Mescalito A3 5.8
Trip ReportMescalito Clean Ascent Oct. 11-17th 2011 By Mike Nicholson and Christiaan Luneberg
Hey folks! Just wish to share with you my adventure up my first El Capitan route, Mescalito. Please enjoy the read!
We arrived in the valley expecting perfect weather only to be greeted with a downpour. Our dreams of climbing El Cap were looking grim. You see the original plan was to get to the valley and shuttle all the loads to the base so that early on the 11th we could get going. However, we choose plan B… Shuttle the water to the base and then go hit the bar.
See us dreading a short hike through the rain...
Upon arriving at the base we were both shocked to find several teams rappelling! Since this was my first time attempting El Cap I was very intimidated. However, my worries were put to rest when Christiaan pushed on through the talus towards the base. I did not dare to question his decision or leadership because somehow I knew it would all be fine...
That is, I thought so, until I realized my partner was mentally unbalanced...See Below
Day 1: October 11th
We woke up super early at around 6:30 am to a perfect cloudless sky. I was feeling nervous, like someone had kicked me in the balls, because the good weather meant we were actually going for it...After a quick coffee and chat with Tom on the bridge we double checked the bags and headed for the base at around 7:30 or so.
Us at the base with me nervously roping up with no time to spare...
Pitch 1 was my lead. It is a C3 fixed lead and I was surprisingly motivated to finally start climbing. It went smooth with a few good hook placements and good fixed heads. And shockingly enough I had little trouble hauling the 150+ pounds of supplies in the pigs up to the belay station.
Pitch 2 - 4 went slow but we had no problem with anything. In fact, the only hard part of the day was dealing with the heat, somewhere in the mid 80s.
You see the plan was to reach pitch 5 in day one that way we could dispatch of the seagull pitch the next day before heading up towards the Molar Traverse. However, we only accomplished 4 because we were tired and I was pretty slow.
We quickly set up camp and I spent my first night in a portaledge. Ah this is going to be great, I thought to myself, I get to sleep 400+ feet up with a spectacular view and with perfect climbing awaiting me in the morning. The only downside was feeling like a sardine packed up tight inside the ledge and worrying about rock fall. As night fell all we could hear was Tommy and Kevin above us taking whippers in the dark...Gulp! Inspiring! but made me a bit nervous knowing I would be up there possibly taking my own big whippers.
Day 2: October12th
Okay so pitch 5 was mine because Christiaan wanted to do the Seagull pitch. It went smooth for the first bit until I reached a water streak higher up, which required some c2. I saw that someone had fixed a tiny copper head hooked to a small black wet cord about 5mm thick. I thought this would be an easy way to bypass this part...Well it snapped on me…See me jug up the whipper I took below…Thanks Tom for taking this photo of my first El Cap whip.. :>
Pitch 6, a c3 traverse, is the awesome seagull pitch. Christiaan was eager to get going... The hardest parts of this pitch for me was lowering out the bags and then lowering myself out three times.
Pitch 7 was pretty grassy and I struggled not to swallow any of it while balancing in my aiders. For whatever reason we felt like the top of Pitch 7 was a good bivy spot so we set up camp. This was a bit unsettling because now to make it to the top we had to start rationing water... See Below how grassy it was…
Day 3: October 13th
Pitch 8 started off with some c3. We were then starting to feel some exposure but it felt awesome! I broke the camera out for a bit to film Christiaan navigate the c3.
Pitch 9 was my lead. This pitch I remember fearing a bit because I thought this was going to be challenging to accomplish clean. It turned out to be a great pitch.
Pitch 10, another c3f, was Christiaans lead. He had no trouble blasting up this pitch making great time on the fixed heads above. However, we started to get really worried. Dehydration started to kick in. You see we brought around 10 gallons of water for 5 days worth of climbing. Since we got a late start on day 1 and did not perform well on day 2 we were looking at 6 or maybe 7 days on the wall. GULP…
…So here I am cleaning pitch 10... I got to a large water streak and I yelled up! “ Hey Bro I think I can capture this water on a shirt and fill a gallon up!” After about 30 minutes or so of Christiaan swinging the lead line back and forth and me trying to fill the gallon up I only got around a cup of water. I remember thinking; we are screwed. We are going to suffer and I hope we don’t die from thirst. I was literally licking the wall...Hah see below our effort.
Pitch 11, a 5.9 crack to a c2+ sustained roof, starts by traversing to the right about 40 feet before going up a hundred feet or so then traverses back left 30 feet + to a belay station. I started climbing right around the end of sunset, making this my first night pitch on El Cap. This was a long pitch that started off with some really cool easy hooking to get to the vertical 5.9 crack that I leapfrogged cams into. When I reached the top of the crack I set a number 4 and put a screamer on it as a joke for Christiaan. I remember thinking, “he is going to laugh when he sees a screamer on a bomber number 4 cam placement.”
As I attempted the roof above I was slowly getting more concerned... I had never placed a inverted cam hook before, let alone 2 in a row. This move then required a 00 Metolius and/or a small Alien to gain another inverted cam hook to the belay station. As I was slowly stepping into the horizontal Metolius placement I heard a pop..then I take a 30 footer fully deploying the Yates screamer! Christian claims he actually heard me scream twice during the fall. Hah. I then quickly jugged up the rope and finished the pitch using a small Alien. The only problem was I was so raddled by the fall I left the hooks in on a aid move with nothing attached to them about 10 feet from the station..."Oh crap!” I thought...Thank God Christian was able to retrieve them. What a stupid mistake, I thought, that could have really put us in a bad spot... We bivied here.. Such a plush spot right in the middle of El Cap.
Day 4: October 14th
Pitch 12, The Molar Traverse is one of the highlights of this route. As we broke down the ledge in the morning we could not help but to smile as we now looked down at Tommy Caldwell’s huge palace, a Black Diamond ledge. What a rad route he is attempting, I thought. From this position his route looks impossible to my mortal eyes. It is blank but ascends towards the molar pitch on a beautiful gold-lit part of the Dawn Wall. I had a lot of fun on this pitch..See the pics and vid below.
Pitch 13 was Christiaan's pitch. He quickly gained the first section that required some c2 intermixed with a few bolts. He then broke out of his aiders and free climbed the last 30 feet. When I cleaned the pitch I could tell he was happy to have free climbed a little.
Pitch 14 was also Christiaan's pitch. We were so damn thirsty...It must have reached 90 degree or more on the wall and we were feeling it. I remembered that our friend Tommy Thompson and his friend Jenn were climbing New Dawn next to us and had endured a rain storm where I was sure they captured extra water. So I quickly got the radio out and tuned into his channel. “Hey Tommy how’s it going?” I asked. “Its going great how are you guys doing?,” he replied. “Man we are so thirsty bro. Its so hot!” I said. “You guys have enough water?” He asked. I said “no we are rationing water”. “Oh that’s too bad we have TONS of water over here wish I could give you some!,” rubbing it in. We laughed. Damn. I thought it might be possible to get some but we had to see if Tommy T and his friend Jenn would hook it up.
Christiaan then took off leading and decided to take it kind of slow through this pitch in order to not sweat a bunch. I remember breaking out a pack of sour patch kids and eating the whole bag for lunch... See Pics of us laboring the pitch...Christian looks like he is riding a seahorse. Haha, thanks Tom!
Pitch 15, c3/a3 was my lead. It ascends one of the most exposed parts of the wall. As I started the pitch nighttime arrived and I found myself standing on okay to poor dowels. The dehydration combined with huge exposure and a dying headlamp battery made me actually start to cry. I knew that if a dowel pulled they would all pull throwing me into a 100 footer. I told myself to stop crying because I was loosing water. As I reached the top I gained one really nice rivet that then traversed over onto a poor copperhead. I then saw something that freaked me out... a rusty RURP with a 2 mm woven and tattered wire attached that I had to clip into. When I clipped to it the wire snapped.... The video below shows me struggling to figure out a way to bypass the move before finally committing. This pitch was definitely the most mentally challenging pitch I have ever done. Apparently I scream like a girl...Oh well I guess El Cap can make a little girl out of any one.
Pitch 16, c3f or a3, was Christiaans lead. It ascends straight up on the most exposed part of the wall through rusty fixed gear. I thought, “man this pitch looks scary hope he handles it better then me.” Christian then quickly moved through the fixed gear not having to put any gear in at all. When he reached the top he noticed something very special. As I was jugging he was taunting me saying he has something awesome he found at the belay station. A water streak....This water streak was soaking into our cordalette letting us suck the string to get water. Haha, Awesome. After we set up our camp we proceeded to make a capture device that provided us with a full cup of water.
Day 5: October 15th
Pitch 17 was my lead. It is my favorite pitch on the route. It was really cool to do some easy 5.6 moves 2000 feet exposed to gain the ledge at the end. Tom took some awesome photos here and I got a couple photos.
Pitch 18 was also mine. This was a short pitch that involves some fun 5.7-8 free moves. It ends at the bottom of the Bismark pitch.
Pitch 19 the Bismark again was mine. The bottom of this pitch was an awesome 20 by 8 foot ledge that was perfect for hanging out. We took a nice break here and ate lunch, took a wet nap bath, and changed our clothes before heading back out on lead. I struggled at the top of this pitch because instead of taking big bro’s, which would have made the move at the top easy c1, I used a 7 inch wood block. I basically used a cam to lodge the block and then took off my aider and rapped it around the block to use as a step. I then proceeded to belly flop on top.
Tommy Thompson called me on the radio and told me that he figured out how to give us a gallon of water...THANK YOU! The only trick was I had to rappel off the top of the Bismark on the opposite side. When I reached the gallon of water it was sitting on slope right over the void! But I retrieved it safely and brought it back up to Christian. We then decided that we would save an extra gallon of water to see if we could accomplish the route with only bringing the water we brought along. Style was important to us.
Pitch 20 was the start of Christiaan's block. He cruised this pitch. However, the bag got stuck on the way up. I should have lowered out the bags quite a bit more but it was getting dark and I could not see how far over Christian was. I then freed the bag as I was cleaning.
Pitch 21 was a pitch Christiaan wanted for its c3 R rating. At this point it was the end of day five and was around midnight. It was a full moon and you could almost climb without a headlamp because of how bright it was. If only I had my professional camera I could have taken some amazing photographs.
As Christiaan began this pitch he had to pass the R section which involves climbing above a ledge. You could hear a pin drop as he passed the section with perfect precision. A few moves above that he was asking me to stay awake as he used the smallest cam hook and passed through a few micro offset placements. As he started to get higher I was falling asleep…Damn, I could not stay awake…The only thing keeping me awake was the pull of the rope and the jangle of the rack above. Then all of a sudden Christiaan's headlamp died...He was in complete darkness because he had a giant block blocking the moonlight. He called down to me and said, “Your gonna have to figure out something for me man.” “I don’t know what I can do for you”, I said. “Sweet! I have extra headlamp batteries in my pocket!” He proclaims. Epic avoided…Sweet. He finishes the pitch and we bivy. We drink tequila to celebrate some tough leads and accomplishing 2 days in a row of 5 pitches.
Pitch 22 was Christiaan's. See the Video below of the massive exposure. He had no problems on this pitch and set a good pace for the rest of the day.
Pitch 23 was mine. It was a fun c1 with a cool pendulum/mantle move to gain a nice ledge near the top of the route.
Pitch 24 was Christiaan's. This pitch is a beautiful c2+ roof that goes from left to right before getting to a large 5.7 slab on top of a giant hollow flake. As I soak up some sunlight I enjoy the view from 2600 feet. Photo Below.
Pitch 25 was mine. It was a short 5.7 free climbing pitch that I enjoyed. Christiaan enjoys almost being done...
Pitch 26 was Christiaan. At this point we are excited to be on the last pitch. Christian did this pitch pretty quick and was careful not to pull on the flake on the last cam hook move of the route before quickly topping out. He then jugged the bag and was loudly yelling to Tommy T cheering them on. As I was jugging I noticed the rope was kind of rubbing on an edge…I though crap I am going to die on the last pitch of Mescalito...But I made it.. Thank God we hit perfect weather and had enough supplies and chose the right gear to finish the route. Us at the top below.
A special thanks goes out to the following people:
First and Foremost the FA team: Steve Sutton, Charlie Porter, Hugh Burton and Chris Nelson, for finding and putting up an awesome route!
Tommy T and Jenn for hooking up a gallon of water..We still owe you some beers!
Nico and Sean for playing some bad-ass pirate flute/Madelin music while I was on lead. Also, they helped inspire me as I watched them take huge whippers in the dark while free climbing the golden finger pitch. He told me when I got down that he was bleeding from the face on that pitch...
Tom Evans for taking some awesome shots!!!
Family, friends, and my awesome girlfriend for supporting my goals in climbing!
Recent Trip Reports
Other Routes on El Capitan