Zodiac A2 5.7
Trip ReportA casual run-in with Alex Honnold: Zodiac 2008
So yesterday I googled "christmas climber" images for work and out of the blue at the top of the list I saw a photo of myself and a couple buddies in our portaledge camp on Zodiac, in the Spring of 2008. The photo was taken by Alex Honnold's belayer Chris Weidner who I just discovered has an awesome blog. Here is his web page with the photo (also check out his other fantastic blog posts!)
I dedicate this TR to Chris because it was just inspired by him, and because he was such a solid happy monkey up there hanging in slings all day, holding the rope and staying stoked for the free push! Theirs was a proud send!
This is one of my favorite El Cap stories to tell once I get a few Cobras deep. I was recently spraying it in the meadow with Tom and some monkeys and Tom was like "No way that was you guys? I've been telling that story for years! I tell it all the time!" That kinda took me by surprise and I thought to myself...”wait a second, I better claim this story!”
So here it goes..., keep in mind this is 9 years ago so my memory has faded a bit, but this is my best recollection of the event and Alex's words, this is basically how it went down. I hope you enjoy it. Alex quotes are in bold and italics, we've joked about this story before so I figure he won't mind me posting it up.
"What's a Beak?"
I was on a standard camping style ascent of the Zodiac with two of my buddies Blake Burwell and Justin Haynes. It was their first El Cap climb and my 4th time up the route. I think we were on our third day on the wall, typical party style, having a great time. We had been up late raging spliffs and Cobras and were feeling quite lazy. Which was perfect for the unexpected bigwall free climbing show/clinic we were about to get.
I sprung awoke extra early that morning before sunrise around 5am to the sound of voices, and I could see headlamps down at the base. Typically this means someone is blasting early on a one day ascent. I figured, "eh looks like we are gunna get passed later..." I rolled over and went back to sleep...I don't get out of my bag before the sun hits, ever.
When I woke up about 3 hours later as the sun creeped in around 8am, I was a bit surprised to see that the team was charging up and just two pitches below us on the Black Tower. The leader looked to be effortlessly floating up the wall, and hiked the pitch in 10 minutes or so.
I told my buddies, "Might as well relax boys...we got some incoming monkeys, lets just chill here and let them pass us." We proceeded to brew coffee.
We watched them send the El Portal pitch and could see they were slowing down a bit, and perhaps the goal of free climbing the route had ended. We started to hear some grunting and four letter words and watched a couple big whippers. Whoever was down there was trying HARD, and they continued to charge up toward us.
Next up was the classic Flying Buttress pitch, imho the best pitch on the route...the aid route climbs a stunning clean corner with a thin seam protect-able with tricky tiny cams and nuts. While the free route busts out on face holds on the arete protected by sparse bolts placed by the Huber Brothers. At this point I recognized it was Alex Honnold on lead, as he had just started to make a name for himself in the Valley and I had recently read some article about some wild climb or another, I think it was his Moonlight Butress free solo.
We were enjoying the show from the comfort of our sleeping bags, sipping coffee admiring how the real hard men just fly right up El Cap. From the Buttress the route traverses back into the crack, here Alex proceeded to place his first piece of gear in the crack, a green alien. BTW, he virtually had no gear with him. Looked like a half rack of cams and 6 quickdraws on his harness, wtf!? Made my 40lb aid rack with tripples of everything from a 00 Brassy to a #6 Camalot seem ridiculous. Alex's biggest cam was a single #1 Camalot...(which he later admitted made that upper OW pitch quite scary.)
So he traverses back to the crack and stuffs the green alien and gives it a yank and it rips right out. Alex lets out a little squeal....the first indication that he might be just a little gripped. Three more tries and he finally gets the alien to stick. He clips a sling into it and stands on it. First aid move I’ve seen him do so far. He’s not stoked to be aiding. I’m just waiting for that janky alien to blow.
After he clips the rope I'm looking at the 90 degree rope angle sideways from the cam back to the belay thinking, dude..."DUDE, put a long sling on it!" But who am I to give Alex climbing beta? And anyway..as far as I could tell they didn't have anymore slings! WTF? Who climbs El Cap with a single shoulder length sling? I kept my mouth shut.
He inches his way up stemming the glass polished corner and crimping razor thin edges. I admire how delicately he smears the wall and presses on blank chalk spots seemingly holding onto nothing, his movements so calm and precise. But I can hear him breathing hard and I know it's not as easy as he's making it look. I see him reach up and grab a rusty copperhead with his bare hand just before slipping. "OOOUUCH"
Never fun to grab a hold of a freyed rusty copperhead wire bare handed. He does a one arm pull-up on the wire and clips a draw in. He tags up their one Aider that they had between the two of them and as he gets on it says,
"Jeeeeze what the heck is that?"
I recall saying the same thing when I reached that spot. There's some whining going on down there that I can't quite make out as I sip my coffee but I can tell Alex isn't quite having as much fun anymore.
At this point he's about 20ft below us and in talking distance.
"This is scary! I'm not sure I like this route!"
I'm like..."hmmmm it's one of my favorites...but then again I'm an aid climber." I spark another smoke and take a sip of coffee while contemplating the crux of my day...the morning poop routine. I’m hoping he doesn’t fall because I can’t hold it much longer. I need them to climb through, and soon!
Remember he's run out with 2 peices of gear clipped, a rusty fixed head and a bad alien that he yanked out with his hand 3 times in a row...which is surely gunna rip and send him on a tumbling pendulum toward the belay. At this point the hair is standing up on the back of my neck, and I have goosebumps as I think I'm about to witness him plunge and rip the gear. It was like watching a trainwreck about to happen...my eyes were so glued to Alex that I forgot to take any pictures through the next sequence of events, but I'll never forget what happened next!
He goes from half aid/half free, back to full free...makes a couple moves above the old rusty head, and just as he reaches for a small slopey handhold in the corner his feet slip. He lunges and snags the hold just as both feet cut loose...and he's dangling there one arm. A literal Stallone in Cliffhanger moment!
He looks up, "OMG, did you guys just see that?" he says seemingly shocked that he's still on the wall.
"Yup, careful bro!" I said...as if I can offer advice to his precarious situation.
"Hey guys, how'd you do this part?"
Oooh, that's my que, I get to spray beta to a rock god! "uhhh, that part was Beaks dude."
"hmm...what's a beak? Do I have any beaks???"
He glances back to his harness that has like five cams and a few nuts on it.
"Nah, bro...I don't think you do."
"Are beaks like hooks?"
"uh...kinda, we just hooked em in there and got up on em."
"Do I have any hooks?"
"uh, I don't think so bro..."
I have an idea, "HEY! I can lower you some beaks?"
He thinks for a second...
"How about you just lower me a rope!?"
"Ya man our blue dock line is fixed!"
He just grabs on barehanded and starts batmanning up the rope hand over hand with his feet barely touching the wall. "WTF? Is this guy for real?"
"Jeeze this is hard!" Alex says in a half joking, half very serious whimper. He makes it up to just below our camp and says all nonchalantly...
"Hey guys is everything clipped in up there?"
"Cool, hang on guys I'm gunna dyno for your haulbag."
The three of us look at eachother bewildered, "wait, what???"
No sh#t, he gets a good foot hold on the sloper he just caught himself Stallone style on and dynos off the free hanging rope and latches the lip of our big yellow haulbag! He wraps his legs around it and pig wrestles his way up into our camp, mantling effortlessly into my portaledge. Huge smile on his face.
"Hi guys, I'm Alex...nice to meet you. Boy I dunno about this route, aid climbing is hard! ....wow, look at all this stuff you got!"
"Ya, wanna cup of coffee bro?"
"You've got coffee up here?"
"Oh heck ya, we got everything up here. Need anything? Booze, smokes, coffee, pizza? You name it we got it."
"Wow, thank you. Ya know I don't drink coffee. How long have you been up here? I can't imagine how you get all this stuff up here....seems hard. Well thanks guys, nice to meet ya, have a great climb...I gotta keep going."
And just like that he steps off my ledge and continues up the Nipple pitch. His partner Chris shows up a few minutes later and we just look at eachother wide eyed and, he shakes his head..."ya dude, Alex is an animal.... I'll take some coffee!"
We sent him up with a full jug. The monkeys were sending!
Alex NOT using the one team aider on the Nipple.
So that's my "How I met Alex Honnold Story." The dude is my hero! Endless stoke. A couple years later I was soloing Shortest Straw while David Alfrey and Alex were flying up Lunar Eclipse. I could hear Dave shouting up instructions to Alex how to use cam hooks, “ya man ya just kinda shove it in there, twist, give it a bounce and get on it!”
I thought it was kinda funny Alex had climbed El Cap probly 20+ times but was still learning how to use basic aid gear....lol
I yelled over to him and he remembered our Zodiac meet up.
"How long you up here for this time Lambone?"
"Oh, 7 days or so."
"Jeeze, yer crazy dude!"
"Thanks Alex! Have fun up there on those beaks! YER GUNNA DiE!!!"
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