Lurking Fear C2F 5.7
Trip ReportLurking Fear solo - My first time up the Captain
Seems like everyone’s in the Valley right now, which made me both jealous and psyched. Which led to finally managing to write up my trip report from last year. Better late than never maybe? I apologise in advance for the lack of photos and general over word-y-ness. Any photos that are not crap were taken by the excellent Brit party of Dave and Nick.
I first went to Yosemite in 2010. After the obligatory first season bail off El Cap I was hooked, and immediately bought a ticket for the next Summer, with the plan of learning to solo. This went well and I was so excited I wrote thousands of words about it on my Prow trip report.
All summer the thought of trying to solo El Cap was niggling about in my head, a silly idea which wouldn’t go away. Which led to standing at the base of Lurking Fear feeling, well, fearful.
However I hate hiking up hills, and since this had necessitated at least 5 runs to the base with all my assorted crap it seemed like a wasted effort to not go up the fun bit. I said goodbye to Alexa super bag carrier, who had helped with the last load, tied into the rope and went to start climbing. After tying into the rope I did realise that this is not the way to start a solo, tied my rope to my other rope instead, loaded the grigri and set off. Not a great start.
I had enough stuff with me for 12 days, figuring that even I couldn’t be that slow. I was warned that trying to solo LF with that much crap would be a nightmare, but did I listen, no. Hauling the first slab was fun, the bag got stuck 5 times and overall it took me 3 hours to haul. Set off on pitch 2 with the sound of thunder and my friend from higher bailing past me. As soon as I left the anchor the rain started. It poured down for the exact length of time it took me to lead the bolt ladder pitch. At the anchor I was cold, wet, miserable and fed up. To further improve matters, while rapping back to my bags the grigri slipped on the wet rope, causing a pants filling 15ft fall until the rope came tight between both anchors. If there was a time to bail it was then. However my ropes were still fixed above and it couldn’t hurt to at least haul the next pitch?
Hauling took another many hours and I slept damply at belay 2.
The next day I climbed and hauled to 3, heard more thunder so left ALL my stuff at 3 and headed down. Just by the bridge I realised crucial things like my only sleeping bag and wallet were in the haulbag. Oh well, not walking back up there.
Two broke days on the ground and the weather was only getting worse. I was running out of time before my flight back to Ireland. There was nothing more for it it seemed, but to head back up.
Day 1 or 3, depending when you count from
Round two started out more sucessful, but when I got to the pitch four anchor a party of were still trying to take down their ledge. The less said about them the better. They apologised for being slow, saying that they had never climbed a multi-pitch before. 7 hours of hanging belay fun later they had got the ledge down and led pitch 5, while everyone behind me got more and more impatient. I wasn’t too antsy, I figured beautiful trade routes in the centre of the universe are going to have at least some crowd clusters. However I blame the long wait for the gumby mistake everyone on the route made later.
By about 4pm the party ahead started letting people past, I let some folks past me too as I am after all exceedingly slow. Everyone was excited to finally be moving on. We could hear thunder, but since we were all looking West we couldn’t see anything. Half an hour later all parties were leading when we got slammed by a seriously big storm. Hail, rain, waterfalls, mist, lightning, the lot. I was leading pitch 5 and tried to get to the anchor, but bailed down when the rain got so heavy I couldn’t see anymore. Back at the pitch 4 anchor (again) I tried to hide under my ledge fly with a party of Brits who had just come up. despite wearing all my rain gear I was shivering hard and getting pretty damn cold. The mist was so thick I couldn’t see the party below me. I was counting the seconds between lightning and thunder, but stopped at 2 because I got too scared.
As with all things though, it eventually stopped. It was now dark and I was really really cold. There wasn’t room for two ledges on the anchor, so I offered to pitch mine and share with the two Brits.
We made some tea and things were a little bit better, if still grim. I tried to bail the water out of my sleeping bag, but somehow there was still over a hand’s depth of freezing water in there when I got in. Three people on a fish double is pretty tight, but at least vaguely warm. I remember going to sleep shivering violently and waking up in the morning still shivering. I remember saying to the Brits that the only bit of me that didn’t feel cold were my feet.
I wanted to bail but the Brits convinced me to do one more pitch. The slow party were bailing after dropping all their cooking stuff (on my head) which necessitated many more hours waiting. The other 2 parties also bailed. The Brits jumared my rope and led the last few feet to the anchor, I jugged so technically I didn’t solo the route, by about 10 feet.
Eventually the sun came round, I stripped off my soaking clothes to try and flag them on the pig and life seemed good again.
Shared belay 6 with the Brits again, this time with my ledge to myself. I said goodbye to them in the morning and committed to the traverse.
Traverse was fun, wide crack was fun and a bit spicy and a pain to haul. I was one pitch behind scheldude after the storm, so told myself if I got the pig to the top of the wide crack before 6pm I’d do one more. Docked the piggy and checked my watch - 5.58, one more pitch it is.
All went well until about 10ft below the Pillar of Despair, after the mini penji. No rope. Balls. Made a somewhat sh#t anchor because I had no gear left and went back down to investigate. The know for the continuous loop was stuck in the crack just above the anchor. Back up, finish pitch, back down, back up, haul and set up ledge took til 11pm. I kept falling off the Pillar of Despair but it was still welcome solid ground. Slept tired and satisfied that night.
The next morning was an ibuprofen breakfast kind of morning. My toes had been somehow both numb and hurting so I decided to brave the smell and investigate. Eeek, my toenails and the skin on my big toes had gone kind of black and numb on the surface. Lovely. Found out later it was mild trench-foot from the cold wet night. Nowt to be done at this point, so back on went my still damp shoes and onto pitches 10 and 11. Nothing much of note here, Kate Rutherford and partner (Melissa?) passed me on a LFIAD, I was very impressed, said hi and gave them some gatorade. They were the last people I saw for 4 days.
Got a wee bit scared on pitch 11 and reverted to my “down to the river to pray” singing habits from the Prow, also took a huge chunk out of my finger when a nut blew, the only pitch on the route that I didn’t wear gloves on.
I was feeling a bit battered, but it was starting to seem like I might actually get to the top, which was encouraging.
Pitches 12 and 13 were fine and I fixed 14 that night. Decided against hauling it because it was late and looked like a nightmare.
It all got a bit weird round about here.
I was paranoid and lonely reading a book about being paranoid and lonely. I hauled 14 the next day and fixed 15 and 16. Slept at 14. I was a bit scared, in this big dark corner, where no one could see me and there was no phone signal. The free climbing was exciting. I can barely climb 10a single pitch with an encouraging belayer. I also learned that because of the laws of the universe, the catastrophe knots will always suck into the grigri at a cruxy free move.
The next day I got to Thanksgiving and was pretty pleased. That’s a bit of an understatement. Shuttled all my crap across, enjoyed the ledge and fixed one pitch. Just then I heard voices. People, really, wow! I wandered along Thanksgiving and saw the excellent Rich and Ammon, just topping out of Hole World SA. They were out of food water and cigarettes, I had many of all these things and I got to talk to people. Really nice people. They continued on to the top, while I chilled out on Thanksgiving.
I think that evening is the happiest I’ve ever been. I ate all my goodies, treated myself to hot ravioli (for a change), smoked a lot of cigarettes and read a bit of my paranoid book. I thought about climbing and why I do it. I thought about all the awesome people I met, both in the valley and on the route. I did all this while watching the most achingly beautiful sunset over the valley. I was so content I didn’t even bother moving once I realised my head was clearly in the urinal section of the ledge. Mmm, gravel with piss. It’s all good. Everything made sense.
Final morning I was ready to get the hell outta there. Take me to the pizza. First there was the last pitch. Ammon and Rich had bivvied at the big boulder and were hanging around, presumably to make sure I got up okay, or maybe just to bum some more smokes. Ammon offered to help me haul the last pitch, but I stubbornly said no, as for some silly reason it was important for me to haul the last stupid pitch myself. Things started well when my bags wouldn’t even start coming up, turned out one of the haulbag straps had snagged on the anchor hangers. After that the pig got stuck 7 more times, a personal record.
Once at the anchor Ammon and Rich insisted that I was finished the guidebook route and that I could not let them help me. I was currently failing to get the bag onto my back and off the anchor and I gladly accepted. Ammon even insisted on “helping” me haul the last bit of slab after the boulder. I was meant to jug behind and unstick it, but he hauled so fast I couldn’t catch the bag.
It was a surreal top out to my first time up El Cap mostly solo, desperately chasing my haulbag up a slab.
I split my loads and carried one to the top, however my brain then shut off completely and I was too scared to scramble back down for the second one. Instead I sat at the very tippy top of El Cap, chain smoking and thinking about life, until awesome Niels and Riley met me to help me down with my stuff.
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