Aurora A4 5.7
Trip ReportAurora - Kait's impulse B-day adventure
It was just another day in the desert, north central Nevada… the vast, wide open spaces kept me occupied. Plenty adventure to be had. I was hanging in “The Muck” contemplating my next move. Do I go to the Ruby’s? Get lost in the Santa Rosa’s again? Some good cliffs to be explored…
The morning routine started with checking my messages and one popped like a soar thumb. Kait wanted to know if I wanted to climb El Cap for her birthday. That’s like asking a junkie if they wanted a fix, so I imagined.
She’s a geologist, working for one of the local mines and waited for a reply from her boss to get the days off. I tried to get a hold of my new employer, an antenna building guru whom I happened to get a chance to work for. Luck was on our side, the project was on hold due to a guy wire being 30’ on BLM land and Kait’s boss was in good spirits about her going to live on a cliff for her birthday. I grabbed my trusty old Donny Reid book and started thumbing the pages. Most of the east face routes were highlighted and a lot of the west face was closed due to peregrine falcons. Aurora wasn’t. Seemed like an obvious choice.
Kait was psyched, “This will be my 5th El Cap route”, she said.
I smiled and reminded her that we weren’t at the summit, yet… nor back to the parking lot, and then gave her a huge grin. We did some quick food shopping, stopped by the storage shed to get our gear and headed towards the Valley within a few hours of this impulse trip. Seat of our pants, spur of the moment, take it as it comes… just like I like it.
The usual suspects were at the bridge when we rolled in; Tom Evans, the Captain of the Captain’s. Mark and his partner Cheyenne just got done climbing Shortest Straw, Matt, Pete, Aaron. Tom introduced me to a Korean guy who was ground crewing for a team on The Trip as I was racking. He picked up one of old rigid stem friends from a pile we were leaving behind and just pointed and laughed hysterically.
“Whad iz thiiiis?” he cried.
As I continued to rack our gear I noticed the Valley seemed kinda dead for having such great weather, temps were dropping, looked like mostly mid 80’s while we were going to be on the wall.
Kait’s mom drove up from Oakdale to hang out and celebrate her birthday, which was the previous day. We humped loads to the base but the first mission was to pull the Alcove Swing rope. The consensus was that it was a junk show, somebody is bound to get injured or killed and it must come down. I figured I was just the man for the job, YAARRRR!
While up there I talked to Kate and Eric, a truly seasoned team, while on their adventure; Tempest. I stripped the wall of tat and hopefully did some good for the community but figured I wouldn’t be too popular with the “Boy’s Town Swinger’s”.
That night Momma Barber (aka: #1supermom) got a birthday dinner at the Mountain Room and Kait and I started towards the base to start our climb. Strange dreams awaited, and seemed to be a theme throughout the wall.
Getting geared up in the morning… and throughout the night, while bivied near the first bolt… we heard objects being dropped and hitting somewhere in the trees. We decided to go for a bootie hunt. We found six to seven carabiners, mostly Korean. A camera that was still working, lot’s of Korean folk on it, poop bags, some leather gloves, which weren’t fingerless and were too small to fit me. We also found a cache of cams, pins and other random gear. A bear had pulled it out from under the rock it was stashed in. I pushed the gear back, put the camera and gloves in there, placed some rocks around it… and kept the carabiners that were dropped.
We started getting focused on gearing up for the wall just as a couple showed up to climb “The El Cap Tree”. Kait hadn’t heard of this old school route and I was surprised people actually still see it as a goal.
“How is it that I know more about El Cap than you? If you’re climbing Aurora?” the man called Jim, asked Kait.
We discussed strategies and after being showed the The Supertopo recommending a 5.9 direct way, I decided I would check it out even though we just got done scrambling down from the start where the first bolt is.
I climbed 30’ feet and realized I didn’t have a big enough cam to protect myself and didn’t want to ask Kait to dig in the bag for the tool. I down climbed and went to the left. Ahhh yes, this is the 5.9, good climbing but poorly protected, especially in my wall shoes. I called for a hook to get past a thin free move.
“Um, there’s no hooks”, Kait said.
“What,! Really? Are you sure… lower me”, I double checked, and sure enough, no hooks. They must have gotten mixed up with the gear we left behind. We apologized to the “El Cap Tree Team” for the hang up, I was going to have to go get the hook’s.
“It’s ok, it was entertaining to see the El Cap pro, not find his way”, Jim replied.
I laughed, wtf? Nobody is perfect, I was just checking out new terrain and kinda felt derailed by him in the first place. I ran down to the car and sure enough, the hook’s were right on top of the discarded gear.
It wasn’t until after 3pm on Saturday before we re started, I just ran into way too many friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time. I abandoned the 5.9 direct start and went the 4th class start. It felt great to be on the rock again, starting a route that I hadn’t done. It starts on The Trip so had to get to the fourth pitch for new terrain, for me.
The first pitch fell and was onto the second. My memory sucks, I don’t remember any of the next pitch, I thought. Too many routes all jumbled together… perfect, it was like my first time. I studied the chicken scratches on the Reid photo and started second guessing myself if I was in the correct place, Korean cigarette butts stuffed in the cracks gave it away at the belays. I pulled them out and stuffed them in my pocket.
Kait is one tough girl but still figuring things out, she had a hard time cleaning the second pitch. I forgot the tag line while short-fixing and she had to throw it to me. I didn’t leave all that much gear and she had to jummar while traversing, dreading losing her balance and taking a big whip around the ramp. It was getting pretty late and she was nearly in tears when she arrived at the second pitch. Her psyche was fading.
“I don’t bail!!”, she wailed.
Even though I could tell she wanted to quit, we discussed our situation and decided to set up the ledge instead of continuing in the dark. Our goal was to make it five pitches, to The Bat Cave… but we started late and sometimes it takes a day to get into synch with wall life. Just more excuses.
Dreams flooded in again, I’m usually quite the hallucidreamer and flying is usually what I crave. It’s a slippery slope, though. If you practice it too much you can get insomnia. Portaledge life can be cramped, shoulders bent inwards for hours, silver fish, bad smells, dirt and debris. The night wasn’t too bad, I snuggled with my Kait and hoped for a better day tomorrow.
It’s always kind of a crux to get off the portaledge for Kait and I. We can wake up at 7am and not begin climbing until 11am, just not sure where the time goes. I’ve planned our ascents together to progress in her learning curve. At first I would bring PLENTY of beer because I knew it would take her awhile to figure things out. We went low on provisions the last few routes, but there’s nothing like a morning beer on El Capitan… maybe that’s were the time goes?
The drips flowing through the cracks were both invigorating and annoying. It was shockingly cold and refreshing, at the same time. I mostly tried to stay out of it as we made our way up to the big roof where the T-Trip goes down and Aurora continues upwards. The climbing wasn’t bad, finding plenty of A1 cracks for thin cams to fit in, just had to do some fiddling to make them stick. I found myself really focusing on leaving Kait with the easiest possible way to clean the gear, since she had a rough day, the day before.
One of progressions in the team is, short-fixing. I introduced it to her a few wall’s back and she’s picking up the concept well. I looked at the chicken scratches on the topo and decided I needed to make a natural anchor, half way up the slanted roof. I figured I would probably make it with the 70m rope, but felt like the rope drag and communication issues out weighed continuing. It always feels a bit odd putting all your eggs in one basket, meaning one crack. The biggest cam being a ¾”, but the crack was solid.
We continued up the next pitch, The Bat Cave… which was a pleasantly wild surprise. Suddenly I didn’t even feel like I was on El Cap as I free climbed, feet out, butt scumming and hand jamming out a narrow passage. This is one of the amazing things about El Capitan, I thought. You can climb it so many times and often find a completely new experience. I relished in the bombay squeeze.
Kait had a bear of a time getting through the tight place and cleaning the gear. Several times she contemplated leaving gear but each time she endured the suffering and got the job done. I suggested she take her helmet off so she could squeeze through some of the madness, which helped a lot.
That night we bivied underneath a clean roof on an overhanging section of the wall. The corners of the ledge didn’t touch the wall and we rocked, swinging quite a bit, even after shimming one of the corners with an old wall coat.
Day two, and only on pitch 5. Kait was feeling much better. Moral was improving and we were committed. I launched around the corner and out from under the roof. It was the first sun I had in 2 days, it felt nice, warm. The cracks we bivied under produced a wind tunnel. And once again we had trouble getting moving and out of our sleeping bags… it was nearly 1pm.
Just before the wide section on the 6th pitch I looked underneath a crack full of swift sh#t and BAAAM. Right in the eye… my good one. I tried every trick in the book, top lid over bottom, bottom over top. I even stuck my grubby finger in there to try and clean it out. Stung like hell and couldn’t see sh#t, but I continued anyway.
Again, I tried to think of the easiest possible clean as I climbed and placed pieces. I threw a finger sized cam in, called for the large arsenal and continued; very strenuous but without incident.
Kait had a hard time cleaning the pitch, it was awkward and pretty much kicked her ass. I coached her through the misery as I drank the last couple of beers. Day 3, out of beer and only six pitches up. Classic! Kait called her boss and warned him that we might get stuck on the mountain and not make it back to work on Thursday.
We only did two pitches, I made our nest in The American Zone while Kait finished cleaning the 7th pitch. That night’s bivy seemed like we were swaying in the breeze, from our experience from the night before, almost like we were feeling seasick.
Every morning we watched the progression of the few teams that were on the wall. Kate and Eric were making steady headway; I had a swollen eye from the contamination of dried bird crap, should have had some eye wear on. I squinted as I climbed the ramps of the Red Tower. The small mound of scratches on the topo had me guessing, again. I figured I needed to be on top of this system… I was looking forward to checking out the supertopo, just to compare the beta.
A soloist on the T-Trip was doing well and seemed very happy to be in wall mode. He had a three day start on us but figured we would pass him at the upper pitches, where Aurora junction’s with The Trip. A few shouts from The Nose, El Cap Tower every once in a while. But, not much other action on The Big Stone. Pretty quiet. The route’s quality really improved up on the headwall, above the looseness of the black diorite, clean rock, overhangs and fun cracks.
Day 4, everything was going great. We were most likely the first party going up these cracks and I was testing the fixed heads accordingly. The problem with fixed gear is it get’s rusty, the cables can take an extreme daisy test, but while hanging from the rotting wire, the tension will slowly break. Also, freeze thaw during the winter will loosen the medal blob and will cause it not to adhere to the rock, causing failure. Excuses, excuses…
WHIIIP! Ahhh, the thrill of falling without warning; there’s nothing like it. Two fixed heads blew, I was caught by a small beak, tipped out with an activated Yates Screamer… I just HAD to take a photo. I put two beaks in, five total hammer placements thus far, not bad. We put four pitches behind us and it felt good to move across the rock, efficiently. We set up camp on top of pitch eleven.
“Happy Birthday”, I told Kait first thing in the morning. Time to climb, let’s get off this thing. One of my b-day presents to Kait was big wall gloves. Is that like giving a vacuum to your wife, as a gift? Our goal was to top out and hike down in the morning, I told Kait that I was 100% possible but you never know what life is going to throw at you. We will do our best and the cards will fall where they will.
Day five… By this time, my best friend and I were in complete wall mode. Nothing could faze us, our communication was down to a science; Lines fixed, ready to haul… tagging gear.
It was her special day, her Birthday. I was proud to be her man, to be together, a team, to be where we were in this exact moment in time.
These were the “Money Pitches” for the FA team. The goods! What makes big wall climbers tick. I imagined what it would be like to forge new territory and knew it was a completely different game when Peter Mayfield and Greg Chiled first put it up in 1981.
WHIIIPPP!!! Another fixed head blew, without warning. Our groove was on. Kait was cleaning like a fiend. The soloist on The Trip started singing a song about a “junction” as he passed where we were to intersect the route.
The wind was blasting, it didn’t seem like a good idea to try and pass; our ropes would do a gnarly tangle with each other. 3pm, I extracted the portaledge and we spent the rest of the afternoon of Kait’s B-Day, snuggling, relaxing and observing Brant, the soloist on The Trip, who happened to be a monkey I had met before.
We pulled out our weapons, shot at each other… but only came out with some photos. We slept for eleven hours straight, although I flew a few hours in the night… or was that insomnia?
I facebooked Brant later, that if I was a TRUE pirate he wouldn’t have had a summit beer left. See, he lowered his bags out and they were right next to our ledge. Yeah, I’m just having fun, I would never rogue a man’s beer… I left the camera and gloves, didn’t I?
The next morning we got up early, 6:30am… but didn’t start climbing until 10am, go figure. A party was heading up the Zodiac, they seemed dialed. In a day, I predicted to Kait. Many pirate and monkey calls came from the team, but I was still skeptical. Imposters? Perhaps?
I figured it was someone I knew and just started calling them “The Boys”. Come to find out it was a friend Alfrey.
The scratches on the worn out, crinkled topo that I pulled out of my pocket suggested that I could make it to the ledge, before the 16th, slab pitch, to the rim. I had my doubts but tried it anyway… came up short. We were running a 75m from Bluewater and figured with the extra rope I would make it. I got to the last cresent crack, pulled up all the rope… looked at it, figured it would do the job. I clove hitched the carabiner in front of me, it was attached to a good ½” cam. I rope soloed the rest, just so I could see what I had to work with. By this time I was wishing I had a Supertopo... I barely made it to the anchors without any rope to spare.
I hauled the bags while Kait cleaned. I climbed the last pitch. Both ropes got stuck in a small horned flake while climbing past the first tree. I ended up having to fix ropes, rapping down and getting it out of the pinch.
We were finally on the top. We took our obligatory summit photo and got ready for the descent. I told Kait to pack what she thought was the max she could carry. I stuffed the rest in a grade 7 haul bag and made our way to the parking lot. Where the adventure really ends. We were sore but satisfied with what we had accomplished.
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