Trip ReportJones and Hudon - Lost in America, October 2012
Early October 2012
By Max Jones
At one point he ( Tommy T.) was rapping back to the anchor but stopped and looked at Max. “So Max, you said it was great, but do you want to do it again?”
T2s question on top of El Cap after climbing South Seas/PO last October 2011 with Mark caught me off guard, but my response was instant “oh yeah, I sure do!”
Committing to a second wall means you are back in the game. Was I?
To paraphrase Mark - Sometimes you do not know when your life will change directions. All we can hope for, as we stumble through, is to still be able to keep our eyes open for possibilities. And hopefully maintain the gumption to jump on those possibilities.
Last fall, finally being coaxed into climbing El Cap again by Mark was one of those possibilities. I found that I really really missed climbing and my friend had opened the door and presented me an awesome change of direction in my outdoor life on a silver platter.
Before climbing South Seas I had so much doubt about willingly diving into the discomfort of a wall yet a strange inner pull at the same time. An up to that time, unrecognized longing to be up there again. To once again engage in the cleansing sufferfest therapy that most walls become.It had been a long time. And so began my reentry back as a climber.
On South Seas, Mark totally took care of details and equipment and as he said “buffed me out”. It was hugely appreciated. Even still, the work and discomfort had really worked me. His preparation suggestions and tech information was the only way I would have ever been able to believe I’d get up El Cap again. I had not climbed at all for maybe 15-17 years before leading that first pitch on South Seas and that was a few years just clipping bolts. I last climbed El Cap some 30 or so years ago back when I was young and tough. So cool to see how all the new gear and techniques make it possible for someone slightly south of his prime to get back in the game with some greater degree of comfort. A least the aid climbing big wall game. Talk about leaping ahead in the future, kids these days do not know how good they have it. The new tools of the trade are amazing, mini cams, big honking mega cams, cam hooks, beaks, tomahawks, good small nuts, 2:1 hauling, porta ledges, hot meals, iphones, pour over coffee for gods sake!
After SS/PO I made lots of notes about things to do better or remember. First and foremost, adapt to hiking with weight. The approach should not kick my ass - especially an El Cap approach! Figure out how to rack gear so I could quickly find what I wanted. I needed to get glasses made so I could actually see to place small gear (just a bit stronger than my distance prescription but not reading strength). When to trim my fingernails (yes that specific but man my fingers really hurt last year - fyi not the day before, I’m trying mechanics gloves next wall, at least for cleaning!). How much water we went through and the temps. Better food to bring and most important, what food NOT to bring. Pack an extra spoon so when I forget one I still have one! Teather the spoon so I can find it. Make a topo with bigger pitch length numbers so our old eyes can actually read them. Leave pitch ratings off the topo. Aid ratings on routes that have seen a couple of dozen or so ascents seem pretty scattered anyway, may as well expect every fixed head to fail and every pitch sporty!
My notes from South Seas/PO. Just kept track of things to change and remember.
Big old guy pitch length numbers - the rest you pretty much do not need to see anyway.
I do not really mind suffering and hard work. I have worked hard all my life. Mountain bike racing was at times quite the short term suffer fest. I just hate suffering needlessly or because of mistakes in preparation. So off I went to become a climber again with the goal of being stronger, better at placing gear and a faster climber. And suffering less. After Mark talked to a few friends about some routes we had in mind, we decided on Lost in America for fall 2012. A step up into harder less traveled aid climbing for me. Mark wanted the A4 pitches and that was quite alright with me. A Randy Levitt route. So cool. Randy did his first wall with me. An early ascent of Tis Sa Ack on Half Dome back in 77. It would be cool to see first hand some of what Randy accomplished after I faded away from climbing.
The winter of 2012 was really mild and spring started early. I was able to climb at Sugarloaf and Phantom spires in January. So cool to watch my body sort of remember climbs and stumble up things I did a lifetime ago. So thankful for friends to be rope guns.
Being very mountain bike fit but not climbing for more than 15 years was not enough last year. Seems that the strength required to top step on a steep wall to reach some crazy out of reach rivet with a heavy rack and carry and haul heavy loads are fairly specific strengths required for walls. As I was no longer 20 and tough I needed to train a little smarter and more specific. Training... I pretty much had my fill of that bike racing. Hmmm maybe I’ll just to go climbing any chance I can and carry a heavy pack all the time! Simple!
I spent the spring and summer managing to climb maybe twice a week. Spent a number of very nice summer evenings at Donner with back in the day climbing friends who were great at picking a proper pace for my comeback. In addition, one evening a week I was able to go top rope soloing with a micro trax. What a cool little device. So convenient to get some quick laps in on the local small crags. This was just enough to get me flowing a bit better up the rock and confident with rope work.
Strange how you forget how good climbing is at rebooting the brain. Even a couple of hours here and there do the trick. Crazy year year of changes for my wife and I. Calling a career running a cross country ski area and grooming ski trails quits after 27 years. Last years ultra light winter was the last straw for our xc ski area on the east side of Tahoe. Just cannot rely on good winter snow on the east side of the lake it seems any longer. And the seemingly longer January thaw that just throws more importance that it snows enough for the Christmas holiday. The payday of the ski industry. It was a stressful summer lining up another location to move our bike shop, opening up a cafe in Incline and in the middle of it all getting our only daughter off to college. Kind of busy like every one is these days. Crazy life we all somehow get sucked into. Not sure why we let it happen. Those route filled camp 4 days of long ago are so alluring. The lucky are able to grab bits of the mountains every time they can. It is so cool to re find something that takes me out of that craziness if even for a little bit. And I am so lucky to be close to lots of climbing and friends to meet at the crags. I am baffled why I have not done it all along.
I was really to busy (scattered) to go to the valley. Mark even asked if it was going to be too much. Maybe. Probably. I really should have stayed home but I had committed a year ago to climb another route with Mark in the fall. Walls are wonderful islands isolated from the real world. Lots of work, random moments of terror, loads of problem solving and most importantly, one goal, kind of perfect! I really did not realize how much I needed to go. Yet I really needed to stay. Thankfully it ended up being not too hard on my awesome wife who ran our new cafe with the help of great friends while I got to slink away and reboot.
As hard as it was to drive out of my driveway, I did my best to not think, just go. The pull of staying home and on the ground is so so strong sometimes. Somehow, I’m still not sure how, I just went.
It was really hot for October. Mid to upper 90s in the Valley. I e mailed Mark to see if we should put it off a day or two as it was supposed to cool. I read on Tom’s El Cap report about Awesome Alice soloing Zodiac and she was baking. Mark told me to come on down. We can fix then decide to wait a day.
“Don’t think so much Jones” Mark used to tell me ... I did not know at the time but Mark and his nephew Paul had been hiking loads to the base. When I arrived at the bridge, after a very nice early morning drive down the east side to the valley he told me to load all my stuff - everything else was at the base - no sh#t - that is great! You guys rock! So only one heavy load up to the base for me.
And up we go. Pretty sure the topo said that the first pitch had an “r” bit off the deck. Meaning one could impact that deck if not careful. Our topo did not have pitch ratings on them just so we would not think so much about what was coming and always pay attention. Nothing worse than expecting an easy pitch pitch you think will go fast that is awkward and kicks your butt.
Mark points the way and - don’t think, just go... Part way up the pitch, Pete walks by and mentions that we might be off route. Why are we going that way - avoiding hard pitches already? And some other Great White North based slander. What?
If you are starting Lost in America here - go back down and start again in a different spot.
I quip that I was just doing a warm up and was soon going to pendulum over to the actual start. So down I come and head up the actual start. I was determined to do the first pitch much quicker than last years glacial five hour first pitch on South Seas. I was very relieved to note it was much shorter, not as steep and even had some free climbing mid pitch. The r part was clipping, testing and then trusting fixed heads. Not too bad, until they’re not. Then some exciting free climbing up a narrow and exposed ramp. Pretty fun. Finished. Much faster. So much more comfortable. Kind of hot but not too bad. Mark lent me his da brim - actually a pretty sweet helmet umbrella - I do believe it actually made a difference. I like the shade. My skin likes the shade. The sun gods will eventually take their due on your skin kids! Mark cleans, I haul, then it is off to a great dinner in camp provided by Marks uncle in law. Steak and potatoes! Sweet! I actually feel pretty good. Not wasted at all like last year. I am so psyched. Feels awesome to be established on El Cap this time after climbing for a year. And it is supposed to cool a bit through the week.
Wednesday morning a quick hike up to the start and off we go up the ropes to our waiting gear. And we are off - I’m hoping not to think too much and really enjoy Lost in America.
Pretty cool bit of shade. We come up with custom brim ideas through out the climb.
Rp3 Brim - Geology scale printed on it so when Tom takes a photo Roger has data.
Topo brim - topo of route printed on it.
Disco brim - flashing lights attached to help with birthday celebrations.
Yellow brim - reserved for the bad ass ascent of the season (Go Alice!)
The list could go on and on.
I guess the first ascent party had to lasso something to avoid drilling bolts in this section - pretty blank. There are bolts now.
So much of some pitches are becoming time bomb clip ups. Anytime we could get gear close to something fixed the fixed piece came out. At least most beaks and tomahawks will become hand placeable in quick time. There is an amazing difference looking at a pitch that is mostly free of fixed gear and one that is totally fixed. Kind of like the difference of riding a bike on the slick rock trail and then venturing out of sight from the painted lines. Try it sometime. Totally different experience. Route finding becomes important. You actually start looking around.
Start of the fifth pitch
Pretty secure hook moves off of the belay lead to a long line of beaks.
Pano of pitch 5.
End of the fifth pitch
Small nuts and cams under what was I am sure a pretty exciting expanding pitch back in the day with iron. Metolius cams. Magic. Just the ticket.
Mark devised a clever and quite simple anti tat system. Here I am cleaning a traverse that started at the belay. We had 25 feet of six mil cord. Place it directly through the piece and lower your self out. One can make it a two or three to one set up and lower out quite far. I think it is simpler and safer than the typical clip and unclip the jumar routine. A friend took a full rope length dive on the last pitch of Mescalito. Every time I uncliped that top jumar I think of that.
You can completely take apart an anchor and leave no tat even when you have to lower out directly from that anchor.
Mark on the 5.10r free climbing.
Mark was a bit nervous about this pitch after last spring on Iron Hawk. He did not look up once while cleaning until he arrived at the belay. I could see the relief on his face when the pitch did not look too bad. I did not get any photos of him at the bottom of the pitch as it was run out immediately off of the belay and I figured I’d pay attention. He cruised the pitch.
It is very run out. A snap to clean.
Max cleaning the 5.10 pitch.
An island of lower angle diorite in the middle of a steep climb.
Mark noted that the face pitch on Iron Hawk looked much harder.
Part of the bivy anchor on top of the 7th pitch. Bomber mix of Totem and Metolius master cams. We were loaned some Totem cams for the climb.
They evolved from back of the rack out of sight to right at home in the A team.
Very solid secure feel to these cams.
We each seem to grab a photo of our diciest hook move while on that hook.
I’m thinking that the placement was much better just to the left - until it wasn’t.
Mark on the crux aid pitch (8th pitch)
A fair number of hook moves to fixed heads. Pretty much every head had a bit of lower out tat on it from previous parties cleaning the pitch - not any more.
Lots of tricky placements and some loose stuff finishes off a long one.
Yes the heads are now gone. The hook was WAY better.
Toms view of the action. I kind of wonder how they picked out this line. Vague features connected by featureless sections. But yet, just enough for fun aiding!
Like most El Cap belays - nice spot - good views!
A fair number of hook moves between solid pieces.
Starts kind of the same way as the pitch before. Pretty secure hooking off of the belay but a fair number of hook moves in a row. I really really enjoyed this pitch. Quite spicy for me. Lots of hooks and unfortunately lots of death heads. One pulled when testing just to keep me on my toes.
Really made me think. And even though placements were pretty good it was the most consecutive hooking I have ever done and the landings, at least in my mind, were not all air.
Looking at kind of a bad fall to get to this spot but fairly secure hook moves.
Toms view. Big mix of rock types on the route.
My spiciest hook placement.
Not too bad or small but on a flat spot and not much of anything in below it.
Mark started this pitch the evening before but we ran out of light.
I finished it the next morning to set Mark up for the infamous Fly or Die pitch.
Out of the black and into the gold - Amazing rock! One of the prettiest sections of El Cap I think.
Fixed head and dead head.
We began to notice that under the dead heads we cleaned there was often a very good tomahawk placement. Most likely most of these old broken heads had been placed before beaks and tomahawks were invented. Take a butter knife when leading and take them out to have a look! Might actually find a better non time bomb removeable placement. Use a beak or tomahawk maybe we can get rid of lots of sketchy fixed heads. At least on climbs of this vintage.
The belay for the Fly or Die pitch.
Fly or Die panorama.
Wild spectacular pitch. Rated A5 on the first ascent we could see why. Very thin nailing, very steep and a big slab 100’ below you that you think you will hit if everything pulled. An added 3/8 bolt, a couple of added bat hook holes and many fixed heads take the sting out of it. Feels like you are suspended over the real pitch. Mark did not use the bolt nor did he see the bat hook holes. We wish we had the tools to remove the bolt and should have filled the holes. And removed all the fixed heads - then rapped back down, pulled the ropes and climbed it again - if we were real men.
Cleaning the last part of Fly or Die.
Place of Dead Roads.
No, I was not trying to be bad ass and only clip every fourth or fifth rivet. Just forget wire rivet hangers - only bring slotted rivet hangers and then you do what you have to. Make sure to plan ahead for those hook moves you won’t see coming! What a great pitch though. The top half is very much like the zig zags on Half Dome. Sweeping and majestic! I noticed that the layers of granite in the small corners were very different looking from each other. I hope I got good photos for Rodger!
Very cool clouds. Lots of cool different clouds these days.
End of the dead roads and the junk show.
Toms view of the top of the dead roads pitch - nice light!
The dawn wall from the top of the Dead Roads pitch. I think my favorite view of El Cap.
The small dot at the top next to the black streak is Dave Alfrey leading the top crux of Reticient. Ranger Ben is belaying.
Top of pitch 13 on ZM. Enjoying life!
Start of the last pitch - well actually the second to last pitch - Mark linked the last two.
Note the disturbing absence of gear left behind. Trying to make the rope reach the top
“Just a second Hudon, let me put a screamer on the belay!
Amazing sunset! I am glad Mark took the shot as I completely missed it cleaning the pitch.
Finishing in the dark.
So Hudon decides to link the last two pitches. He said it worked when he soloed ZM.
After the aid bit, he took off free climbing for the top left his rack and everything he could where the free climbing started. I got there in the dark and just put his gear rack on over mine and kept cleaning the pitch feeling like the double rack and rope weighed about 100 pounds. I switched over to the white haul rope when I reached the top of the lead rope and jugged to the top. Took me a few weeks to think about and figure out what he had done. The lead rope was tied off and then I just started up the haul line. I did not realize at the time he untied from the lead rope, anchored it for me then took off for the top short fixed to the white (static) haul rope. Yeah only 5.7 but still. Still not exactly sure of the precise Hudon magic to leave an end of haul rope tied to the anchor for me and then haul.
Good time to be really sure of what is going on when the haul rope comes tight and you think it is time to cut loose the bags!!
Trash from the climb - all of this rotten lower out tat was removed using our anti tat system.
And a sharp knife! Harder to see are the heads we removed. Maybe a dozen where we were able to avoid their use. I figure we also removed a dozen or more dead heads that open up more placements.
Isn’t the top of El Cap one of the coolest places there on the planet!
Great week and could not ask for a better climbing partner - just what I needed.
No need to ask the question this time. Heck yeah I’ll be climbing it again.
I am so in!
After a day basking in the glory in the meadow, I headed back home enjoying the slightly different look of the world after a very cool vertical walk about.
And now a glimpse of the view the truly bad ass wake up to.
I was going to post the video of our over stuffed haul bag taking it to Cheyne as he wrestling it on when he came up to help us hike our gear down.
This is the view from his bivy on the top of Fitzroy,
which was the third summit and last bivy of some monster linkup/traverse
he and his buddies did in Patagonia.
I sure the equivalent of more than a few El Caps were climbed in a crazy little amount of time.
Good on ya Cheyne! Sounds like quite the season down under.
Ah to be young and tough.
Got to keep on his good side so he helps us again!
And glad we were able to contribute to the empanada fund!
Ah hell can't let him get too big for his britches!
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