Prow C2F 5.6
Trip ReportLessons learned for Big Walls
It was probably the philandering BASE jumper that planted the seed… before hearing about him climbing up Lurking Fear to BASE jump off the summit for his birthday, I hadn’t put much thought into walls… a month later I had a dream about climbing Lurking Fear, and arbitrarily decided I’d do so when I turn 36 in 2016.
So I tossed the idea around in my head, and then I tossed it around my climbing gym… and I got a bite, unexpectedly. My buddy Philip, a fairly experienced wall climber, said to me pointedly, “Why wait until you’re 36? We can totally do it now!”
Really? Seriously, Philip? Are you high? I’ve only been climbing 3 and a half years! I’ve got a shitty leader head, I don’t know anything about walls, I’m as green as they come!
But hell, if you’re willing and crazy enough to take me up a wall, I’d be remiss to say no.
So what’s the plan?
The plan was to find some dates allowing a cushion of one day on each end for unexpected delays, challenges, setbacks etc. Looking over the topo, we decided we could probably do it in three days and two nights… we’d need one day before to hike up our water and other weight we could shed and possibly fix a line or two. We’d probably also need a day to recover before driving back to the Bay Area after completing the route.
We agreed on November 14-18.
I needed to learn how to jug… I needed to learn what jugging was!
Starting about 8 weeks before our D-Day, Philip brought ascenders, daisies, and ladders to the gym to set up some fixed lines. What the f*#k? How the hell does this sh#t work?
It works as a pretty slow and mildly painful learning curve on steep, overhung gym walls! But at the end of day one, I had a solid grasp on how to jug a rope and was pleased with myself. I liked it!
And so it went, a day here and there setting up a fixed line in the gym, ascending the rope, playing around with daisy lengths, steps, moving the ascenders, adding a grigri to the mix, back up knots, and introducing the concept of how to clean gear, or in this case, unclip draws.
A UNEXPECTED TRIAL RUN
I met a guy in September. A guide living in Colorado. While visiting family in Boulder, he and I played around Eldo. As it turned out, he was to be in California for a climbing trip the first 2 weeks in October. “How about we do the South Face of Washington Column?” he proposed. “It’ll be like a trial run for your El Cap push!”
A month later, the Colorado guide and I were hanging out in the Upper Pines the night before my “trial run,” divvying up water, food, and gear between our two packs. The plan was to free the first three pitches, fix to the fifth, sleep on Dinner Ledge, summit the next day and rap down to our belongings we’d leave on Dinner Ledge. No hauling… he’d schlepped up our water and some miscellany the day before. We’d keep it light and easy.
It was a beautiful day for my first wall… sunny, warm, Half Dome ominously staring back at me all day, no party ahead of us, and a sh#t ton of excitement.
And then the Kor Roof… my first jugging in the “wild.” And boy was it ever WILD. High winds sending me spinning around and muffling communication with my partner. It took close to an hour to get over the lip… but I was determined… I’d figure it out. I had to! Then the frustration of trying to clean the traverse! F*#K! Couple that with the sexual tension and confusion polluting the air between my partner and I!
But I did it! I made it up the traverse. We had a pleasant night on dinner ledge… a full moon, sleeping in my bra and underwear, yelling at the mice, revelling in the majesty of it all!
And while we didn’t summit (we retreated at the top of P9 due to time and heat exhaustion), I learned. I learned it was unlikely the Colorado guide and I would climb together again. I learned how to sh#t in a bag. And I learned I was still super stoked to get on Lurking Fear.
One week before we were to get on El Cap, I was in the Valley climbing on Middle Cathedral. As I stared at
El Cap in the glow of Autumn, and drooled in envy at the parties I could see making their way up The Nose and Salathe, I noticed just how short the days were. I noticed just how little sun the West face of El Cap was getting and how chilly it was getting at night. And I knew, though I would rather have pleaded ignorance, that it probably wasn’t a good time of year for me to take on this challenge. Not impossible, mind you, but the reality of the weather and the dwindling daylight hours gave me pause.
And Philip had similar reservations, “How about The Prow? Looks pretty good and much more manageable?”
We got in the night of November 14th. The following day we hauled up our water, scoped out the rock, ran into a soloist who was fixing to three that day, and retreated back to Curry Village for some pizza and beer before the big day.
The hike sucked… we had way too much sh#t with us!
I had an itch to start with JoJo as an alternate… having eyed it a month prior with an absolute hard-on I was dying to get my fingers and hands in it. Turns out, my frozen fingers had no interest in pursuing it with me and before I knew it, I was jugging past beautiful hands. SIGH!
Almost a month out, I don’t remember much of the next two pitches. For me, as the second, I was still trying to iron out how to jug more efficiently, anyway. I don’t recall they were too memorable for the follower, regardless. By the time I got to Philip atop P3, we were running out of enough daylight to go further. It was decision time. We had to figure out how to share the ledge with our soloist friend who was also planning on bivying there and who was busy fixing to the top of 4. It would be Philips first time setting up the portaledge which we wanted to allow enough time for. Fortunately, the soloist was willing to set up a bivy atop P4. One day, three pitches, 2pm, and no more climbing or jugging. Add to that, Philip didn’t have a hook that the soloist said was needed for P4 and I was just too green a partner to finish in the time we had allotted and the time nature was allotting in the day… and it was pretty cold!
The ledge was erected without a hitch, dinner was cooked, and hours were spent hanging out in the ledge listening to podcasts and classical music.
We’d rappell the following morning and head back to the Bay Area that night… but not before I could practice leading the bolt ladder the first ¾ of P4.
It wasn’t very dramatic, no epic stories, no crisis, no injury, just a no-go!
I learned I need a better backpack to haul anything up a steep approach. I learned I need to know how to be better fitted than having someone giving me their old pack.
I learned I always come back from a climbing trip with a long laundry list of sh#t I need to buy to better complete my arsenal for leisurely life.
I learned I didn’t know what a rivet was or a rivet hanger…. I learned this when Philip asked if I cleaned his rivet hanger at one of the anchors…. “excuse me, your what?”
I learned it might behoove me to do more reading and research on walls… though I do tend to be more of a practical learner.
I learned just how laborious big wall climbing is. I learned what an absolute pain in the ass hauling is and why people talk about keeping the weight down… ahhh! I get it!
I learned being Jewish might give me an advantage to wall climbing -- we LOVE TO SUFFER!!
I learned I can absolutely sleep in and on a portaledge. I learned I can tolerate not being in control, not having an escape, letting go, and relinquishing.
I learned the stale smell of urine-soaked granite… an unmistakable and unforgettable odor.
I learned and continue to learn the importance, the absolute vital importance of communication with a climbing partner. I learned that my vulnerabilities are triggered six ways to Sunday when climbing, when scared, when trying to prove myself to myself or my partner. I learned I still get frustrated, I still get scared, I still get reactive.
I learned that I relish the moments of being out there… of the opportunity climbing provides to be present, to connect with my body, to challenge my physical limits and mental fortitude. I learned that I could lay on a portaledge for hours and just be, just stare, just enjoy, just breathe!
I learned I need to do more walls…. and I want to do more walls.
And I’m learning to forgive myself and allow myself to be where I am in my learning process. This is my adventure on my path and everyone has to start somewhere.
I learned that this experience challenged my friendship with Philip. I learned more about Philip spending this time with him. I learned that he has an incredible amount of patience. And I came to appreciate just how stressful it was for him to manage not just the leading but also having to manage me.
I learned that bailing is part of the process sometimes.
I learned I have much to learn! And I’m looking forward to it.
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