It had been a restless August. I spent each passing day with an increasingly feverish agitation. After graduating high school and watching my friends ship out to school one by one, this summer had been a particularly difficult one to endure. Days trickled by like molasses and my motivation to do anything other than get up to no good and dream about big walls was almost non existent.
Earlier this year I climbed the Nose over the course of six spectacular days with my good friend Eli in May. I had been itching to get back to the valley to get back off the ground and the idea of soloing something had been niggling around in my head for quite some time. I spent many days in my room thumbing through the Yosemite Big Walls book and figuring out what route I wanted to do the most. The Prow stuck out to me right away, although I was a bit intimidated by its steepness and the fact that I had never soloed before or led any aid harder than the easy C2 on the Nose. However, I am someone that once I know what I want to do it is as if my entire being has been set on fire and I become fixated upon whatever objective it may be. And so I found myself driving up to Yosemite with the haul bag packed for four days of food and water and all of my gear with me.
After hiking two loads to the base of the Prow in the balmy heat and doubting my capability while looking up at the route, I led my first ever pitch of rope solo aid. I had a vague idea of what I was doing as I had spent a great deal of time studying Andy Kirkpatrick's book on soloing and had worked out the system a bit but it had mostly been all in my head and thus this was my first concrete lesson. On my way up the corner to the right of Jo-Jo, I neglected to tie back up knots as I focused on figuring out the best way to feed slack through a Gri-Gri with one hand. Getting to the intermediate anchor on pitch one after a very slow lead I decided to rap down to clean some of the cams since I had placed far too many in my nervousness. Finally back at the bolts I reset the belay and headed up the rest of the C1. This section was very thin and scary for me, I had not been in aiders since May and hadn't really had to do any aid climbing on gear this small. Micro offset cams and cam hooks got me to the anchor after a lot of bounce testing and singing. Once I got to the anchor almost three hours after starting the lead I decided that I had had enough, considering that this pitch was only C1 and I hadn't even gotten to the head wall. Realizing I had left my ATC in the haul bag and not wanting to fix the rope to rappel ascend and rappel again, I used four carabiners to make an ATC and cleaned my gear with my tail between my legs. Throwing everything in the bag I staggered to the car in one load what had taken two loads to get to the base. Deciding I would never be able to rope solo a big wall and that I had been damned foolish I drove all the way back to the bay area trying to assure myself that I should just stick to climbing with a partner.
The very next day I was sitting in my room, staring at all of the water bottles and food I had packed sitting by the door. I was deeply disappointed. I thought I was probably capable of leading everything on the Prow and I should have just left my rope fixed and hauled the next morning. A week later I hitch a ride up to the valley with my sister and her friend who was visiting from England. Two loads up to the base once again, this time I dropped everything at the base and used the haul bag to take up the second load which was easier to carry the ledge inside of it instead of slung over my shoulder with a heavy rope and rack on. I was at the base two hours earlier in the day than the last time I had been here and my plans were to just fix the first pitch and sleep at the base. I forced myself to lower my expectations and just try for a couple pitches a day and come down once I had enough. This time I had my back up knots figured out and everything was running smoothly. I opted for Jo-Jo's crack, leap frogging with Link Cams and getting redemption on the thin section with cam hooks. Back at the anchor with more time left in the day, I decided to clean and haul. After hauling I was stacking the ropes and organizing the belay and I realized I was having a jolly good time! For some reason I have always taken great pleasure in keeping my belays all neat and tidy and being alone allowed me to organize everything just how I pleased.
With the realization that I had my solo system mostly figured out, I headed up the second pitch with the hopes of making it to Anchorage Ledge before nightfall. Pitch two was thin and I aided it with trepidation, passed the roof without issue and made it to Anchorage ledge after a spicy mantle, linking pitches two and three together. Back down to clean and haul one more time. It was fun going through the entire system instead of going back to the ground. After setting up the ledge alone with relative ease, I organized all my stuff sacks, laid back and contentedly called home. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and had a blast listening to some Stones, drinking some wine and signalling climbers on Half Dome with my headlamp. Ah, the Valley never fails to put me at ease with the world!
Woke up feeling anxious about the head wall. The sun was already peeking over Half Dome's shoulder and the sheets of rust and gold above me were bathed in its rays, the blank face being struck apart by the lightning bolt of the Prow's beautiful thin features. Pitch four started with a bolt ladder which helped to get my momentum and stiff body going, then finished with some fixed pieces that prepared me for all of the fixed heads to come. I found this pitch to be quite difficult but it could be because it was the first pitch of the day and I was blasting off up the formidably smooth head wall. The bolt ladder on pitch five was reachy, airy, and good fun! The belay at the end was super rad and completely hanging. Rapping the haul line was sweet with the overhanging blank wall and I had an impromptu bandaloop session before cleaning and hauling the pitch - good times!
I considered getting the ledge up at pitch five but I still had never had to put it together at a hanging belay and I had plenty of stoke and daylight left. I was completely in wall rhythm at this point and headed up pitch six nervous but determined. I had read about this pitch involving hooks and heads and was timid but my fears were unfounded as most of the pitch is fixed and the heads were all in great condition. I had a blast with the few tricky spots, including getting to place my first pecker behind a dead head to reach the anchor at the end of the pitch - awesome! My energy beginning to wane after the jug and the haul I decided I might as well get to Tapir even if it got dark on me, as I had read the strange dihedral was not as bad as pitch six. Funnily enough, I found this pitch to be the aid crux of the route! After walking the plank very very carefully at the tension traverse, I had to place two of my smallest brassies and a hook, all while being worried about the ropes meandering path. Nearing Tapir Terrace I had to do some scary free climbing and very awkward mantles in the dark in my approach shoes. Climbed a bit too high and to the right and made an easy down climb back to the correct bolts at Tapir. Rappelling back down into the void to the pitch six anchor and cleaning in the dark felt pretty scary. I was ready to rest my legs and arms at this point and hauled as efficiently as I could.
After getting the ledge set up with a bit more difficulty than at Anchorage I got everything set up and called home. Calling home each night from the safety of the portaledge turned out to be one of the highlights of each day. Hearing my parents voices and letting them know how I was doing was really nice - the column gets excellent reception. I was feeling very proud of myself for soloing four pitches in a day today and also very knackered. I had hoped to just chill at Tapir the next day and fix a pitch, but my parents told me that possible thunder storms were headed my way and so I snuggled in my sleeping bag and finished the other half of the bottle of wine I had brought up. Chilling on the ledge was luxurious with the stars out tonight, listening to my music and allowing the solitude of my position to sink in. This had been exactly what I had been looking for. Not a soul on the column but me! I howled into the wind, listened to the crickets, watched several shooting stars and took the time to sort through my thoughts. In between experiences like these I get unsettled, and when I finally find myself playing among the rocks and lying under the stars while the wind tickles my feet everything decompresses, the narrow scope of every day life relaxes and I am left to drink in the beauty that surrounds the pinball machine of time running by me. I am motivated by my constant need to go, to do, to be. Maybe that's why the idea of soloing a wall appealed to me. Eventually I drifted off to a comfortable night of sleep.
Woke up with the sun and spent an extra hour listening to music and sun bathing. Finally deciding I couldn't sit still for very long I racked up and got everything ready. Pitch eight started out with a cautious tiptoe above the anchor to the crack off to the left. The crack itself was easy and unremarkable but had a belay at the end with a feel similar to the Glowering spot on the Nose along with a sweet little natural rock seat.
Pitch nine started out with a fun C1+ dihedral that I thought was far easier than some of the other supposed C1 on the route, such as the thin section on pitch one. The gully was fun but there was a lot of rope drag. Once at the anchors my difficulties began. I rappeled back down to the cool ledge at the top of pitch eight and enjoyed a bite to eat on the little rock seat, facing out at Half Dome's gorgeous facade. After cleaning, I tried to place directionals for the haul line but that hungry haul bag eating flake still managed to gobble up my bag! I rapped again to free it only to get my rope stuck above me, jugged up to free the rope, rapped to free the bag, jugged for a third time and finally finished the haul. Phew! The ledge at this anchor is perhaps better than Tapir Terrace and would make a nice spot for a bivy with its high bolts perfect for a portaledge.
Started getting pretty scared as thick clouds rolled into the valley and big loud thunder rumbled around in the high country. Feeling light droplets of rain, I raced up pitch ten. I had read that you might want two number fours here but I had only brought one so I was somewhat worried. However, I ended up having loads of fun on this pitch and even free climbed most of it - you totally don't need to bring number fours - one is enough though you can definitely just pull on number threes after the bolt at the start of the wide part. The slab anchor at the top of pitch ten is horrendous. I had brought knee pads but only used them on pitch one because it was so warm and I don't like getting so sweaty behind the knees. This was the worst hauling on the route because of the awkward position of the anchor. Hauling in tiny spurts I finally got the pig to the anchor, stacked the ropes and gunned it for the top. The last pitch is easy with a head, a bolt, and a number three to get over the lip and then fun scrambling to the trees. The rope drag was a real devil here but the summit was absolutely incredible! It was awesome transitioning from looking at Half Dome for three days and then topping out and seeing the sun going down behind El Capitan. Absolutely beautiful! The sky even cleared for me and the sun's rays were igniting the clouds in an orange fury. Hauling off the two dead spindly trees was scary but fine, I had re-lead the pitch to avoid weighting the trees without having them in sight. After getting my bag to the summit, I got everything organized for spending the night and hung everything smelly up in a tree. With the sun still burning on the horizon I made my calls home and let the stoke hit me. I soloed the Prow in three days - hell yeah! Sleeping on top of the column is fantastic - not having a wall block out half of the sky means double the stars. Nodded off to sleep very contentedly.
Woke up at six to beat the heat and possible rain and cruised the North Dome Gully with my big awkward load in three hours - it wasn't as bad as I remember when I did Royal Arches maybe two years ago now? Feeling pretty bad ass and pleased with myself, I spent today floating down the Merced and drinking cold cokes in El Cap meadow with my buddy Will that came up to hang out and drive me back to the bay area - what epic kindness! All in all, my first solo could not have gone more perfectly and I am feeling ridiculously blessed. To quote Mark Hudon, "life doesn't suck, that's for god damn sure"!