Native Son A4 5.9

  • Currently 4.0/5

El Capitan

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
Interview with Troy Johnson about first ascent of Native Son, El Capitan
Sunday January 16, 2011 10:58pm
Interview with Troy Johnson about first ascent of Native Son, El Cap. Interview by Justin Murano

J = My questions
T = Troy's answers

J - Did you map a possible route before you began your first ascent?
T - yea, we climbed Iron Hawk and Aurora and scoped the line.

J - were you frightened about putting up an unclimbed and unmapped route?
T- No, we were excited. Once we got going, we understood the only way down is up. The gravity, the ground has a downward pull on you, the gods pull you up.

J- Which parts of the climb stand out in your mind?
T- The coral sea and the Wing stand out in my mind as the most challenging and exciting. Walt and I shared leads, alternating each pitch.

J- what was the scariest experience of your climb?
T- Well, halfway up the Coral Sea, I was leading and very run out on a rivet and a copperhead or two, and Walt calls out casually, "Hey, don't you think you should drill a bolt now?" The part of the climb I enjoyed the most was the freeclimbing in the middle of the route.

J- Did you sleep in hammocks or did you have portaledges to bivy in?
T- We had portaledges to sleep in, but we stood in hammocks to belay some of the pitches.

J- how long did the climb take?
T- 6 days, 5 nights we topped out on the wall at night. We had brought a ghetto blaster and some tapes, and we got great radio reception. To lighten our load on the descent, we packed our water bottles on the bottom of our haul bag and tossed it off the top; we could hear the shouts of a tour at the bottom as our gear came crashing down! 'Course you cant do that anymore.

J- Where did you get the name for the machine head wall?
T- I had a graveyard shift grooming the slopes at squaw valley. In the machine room they had extra rivets lying around, and I would pocket them for climbing. Many of the rivets put up on Native Son are from the machine shop at squaw valley. We were on a tight budget.

J- Where did you live during the time of your first ascent?
T- I spent most of my time living in Camp 4, until I met Virginia, Tobin's Mother. [Tobin is my good friend from college]

J- What did you think about your accomplishment.
T- Not to sound modest, but at the time I didn't think anything of it! we were busy dreaming of the next route."

Here are some numbers Troy mentioned when I asked him what size equipment bolts and rivets they used, but I didn't get label them well in my notes. maybe you can identify these numbers.

Left hangers on. 5/8ths, 1 1/4th. 5/16ths blolts 1in bolts?

  Trip Report Views: 4,794
Chris McNamara
About the Author

The Larry

  Jan 16, 2011 - 11:39pm PT
I was amazed at the artistry of this route and the sandbag pitches that I got to lead.

Cheers to Walt and Troy.

True visionaries.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jan 17, 2011 - 12:01am PT

  Jan 17, 2011 - 12:08am PT
[Tobin is my good friend from college]


Tobin is Troy's son ....
The Guy

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Jan 17, 2011 - 02:09am PT
Wait, wait, wait... Chris, is Tobin your good friend from college or is he Troy's good friend from college? I think you meant yours but I'm just trying to get my facts straight.


Social climber
An Oil Field
  Jan 17, 2011 - 02:46pm PT
When I knew Troy, he was a sweet dude. Never heard him trash anyone, which was sort of the English Language of Yo at the time.

I feel so bad about his injury. It really was a shame.


  Jan 17, 2011 - 02:47pm PT
Good to glean something about the FA of this route. Great post, thanks.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
  Jan 17, 2011 - 03:44pm PT

Trad climber
Washington DC
  Jan 17, 2011 - 07:16pm PT
What happened to Troy?

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jan 18, 2011 - 12:56am PT
Great stuff.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jan 18, 2011 - 01:23am PT

right here, right now
  Feb 14, 2011 - 12:27am PT
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
  Feb 14, 2011 - 04:21am PT
The only way down is up.
That has gotta be one of the best climbing quotes of all time.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Feb 14, 2011 - 04:34pm PT
Hey, great stuff. I have never met Troy. I heard he took a nasty fall free soloing, and that he received very serious and life altering injuries - true?

Native Son is one of my favourite El Cap routes - superb situation, great climbing. It was my second solo of El Cap, and took me two tries.

I managed to get fixed to the top of 5, having knocked off the Coral Sea and the LONG traversing pitch above it, before bailing due to El Nino storms in the spring of 98. I came back in the fall and finished it, though, having had to relead and rehaul the first five pitches.

Chris Falkenstein rapped off the summit with 600' of ropes and made a cool video of me soloing near the top that is approaching a hundred thousand hits on Youtube.

Ah, I see Chris added a second part of it, haven't even looked at it yet, though it looks to be more of the same:

That's on the Golden Nipple Pitch near the top. Superb route, definitely miss Walt holding forth round the campfire in Camp 4.

Justin Murano

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
  Jul 1, 2011 - 11:13pm PT
Thank you to everyone who encouraged me finish this project. Troy and Walt deserve their place in the glossy pages of Big Walls. I'm glad I could play a part in their immortality.

ps. Tobin is Troys son, my college friend. He was 'on the way' during the climb, and the route is named for him. just to clear that up.


Mountain climber
Marooned, 855 miles from Tuolumne Meadows
  Jul 2, 2011 - 12:34am PT
Glad I caught this report. Thanks. It brought back many fond memories of all mentioned.
El Capitan - Native Son A4 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Native Son is route number 23.
Photo: Galen Rowell
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