muir wall


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Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
Jan 3, 2009 - 08:08pm PT
Awesome pics and story. Thanks a ton! It's a route I have yet to do, but I do see it in my future. Not free though and just the original.


Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 3, 2009 - 08:35pm PT
A ground up, almost but not quite by a whisker FFA of any line on El Capitan is impressive stuff. Even now, let alone a decade or more ago. Particularly as the Muir team was scrupulous about their style and route, in keeping with the style of the first ascent of the Muir. Not all El Cap free climbers since seem to have emulated that.

Many modern 'free' ascents of El Cap depend on extensive rehearsal, cached supplies, changes to the nature of existing climbs (added bolts, tick marks, etc), sieging, (sometimes) major variations to the line, and on and on. By on-sight ground-up standards, not really free at all. Though I wouldn't fault anyone for not exactly following the line of a pre-existing route, given the differing contexts of aid and free climbing - as long as the climbers are clear as to what they've done. If you've freed say 90% of ABC route, with variations for the rest, it seems reasonable to say you've freed that route.

I've always figured that the golden rules of climbing are to minimize or eliminate your impact on the natural and human environments, to be scrupulously honest with yourself and others about what you've done (and how), to respect the styles and traditions of the places you're climbing, and to ensure that there is some challenge relative to your ability. (And have fun.)

The replacement of existing bolts using a power drill was in all the circumstances not inappropriate, despite the fuss that was made. (Or, perhaps, the NPS looking to make an example of someone...) Trivia. They could well have hidden the drill a pitch or two below the top. The absence of a "smoking gun" would have made it a hard case to prove. And it was a public service to replace the bolts.

ps Kurt - thanks for the pictures and story. I remember well your visit to Squamish, and Kickin' Access, in 2002.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Jan 3, 2009 - 08:58pm PT
Yes I did read it but maybe I didn't understand fully. Did they, at one point, have fixed ropes from Gray ledges to the ground? That does seem a bit much.

How hard is the climbing up to Mammoth on the Shaft? No one would ever complain about a "free" ascent of the Salathe or Freerider for fixing to Mammoth and then rapping off for a day or two.

I can see your desire for adventure and challenge but I can also see the desire for a free ascent of El Cap. For me, and you, there is a line where the adventure and challenge dies. I suspect the line varies from route to route and obviously person to person. The IDEAL, of course, it seems without doubt, is to walk up to the base and climb to the top, with no excessive foreknowledge (you guys DID have a topo of the Muir and, just like Max and I did, no doubt parsed it for all the information it was worth) without falling or hanging on gear.

Ah, well, we are only human. Evolving, I hope.


right here, right now
Jan 3, 2009 - 10:24pm PT


I should clarify:
My links to the phrase finder tool about such things as “let the chips fall where they may” and “a chip on the shoulder” aren’t really meant to be incendiary as regards this thread.
Although to a certain degree, they do apply, hehe.

Wandering thread drift really.
Survival/Bruce Birchell just got me thinking about it.

Here’s the last one I’ll cloggg pipes with, Lisa just got me onto it:

“put up your dukes”

[It is suggested to be of Romany origin. This belief comes from the Romany word dookin, meaning fortune telling or palmistry. H. Brandon, the editor of Poverty, mendicity and crime... To which is added a dictionary of the flash or cant language, 1839, lists this meaning in the book's glossary:

"Dookin - fortune telling."

The palmistry association does link dooking with hands, but, that aside, the evidence to support the Romany source isn't very strong.]

[What we do know is that put up your dukes was known by 1874 - the first record of it that I can find in print is in John C. Hotten's 1874 edition of A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words:
"Dooks, or dukes, the hands, originally modification of the rhyming slang 'Duke of Yorks,' forks = fingers, hands... The word is in very common use among low folk. 'Put up your dooks' is a kind of invitation to fight."]

I especially like this one:
[Samuel E. Chamberlain's My Confession, circa 1859, also makes the link between dukes and hands/fists.
"I landed a stinger on his "potatoe trap" with my left "duke," drawing the "Claret" and "sending him to grass."]

And as it happens the three phrases did sequence nicely.
........................end of silly thread drift.

Social climber
wuz real!
Jan 3, 2009 - 11:06pm PT
Coz, Kid, your ascent and the style that you employed, is what it's all about, to me, and really, why I climb at all.
There have been other things done, up there, that are amazing, in their own idiom. Different tasks, though.

That other controversy? i've taken my Bosch up more than one pitch before, too. I also use higher tech ropes, these days, than the goldlines I learned climbing, on.

That bust, was a career move by someone who, though he has good qualities expressed in any number of other situations, some of which I have shared in, will always be remembered by some of us, as the one who attempted the most drunken ascent of Deto's Durrance route.

Accusers are people too.

Jan 4, 2009 - 12:49am PT
Just see ....

They climbed that big rock with their bare hands ....
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jan 4, 2009 - 01:23am PT
Tommy was working the route with lines to Grey ledges. Don't know anything about their final push.

Funny thing, Triple Direct has not had a free ascent although every inch of it has goine free.



right here, right now
Jan 4, 2009 - 03:18am PT
”Just see ....

They climbed that big rock with their bare hands ....”

That’s brilliant!

All this talk about style, past & present attitudes……
In the end that is just subtext; it matters and it is interesting, but it’s not the core of why we spend time on the forum.

Scott Cosgrove:

You and Kurt have the tiger by the tail here:
A thread is opened on a terrific adventure: a historic ground-up bid at free climbing the Muir Wall.
Nearly everyone on this forum is a climber and uniquely interested in this stuff.
Yet few of us have even attempted such a thing.

We want know what it was like being up there; what kind of unique obstacles you were presented and how you overcame them.
We want to hear about changes inside you that happened only in that place under those circumstances, due to any one of the many constraints: stylistic, physical, teamwork-wise, time span .... whatever.

Maybe just pick one pitch, one afternoon, one particularly weird or thrilling state of mind and tell us about it!
We'll follow up with more neat Hudon-like questions about the basic gig of livin' large.
Take us there, share with us just a glimpse of that thing we all really dig.............
Climbing those big rocks with bare hands.

climber a single wide......
Jan 4, 2009 - 04:02am PT
what Roy said

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jan 4, 2009 - 04:21am PT
Here here. I dig your thread drift Roy.
And tales of climbing big rocks with bare hands too!

Trad climber
Jan 4, 2009 - 09:09am PT
More etymology, Tarbuster! Maybe you could start a "climbing etymology" thread...
the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 4, 2009 - 11:26am PT
wow, i did not think i would stir up an ethics issue here. but then again, this is rock climbing.

I respect all that has been done before and after my day in the sun. What Tommy and the rest of this generation is doing on el cap is amazing and something i could not have imagined during those 3 months we worked this project. Mark and Max were an inspiration for my climbing and Todd and Paul's ascent made free climbing on el cap possible for me to attempt.

what i wanted to do was show the first ascentionist the respect by attempting this route in a similar style. TM and Royal set the standard that we all hoped to follow. So it didn not make any sense to me to do the route on aid first and see what could go free. Again it's really simple- start @ the bottom and work your way to the top. Fix lines to work the route to a certain high point and then pull the cords and send. And have a good time and haul lots of good food and other treats to make it a "plush adventure"

Someone asked: why not hand drill and how many bolts and where?
I had just finished El Sendero Luminoso in the Potrero Chico (15 pitches, all sport ground up 5.13-) and this is the mode that i had been in since 1990. Drilling quality bolts on quality routes. Mostly ground up and some rappell (rifle, clear creek, shelf road and the potrero were my canvas)!

Scott and i felt all the belay bolts we encountered were sh#t, so naturally we wanted to replace every station. We never added a single bolt to the AID line of the Muir. We added a few lead bolts to our variations.

why not hand drill? Been there done that for 8 years. When the best tool for the job is in your van you are going to use it. We were not the FIRST nor the LAST to power drill on el cap! This does not make it right but it is reality.

I wanted adventure and that is what i got. I also got a lot of fun out of it, some bad but most of it good. I was climbing with two old friends on a route that i started looking at in 1988. We did not know when or where we would get shut down and that was what kept it so exciting every day! I have pushed the sport climbing thing for years and there is not as much joy in an FA when you have worked it to death to send it (Slice of Life).

so my goal was to find adventure and mystery again and that is what we got plus and $2000 bill to go with it!
so enjoy the post, the pictures and the stories and let's keep this about adventure and the mystery of FA's!!!

another fav photo:
Greg and Scott chilling on chickenhead after a sic traverse got us there and an epic haul session for all our crap!


the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 4, 2009 - 11:29am PT
My bad_ this photo is the bivvy ledge before we traversed across to chickenhead.
This next pitch was the most amazing pitch on the route for me. Unclimbed ground across the Shield head wall. When i did the shield in 1986 with Rick Lovelace i was scared silly on the head wall and now it was time to free climb across it! I will always remember the feeling of anxiety and then elation on this traverse!
the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 4, 2009 - 11:36am PT
here is the start of pitch 27- the 5.12 traverse across the shield head wall.

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jan 4, 2009 - 12:49pm PT
That traverse looks sick. I have to imagine that some of the scariest or problematic pitches don't always fetch the highest ratings. Seems like lots of the major features on El Cap free routes are connected by thin 5.12 slab that's got to be frustrating for some cause, like a cat, you just can't hang on by brute force.


Captain...or Skully

Trad climber
North of the Owyhees
Jan 4, 2009 - 12:53pm PT
That's some good stuff, there, Kid & coz.

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Jan 4, 2009 - 01:06pm PT
OS free climbing across the Shield headwall... makes my sphincter twitch just thinking about it... Great stuff, cool pic.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Jan 4, 2009 - 01:48pm PT
You know, I don't really want to get into an ethics debate, but I'm having a hard time with Coz taking points off of Tommy's ascent for fixing to Gray Ledges and then the Kid saying "during those 3 months we worked this project".

So, is this correct? In your last push, you had worked the route to a certain level (for almost 3 months) but you started from the ground, hauling all your gear, food and water, free climbing along the way, at some point you started climbing new ground, continued on in fine style, got to Chickenhead ledge, had to aid a few moves and then climbed to the top.

3 months working the project? I don't see much difference between fixing ropes to the ground from Gray Ledges and spending three months working the pitches up to there. I know that if I worked something for three months, I'd have it pretty wired and would be able to climb it pretty effortlessly.

Is that right? Maybe reading the article would be helpful although I'm sure I don't have it.

beneath the valley of ultravegans
Jan 4, 2009 - 02:02pm PT
Wow, I walked away for a few days and this thread exploded--Hudon weighed in, Roy got all etymological, and the Kid is making sphincters twitch. Full Value!

Coz, I doubt you remember me but I repaired the corners on your big green (?) double ledge just after or before a work gig with some Navy Seals. You and Dicker were over at the Animal Nickname guy's place in Paradise and it was close to 100 in the shade. It was nice hearing about your adventures.

So, how does the Sjong/Miller route differ from The Shaft? I wish Tim Kemple'd post up or link up his photos. They're insane.

Jan 4, 2009 - 02:15pm PT
Yes guys, this is rich stuff. How refreshing to get the story firsthand with full honesty. It will be a trip when the next party does it like you suggested, Coz. The on-sight flash.
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