Here is a shot of the line
OK: a little background: for those who don't know him, Ammon is probably the most talented "aid climbing speed climber" today. which is to say that while Dean Potten and Hans Florine are the fastest at going up the big wall climbs that have been free climbed (Nose, Half Dome, etc), Ammon is probably the fastest at going up the aid lines. After that big push in the late 90's where everyone was speed climbing and speed climbing got all that coverage in the mags, most people (myself included) kinda lost interest. Meanwhile Ammon, along with Hans Florine, Dean Potter, Brian McCray and others have continued to climb fast, break records, etc. This year ammon had already climbed el cap 7 times and broke speed records on most of those ascents, including a 33 hour push on pacific ocean wall with Ivo Ninov.
Since I got my el cap mojo back this year, I’ve been trying to get ammon to climb with me. He finally had a window in his busy el cap schedule and we decided to climb never never land. Why? Because its one of the few el cap routes that neither of us had done that could be done in less than 18 hours. (After 18 hours of continuous climbing, you start to suffer.)
we got a nice 4:30 am start from the car. Here is a little self portrait. (That is the look of being psyched, not insanity... I think)
by 6:09 we were climbing. Ammon started off. Here is him racking just before the launch
Never Never starts after the first 6 of Aquarian Wall. What is cool about the Aquarian start is that you traverse out on the second pitch and are instantly 400 feet off the ground. BAM! -- Instant exposure. Ammon was just starting the second pitch when he yelled down, “Uh… bro… where are the number 1 camalots?”
My reply, “Uh, bro, you sure you don’t have them?”
Somehow I forgot them. but I figured how necessary can they really be. I mean, in 2400 feet of climbing how many places can that size be crucial? We kept on climbing because, lets face it, one of the lamest feelings I know is getting all fired up to climb el cap, then bailing. It sucks to sit around all day questioning whether you really needed to bail or not.
Here is ammon leading out the second pitch, 5.6 A2.
Ammon led the first 6 in 3 hours. Then handed over the lead.
Before I had made my 3rd aid placement I looked down to see Ammon puking. I made a few more placements, then looked down and he puked again… at a pretty high volume I might add. Turns out that he had “overhydrated.” Drank way too much water the night before. Way too much water that morning. All that water+no food+3 hours of speed climbing=suffering.
I kinda thought about bailing because I knew I couldn’t lead to the top. But I also knew that ammon was a machine and would probably bounce back after a few hours.
Pitch 7, brought us to Timbuktu ledge. Now, this ledge might be reason to climb the route in itself. One of the best ledges ever. just a notch below El Cap Tower on The Nose and El Cap Spire on Salathé Wall.
Here is a John Dickey shot of Erik Sloan and yet unidentified friend.
The next few pitches were classic. Vertical to overhanging, C2-C3. some fun free moves thrown in. then came pitch 10. I had always imagined this side of el cap being pretty low angle. But this pitch was steep! After a strenuous hour+ lead the haul bag was cut loose and it hung more than 10 feet away from the wall. Wild position. Big exposure. Big grins.
Midway through the pitch a red helicopter came up to me and hovered for about 15 seconds to check me out. That has never happened to me before. Was that you link?
The next pitch was the worst on the climb. C2+ ooze and “barnacles.” The rock had this weird calcified texture that made it feel like climbing on the bottom of an old ship. Every time skin touched the rock I recoiled.
This pitch dragged on and on. by the time I was done, ammon was all psyched to lead again. I don’t know if he was finally feeling better after puking or if he just was tired of waiting for me. I was starting to drag. I can’t think of any really good excuses why. I was just a little out of shape from post college graduation celebration… which is now on its second month. At any rate, he started leading fast. And really picked up the pace.
Here is a shot of him on pitch 13. This was the only truly grassy crack.
The climbing got a little harder but ammon kept cruising, doing everything pitch in under and hour. Meanwhile I ate Raison Snails and drank blue gatorade while listing to our mini stereo. As far as speed ascents went, this was pretty cush. The crux of the climb for me was using the tuner on the radio. You had to have just the right touch to get NPR or B93.1 or the Hawk. Too much or too little and it was Christian or Latino radio. Not that I have anything against either of them. They just hog the radio bandwidth and come through crystal clear while everything else requires a surgeons touch with the dial.
It got dark two pitches below thanksgiving ledge. A bunch people started screaming up from the Meadow and got us psyched to keep charging. I led the last few hundred feet to the summit. We topped out 10:09, exactly 16 hours after starting. I this we both felt like we could have gone a lot faster but we were psyched to get the first one day ascent of the route.
This is one of the best routes i have done left of the Salathe Wall. Great climbing. great ledges. surprisingly big exposure. And almost all the belay bolts and lead rivets have been replaced with support by the
American Safe Climbing Assn
On the descent we started to suffer a little. But when we got to manure pile parking area we could see that Hans Florine and Bryan McCray were suffering way worse than us. They were climbing Wall of Early Morning Light and were about 20 hours into a 27 hour push. They topped out the next morning a few hours shy of the record (nice work boys!). And even though they were climbing probably the coolest section of rock (Dawn Wall) on maybe the coolest rock in the world (El Cap), I don’t think Ammon or I could have been paid enough to be up there at this point. Ammon couldn’t resist calling Bryan’s cell phone and reminding the team that it was going to be a LONG and HARD and PAINFUL night. Ammon turned to me and said, as Bryan McCray once told me, “It just doesn’t get any better than watching a good friend suffer.”