Zodiac TR (Long and with pictures!)


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Trad climber
Nowhere special
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 8, 2007 - 10:24pm PT
This year I decided to try something completely different for my annual pilgrimage to the Valley. The first different thing I tried was going in September. Last year the weather kinda crapped out on me, and as I told a friend before I left, "It's September in California. It rains a half-inch all month if that..." We'll revisit that later...

The second new thing I thought I'd try was a new partner. This time I met my buddy Will who flew out from DC where he lives. Will is from Alaska, which makes him automatically either:
c)an alcoholic
d)all of the above

Will is on the right. Can you guess which of the 4 options above describes Will?

Because Will lives in DC and summers there suck, and because I just moved up to the mountains and have been spending a lot more time on my bike than on the rock, both of us were in pretty terrible free climbing shape. Which led us to the third different thing I would try: an aid wall.

We decided on this one:


The cool thing about standing under Zodiac is since it's steep the whole way, it doesn't loom over you like the Nose does, so it feels like it might not really be all that long. Not actually true, but it seemed so short from the ground that I decided to take a quick photo of my watch when we started just in case we broke the Huber's speed record.

In order to beat their record, we needed to finish by 2:30 PM. Will led us off strong on the first (kinda scary) pitch. Days later he would admit for the first time that he had taken a huge whip soloing on the first pitch of Zodiac and bailed. Glad I didn't know it at the time.

Here's a standard butt shot of Will on pitch 1. I was a little concerned that we were off the record pace, as at 2:11 PM we were right here:

That is the start of the second pitch. Hmm. I'm wondering if the Hubers were doing something differently than we were... Maybe they weren't bringing along one of these:

It turned out to be kinda useful later though. We'll revisit that as well. Soon our hopes of breaking the Huber's speed record were shot when 2:30 struck and we still had this far to go:

Well, that was probably closer to 4:00, since I think thats from about the third pitch. Somewhere in that time frame one of us managed to drop my red-yellow hybrid alien. Now I know what it feels like to go broke in Vegas 5 minutes after you walk into the casino.

One of the other things I suspect the Hubers didn't have with them on their speed attempt was (aside from a shirt) a ledge. Since neither Will nor I had a f*cking clue how to set up a ledge (I had practiced once in my living room) we decided that since the speed record had come and gone, we'd just knock off early and set up the ledge in the daylight and close enough to the ground so that we could fix all the way down if (when) we dropped the whole rig. Amazingly, those things are pretty well idiotproof, as the two of us managed to not bungle it. Since the use of the ledge was part of a Birthday Challenge (a few years expired), here's the photographic evidence that I actually used it:

Here's what I've learned about ledges. Only sleep on a portaledge with your girlfriend, and only if your girlfriend is very small. Trying to sleep on one of those things with a 190 pound dude is like sleeping on a cot with a Saint Bernard with the added spice of feeling like every time the dog shifts the cot will tip and send you for a headfirst whipper in the dark. So after not sleeping very well that night, we got up, packed up the ledge, and it was my turn to lead. I got pitches 4 through 7, which went fairly smoothly right up until a #4 HB brassie popped on the Black Tower pitch and dropped me onto a #3 HB brassie, which held just fine except that it got so stuck that it was pretty well mangled when it came out. Will did not get the same sense of adventure on the pitch as I did:

Note the smile. I was less thrilled, and happily handed over the rack to him, just in time for the meat and potatoes of Zodiac, the Gray Circle.

I'm pretty sure this is pitch 8.

The first section is easy for the leader but hard for the second. The second half is the opposite. Will was smiling much less at this point. Sometime on pitch 8 after passing the fixed beak and the fixed RURP (holy sh*t those things are scary! Charlie Porter is completely batsh*t crazy.) and a few more not-so-inspiring placements, Will got onto a good fixed pin and then placed a knifeblade above it, which promptly popped and dumped him onto the bomber fixed pin. The pin was so bomber in fact that it did this to the biner:

The incredible thing was that even though the biner had broken in half, it stuck itself between the corner and the pin in such a way that it held the fall. Will aided back up to it, put the larger half in his pocket, and did a little better job the second time with the KB. I found the gate half at the bottom a few days later.

We decided to bivy after pitch 9, square in the middle of the Gray Circle. This evidence (my foot and the ledge on p9 of Zodiac) completes the Birthday Challenge.

Sometime in the late afternoon we heard a party start on the first pitch. I figured they were fixing a few pitches before starting off the next day. As I settled in for another night of Saint Bernard spooning I heard them still banging away below us. I kept hearing them and kept thinking that they were either pretty tenacious or pretty stupid to be climbing so much at night when they had all day. Finally I glanced over at my watch to see what time it was and how much longer before they'd probably set up their ledge, and I saw it was 2:00 AM! I leaned over the ledge and they were only a pitch or so down. About 3:30 AM they arrived at our ledge, and as courteously as possible, spent the next 2 hours sharing a hanging belay with us. Sleep is overrated anyway, and besides, even though the next pitch looked like this:

Will had to lead it, so I didn't care quite as much that I hadn't slept. What I did care about was that right about 5:00AM, clouds moved in and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in 15 minutes. Suddenly the whole Saint Bernard thing maybe wasn't so bad, but since my alarm went off shortly thereafter, I had no time to enjoy the fact that for the first time in two days I wasn't boiling hot. The one cool thing about those guys passing us in the night was that I got this shot of their bag:

You almost don't feel how steep Zodiac is until you cut the bag loose and suddenly feel your stomach drop. That sensation passes pretty quickly, but the sickening feeling that lingered was brought on by the memory I had of a Belgian girl at my camp site warning me about possible bad weather. Back and forth in my mind I kept hearing the Belgian girl with her cute Belgian accent saying "It may snow?" and my dumb @ss telling my friend back home that the weather is always perfect in September (remember?). Those two things swirled around in my head like Bailey's and lime juice, congealing and making me want to throw up. I was 1,200 feet up El Cap and the weather was crapping out. Will asked if I though it would be faster to go up or down. I said that the weather was still OK and in two pitches it would become really hard to go down, so the obvious answer would be to go up and go fast. And so up we went. As a result, I really didn't take many pictures and the ones I took I recall little about. The wind was pretty cold and pretty strong and somehow my puffy jacket got left out of the pig. So off we went. I think this is from about pitch 10:

Somehow Will got all the ledge belays. I got to stand on the pig alot. This is Will leading pitch 12 maybe?

Note the complete lack of blue sky. Ick. This is me following the 13th pitch up to Peanut Ledge.

Just above this is a 80' long section of 4.5"-5" crack that somehow I managed to completely miss on the topo when culling the rack. I was very, very angry with myself. Fortunately, C-Mac is no dummy and had me covered, although with little margin for warm fuzzies. A new #4 camalot, an old one, and a #5 friend were my new buddies. Actually, it made the pitch go faster. By the next pitch, our panic driven climbing had brought us right up the tail of the in-a-push party that had passed us in the night. Somehow we managed to catch them even though they were short fixing. They were also clearly getting tired as they started snapping at each other, which appeared to be related to the fact that the 15th pitch wanders so much that the second is completely f'ed unless the leader backcleans nearly the entire pitch. I'm such a nice guy (idiot) that I backcleaned nearly the entire pitch. High pucker factor, but it proved to be a good call as this was the view from the top of the pitch:

As soon as Will arrived at the ledge the sleet started. I threw on my free climbing shoes for the first time on the whole climb and was almost climbing before I was even on belay. I french-freed, aided, free climbed, lied, cheated, and stole my way to the top of the pitch as quickly as I could, at one point realizing I had free climbed out of a hook move and somehow disconnected my aider from my daisy. 10 feet below me was my aider hanging from a hook. The image of the in-a-push party's aider fluttering away in the wind earlier in the day shot through my mind. I gently downclimbed, careful not to bump the hook with my rope, and snagged the aider without dislodging the hook. I raced back up, made a few more moves, clipped the anchor, mantled over the top (very cool topout, even in the sleet), and dumped the entire rack on the ground. I think the gear dump is the best part of topping out on a wall. It was a huge relief to be on the top. Here's Will's relieved look:

When you top out on Zodiac, they give you a blue ribbon:

Remember how I said the pig turned out to be useful? The PBR was actually left for us by the guys who passed us in the night. Thanks guys! The PBR tasted great, or at least the half of it I drank before Will knocked mine over.

Even though it rained, snowed, and sleeted all night, I was so tired I slept like a baby on roofies. The next morning we actually got to appreciate the summit, even if there was really no view:

Walking off completely sucked.

I'm still not convinced that carrying the pig is worse than carrying the entire rack, two ropes, and a bullet pack that were all soaking wet. The consolation prize was that the bus showed up about three seconds after I did.

Once we were down, it was over to Housekeeping to thaw out in a warm shower, then Curry to sit by the fire and continue the warming process. Once I had thawed out, I went over to the village store to get some decent food and a sweet mug with my name on it.

Mr. and Mrs. Bob Awesome and their kids, Susie Awesome and Bobby Awesome Jr. had cleaned out the village store, much to the dismay of Awesome Jones who had never had a mug with his name on it before.

The next morning the storm cleared out and I got this shot of Camp 4:

The next day was spent with the traditional post-wall El Cap lieback, drying gear and chatting with folks in the meadow. It was fun to finally meet and chat with Tom Evans while watching the Hubers on a Nose dry run (5 hours) through his spotting scope. I also got to meet and chat with Andy Kirkpatrick, who is one of the most funny and unassuming guys you'll run into in the Valley, especially when you consider his CV. Apparently he made a much prouder ascent of Zodiac shortly thereafter, in that his partner did not have the use of her legs and therefore erased any excuse I might ever have for not having big goals.

But in terms of goals for me, next year I'm going to go back to the old standby of long free routes that are easy to bail from. Vacations are not supposed to be that stressful.

Oct 8, 2007 - 10:38pm PT
sweet tr...good for vicarious living while nursing a cold.

Oct 8, 2007 - 10:38pm PT
Wow! Great TR!

Social climber
Charlevoix, MI
Oct 8, 2007 - 10:41pm PT
Very cool TR. Was that your first wall?


Trad climber
Butte, America
Oct 8, 2007 - 10:42pm PT
Never done an aid wall, or bivied on one, but this TR entices me to go out and suffer/enjoy one before I buy the farm. Well done and congrats.

Trad climber
the blighted lands of hatu
Oct 8, 2007 - 10:44pm PT
sweet pics and write up - thanks !

Trad climber
Nowhere special
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 8, 2007 - 10:45pm PT
Second wall, but first one that was basically all aid. I did the Nose last year but we only aided 6 pitches and they were all C1.

Social climber
St. Looney
Oct 8, 2007 - 10:46pm PT
Thanks for posting Burns! Great photos too...

Oct 8, 2007 - 10:48pm PT
Nice tr!!

Social climber
Davis, CA
Oct 8, 2007 - 10:50pm PT
totally bitchin!

Social climber
Oct 8, 2007 - 10:52pm PT
Enjoyed the TR. Thanks!

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Oct 8, 2007 - 11:07pm PT
I'm jealous.

but thx any way for the TR.


Trad climber
Oct 8, 2007 - 11:16pm PT
awsome trip report! thats the stuff i like to read!


Oct 8, 2007 - 11:36pm PT

I've never seen a biner break.

Nice trip report.

Ice climber
canyon country,CA
Oct 8, 2007 - 11:46pm PT
Killer TR!! I felt like I was on it. In my book "one of us" dropped the alien means he did it. How much hammer did you use?? For the record I did not go hammerless both times(before & after the route went clean).
nick d

Trad climber
Oct 9, 2007 - 12:00am PT
That broken biner is pretty astounding! Thanks for the great TR!


Social climber
92595, ca
Oct 9, 2007 - 12:05am PT

That was one excellent TR. Seriously, this was one of the most enjoyable TR's I've read in quite some time. The pics were great too. Congratulations!

Oct 9, 2007 - 12:12am PT
Nice writing too!

Trad climber
Nowhere special
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 9, 2007 - 12:20am PT
rwedgee- we probably drove all of 12 pins, many of which were sawed angles. I'd guess 8 angles, 3 LA's and 1KB. I hammered 3 times in 7 pitches, Will probably drove 9 pins in 9 pitches. He also managed to fix a cam hook. I have no idea how.

Also, meant to add at some point in the TR that will is that he is a) badass. Not (that) crazy or at all alcoholic. Got to be careful with the slander (or is it libel? on the interweb I think its called a flame).

Oakland: what's not to love?
Oct 9, 2007 - 01:33am PT
Great TR! I climbed a bit with a Will from Alaska in the summer of '05, just before he was heading to DC. When I left he was talking about buying some pins to try the Zodiac solo... he was also a badass climber. Got to be the same guy. Is this the Alaskan Will you're talking about?:

Belayed him on a nice send of Hardd at the Cookie.
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