Day 1… I forgot my pants.
In 2008, I had the privilege of meeting Steve Muse, aka the Museman, when he climbed the Zodiac route of El Capitan with Tommy Thompson and Dave Lane. I played a minor role in the descent team, helping to set up some extra rappel lines along the east ledges descent. From the meadows, I watched as Steve, a paraplegic, ascend the big rock with a special rig conjured up for the climb. What they were doing seemed unreal and unimaginable. It left a definitive impression in my mind.
A year later, my good friend Jeremy Roop soloed the Muir in 7 days and again, I was astounded. These incredible feats of physical and mental stamina amazed and inspired me, and for a while, I wondered if I could ever be so bold.
Years past, and I did a few big walls. Always partnered, I had climbed routes on Leaning Tower, Washington Column and El Cap. The Nose was the only route on the Captain that I had done, and I always wanted to get back on that stone. So, after having had a few rough years on the personal front, I decided I wanted to do something for myself.
And hence, the quest to rope solo the Zodiac was born.
Climbing the Captain alone was not an easy feat for this 115 lb imposter. I knew nothing about rope soloing and so I spent a lot of time on the web reading what people did, and several weekends practicing a self belay, working on my aid/hauling skills, and learning to set up my ledge from a hanging anchor. Regardless of the preparation, I made many MANY mistakes during my climb that cost me a lot of time and energy – two things that one does NOT want to waste when climbing a big wall in the midst of a heat wave.
In the end, I spent a total of 7.5 days on the wall and put in 3 days preparing (fixing, hauling, etc), and extra time after carrying the rest of my kit back down to the valley floor. Because of the heat, my memory blurred moments together for the first few days and I had to refer back to my text messages, pictures and Tom’s El Cap Report to reconstruct the experience. Here is a recount of the ascent as best as I can remember. Type 2 fun which came in the manner of pure suffering in its rawest form.
Day 1: September 27th, 2012
Emergency stash day
My plan was to ferry 3 liters of water and a bear canister of food up the east ledges as emergency water/food for the summit. An early start was thwarted by the cursed missing climbing pants fiasco, so by the time procurement was made, it was 2pm. To continue in this state of brilliance, I marched up the Manure Pile descent route instead of the East Ledges descent route so I had to cross country through sloppy terrain to get to the base of the rappels. Fortunately, I still managed to stash my food up near the summit of the Zodiac, and made it down before dark.
Text msg to loved ones: Day 1: everything goes as planned. Dropped off my emergency stash at the tippy top of my climb. Tired! Still hot in the valley. Snafu #1: forgot pants. Haha. Had to buy a pair. Boy size 14 on sale! Score!
Day 2: September 28th, 2012
I carried my ropes, a gallon of water, and my rack to the base of Zodiac with grand plans of fixing the first 3 pitches of the route. I decided to head up the traditional left start and towards the top, one of my pieces blew and I took a 35 foot fall. My grigri didn’t engage, but the backup knot caught me. THAT was exciting. A 35 foot fall gives one just enough time to have maybe 1.5 thoughts, and I believe my exact thoughts were – ‘ohshitohshitohsh#t, I hope my system works… catchmecatchmecatchmecatchme.’
I was climbing in the middle of a heat wave, and the temps cooked my brain. I was slow, I stared at my knots and didn’t trust them, and I guzzled my water feverishly. In the end, I was only able to fix 2 pitches, and decided it was good enough for me. I left the rack at the top of P2, and the ropes up for the haul the following day. I was so eager to leave the heat that I decided I didn’t want to carry anything down and left it all behind – including my headlamp and cell phone (oops). But with the heat, I didn’t really care! There was a full moon and who’s gonna call me anyway??
Day 3: September 29th, 2012
Early text msg to loved ones: Sorry no update last night. Left phone at the base of el cap. Fixed lines up to top of 2 yesterday. Hauling loads up today.
Continuing on in the heat, I started early and made 3 trips to the base of Zodiac with loads of water (8 gallons), gear and food. There was a Spanish couple who also started that day and headed up in the heat. I decided to wait until it got cooler before I jugged my lines for the haul.
Just then, Mark Hudon and his nephew Paul appeared out of the trees like bad asses through a hazy desert mirage. We talked a bunch and Mark dispensed some very good last minute advice for my climb. We exchanged numbers and I was grateful for Mark’s advice and Paul’s enthusiasm. I was reenergized the climb, and shortly after, I hauled the gear. The Spanish couple continued to climb to the 4th pitch.
Late text msg to loved ones: Hey! Spent the day hauling all 8 gals of water, food and more gear to the base and hauled it all up the wall. Sorta on schedule. :) Blasting off tomorrow! Mistake of the day, realized my rain fly was not seamed sealed so did that at 3pm at the base today. haha
Day 4: September 30th, 2012
Blast off! Errr… Ummm… Houston, we have a problem.
Jugging the lines up to my kit was pretty straight forward. As I began to lead up P3, I saw 2 people approach the base – another party. Ahead of me was the Spanish couple had already taken down their ledge. Heading up P3, I took my main line and haul line with me. It was a bolt ladder for the most part with a few hook placements here and there. It was pretty straight forward, until a piece blew on the C2 section and clocked me in the face just above my left eye. I bled a lot from my cut, but a picture of the injury proved it to be trivial, so I wiped off the blood and continued to climb. Then, I hit the “big reach” section high up on the pitch and immediately regretted not making a stiff draw. Top stepping and extending my fifi on a draw didn’t give me enough reach… Meanwhile the heat was intense, and I could only attempt a clip ever minute or so. In between reaches, I slumped forward with my head between my hands and tried to breathe slowly and cool myself down. I tried to eat. I couldn’t.
A thought! I took one of my draws and shoved a wrapper into the gate’s hinge so that the gate remained open. Another two attempts and there was success! I completed the rest of P3 and was elated to be at the anchors. I fixed my lines and rapped down the haul line back to my haul bag, aptly named Henri Le Cochon. There I am greeted by the party coming up behind me – not a party of 2 as I thought, but another soloist – Korean. We exchange pleasantries, and I took a small break to rehydrate and cool off.
After the break, I cleaned P3 and rested from the heat again. I sorted out my ropes and considered what I needed to do next. I was very slow and had trouble concentrating. I decided just to climb to the top of P4 and bivy there for the night. Already, I had been through a gallon of water (my allowance for the day) so I was getting nervous about whether or not I’d have enough to make it through the entire climb.
In retrospect, Pitch 4 was painless compared to the other pitches, but I didn’t think so at the time. I was faked out by an anchor on the right which required a very tricky and committing mantel. After trying and failing a few times, I looked at the topo and realized the correct anchor was higher and on the left. When I reached the bolts, they were also difficult to reach! After anchoring in, I fixed and backed up my main line and fixed my haul line for hauling… wait a minute… it’s JUST the haul line…. Oh no. where was the protraxion? Ohhhhhhh nooooooo. What possessed me to remove the protraxion from the haul line? What was I thinking??? It’s clear… I wasn’t thinking at all.
I calmed down and walked myself through what I needed to do. I’d have to do is go down and get protraction, re-jug the lines, rig the haul, rap down again, release the pig, then clean and haul. Sucks, but lesson learned… move on.
So I began rapping down the haul line and then, about 25 feet down, I looked up at the anchor, and ohhhhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo. My ascenders. They were clipped in neatly next to rack at the anchors.
I was hating myself at this point. I was definitely dehydrated, and likely suffering from heat exhaustion, AND I was jumar-less.
What could I do at this point aside from curse at myself??
Out came the prusiks.
I began to prusik up the lines and climbed all of 5 feet when the Korean soloist saw me ascending the ropes. He called up to me (from P2), “Alice, do you need aiders?!” YES! “I will send them up to you!” OK, THANK YOU SO MUCH!
So I happily rapped down to P3, and he attached the gear to his fix line for me to pull up. But once it reached me, I realized he only sent up aiders, but no ascenders, and I was now a full pitch down. I thought to myself – Tom (Evans) must be having a blast watching this sh#t-show.
The Korean soloist started coming up so I assumed he just released his kit and was coming up to haul. So I decided to wait for him to see if he would lend me his ascenders. He did, and graciously offered to help release Henri to save me the trip back down. What a gentleman! So, I cleaned P4 and lowered his jumars back to him. With Henri released, I hauled my kit to the top of P4 and set up the portaledge for the evening. As I clean the blood off my face from the earlier fall, I watch the Korean soloist complete his haul to P3 and then descend for the night.
Day 5: October 1st, 2012
Morning text msg to my loved ones: Hey there, made it up to 4 last night, heading up to 6 today and maybe 7… Slept on my ledge last night, was scared this morning from the exposure.
I got up early and was determined to make it up to P6 and possibly fix P7. The Spanish couple was already on the move and I could see the Korean soloist jugging up his lines. I felt pressure, but after a good meal last night and a hearty breakfast this morning, I felt somewhat prepared.
By the time I started climbing, the wall was just getting sun exposure. I cursed at myself for taking too long with breakfast and breakdown. Before I knew it, it was blazing hot again. I finished P5 and was very dehydrated. So I decided that instead of linking up P6, I should go back down to get water. When I began to rappel, the Spanish couple announced that, despite finishing P7 (Black Tower), they will descend because of heat and lack of water. They told me they left 2.5 gallons up on top of P7 for me for which I thanked them profusely. I then rapped down to Henri for water and a short rest. After what seemed like an hour, I jugged back to P5 and began leading P6. Just shy of the P6 anchors, I took a short fall and a piton catches me. *phew* Let me just say this… I do not like gear popping out – especially when I’m top stepping.
The heat was making things very difficult. By now, I was drinking a gallon and a half a day and I couldn’t eat during the day. Every attempt to put something in my mouth caused me to dry heave and I nearly threw up several times. (High probability that this was the early signs of heat exhaustion, wouldn’t you say?) Having allotted a gallon of water a day, the Spaniard’s 2.5 gallons of water was a huge relief. Still, at this rate of consumption, it would not provide me the means to make any additional time-consuming mistakes.
After setting the anchor at P6, I rapped down to P4 to release Henri. The Korean soloist had just reached the P4 anchors and we exchanged greetings. I told him I almost threw up a few times from the heat. He told me he actually DID throw up!! We rested at P4 together for a little bit and he finally said that he was going to descend and come back in the night to climb when it was cooler. It was just too hot during the day… and he strongly encouraged me to do the same.
It sounded like a good idea, but I was worried that I wouldn’t want to come back up. It has been so hard already, and sleeping on the ground seemed to give too much of a temptation to just stay down… so I told him I was going to go up and just set up for the evening and rest. And so he rapped back down to the ground and I cleaned the pitch and hauled Henri up to the top of P6 to set up for the evening. It is still early (around 3pm), but I didn’t want to muster the energy to go any further.
While I sorted out my ledge, the light part of the headlamp got caught in the webbing, and POP, it came right off. I hadn’t even realized that I climbed with it on all day so at first I didn’t know what was falling down the wall… Then, it hit me… The band was STILL on my helmet and the light piece was gone – gone straight down to the base of the climb.
I didn’t have a spare light.
I just sat there for a bit trying to get my head around the gravity of the situation. I was spent and the heat amplified my emotions.
And feeling so very alone.
The pity party went on for about 5 minutes, and then I decided I needed to descend and retrieve my light. There was no way I could climb without it. I knew that with the short days, I would undoubtedly climb in the dark at least some of the time, whether it’d be morning or night and the lack of light would make it that much harder.
In frustration, I texted Mark.
Me: Crap!!! Dropped headlamp!!! Gotta descend. Bummer!!!
Mark: Really? Descend? The pull of the ground is strong!
Me: No just to retrieve. I have no other light and would kill my evening climbing. No? Can you think of alternative?
Mark: Well, that other soloist left ropes to the ground. When is he coming back?
Me: Tonight. You can see that???
Mark: Sure, we can see you. We’re going up there in a little while. We tie your headlamp to his ropes. I’ll bring an extra in case we can’t find yours.
Me: Awesome. You’re a star.
Me: He’s fixed into bolts below. I don’t know where it landed and it’s just the lamp part. It popped off the webbing. Stupid design. Dunno if it’s functional.
Mark: Do you have his contact info to tell him to bring it up? I’ll leave a note on it.
Me: Nope… he doesn’t speak English very well. Korean soloist.
Me: It’s ok. I go down and look. If I can’t find it, may I borrow ur spare? (if that’s ok?)
Mark: Sure, we’re leaving now. I’m bringing you a sun shade for your helmet also.
Me: headlamp smashed to bits. :(
Mark: We’re almost there! No prob. Go get in the shade.
I had descended down from the 6th pitch, first on my ropes to P4, then on the Korean soloist’s ropes from P4 to the ground. I recovered only bits of my headlamp and just 1 of 3 AAA batteries. It was completely destroyed… It goes to show how much heat affects your brain function. How could I have believed there was any chance of it working from falling such a distance??
It was sweltering at the base. I stripped my gear off as I fumbled towards the shade. At the first shaded flat rock, I collapsed and promptly fell asleep. I was OUT well before Mark and Paul arrived and being awoken by their fresh faces made me feel a whole lot better. Mark brought a headlamp (exact same Black Diamond headlamp that popped off!), and he brought me a categorically unattractive, but amazingly practical Da-Brim shade cover for my helmet. It was bright yellow, and against my purple helmet, made me look like a first class dork. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Mark suggested I stay down off the wall and away from the heat that radiated off the rock. He suggested I go get a shower, sleep soundly, and then get up early to jug the lines and start climbing again. And had I a vehicle, I might have taken his advice. But I lent my car to a friend while I was on the wall and Henri had my sleeping bag. Mostly, I was still worried that the temptation to stay grounded would be too strong.
I decided to go back up. Mark generously filled up my water bladder, sent me off with a headlamp and helmet shade and I jugged the lines that late afternoon with the intentions of an early start the next day. That evening, as the sun set, I took out his headlamp and attached it to my helmet. But when I hit the button, it didn’t turn on. Hmmm… I tried it a few more times…. no dice. No worries – it must be the batteries, and I had spare batteries. But after installing… it still didn’t work.
At this point, I started to laugh.
Are ya kidding me?!
I was finally finding the humor in the complete disarray that was my first solo, and it felt good. I started to calculate how many hours of daylight I had, how many pitches I thought I could realistically push in a day, and what time the moon rose at night. And then it dawned on me… in my “oh shit” kit, I had an emergency light. A single LED keychain light that could turn on when squeezed! I found it and saw that it also had a tiny switch that could keep the light on without squeezing it.
And so, I duct taped the 1 LED wonderlight to my helmet.
It’ll have to do…
Text msg to my loved ones: Made a ton of stupid mistakes!! They were silly and extremely frustrating. Heat is taking its toll. Almost threw up twice today. Spaniards bailed today and left 10 liters of water behind. Happy about that.
That night, I saw the unmistakable headlamp of the Korean soloist walking up the steep scree field. It was close to midnight, and he stood there at the base for about 30 minutes looking up. Finally, he turned away and walked back down the hill.
In the darkness, I felt his abandonment.
That same evening, I witnessed something frightening. A HUGE mass went flying off the summit of El Cap with what appeared to be a parachute. The noise was terrifying, and I yelled “ROCK” several times to try and warn people either on the ground or on the wall. When the mass landed, the sound of the impact sent off a vibration into the air that crept into my bones, I was shaken. I later learned that a haul bag was thrown off the top of El Cap intentionally. SO not cool.
Day 6: October 2nd, 2012
Black Tower Day
Everyone says “Don’t fall” on the Black Tower pitch. I’m thinking – I don’t really want to fall on any pitch! But the beta has me worried, and I decide to heed Mark’s advice and forget about breaking down and just get started on the climb in the cool morning. Cursing my cumbersome aid gear, I free climb the 5.8 section of the route. The business was above the tower and there, my HB offsets shined like Jacob’s ladders from the heavens. I LOVE those little brass boogers. I also place my first tomahawk on this pitch. VERY scary! So, what would be the reward for completing the pitch? A glorious 2.5 gallons of agua courtesy of the Spaniards which I desperately opened as soon as I reached the top.
Early text msg to loved ones: Slept on 6 last night. Made it up to 7 this morning. Gonna haul and try to set up fixed ropes for 8 and maybe 9. Dropped headlamp! Good thing it’s a fullish moon!
On the way down back to Henri, I can see the Korean soloist is at the top of P4 again. He calls out to me “Alice, are you ok?!” YES, I’M OK!!! And that was the last I heard from him. My comrade decided to bail and was taking down his lines. With him leaving and the Spanish couple gone, I suddenly felt the size of the wall…
After cleaning my gear, I took a look at the ledge on P7 and decided that it’s big enough to sleep on without assembling the portaledge and it would save me some time getting myself sorted in the morning. Heat had returned pretty early in the day, so I relaxed a little in the middle of the day at P7 and awaited some late afternoon relief. I still had my sights set on fixing to P8. Only fix, Alice and start early again tomorrow. Your bed is sorted for the night and you have water. (Yeah, I started talking to myself).
Climbing P8 was probably a 3/10 on the painful scale, but waiting until late afternoon to climb meant that I would be using the wonderlight at the end of the pitch. Halfway through the climb, the sun started to set, and dozens of swifts flew and dive-bombed around in the evening sky. I stopped to enjoy the peacefulness of it all and finally embraced the quietness of being alone on the wall. I knew night was coming, but I no longer panicked. And when I started climbing, I was amused to realize I had duct taped the wonderlight slightly skewed – so in order to look at my placements, I had to rotate my head left and stare through the corner of my eye. I couldn’t be bothered to fix it, and it was kind of stimulating when the aiding requires hooks. I finished up around 9pm, rapped to my kit and hunkered down for the night on the granite.
Day 7: October 3rd, 2012
Bring on the Nipple
I felt more relaxed. It was still warm, but the higher elevation brought on a breeze. I got up early and eat a hearty breakfast, packed my lunch and started cleaning P8. It went smoothly and before I knew it, I was hauling. While hauling, I noticed a very fast party coming up the wall. A party of 3 and so I yell out to them “HELLO!” The response: “Hey! Do you need a headlamp??” HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT? “Mark told us!”
I was feeling a lot of love for Mark right then and there. :)
I started up P9, and the C3 section was intimidating. A couple of cam hooks and beaks took me through the lower half, but as I switched across cracks, I took a fall. The weight of the gear flipped me upside down, and I swung for a bit before I righted myself. I stared at the dislodged offset cam accusingly, “YOU BLEW ON ME?!” It had nothing to say.
I carried on, finished off P9, hauled, and now was staring at the intimidating traverse of P10, the Nipple pitch. Beta on the Supertopo said inverted cams, WILD! Haha – BRING IT.
It was late afternoon, and I saw the party of 3 stop at P7 for their evening bivy. I felt I had enough time to do the Nipple, and would probably be hauling in the dark. I was feeling marginally stronger and just slightly more confident and wanted to get it done!
The traverse WAS wild and I was grateful for the fixed gear when it came. Getting around the awkward Nipple bit at the bolt was challenging. The weight of the rack pulled me down, and I was basically horizontal while trying to get around the tip. Definitely Type 2 fun. But with all that groveling, I felt the crux of the pitch to be high up. Evening was fast approaching so I did much of the pitch in the dark with the wonderlight. Hooking and micronuts were essential and the hauling was done in the dark. Fortunately, the bivy was FILLED with bolts, so Henri was high up and easy to access. Tomorrow, Alice, you will take it easy. After all, is going to be your birthday.
Late text msg to loved ones: Up on 10 today. Working thru my water like it’s my job. Good thing I walked some up. Trying for 2 pitches a day. Today was a hard day!
Day 8: October 4th, 2012
Party at the Zorro!
It was a luxurious morning on the ledge. I slept in, stretched, made some hot chocolate, ate a slow breakfast, and laid out in the sun as I watched the party of three climb up. My intention was to let them pass and then start my climbing. Judging by their speed, I thought I could get in a single pitch in the afternoon.
From P7, the threesome reached me at P10 just after noon and climbed efficiently past me. Drew, Jack and Matt… really nice guys who gave me the BEST birthday present ever, a headlamp to borrow. (Jack, you are the MAN). As I watched, I thought to myself – party of three! Now THAT’S the way to do it!I also observed some really good beta, top stepping combined with climbing vs. using just your aiders, and BACK CLEANING! Of course! Why haven’t I been doing that?
Following close behind these guys was a party of two, Ryan and Josh that were climbing the Zodiac in a DAY. It was my 5th day on the wall, and these guys were flying up in just a day. They were climbing in blocks and I let them pass as well. Ryan climbed above and went out of site when he cried out and took a pretty big fall, his piece blew. Josh and I looked at each other and Josh said, “You probably didn’t need to see that”. Haha – he was right. Before leaving, they told me there was another soloist coming up the route but I couldn’t see him.
As soon as Josh took off, I mobilized. I started climbing and felt that it went efficiently and smoothly. No falls, some hooks, some reachy moves, but overall, not bad at all. However, winds had picked up in the afternoon, and my ropes were flying all over the place. The updrafts brought the end of my rope eye level with me, and that was quite unnerving. But as the afternoon passed and evening settled in, the winds calmed. The Mark of Zorro was a steep pitch, so I flagged my ledge, cleaned (back cleaning made this an easy clean) and hauled a deceptively light Henri up to the top of P11, my home for the evening.
Late night txt to loved ones (after hearing that Tom was writing about me): Soooooo tired!! I’m curious to read the report when I get back. P.S. the yellow is a brim that someone gave to me that goes over the helmet. Ok. Second battery dying. Wish my solar charger worked. Bummer. K ttyl.
That night, El Cap hosted a party. Mark Hudon yelled “Happy Birthday, Alice!!!” from Lost in America, and Ben and Dave from the Reticent put on “disco” lights and I lit sparklers on my ledge. There was a lot of hooting, hollering, Tarzan calls, coyote howls, and other various animal noises from all over. I toasted the evening with hot chocolate and bourbon (thanks Rob!), and opened up the little prezzies my friends sent up with me. With the Milky Way above and me wrapped up in my sleeping bag, I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face. It was the best, most unique birthday ever.
Side Note: That evening, I heard that same sound of something falling off the rock. It was much further from me than the one 2 days before, but the sound is unmistakably large. I don’t understand why people would risk injuring others and throw their belongings off El Cap. It seems like an incredibly selfish way to behave and reflects poorly on a community that needs to coexist with the park. I feel that in doing this, they jeopardize the future of the sport in Yosemite, and that is just shameful.
Day 9: October 5th, 2012
I was feeling much better after resting for half a day. The sun was hidden behind clouds, and cooler temps actually made it a bit chilly. Heading up P12 was fun, but oh mah gawd, the hooking! I took a fall when one of my hooks popped and decided that the inverted hooks on the Nipple weren’t so bad after all! As the morning progressed, the wind picked up and after releasing my kit, my flagged portaledge was spinning in circles above Henri. I was worried about trashing my ledge and decided to haul from a lower position and guide the ledge up. It worked and I collapsed it when it reached the anchor.
Lunch break. By now, I had my sights set on the summit and the next pitch (P13) to Peanut ledge was the longest one on the route. A bivy there meant that I’d only have 3 shorter pitches left to climb and that sounded very appealing to me. I was motivated and there was still plenty of daylight. With just one tricky section, this pitch was probably one of the easier pitches on the route. I reached Peanut ledge while it was still light, and stopped in mid-clean to watch the most beautiful, crimson sunset. The break meant hauling in the dark again, but I didn’t care. I planned to sleep directly on Peanut ledge as I did on P7 so there was little to set up.
Evening text msg to loved ones: One peanut ledge now. Today got coooold. Dammit! Something in the middle, pleeeeease?? Gotta make supper. Can summit tomorrow night, but prefer daytime summit so one more night on the wall.
Day 10: October 6th, 2012
Waking up on Peanut ledge is very exciting, only 3 more pitches!! And it seems that I had gone through the hardest of the aiding. I was feeling very happy. AND it wasn’t boiling hot. Life was good.
The pitch above Peanut ledge was a long run out flake of #5 cams followed by an airy traverse to the next anchor. The C1 section was long, but the placements were bomber. (At this point, I was very happy that my friend Robin Liu convinced me to borrow her second #5!!!)
The wind was whipping around and my ropes were blown out of their buckets and flying everywhere… Once I finished, hauled and was about to clean, I noticed my main line was wrapping around the haul line. This happened before on a previous pitch but I was able to undo it when I pulled my lines up. This time, there was no undoing it from the top. My main line wouldn’t let go. I had a choice of either hauling Henri and sorting the ropes out as he got close or rappelling down to the kit and managing the ropes where they were at that moment.
I opted to rappel down to Henri because I knew what I was dealing with at that point. Had I pulled the pig up, there might have been some issue that I wasn’t seeing just yet. At least that was my logic.
So 100 feet down, in free air, Henri and I swung and spun around as I straddled him and unwrapped the main rope from him. It turns out the rope was wrapped around the pig, the piglets, the far end hauler, the rotor, ALL of it. Henri! Ah PUTAIN!! It’s good to know you like getting tied up, but could you pick a better time to share this with me?
Once the ropes were sorted, I jugged back my main line and brought Henri up. This debacle cost me quite a bit of time, and resulted in a giant heap of spaghetti ropes which required several flakes to untwist.
And now… the penultimate pitch. A wandering C2 pitch with a fun 5.7 traverse on an alarmingly thin flake. After running out the previous pitch, I didn’t have any problems back cleaning this one leaving a big run out between myself and the last piece. And finally, at the anchors and sloping ledge on the top of P15, I stared up at the summit. I could SEE it. I had already planned to summit the next day, but summit fever was coursing through my veins and I was tempted to just go for it. It was just 90 feet away and it would save me a haul! But then I thought again… I have a ton of water and food leftover, I am finally enjoying the climb, and I preferred to be less than exhausted when I reached the top. So, I unpacked the ledge, and waited patiently for daytime…
Day 11: October 7th, 2012
I woke up to someone yawning. I looked up and there wasn’t anyone at the summit. It must be below me. And indeed, Luis, the solo climber below me had caught up and was camped out on Peanut ledge. Impressive!
I enjoyed a hot breakfast and gathered myself together for the last pitch. I moved slowly, deliberately, and was a little melancholic. I reflected on all the build-up leading to this climb and the constant self-doubt I experienced along the way. And there I was, 90 feet from the summit!!! Well, Alice, you’re not exactly on the summit yet. AHHHHH, shaddup.
As it turned out, this last pitch was the scariest pitch of all for me. I never felt the need to hammer on the climb, but this C2F pitch had no F at the crux, and I almost considered going down to get the brass I hauled up. It was scary, awkward and there was definitely decking potential. In fact, while at the crux, Luis came into view below me and I asked him to verify that I was on route. Surely this blank corner was not it! But after confirming the piton with him, I knew it was time sack up (thanks for teaching me that phrase, Blake).
A series of shallow hooks, a rocking beak, and high stepping brought me to the fixed piton and thankfully, the rest of the pitch was pretty straight forward.
And then… I was at the top. Holy bi-polar, I threw my hands up in the air and cheered, and then was completely overwhelmed with emotion and wept. The climb was so demanding and spanned so many days… I couldn’t believe I actually made it.
Text msg to loved ones: Summited and cried like a little girl. Tell everyone (except for the crying part).
And then Henri. There was still a haul. So, with a tear streamed face, I lowered to my kit and was greeted by a smiling Luis who just reached the top of P15. He gave me a congratulatory hug and we chatted briefly before we returned to business of topping out. I hauled my final haul, and had to take the portaledge, personal haul bag, and porta-fly off the bottom so I could lift Henri over the edge.
Luis joined me shortly thereafter, and we enjoyed lunch (the food I left at the top on Day 1) and a toast of bourbon at the top. It was amazing that we both topped out at the same time and it only seemed perfect that we would share this moment together as we both just did the same thing (well – he in 3.5 days and me SLIGHTLY longer). We organized our belongings, showered with our remaining water, and lingered at the top to savor the sweet taste of success (or was that the bourbon?) We were greeted by Ben and Dave (the guys on Reticent with the disco lights!) and congratulations went all around. After our chat, Luis and I started the long hike down. Amazingly, Luis carried all his gear down in one trip. I, on the other hand, carried only some of my kit and planned to return for the rest later.
Day 12: October 8th, 2012
The tradition of a solo
During the climb, Mark Hudon and a few friends told me that Tom Evans posted a bunch of pictures of me on the El Cap Report. I was slightly mortified because I was struggling so much and had made the most god-awful mistakes. But then I was also so touched by the interest people had in seeing me to the end. Many offers came to help shuttle my load back down from the top and many sent me congratulatory notes. I never imagined that a rookie like me would gain such attention. It was very humbling.
I deeply appreciated all the offers of help, but in the end, I wanted to respect the tradition of a solo and do it by myself. I almost looked at this part as the opposite of the walk of shame. It’s the walk of unshame! And so, up the east ledges I went, and brought everything down (after cleaning up an awful mess left by crows – thanks Roger and Robin for the zippies).
The Zodiac was my first rope solo and the hardest aid route I’ve ever attempted. Despite the research and practice, I made many rookie mistakes. I’ve never spent that much time on a wall before, and it was the most physically exhausting and mentally taxing thing I have ever done. I had to push through some pretty high temperatures, and often times, I couldn’t concentrate past 1 or 2 steps. The only thing I did ensure was that I was always safe (Alice, if I take this out, what’s holding you in the wall?) and that I backed up everything (sometimes 2 or 3 backups because I didn’t trust myself to recognize that I’ve covered all the possible failures of my system). At times, I simply didn’t think I could physically make it as I wasn’t eating. In the end, I lost approximately 6 lbs.
Fortunately, I had guardian angels watching over me. Mark Hudon and his nephew Paul texted me almost every day to check in (Mark was climbing Lost in America so I didn’t feel so alone on the wall). My dear friend and emergency contact Jill Greenblatt helped liason my text msgs back to my loved ones. Jeremy Roop, one of my inspirations for climbing El Cap, would send encouraging messages to keep me going… Joe Simonsen, who lent me some gear, told the whole world I was going to do this so that I couldn’t back out. All my buddies checked in from time to time. And of course Tom Evans and his posts that encouraged strangers to care.
There are a million thank you’s to send out to many for their support which I will do in private. However, it would be impossible to say that I could have done any of this without Robin Liu and Erick Davidson. They generously lent me SO MUCH of their expensive gear and if it wasn’t for them, this climb would have been impossible for me to do. THANK YOU GUYS!!!
One final note… it is a special thing to be able to climb El Capitan. There is so much spray about it that I think it becomes just another rock for people to conquer. But for me, it was about feeling the rhythm of one’s body and finding its balance and flow on the rock… an active meditation of the vertical kind. It was about the swifts that soared in the evening sky, the fiery sunsets, the powerful updraft of the wind that lifts one’s portaledge, the little El Cap wall frogs, one’s own personal Milky Way, and the hyper-focus of one’s mind. I thought I would feel empowered after finishing the route, but not so much… I’m profoundly humbled. I struggled greatly through this climb, and was lucky on many incidences.
People have asked me if I would ever solo again… My response has been “Ask me in a month”. However, one thing is certain, if there ever is a next time, I will NOT forget my pants.