working of the first free ascent of Mescalito


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - May 28, 2009 - 02:39am PT
Check out Video of this climb here

first a public service announcement: take your poop down from el cap.


here are many ideas on the subject here
or you can just buy a Metolius Waste Case

ok, down to business:

It had been a couple years since i last belayed Tommy Caldwell on the first double free ascent of el cap in a day

to be honest, i still have not "climbed" with him, only belayed except for a brief, shining moment where i aided a pitch in the Grand Canyon

but i guess i can belay OK.... because i got the nod again to belay again on a new el cap free project: Mescalito!

for those who dont know el cap, the idea of free climbing mescalito is kinda out there. routes like the Nose and Salathe, while they are hard, and way harder than i will ever climb, follow large crack systems that you can see from el cap meadow. Mescalito, on the other hand follows large "flared seam" systems that finally relent to... large blank sections?? impossible!! or is it?

The nose and salathe are probably 90% 5.11 and easier. Mescalito/ Dawn wall likely be 80% 5.12 and harder. It will break down something like this (Tommy's guess)


(note, 60% of the pitches are on mescalito, other pitches are on Dawn Wall, Adrift or are new free variations)

I'll break the suspense: no tommy did not free the route on this trip.

So why am I (with permission from Tommy) spraying so much about a route that hasnt been done yet? Because tommy, who's freed all buy two hard routes on el cap, thinks this might be a ten year project... and he's hoping some new up and coming climber will get psyched and start the 10 year process now so he doesn't have to wait till he is 40 to free it... (crap, Tommy, we are not in our 30's, how did that happen?!?!)

anyway, back to the spray fest

the ascent started with a descent: rapping off the top of el cap... exposure!!!

here i am rapping into wino tower, a proud (but slanted) ledge half way up a blank wall... and the place where Warren Harding camped out on his epic first ascent of the Dawn Wall
shortly after we landed tommy warmed up on a 5.12b pitch to loosen up. NOTE: i call this pitch 5.11 in my book. i was wrong. (its the Wall Of Early Morning Light pitch off Wino Tower)


True story: the morning we packed up in el cap meadow (remember, this is in april), with a more than minor chance of rain, tommy actually thought we did not need a rain fly up there. And after i raised the idea that we should probably have one, just in case, he had to drive back to his house to get one... which we are all glad he did!! mid way through the night it started to rain/snow. we jumped out of the ledge and set up the fly. by morning, we were clearly in a storm. which was kinda a big deal for me since I had never been in a storm on el cap before.

tommy under the ledge

corey and coop hanging out in the COLD

With bad weather, I was off the hook for belay duties. But Tommy, being the animal he is, decided to work on the route self belayed with a mini traxion. Nothing like 5.14a friction in rain/snow.

Halfway through the day he let us know that he made a major breakthrough and found a way to get around the 5.14+ crux with some 5.13+. now the route only had 5 5.14 pitches… no problem!!

Here is a 1 minute video of Tommy talking about finding a way around the 5.14+ section. I am shooting from the portaledge in a mellow snow storm -

And here is another video where Tommy talks about the remaining hard pitches he has to figure out -

And one last video in the portaledge where Tommy lists off the ratings of all the pitches -

I was pretty pumped to sit in the portaledge and answer email, watch youtube and read the forum on my iphone when tragedy struck!!! We realized our solar panel didn’t work withough direct sun…. noooooooo….

we were all pretty bummed.

Instead, I turned my attention to staring at the portaledge and outside the portaledge all day. I made these observations.

A mini review of The Black Diamond Cliff Cabana Ledge

 is very comfy and has lots of cool pockets to stash stuff –  its really really heavy
 it took me a long time to set up. Granted it was the first time I had done so. But I really like how much more simple the A5 ledges were to set up.
 The rain fly is AWESOME!!!! This is a big improvement from the A5 rainfly I was used to because:

 it ventilates extremely well because it has a big “awning” at the top of the door that is molded to stick out and let air in. This is crucial. Nothing worse than keeping out all the rain only to get wet because of your own sweat… eeeoowww

 plastic panels so you can look out
 nice increase of space with the tent pole that pushes out the outer wall
 one negative to the rain fly and ledge set up is there are big gaps in the portaledge bed so that loose item tend to fall through (like coffee mugs). Its then really hard to fish the items back out from the bottom of the rainfly.

That aside I was very impressed with the rainfly and give it the grade of an A. The portaledge gets an A for comfort but a C for weight and easy of set up. So overall I think I would give it a B. I am not sure how it compares to the other portaledges out there. My ultimate ledge right now would be an A5 ledge with a black diamond fly. But I hear the metolius fly is pretty sweet, too.

While on the topic of gear reviews, we had this awesome petzl hammer on the trip. I had never seen it before but its now my new favorite. I don’t even know where you can buy it.
Also, I did a gear test on the new Moses Cam Hooks :
that you can read about here

Ok, back to climbing, the next day the sun came out after some sweet clearing storm clouds

Here is 37 seconds of video of the clearning storm clouds -

And Tommy emerging from the portaledge after the storm -

Tommy warmed up on some of the easier climbing on the route: 5.13c
For those of you following along in your supertopo big walls book – this is pitch 15 of wall of early morning light

That blank seam is the 5.14+ pitch that Tommy no longer has to climb. But just for fun, the next day he did work on it. This next photo, and all the good ones that follow, are from Corey Rich and I stole them from the Big Up Productions Web Site

B sure to check out the new Dosage V trailer:

Tommy on the 5.14+ pitch 15 that he can now avoid with the pitch below

unfortunately for tommy, a lot of the hard climbing on wall of early morning light is protected with the original Harding aluminum dowels.. yikes!!
luckily for tommy, we had the new Moses Keyhole Hangers which are awesome. You can read a great thread and see how these are made here


luckily, the sun came out and our solar panel was back in action and I could once again follow “As The Taco Turns” and web sites - by the way, if you are going to spend a lot of time at belays on el cap, I really recommend an iphone and a solar panel

Ok, enough with the 5.13+ warm up, lets get to some REAL climbing

Below is one of the route cruxes that Tommy has not figured out yet: the features end and he has to make an eight foot horizontal dyno! it looks impossible. and it might be. but that didnt stop tommy from making about 20 tries (and 20 falls). He was hitting the almost every time, but its just such a big move that the swing through of the legs will be really hard to control.

There are a couple dyno's like that. But for the most part the reason the route is so hard is not the BIG moves but the little ones. You have to hold onto microscopic edges and stand on... well stand on things that dont even resemble footholds. Tommy said this has been the key to unlocking so many hard el cap routes "It took me 4 years until I finally learned how to stand on "edges" I never thought were possible to stand on."

Tommy continued "That is the reason so many 5.14+ or even 5.15 climbers get shut down on El Cap. It takes years to learn the technical hand and footwork you need on el cap."

its hard to tell in photos like below, but he's standing and holding onto just about nothing on a vertical wall -
Here are what some of the handholds look like

photos by Corey Rich and Aurora Photos

The next day we moved down to a pitch on Adrift (near pitch 8 of Mescalito). Here there was another 6 foot horizontal dyno that Tommy was able to do (after a few nice falls). He was out of view so I didnt really know when he would fall. Every few minutes there would just be a big yank on the rope. I think i was more scared than he was.

After working out those moves, we moved back to the ground. He didn't send all the cruxes, but overall, Tommy was psyched. He thought it would be a 10 year project before this trip and now its possibly only a 2 year project.

i think there are only 2-3 sections that he needs to figure out. one of them is that sick dyno (photos above)

however, once he figures out the moves, that is just the first step. the real challenge will becoming fit enough so that he can do all the pitches in one go. There is as much 5.14 on this route as the rest of the Yosemite Valley crags (i think there are five 5.14 pitches on this route and 3-4 5.14 cragging routes in the valley). And keep in mind that 5.14 on granite is not the same as 5.14 on limestone. There are very few 5.14 limestone climbers that can show up and quickly send technical valley 5.13... let alone 5.14.

Then there are the 8 or so 5.13 pitches. Overall, it will easily be the hardest big wall free climb in the world.

Tommy's Rack for the climb:

1 set of Black Diamond Stoppers
1 set of Black Diamond Micro Nuts
2 sets of Black Diamond Camalots #0.3-5
60m x 10.5 mm Blue Water Lead Rope
1 60m x 8mm Static Rope
10 Black Diamond Oz Quickdraws
40 Black Diamond Oz Carabiners
12 Shoulder Length Slings
Black Diamond Ozone Harness
Black Diamond ATC-XP Belay Device
La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes
Black Diamond Padded Gear Sling
10 Keyhole Hangers
10 Wire Rivet Hangers
Petzl Mini Traxion
2 Spectra Daisy Chains
Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag
Black Diamond Cliff Cabana
Metolius Waste Case
Shell Jacket
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
La Sportiva Men's Exum Pro Boot

check out more photos at
Bob Jones

Trad climber
san luis obispo
May 28, 2009 - 02:58am PT
So I suppose you are still alive.

Social climber
May 28, 2009 - 05:39am PT
F*#k Yah!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
May 28, 2009 - 08:14am PT
Cool TR report Chris.

Does this mean that we will get 10 years of updates?

With a quick calculation and a few adjustments for age and ability, I might top out just as I hit 90.

Funny aside to ST campers. Chris answers an e-mail from me with the following opening line:

"Hi roger

Thanks for the note. I am on el cap right now belaying tommy Caldwell as he tried to free mescalito."

There is something otherworldly about both Tommy starting a 10 year project and getting an e-mail from someone belaying on El Cap. On the other hand, in the Twitter age, waiting 10 years to respond to e-mails probably won't work.

Trad climber
A place w/o Avitars apparently
May 28, 2009 - 08:41am PT
This was your first storm on El Cap? Am I wrong to say Wow?


Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
May 28, 2009 - 09:44am PT
Amazing stuff...looking forward to more!
Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
May 28, 2009 - 09:50am PT

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
May 28, 2009 - 10:19am PT
Chris, you had never been in a storm on El Cap before? WTF? How is that possible?

Good luck Tommy!

May 28, 2009 - 12:52pm PT
Totally sick! Thanks for the report. I can't imagine freeing that seam on P7-10. It is so thin plus its dirty and seeps...not to mention the good gear is not to frequent.

Great stuff.

Mountain climber
May 28, 2009 - 01:52pm PT
Hope those Austrians don't drop in for a surprise visit and bag the thing.

Trad climber
May 28, 2009 - 02:05pm PT
I too like to "loosen up" on .12b 2,000 feet off the deck.

Oakland: what's not to love?
May 28, 2009 - 02:44pm PT

Thanks for sharing that - I'm tuned in for the continuation.

Trad climber
From a Quiet Place by the Lake
May 28, 2009 - 02:58pm PT
HighDesertDJ, LOL

Looking forward to more progress on this project way cool.

Chris, I must be an ok belay slave too as I seem to do a lot of that for others these days.

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - May 29, 2009 - 09:07pm PT
i just posted another installment to this Trip Report
bubble boy

Big Wall climber
May 29, 2009 - 09:13pm PT

Trad climber
May 29, 2009 - 09:23pm PT
Wow, great pix. Thanks for posting.

I found this bit remarkable:

"So why am I (with permission from Tommy) spraying so much about a route that hasnt been done yet? Because tommy, who's freed all buy two hard routes on el cap, thinks this might be a ten year project... and he's hoping some new up and coming climber will get psyched and start the 10 year process now so he doesn't have to wait till he is 40 to free it..."

I'm not sure which amazes me more: the pix, or the fact that Tommy would have to troll for other folks to pitch in on the project.

I guess we'll have to wait for more Europeans to come over for extended visits.


Trad climber
Nevada, CA
May 29, 2009 - 09:41pm PT
Thanks for the update!

Big Wall climber
So Cal
May 29, 2009 - 09:46pm PT
Quite inspiring! Tommy is so damn hard-core & bad-ass! I sincerely hope he sends soon!

Thanks for the trip report!

Trad climber
From a Quiet Place by the Lake
May 29, 2009 - 09:54pm PT
I already have the I Phone. I sort of like the solar panel thing. Heavy porta ledge a a bit of a bitch to set up will pass on that.

I drink your milkshake!
May 29, 2009 - 10:00pm PT
This seems just so out there.

I get people freeing the Salathe. I get people freeing the NA.

I don't get this.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 74 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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