Part 1 New Dawn
This is part 1 of my two-part Trip Report of my 12 day solo of Tribal Rite Via New Dawn. Please read part 2 once you’re finished at the following link:http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Part-2-of-2-Tribal-Rite-via-New-Dawn-12-days-on-the-Wall/t12303n.html
I went up to Yosemite with some free time right after my birthday in Sept, 2013 looking for something long and big. Loving solo-aid climbing and fresh off my ascent of Afroman a month earlier, I decided to try the most aid-intensive moderate up the front of El Cap. New Dawn to Tribal Rite fit the bill perfectly. Here's the TR with beta* from that trip.
(*You’ve been warned.)
Day 0 Wed Sept 11th
One of my favorite parts of bigwalling is the preparation process. It’s easy to get lost in the minutia of gathering beta, organizing gear and most importantly, preparing and packaging food! I like to put my food into two-day ziplock bags. This makes it easier to pull one bag out for two days rations while leaving the rest of the food buried deep in the haul bag.
Day 1 Thurs Sept 12th (Approach/Fix to 2/Truck bivy)
On the first day I brought up my first of many loads of gear to start the climb. My intent was to fix two pitches before heading back down to the truck to bring the rest of the gear to haul directly from the deck to the Pitch 3 belay.
Upon reaching the bolts marking the start of New Dawn I noticed a small bit of metal wrapped around one of the bolt hangers. When I opened it up, it was a metal band from the Alternative Society Of Utah Mortuary Crematory. I wondered if this was left behind by someone who brought ashes to Yosemite, or just your typical bigwall gallows humor.
Pitch 1 went quickly and easily clean with fixed gear. I had done this pitch a few years earlier for practice with a partner after we bailed from The Nose due to moving too slowly. This was the day that I met Tommy Coldwell on the trail as he hiked past us. I stopped him to say, “I don’t mean to be awkward, but I love you man.” was all I could get out. One of Tommy’s entourage replied, “Well, so much for not being awkward” but Tommy was gracious and sat with us for a while to talk about what we were climbing. Hearing that we bailed from The Nose and were now on New Dawn, he said, “You guys have a weird way of bailing up.”
I’ve always had a happy connection to New Dawn because of this interaction. Strange how something that I assume was gone from Tommy’s memory before he hit El Cap Meadow has stayed with me for years and was part of why I wanted to continue up New Dawn to reach Tribal Rite.
There were differences between climbing it the first time with a partner and climbing it this time solo. I had a tag bag with extra nailing gear (in case the fixed heads leading up the belay were missing) attached to the connection point between my lead line and haul line back at the belay. Since the slab below the starting bolts was flat, I didn’t bother with a fifi hook and just left the tag bag on the ground beneath my Snake Charmer rope bag I had hung from the belay bolts. About two thirds of the way through the pitch I heard a scratching/sliding sound and looked down just in time to see my tag bag had come free from the ledge and was sliding across the slab below me. Happy that I was on a solid piece I waited for the jolt when the full weight of the gear in the bag came tight. All-in-all it was scary for a second and then irritating because I needed to pull the bag up to me and climb the rest of the pitch with the bag attached to the back of my harness.
Whereas the first time I had climbed this pitch, I had watched my partner freak out about a tiny swing she had to do at the end of the second pendulum, this time when I cleaned the first pitch, I neglected to leave any slack in the lead line when I fixed it to the anchor and so when I reached the first of the two pendulums I realized that this fact, added to my not putting any draws on the rivets leading up to the second pendulum point meant the rope went fully horizontal between the two penji points. I would have to deal with a nice slabby swing once the rope ran out on the lower-out. I lowered out as far as I could, took a deep breath, and with my right hand stretched way out holding the loop of rope, and went for the ride, which was fast and pant-scuffing fun. I would later need to duct-tape the burgeoning holes in my pants on the climb that started from this slide.
Pitch 2 went clean using the fixed gear. Some of the placements were a bit suspect, but by this point I was chugging along and there’s plenty of solid placements inbetween the sketchier placements.
When I got to the intermediate belay ledge where The Real Nose cuts left, I spent a few moments on the ledge realizing that there’s really no reason to stop there unless you’re going to bivy there, and it’s a fantastic bivy ledge. Using the bolts for protection does nothing to help the leader and if not soloing would cause horrendous rope-drag. I cleaned my draws from the anchor, traversed back to the main line of pitch 2 and continued heading up. You can see the ledge in the following photo.
While cleaning the second pitch, the wind started to pick up and I would need to take long pauses with my eyes shut tightly to keep the dirt and dust from blinding me. Later, while rapping, I managed to knock a large toaster-sized rock loose and had to catch it with my foot until I could rest it on the intermediate belay ledge in the middle of the pitch that connects to The Real Nose.
After coming down from pitch 2, I noticed an aluminum stepladder tied with utility cord that wasn’t there when I went up to clean pitch 1 and lead pitch 2. Looking up I squinted to try to see the team that had dropped it but couldn’t see anything. I ended up bringing the ladder along with me for the rest of the climb to use as a sub-ladder but never used it for anything but hanging things off of it while at portaledge belays. I would later find two more Metolius ladders on a ledge below Mescalito while rapping to clean a pitch. Never used those on the climb either. This was a good reminder of the rule in bigwalling, “If it’s not attached to something, you’ve already dropped it.”
I started climbing at 10am and I was able to finish fixing pitches by 3pm for a total of 5 hours for 2 pitches. This felt like my normal lazy-solo speed and so I felt really good about that. On the way back to the car (with a quick detour to search for my extra camera battery that’d I dropped earlier in the day and would not find until my third trip back up to the base of the climb) I decided that I’d rather do three trips with my gear rather than two soul-crushing trips, so I brought another load of gear up that afternoon once the sun had set a bit, cached it behind the flake on the slab and headed back down for wings at Cedar Lodge.
Before my hot wings though, I needed to find my route feather. Sometime in the last year I began to get superstitious about finding a feather on the approach to a new climb. I liked the symbolism of the thing-that-once-flew-once-again-floating-above-the-ceiling-of birds and made sure to force a good sign at the beginning of each new climb. With a raven feather found and stashed in my haulbag, I was ready for some real wings, preferably dripping in buffalo sauce.
As I walked along the base, I noticed that someone had fixed lines on what I thought was The Real Nose (The Competitive Edge) and wondered who was working the route. I’m not sure what the anchor bolts are that the lines are fixed to though. I never saw anyone on it for the duration of my climb.
What really saddened me on these first days was the amount of trash at the base of the climb. Empty wattle bottles and suspiciously not-so-empty paper poop bags were littered along the slab and trail. I thought that there were less paper poop bags than I’d seen in the past though. Another climber friend stopped by serendipitously and we sat for a bit, talking about the trash. When I mentioned the ever-so-slightly-less amount of poop bags at the base, he informed me that he’d just been to the West side of the Captain and the poop bag situation over there was horrendous. I understand that the immensity of the stone makes people believe that their contribution to the trash situation is minute but, really, I don’t understand when every party that heads up the stone has to wade through it.
Day 2 Friday Sept 13th (Hump loads, Haul, Bivy at 3)
The next morning I humped the rest of my loads up to the base while the sun was still rising. I had planned on this being a chill and relaxing wall so that required one thing, water. Lots and lots of water. All told, I had 92lbs of water in my haulbag once all my loads were humped, and this didn’t include the half-gallon or so of water that was hanging out at the top of my fixed lines, or what I’d carried and drunk the day before.
Pitch 3 went clean at what felt like “easy” C3F. The standout award winner of the day was definitely my blue Totems that fit in pin scars better than my offsets did. This would be the case throughout the climb, with my blue and my yellow Totems being my go-to piece to use in a pin scar, often cleaning the piece and replacing it with solid, but less-than-inspiring gear once I’d moved past it.
Most concerning to me was the information on the topo that said 360’ from the pitch 3 anchors back to the deck. Hanging from my daisies at the anchor, it looked like a loooong way down. Figuring that I can always reascend the rope and haul on the New Dawn anchors if I needed to, I headed down on rap. Thankfully, The distances on the topo were correct and I ended up at my bags on the slab with a few feet of rope to spare.
By the time I was finished attaching my bags to the haul line, ascending back to the pitch 3 anchors, and hauling the massive pair of haulbags up to the belay, I was toast. The sun had long since moved to the West side of El Cap and so I decided to set up the portaledge and call it quits for the day. I had hoped to fix pitch 4 but reminded myself that for once, speed wasn’t the most important thing on the wall.
From my ledge, I could watch the other climbers on Zodiac and see the various parties heading up the trail to start their routes. I let out a few monkey calls that fell on deaf ears and settled in for the rest of the night. Out came my normal wall diet of salami stick, mint cookies, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and dried mangos. I was quickly getting used to being in a portaledge again (easy considering I had just come off of Afroman a month previous with its all-hanging belays, all the time) and happy to finally be committed to the wall.
Day 3 Saturday Sept 14th (Bivy at 6)
I woke up in my ledge as the sky turned from dark to light. I played a game called, “get out of bed before the sunlight hits you.” I’m not very good at winning this game.
Pitch 4 started off with some rivets leading rightward from the belay into a few hook moves to reach an arch. The hooks never felt runout with only the one before fixed heads in the arch being a bit sketchy. After the arch the climbing was easy C1 to the belay.
The sun was starting to really beat down on me. I tend to climb heavy with a full rack because solo-tagging tends to be more time consuming than it’s worth to me. I was really feeling the consequences of this choice in the sun via my drenched handkerchief wrapped around my head and my purple arm-coolers (a trick I learned from my road-biking friends) and definitely moved a bit slower because of that.
Once I hit the belay and cleaned the pitch (picking up my booty Metolius ladders on the ledges below before tensioning back to the belay) I was able to rest for a second before starting up pitch 5. The wind was picking up and I could clearly hear the parties on Zodiac nailing. I had climbed Zodiac with Mungeclimber a few months before and we were able to climb the route clean without very much trickery so I was saddened to hear the thwack of the hammer drifting over from that East Wall.
Pitch 5 started out with some sketchy hooking on loose jizz above a bulging ledge before settling into easy C2 using lots of camhooks. The VIP of the day was definitely camhooks, moving me through what would be marginal clean gear with ease and speed.
Once I was finished with pitch 5 I headed up pitch 6. This pitch started out fun with easy C1 then moved to an awesome pendulum around a sharp edge to reach a thin crack. The penji took me a few tries until I was able to tension/wedge myself into the corner and place and camhook to move up on. I camhooked for a bit to ease the cleaning of the pitch before a C2 placement and thought I was home free until I hit The Horrible Flare.
The Horrible Flare marks the end of pitch 6 and looks as short as it feel long. Starting with a flared purple Totem placement, I had to wedge myself up and into the flare into order to make upward progress. I had flashbacks of climbing Entrance Exam at Arch Rock as I was moving through this feature, huffing and puffing, scraping my knees and elbows just to make a few inches of upward progress. My full rack did little but laugh at me as it got continuously jammed, stuck, and mangled as I dragged it up the flare with me. I was thankful that the sun was no longer beating down on me but sweating just as much as I would if it was. Reaching the anchors, I was completely spent and decided that I would be bivying at the Pitch 5 belay and would clean the pitch in the morning.
I normally climb with music or audiobooks while soloing (pitch 1-2 were climbed while listening to the Dune audiobook series) but I had decided not to on this day for no real reason. The effect was strange, leaving me feeling more in tune with the rock, as my only sounds were the scrape of my gear against the rock and the subtle clicking of each piece of gear as it would settle into each placement. Sitting in my portaledge I wondered if it would be better to do the rest of the climb without music, but scanning through my iPod on my portaledge I quickly decided that a climb without lots of Weepies and Tom Petty was no climb at all.
Day 4 Sunday Sept 15th (Fix to 8, Bivy at LLL)
Today was to be a chill day: clean and haul pitch 6, a short pitch 7 to Lay Lady Ledge and then fix as much as I want over the ledge before retiring for the day.
Cleaning and hauling pitch 6 was uneventful and soon pitch 7 was dispatched with easy C1. Hauling to the anchor was a bit of a struggle with my needing to rap back to the bag twice to far-end haul the bag past constrictions in pitch 7. I had tried to flip my haul line over the face to the left of the constrictions in order to avoid this, but the bags quickly slipped back into the offending part of the pitch. Once I hauled my kit to the anchor at the bottom right edge of Lay Lady Ledge I realized that with the bags hanging at the very edge and a little bit of fourth class scrambling is required to make it onto the ledge proper. I knew that I would need to make a decision about where to leave the bags. Looking at the bags, still laden with hundreds of pounds of water (a slight exaggeration, but it was hot and I was tired), I decided that I would leave the bags where they were and only took what I needed for the night up and onto the ledge itself. And what a ledge it was. By far my favorite bivy to date, Lay Lady is huge with flat areas to sleep and plenty of rocks to hide from the sun behind. (I tried not to think about where the rocks came from.)
That morning I had noticed that my portaledge was bowing a bit more than usual and when I packed it up I saw that this was because of a tear that had developed on the fins that come from the bottom of the ledge up and around to form the suspension of the ledge. I considered myself lucky to have this ledge to fix the ledge overnight. Also luckily, I had seam adhesive with me that I always carry now after an aborted attempt on Sunkist years before where the sole of my boot completely separated from the boot itself while I was hauling to Heart Ledges. I took some time to fix up the ledge so it would have as much time as possible to cure overnight before setting off to fix pitch 8.
Soon it was time to head off to fix pitch 8. I didn’t think it would be too bad considering it’s C1 rating, but this pitch kicked my ass. Though never technically hard, looseness and runouts were the name of the game. Though the pitch would probably be okay with a free rack and a belayer, with all the mess and tangle of soloing, C1 without much freeclimbing was the only way for me to go. The crack was splitter and sucked up my cams very quickly. Looking up at the distance I still needed to go I quickly lowered and retrieved much of my gear. From this point on I realized that I would need to back clean as much as possible to still have the gear and energy to make the belay. Soon I was leapfrogging the few cams that would fit and looking at 60’ falls should I make a mistake in my placements. My climbing slowed to a crawl as I tested my gear multiple times to feel secure before moving higher and facing longer and longer falls.
Halfway up the pitch I came to a collection of death blocks that were held in place by nothing more than gravity and Mother Nature’s malice. After poking them a few time with my finger I decided that it would be prudent to tension from the crack I was in to the crack on the left of the blocks. Once I did this I aided a few more moves, back cleaning as I went before making another tension move back to my original crack. By this point I felt like I should be a good 10’ above the loose blocks only to find that once I looked down I had only moved up a few feet and the blocks were right at my feet. All that work for just a few feet. I began to reconsider my ban on bringing stick clips on my climbs for a second before heading the rest of the way for the anchor.
Once I made the anchor I began pulling up my haul line only to have it stop short about 30’ from the anchor. Yanking on the rope, thinking it was stuck, I realized that the rope wasn’t going to come up anymore because I had misjudged the distance to the anchor when tying the haul line to the haulbags before setting off on the pitch. I had misread the topo as saying 130’ when in fact the topo had said 170’. I attach my haulbag to the haul line via minitrax to facilitate a far-end haul when I need it and this allows me to easily pay out or take in slack on the haul line before heading up a pitch. Before I had left to start pitch 8 I had left the haul line where it was on the bag because the previous pitch was 130’ which I thought would be the length of the next pitch.
Cursing my mistake, I fixed the line where it was, passed the knot on rap and knew that in the morning I’d have to deal with passing the knot when I was hauling. This was more of a minor inconvenience because when hauling with a 2:1 ratchet like I do because of my slight 125lb weight, passing a knot is relatively easy to do and does not require you to continue hauling from a lower point once the knot is passed because of the ease of moving the holding pulley connection back up to the highest bolt while using the ratchet to keep the bags in place.
Back at Lay Lady I was happy to have the massive ledge to myself as I unwound from the day. I let out a few monkey calls that were returned this time. I smiled and looked about the ledge for the hibachi grill that I had read was left there by previous parties years ago. I had brought a sausage and hotdog bun with my food specifically to celebrate with on Lay Lady Ledge. Quickly I realized that there was no grill or anything of the like on the ledge anymore. No grill meant no sausage in a bun. I looked at the sausage and was glad that my Ziploc bag and wag bag would hopefully keep the smell of the rotting meat contained until I could dispose of it after the climb was completed.
I sat down on the flat ground of the ledge, long since having removed my harness, and ate my salami and trail mix while I listened to the party on Zodiac nailing away. That sound, combined with the day’s heat and my issues with the runouts on pitch 8, made me decide that “chill” days on this climb were to be avoided at all costs.
Day 5 Monday Sept 16th (Bivy at Texas Flake)
In the morning I woke and checked on the portaledge. It seemed perfect and over the course of the climb would prove to be back into fighting shape. I still use the ledge and so far, the tear has not raised its ugly head again.
After packing my bags and cleaning and hauling pitch 8, I was soon face to face with pitch 9. Looking up, I began to feel like “5.9 C1” was the New Dawn equivalent of new wave A3+. 165' of mostle #4 cams. I leapfrogged and looked at huge falls and left behind only 5 pieces and a tensioned hook for pro. Soon the horror was over and I felt like the sun had taken much of my will from me in quickly drying pools of sweat.
From the top of pitch 9, I could look to my left and see the way onto The Nose that would connect me to Tribal Rite. It looked like fun climbing and I took out my freeclimbing shoes to up the ante.
The freeclimbing from the pitch 9 belay to The Nose is more like fifth class scrambling until you reach a point where you have to do an easy 5.8 mantel on a sloping ledge looking down at a lot of exposure and looking back at the lack of gear you placed because you were feeling so good scrambling around. I was glad that I was here on a Monday instead of the weekend when I’m sure there’d be a bevy of Nose climbers laughing at the silly soloist going back and forth at making an easy move on a silly freeclimb like The Nose. The only thing that made the move easier was my desperate desire to get away from The Nose route itself.
The first thing I noticed once I came over the edge that separates New Dawn from The Nose was the overpowering stench of urine and the multitude of garbage bits stuffed and stuck into every crevice I could see. After attempting The Nose so many times in my early walling career, I have reached a point where I no longer want to climb The Nose due to the depression that quickly set in over the smell and the garbage. It was at this point that I decided on this climb that I would follow Mark Hudon’s advice and capture my urine for the rest of my climb while over The Nose.
Soon I was through the mantel and making my way through the ledges leading up to Texas Flake. I didn’t know if I could link the two pitches that would take me there but I was sure willing to try. Most difficult was constantly tending to the haul line, flipping it right every time I traversed towards the anchors so that the haul wouldn’t get caught somewhere on the face. I left only a couple of pieces behind and was able to make it to the New Dawn belay on the right side of Texas Flake with a little rope to spare. A climber with a partner would not want to try this because the rope drag would be impossible.
From the pitch 9 anchors of New Dawn, it looks like you can climb directly up to the anchors on the right of Texas Flake via aid instead of crashing into the conga line on The Nose that’s a constant in high season or the weekends. Obviously, I didn’t go that way so I’ve no idea what it’s like.
Once I hauled my kit to the rather spread out belay of a single 3/8” bolt, one ¼” bolt, and a machine head rivet, I looked over at Texas Flake. I had intended to climb this in the morning but had seen some parties lower on The Nose and decided that the best thing I could do was try to get out of their way as fast as I could. I should mention that I don’t like chimneys. Ever since my losing bought with Entrance Exam I have hated chimneys. Once you get into the aid mindset of placement, rest, placement, look around, placement, rest, and repeat, the runout nature of chimneys seems foreign and just wrong. I also realized that I wasn’t really mentally prepared for this pitch because it wasn’t part of the two topos I was using. Before the climb I had ignored The Nose pitches under the mentality of, “psshaw, C1 whatever.” I had completely missed the fact that one of those pitches contained my most hated form of climbing. Preparation can only get you as far as your front door though, so I grabbed the little gear I would need and headed off to meet my hatred face to wall.
Being behind Texas Flake has one positive though; it’s not in the blazing sun and has a nice breeze to keep you cool. Without thinking much I placed my feet against the walls and started to push my way up. I made sure to only look up, never down, and made my mind go away as I moved up higher and higher towards the bolt. Once I reached it, I clipped in and took a rest. Bad form, but a necessity in my exhausted state. Soon I was back in the thick (or rather, the wide) of it and getting closer and closer to the sunlight splashing across the top of the flake. Just as my mind started to wake up and realize where I was, I belly flopped onto the top of Texas Flake and laid there for a bit. In my fear, I had put too much pressure on my back as I moved up and realized that I was now bleeding from multiple spots on my shoulder blades. I made a quick mental note to avoid talking about this rather embarrassing issue on the trip report and stood up to clip the anchors. This, by far, was the hardest mental pitch for me on the entire climb and I decided that I would try to climb more chimneys in my future to avoid such an experience. I have yet to make this true.
Back at the Texas Flake anchors I set up camp and enjoyed the view, excited to climb The Boot in the morning and start on the real reason I was up here. Soon it was dark and as I settled into my sleeping bag a massive booming sound smashed through the air around me. I was able to look up with just enough time to see a military jet buzz the rim of the valley as it flew from behind El Cap, and disappeared beyond the jutting shadow of a horizon made by the Cathedral Rocks. Whoops and monkey calls echoed in the wake of the jet’s flight path. I thought of my feather, hitching a ride in my haulbag off to the left of my ledge. Good signs seemed to be marking the new path of tomorrow’s new route. Tribal Rite, here I come!
This is part 1 of my two-part Trip Report of my 12 day solo of Tribal Rite Via New Dawn. Please read part 2 once you’re finished at the following link:http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Part-2-of-2-Tribal-Rite-via-New-Dawn-12-days-on-the-Wall/t12303n.html