South Face C1 5.8
Trip ReportLearning to Aid on a Big Wall
Learning How to Aid Climb on a Big Wall
South Face Washington’s Column: Grade V 5.8 C1
Dec. 8-9, 2008 Eric and Ryan McAuliffe
Ever since I started climbing in a gym and hearing about climbing on El Cap, I knew I wanted to climb big walls or at least thought it would produce quite a challenge, especially in Yosemite Valley. I think probably every climber has the desire at some point in their careers, to climb the big walls of Yosemite. After two solid seasons climbing cracks and placing gear from 5.7 to 5.9 around California and Idaho, from the basalt columns at Table Mountain to classic High Sierra peak routes and climbs in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows and the East Side, I had been becoming more and more drawn towards wall climbing. After cragging in The Valley around peak wall climbing season and being exposed to real aid climbing that was going on, I went and bought a pair of etriers and daisy chains, a fifi hook, borrowed a couple jumars and headed to Moby Dick, on the base of El Cap. Climbing the one-hundred sixty-five foot pitch with my brother Ryan, I lead the .10a fingers crux off the ground, made my way about thirty feet past the crux, quickly burned out and lowered off. Next was Ryan’s turn to try to push the rope up further. He made about fifty feet more progress with a few french free moves and built a hanging belay around sixty feet shy of the anchor. At this point, what had began a free climbing ascent, was quickly becoming an aid tutorial. Up I came with my brand new aiders and a whole slew of pro, proceeded to crack jummar with a 3.5 and 4 Camalot about forty feet up the sustained 4” fist crack and through the small roof, finally reaching the anchors about two hours after we set off! Ryan cleaned while free climbing and we rappelled to the ground feeling humbled by our first climb on the Capitan, and my first real half pitch of aid.
Fast-forward two months to December seventh. Ryan called me to see what I had planned that week. We had previously discussed getting on The South Face of Washington’s Column, decided that the weather was going to be stellar for early and wanted to squeeze one more climbing adventure in before the long winter. After a couple of borrowed jummars and a hauling device, Ryan headed out from Tahoe to pick me up. Neither of us has been to Yosemite this time of year and didn’t know what to expect. When we pulled into Curry Village there were five cars at seven at night! No pizza for us tonight, bummer; back to Camp 4. After an hour or so of sorting and racking gear, a few beers and some smoke followed by a rather short lived encounter with an NPS ranger checking out everyone’s car, we hit the sack totally amped for the coming days.
Six in the morning waking up to a fair amount of frost on my make shift pillow doesn’t usually motivate me to want to get out of my bag, but a quick thought of what we were here to do got the blood flowing. We quickly drove back over to Curry Village to eat some oatmeal and drink coffee, then stash all the extra food in the bear box. The approach leaves from the Awhanee right below Serenity Crack, which always looks sweet. The approach to the South Face routes was not to bad, even with both of us both carrying about fifty pounds. A short stroll on a trail to seven hundred feet of talus gets you to the base of Washington’s Column. Upon reaching the top of the fourth class to the nice five by five foot ledge, we could see the Prow really well and joked about going up that instead because it looks so great, but we had a mission already.
Out came the ropes and rack and after a little reorganizing, Ryan set off on the first pitch free climbing. The topo says “bad hauling here”, but we handled it smoothly. Pitch 2 was mine. 5.11c tips to .10b corner, one hundred feet. Setting off on my first true aid pitch, I cruised it in about an hour and Ryan cleaned quickly only to get the rope stuck below. No biggie just a quick rap back down to unstuck the rope and then jug back up. Pitch 3 was another free pitch with some good steep 5.7 and 5.8, which proved to be very strenuous for me while cleaning with the heavy pack on. A couple of groans and grunts and we were standing on Dinner Ledge at about 12:30pm. This will be our bivy for the night, and the Kor Roof above is HUGE!
Lunch went for about an hour before Ryan began leading the Kor Roof pitch. Easy 5.6 flakes lead to a bolt, then 5.8 face to a bolt ladder up the roof followed by a huge reach to a blind placement in a crack. Getting up the roof seemed easy but Ryan defiantly had some trouble pulling the lip. Twenty minutes or so and back to easy sailing up good splitter cracks, one more little roof and bolts for a solid one hundred and fifty foot C1 pitch with a big roof in the middle, all this being Ryan’s FIRST pitch of aid. Now it was my turn to clean, which I have never done before while jugging, especially through a roof followed by a right leaning crack. Up to the roof was quick and painless, and then all hell seemed to break loose. Ryan was shouting from above for me to move my aiders around, but I was all flustered and couldn’t figure it out, and I eventually got all my gear, aiders, daisies, fifi, the rope, everything in this huge tangled twisted bundle as I was pulling the lip of the roof. For about fifteen feet I was using the right jumar in my left hand and the left jumar in my right hand. Basically the best way to describe it was a total and complete cluster f**k. After some more heated debate between the two of us, I got everything back in order and finished the pitch in about forty-five minutes. After we fixed and rappelled back to Dinner Ledge, we were super gassed. We watched the sun set as we prepared our dinner and said to each other, “WOW, I guess nobody said this was going to be easy!”
Sunset was gorgeous and The Valley got super quiet as we settled down and made some Chocolate Mole, quite tasty stuff a thousand feet off the valley floor after a day of climbing I tell you. Cheers were had as we sipped good tequila and had a smoke, looking down at Curry Village, gazing around and feeling like not to many people were around. I had never experienced Yosemite Valley with such a quiet feel before. As we were getting ready to go to sleep, I spotted a Pine Marten on the ledge with us. Right then I knew he was going to torment me the whole night. The critter managed to get the last of our trail mix out of the haul sack. The little guy made me loose some sleep, but we were in his home and he was just utilizing his resources. I think its cool coming across animals on a wall, they get to some pretty extreme places.
Daybreak hit and the smell of coffee was glorious on the ledge. We were both still pretty gassed from the previous day. We did math the night before and figured that at our current pace we were moving too slow to top out today. We both had learned a lot from the climb so far and had a handful of firsts occur. After a lazy breakfast we decided to take what we got and go down. There were definitely A LOT of techniques and systems for aid climbing we had yet to master, which were the main causes of our slow progress.
While Ryan jugged back up to the high point to clean our gear, the rope got snagged as he was pulling it, so I soloed up about fifteen feet to free it and on my return to Dinner Ledge, proceeded to bruise my heel real nice. Packed up, going down. Three rappels with definite possibility of getting ropes stuck, and it only happened once, exactly where it got stuck the day before on pitch two. No big deal though and we were soon down climbing the fourth class and cruising back down the talus to the car. The talus and walking proved quite painful on my heel and I was glad that we were not that far out.
On our drive out we scrambled up to the climb Meltdown in upper Cascade Creek, which Beth Rodden just redpointed last February, being the hardest crack in Yosemite, 5.14c. It was a really cool spot right by the waterfall and looked spectacularly hard. Great job Beth on that send. On the way back home to Bear Valley, we realized we left our food bin and a few other things in the bear box in Curry Village! I had a nice new pair of Cloudveil pants in there so I headed back on Thursday to rescue the stuff.
WOW! Big walls are hard. We had a great time and I did not expect it to be that difficult to do the roof pitch. There is a lot to learn still but I’m really psyched after this first wall attempt. For both of us being greenhorns at aid climbing, I think we did alright for a December attempt on a wall. We both had a blast figuring as we went a thousand feet off the Valley floor and I can’t wait to get back on it and send next time around.
Written by: Eric McAuliffe 12/10/08
South Face Washington’s Column V 5.8 C1
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