pace. Then 20 hours.

Finally, around 3 am we topped out with a time of 20:39. We were both so fried it took us a 10 minutes just subtract the starting time from the finishing time. We felt like we had taken way longer than necessary. And entered “the suffering zone” But we still got the first one day ascent, so we were psyched. Too worked to walk down, so we bivied.

I was cold that night. I passed out for about 30 minutes and woke up violently shaking. Imagine “Elvis Leg” of the whole body. I walked in circles to keep warm. Ammon claimed he was cold, too. But he wasn’t too cold to sleep soundly for 3 hours... punk. So, in a fit of jealousy (for him getting z’s), I decided to snap this photo of him. Notice that he carefully flaked the rope on the rock to give a little more insulation… but isn’t actually sleeping on it.

We got going and started the descent at 8am. We hoped that Lincoln’s El Cap summit clean up crew would meet us up top. I planned to fake a sprained ankle at which point the clean-up crew would carry my gear down for me. But we never got to meet the clean up crew or try my idiotic (and only half serious) plan.

By 11am we were in the Valley. A brief shower and beer run led to an extended El Cap meadow session staring at el cap and incoherently babbling to those nearby about… well, I forget because I was pretty fried at that point. In the last 3 days, I’d slept a total of 4.5 hours.

Here is a shot of us :

But ammon stayed awake until I passed out in the meadow and got his revenge for the photo I shot the night before:

I’ll end with a sunset photo from el cap meadow:


Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 16, 2004 - 01:32am PT
hey chris, not to blow smoke up your a*#...but I would have helped cary your sh#t down sprained ankle or no sprained ankle. Way to go man! Looks sweet! Thanks for the TR and photo's...


Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 16, 2004 - 03:50am PT
way to go! ..

it was great runnning into you guys on the way down .. i DID run into the cleanup crew .. and got help carrying my load down .. :-)

(no i did not fake a sprained ankle -- but i did return maddog's big cam rack)


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Oct 16, 2004 - 02:02pm PT
I remember Hugh Burton showing me some slides of that fantastic clean corner, and being envious. Very nice story, Chris. If you're ever stoked again for wall milage, consider the BL Memorial Buttress on Watkins. A very different kind of wall experience in a nice setting. Again, great story.

David Nelson

San Francisco
Oct 16, 2004 - 06:18pm PT
Chris, Thanks for the TR with photos. We know a lot more of what you were up to. Try taking off when you are full of energy, not just full of piss and vinegar. More fun, safer, and probably a lot faster. Great TR.
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Oct 16, 2004 - 07:48pm PT
Mike, one of the stories I heard regarding the name for the Horse Chute is that it is a reference to shooting smack. But I could be wrong.
Chris, thanks for a great TR and the pics brought back memories.

I tried it in 81 and it was super hot in the Valley. Up on the wall the heat seemed magnified. In those left facing corners before the Chute, there was no hiding from the Sun and we were dehydrating faster then we could hydrate, or so it seemed. That muck you have to probe back into in order to find placements was oozing this brackish goo on the face so I would put my forehead into it to cool down just a little bit when leading that pitch, yech.

We bailed right at the top of the 10th. Which was a trip btw. The leaning nature of those corners meant that every rap (w/ bags) had a really big pendji in it. I remember doing these really long, full rope pendjis and just barely reaching the anchors.

When we got down, a party on the Salathe was bailing and booted their haulbag. It hit a ledge about 200 feet up and exploded and blew the contents all over the place. They obviously hadn't given it to much thought because they left personal stuff in it like a watch and other easily damaged things.

Trad climber
Oct 17, 2004 - 08:03am PT
Chris, it's Brad. Another amazing story. What can I say? Ganbatte and Kiotskute kudasai! That's Japanese for charge and be careful. Can't wait to be cruising in the sierras.

Big Wall climber
The Ditch
Oct 17, 2004 - 01:53pm PT

Great TR Chris,

This was another awesome adventure with someone who knows how to go light and fast.

Oh, you should have mentioned the #4 Cam. I had it clipped at a belay as a back-up. When Chris went to break down the belay he started to yard on the rope and it went to the deck.

I hear, "Oh SH#T!!!"

"WHAT", I reply.

"Oh, nuuuuuthing", was the answer (we were far from each other and I'm sure Chris didn't want to explain, while screaming).

So, I get up on the next pitch and I call for, both #4 Cams and Chris was like "Uuhhh, we’re down to only one #4 Cam".

"Haa haa haa ha", I just started laughing because the whole scene came clear as to what I heard earlier.

Chris, I didn't tell this story to make you look bad. I just thought it was funny and worth telling. You're one of the best partners I've climbed El Cap with. I can't wait for the next one, brutha.

Cheers, Ammon

Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 18, 2004 - 10:34am PT
Great TR!

Hey, what type of hammer is that?

-Brian in SLC
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Oct 23, 2004 - 08:52pm PT
Nice to see those photos spliced into the trip report! We need more stuff like that round 'ere. Nice send, lads. That corner looks bee-YUE-tee!

Do you guys consider Horse Chute or Dihedral Wall to be the better outing?

Heh heh - I'm sitting here at Randy's place in Fresno, opening Pacificos with his Homer Simpson opener:

"Mmmmm, beer...... Yes! Oh yes!"


Trad climber
New Paltz, New York
Nov 4, 2004 - 09:35am PT
Great Trip Report!

When I did the route back in April of 1997 with Clint Cummins it was my first (successful) route on El Cap. I ran into Chris (McNamara) a year later at the base of the PO wall and you mentioned "I've heard that's the worst route on El Cap". So Chris, now that you've done it, what are your thoughts on that quote?

Big Wall climber
The Mountains
Jan 27, 2005 - 03:00am PT

Check out more photos of this ascent at:


It was a GOOD one!!! Chris is a stellar partner.



Social climber
Jan 27, 2005 - 04:47am PT
The photos are totally awesome Ammon. The colors and feel are great.

ROck on

Big Wall climber
The Mountains
Jan 28, 2005 - 04:37am PT

Thanks macgyver,

Chris got some really good ones, too!!


Big Wall climber
Lake Arrowhead
Mar 15, 2005 - 04:16am PT

Haa, this one looks like we had tons of ropes fixed. But, it was all done with mirrors, smoke and shadows. HEEaa!!


Social climber
kennewick, wa
Mar 16, 2005 - 12:23am PT
Thanks bunches for sharing. Those are awesome pics! I also really appreciate your comments Chris about your psyche on life being proportional to climbing El Cap. It is all about living the life and not wasting those precious moments. Thanks again.
Fungus Amongus

Big Wall climber
Single Cell
Mar 16, 2005 - 01:13pm PT
Chris and Ammon ~

Thanks a bunch for putting up the photos!! We spotted you guys while on The Gold Wall. Nice work! THE PITCH looks truly amazing...


Trad climber
cayucos california
Mar 16, 2005 - 08:37pm PT
Ammon are you going to red rock rendeveous?


Big Wall climber
El Cap
Feb 15, 2006 - 11:45pm PT

Yes.... oh, wait... I'm a year late responding. Whooops!!

I'll be there. Ooaahh!!'


Trad climber
Otto, NC
Feb 16, 2006 - 01:24pm PT
Is that The Pitch above you, Ammon?
Messages 1 - 20 of total 25 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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