Horse Chute A3 5.7
Trip ReportGoing slowly fast on El Cap's Horse Chute
El Cap speed climbs often feel really slow. At 1:30 am on October 8, Ammon McNeely and I were at hour 18 trying to make the first one day ascent of Horse Chute. I was belaying one of the last few pitches to Thanksgiving Ledge and drifting in and out of sleep. I’d look at the time, pay out some rope, and close my eyes. When I looked at the time again, what seemed likes second later, 30 minutes had gone by. What we hoped would to be a nice and speedy 14-hour effort was now dragging on. We had both lost steam and transferred from being psyched, to tired, to physically exhaustion and mental numbness. Maybe next time we should have slept more that 4 hours before such a big climb.
This year has been my El Cap comeback. After many years just feeling like there was nothing left I wanted to climb on the big stone, I’ve rediscovered that unsupressable urge to have two thousand feet of air under my toes. My return to El Cap has confirmed what I have always suspected: my general psyche on life is directly proportional to the number of times I climb El Cap in a year. This would be my 6th El Cap ascent of the summer and number 12 Ammon. Of those 12, 9 were speed records. Needless to say, Ammon McNeely is on fire.
Ammon and I left the Bay Area around 8pm. After reaching the Valley and racking up, we got to sleep at 12:45am. We slept 3 hours and 45 minutes, woke up at 4:30, and started climbing just before 7am.
Here is a photo of our rack. A typical El Cap speed rack: a couple tiny aliens, two sets of hybrid alien, two sets of medium sized aliens, two sets of camalots. 20 nuts, a couple hooks and cam hooks. 6 draws, 8 slings, some free biners, and a small selection of pins. The topo we had called for 26 arrows. Between the two of us, we had 3. But, as we learned on our last climb together on Never Never Land, when I forgot the number 1 camalots in the car, you can usually get by, somehow. Besides, lost arrow size is cam hook size.
I led the first 6 pitches which were mostly on the Dihedral Wall. It was cool to see chalk from Tommy Caldwell and others who were free climbing the route. Out of respect to the free climb, I didn’t bring the hammer on these pitches, in order to make it less tempting to nail. I would encourage everyone to do this on Dihedral Wall. The route goes clean safely. (Of course bring the hammer and pitons just in case).
Here is a shot of me flashing some kinda gang sign (??) on pitch 3:
Here I am just reaching the belay at pitch 6:
Ammon took over. Here he is on pitch 9 or so doing a cool pendulum
Here is a shot of me cleaning pitch 11. Ammon back cleaned a ton. Which meant I got to take to rad swings… like I am about to take right here.
Pitch 11 started with a roof.
The first piece was and inverted cam hook. It looked super crappy. But, adhering to the rule of “if it holds, you must step up on it” Ammon stepped up and… promptly whipped back onto the anchor. Twenty feet higher, he moved right from some pins to fixed heads. After a light bounce test, he stepped up on a head that then blew. He sailed 20 feet into space. No biggy for Ammon who took 3 HUGE falls on his last El Cap push. However, when he got back up to his last piece he found a nasty core shot:
Unfortunately, the core shot was 50 up the rope. So for the rest of the climb we had to deal with it in one way or another.
This brought us to THE pitch of the route. Perhaps the coolest aid pitch on all of El Cap. Big talk for sure. But I can’t think of another pitch that is cooler.
This is the pitch that you supposedly need 26 arrows for. But with a lot of cam hooking, Ammon placed 3. The next photos are of me looking up at Ammon right before he led the pitch, Ammon Leading the pitch, and me cleanin.
Shortly after this photo it got dark and I took over the lead. I pulled some wild roofs. I was glad it was dark. As I could not see the exposure.
At this point the climbing started to slow. Physical climbing combined with the lack the sleep the night before took the speedyness out of our speed ascent. The 14 hour pace we were on in daylight shifted to an 18 hour pace. Then 20 hours.
Finally, around 3 am we topped out with a time of 20:39. We were both so fried it took us a 10 minutes just subtract the starting time from the finishing time. We felt like we had taken way longer than necessary. And entered “the suffering zone” But we still got the first one day ascent, so we were psyched. Too worked to walk down, so we bivied.
I was cold that night. I passed out for about 30 minutes and woke up violently shaking. Imagine “Elvis Leg” of the whole body. I walked in circles to keep warm. Ammon claimed he was cold, too. But he wasn’t too cold to sleep soundly for 3 hours... punk. So, in a fit of jealousy (for him getting z’s), I decided to snap this photo of him. Notice that he carefully flaked the rope on the rock to give a little more insulation… but isn’t actually sleeping on it.
We got going and started the descent at 8am. We hoped that Lincoln’s El Cap summit clean up crew would meet us up top. I planned to fake a sprained ankle at which point the clean-up crew would carry my gear down for me. But we never got to meet the clean up crew or try my idiotic (and only half serious) plan.
By 11am we were in the Valley. A brief shower and beer run led to an extended El Cap meadow session staring at el cap and incoherently babbling to those nearby about… well, I forget because I was pretty fried at that point. In the last 3 days, I’d slept a total of 4.5 hours.
Here is a shot of us :
But ammon stayed awake until I passed out in the meadow and got his revenge for the photo I shot the night before:
I’ll end with a sunset photo from el cap meadow:
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