Trip Report
Ned's Excellent Adventure
Tuesday January 29, 2013 6:33pm
The risk of dying in the mountains is insignificant compared to the risk of dying old with a mountain of regrets.

Like a true addict, I needed one more hit. Something mild wouldn't suffice. I wanted an adventure overdose. "Ned's Excellent Adventure" was an unrepeated and unrated El Cap route. It had chosen me for it's second ascent.

And I was to climb it alone.

Credit: Neil Chelton

A series of rusty copperheads marked the path which I was to follow, left by the first ascentionists; Bryan Law and Warren Hollinger, in 1998. The weight of my carabiner encouraged the first head from it's placement, and it took me a rather long time to persuade another to take it's place, reinforcing my belief that this was going to be a tough climb. I continued up, crafting each piece of the puzzle to the best of my ability.

Suddenly I was falling.

The powerful force of gravity accelerated me towards that fine line between survival and death. Equipment that had bonded me to the rock simply ripped out when I needed them most. I slowed to a soft halt with a selection of broken gear collecting at my waist. A string of failed romances. I was diving head first into an unknown depth.

Perhaps next time the water wouldn't be so deep.

Credit: Neil Chelton

After a few days I reached the aptly named Cauliflower. Indeed it had the characteristics of a giant cauliflower, but with a sour flavor. I soon became lost amidst a labyrinth of small edges and tiny cracks. I was often seduced by an attractive seam of security, becoming attached rather easily, only to discover that it ended abruptly, necessitating a pendulum further afield. On one such pendulum, the distance was so great that I could only reach the next placement when at the pinnacle of my swing. I first swung with a wire brush to clean, and then with a copperhead and hammer, only being able to tap once with each rhythmic swing. I dropped quite a few heads before I was able to get one to stick. Keeping in rhythm, I was able to progressively tap the head with my chisel, still just once per swing, until it was settled in place, the whole time being psychologically burdened by the poor wire at my pendulum point.

Credit: Neil Chelton

I began to fall into a daily routine. Being awakened by sunrise, I would eat, organize equipment and mentally prepare for the next pitch, which could be my last. The climbing was so engaging that only when darkness fell was I reminded of the lapse of time. Fragile features linked together, as if created by an evil genius, resulting in pitches that stretched the very limits of both my rope and my ability.

As the days passed I became more distant from the ground and more accustomed to life alone on the wall. Sometimes the rock allowed a straightforward passage, sometimes it required a more delicate approach. I arrived at the start of the "Death Block" pitch around mid-afternoon one day, and made the decision to climb until I found some protection good enough to fix my ropes to, enabling me to complete the pitch the following day. Such a place did not exist until a couple hours after dark, and so I ate a late dinner that night.

Credit: Neil Chelton

On the 12th day, I approached the final obstacle which was barring access to reality. This was a roof which was too large to span, but also seemed to be completely featureless. Upon closer inspection, I found a thin seam which took beak tips and copperheads, enabling me to manipulate the roof on it's left side, inadvertently creating a new variation.

I continued up on copperheads with my rope swaying carelessly over the roofs sharp edge. A fall would be unthinkable. It was all I could think about. I placed the next copperhead and clipped my aiders in with plans of gently easing onto it when suddenly the one I was hanging from ripped out. I stayed attached. Shortly thereafter the rock changed character, requiring a change to freeclimbing. I left all unnecessary encumbrances behind and began freeclimbing to the summit. My body was aching, the protection was marginal and the climbing was at the peak of my ability. I had developed a strong mindset for such situations through extensive freesoloing, but even so, the psychological weight was preventing upward progress. My arms had reached their physical limit, my fingers began to lose grip, a tear rolled down my cheek.. I grabbed a skyhook which was somehow attached to my aider and placed it on a tiny flake just as my fingers slipped off.

Why can't I be content with an easy challenge? Why do I have to play this dangerous game?

Balanced on the precise point where the eternities of past and future collide, I climbed up, committed to uncertainty. I didn't want it to end, but it had. I had reached the top.

There was nothing there.

I had found what I was looking for.

  Trip Report Views: 2,212
Neil Chelton
About the Author
Neil Chelton is a recovering adventure addict from England.

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Comment on this Trip Report

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jan 29, 2013 - 06:36pm PT
Quite an adventure for a recovering addict.....well done!

Trad climber
under the sea
  Jan 29, 2013 - 06:40pm PT
Gripping read - when was the ascent? Thanks for posting up, always enjoy your adventures.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
  Jan 29, 2013 - 07:28pm PT
Great story !

  Jan 29, 2013 - 07:32pm PT
Love it! More! More! More!
Paul Brennan

Trad climber
  Jan 29, 2013 - 07:44pm PT
Well done Mr Chelton

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Jan 29, 2013 - 07:47pm PT
Way to swoop in on your 2nd,2nd ascent.

Not many of those left on the captain.

Thanks for the writeup, and for leaving out the grade.

Gotta save some adventure for the 3rd.

Captain...or Skully

in the oil patch...Fricken Bakken, that's where
  Jan 29, 2013 - 07:56pm PT
Word, Mucci.
Nicely done, Neil.

Big Wall climber
Twain Harte
  Jan 29, 2013 - 09:01pm PT
WOW! Spectacular write up and climb!
J. Werlin

Social climber
Cedaredge, CO
  Jan 29, 2013 - 09:30pm PT
great write up! Cheers!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jan 29, 2013 - 09:37pm PT
"A fall would be unthinkable. It was all I could think about."

Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! Excellent send, buddy!

Alone? What do you mean, alone? You had Jim with you!

Still in Morrocco? Or farther east? When's our next route?

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Jan 29, 2013 - 09:43pm PT
I climbed up, committed to uncertainty

I love this...evocative of so many emotions


Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jan 29, 2013 - 10:03pm PT
I don't read many El Cap TRs, but I'm glad I got to enjoy this one! Great job, and did a tear really roll down your cheek? Just curious.

  Jan 29, 2013 - 10:07pm PT
Awesome - what's next?


Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Jan 29, 2013 - 10:19pm PT

I do find myself wishing for another 10-39 photos and several thousand more words of your fine prose.

Please? More?

  Jan 29, 2013 - 10:39pm PT
i love this. short and eloquent. "A string of failed romances." i've not heard a better description of ripping a bunch of crappy aid placements.

did you fly all the way over the pond for this? either way, you are a BAMF.

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
  Jan 29, 2013 - 10:44pm PT


This TR scares me.

Trad climber
Reno, NV
  Jan 29, 2013 - 11:11pm PT
Big ups on the pendo @ The Cauliflower! Way to get out of the aiders at the summit. Proud solo, hope to meet up some day

Gym climber
squamish, b.c.
  Jan 29, 2013 - 11:50pm PT

  Jan 30, 2013 - 03:59am PT
Wow man .. good stuff
makes me shiver.
Delhi Dog

Good Question...
  Jan 30, 2013 - 05:29am PT
What Fritz said.
oli warlow

Trad climber
  Jan 30, 2013 - 06:15pm PT
Nice report Neil, hope to catch you in the valley again sometime.

Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Jan 30, 2013 - 07:28pm PT
Great TR! Thank you for posting!

Mammoth Lakes, CA
  Jan 30, 2013 - 10:52pm PT
One of the better TR write ups I've read in a while. Love your writing.
Joe Shultz

Gym climber
  Feb 7, 2013 - 07:26pm PT
Nice write up redcoat

Trad climber
going big air to fakie
  Feb 7, 2013 - 09:26pm PT
That was a grand write-up! I love the end: There was nothing there. I had found what I was looking for.

How did you keep going after those freaky situations encountered? Sounds like that route made a correct choice in you.

Oakland, CA
  Feb 7, 2013 - 10:36pm PT
Holy sh#t, thanks for the bump, would've missed this awesome piece of writing completely. An austere TR if ever there was one. The absence of ornament is powerful, leaves lots of space to the imagination.

...did a tear really roll down your cheek? Just curious.

I get the sense that OP is a man who says what he means.

I wondered, after reading about the horrifying falling-block story in Patagonia (hope I'm thinking of the right guy), whether you and your partner would get back into it. Got my answer here and then some.

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
  Feb 8, 2013 - 07:18am PT
Well done,

But as a Brit you should be ashamed of yourself writing emotional stuff like that.

If you'd had a partner you could have simply shook hands at the top, without having to bare your soul in print! Tsk!

BIG ;-)

(I can't get my head around how folks solo this long hard stuff)

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
  Feb 8, 2013 - 07:54am PT
Going only where Minerals dared, eh?


Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 8, 2013 - 08:04am PT
Most excellent!

Social climber
Mill Valley, CA
  Feb 8, 2013 - 10:33am PT
Wholly badass!

Trad climber
el portal
  Feb 8, 2013 - 01:50pm PT

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
  Feb 8, 2013 - 02:11pm PT
Excellent accomplishment and TR. If you write it into a book, I'll buy one. Thanks.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Feb 9, 2013 - 10:32pm PT
Way to go Neil!!
Neil Chelton

Bouldering your girlfriend
Author's Reply  Feb 11, 2013 - 07:47am PT
Thanks for all the comments. In response to your questions:

Yes, a tear really rolled down my cheek. I was scared.

What's next? Lots of non-climbing.

How did I keep going after those freaky situations? Because bailing down with all that stuff seemed like a logistical nightmare.

It's a great 'off-the-beaten-path' route with some spectacular pitches. I think it's a better alternative to ZM or Shortest Straw. Email me if you have any questions.

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
  Feb 11, 2013 - 07:54am PT
who's ned?
neil, excellent adventure and write up.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Mar 25, 2013 - 06:36pm PT
BUMP for a sick TR

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Mar 25, 2013 - 06:48pm PT
Minerals is a true craftsman.


Trad climber
  Mar 26, 2013 - 06:05pm PT
who's ned?

Ned Gillette.

Sport climber
Made in California
  Mar 26, 2013 - 11:24pm PT
fantastic to read... great adventure... left me wanting more...

Gym climber
  Mar 26, 2013 - 11:31pm PT
There was nothing there.

I had found what I was looking for.

Johnny K.

  Jul 16, 2013 - 07:13pm PT
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