Salathe Wall 5.13b or 5.9 C2
Trip ReportSalathe Wall - Confessions of a Humbled Climber
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I had ambitious goals planned for my two weeks in the Valley. A wall trip in the Spring had taken me up the Nose in style and up Leaning Tower solo in 9 ½ hours, among other climbs. I felt confident. This trip was designed to push me to my limit and prove what I am capable of. I am an ambitious man to be sure. In hindsight, I'd call myself cocky.
With my buddy Alec for the first week, I was going to climb Salathe, take a go at NIAD, and climb Wet Denim Daydream in a push. For the second week I was going to solo Muir Wall. One on one with the big stone was going to be my greatest adventure to date. I dreamed about it repeatedly in the buildup to the trip. I felt like I was capable of such a ticklist, I just had to commit to it and make it happen.
It is perhaps the greatest lesson for budding wall climbers: everything looks so much simpler on paper. There are just so many variables. The Valley is no joke.
We were stoked for the Salathe and hauled our bag up to Heart Ledges the very afternoon that I cruised into the Valley. We descended to sleep on the valley floor and were feeling good with ourselves. El Cap Spire should be reachable by tomorrow night, we figured. I was so excited it was hard to fall asleep that night.
We woke the next morning and rolled to the base of Freeblast. Off we went, and everything was going well. Perhaps slower than we thought, but no big deal. That was to be expected. We got to Heart Ledges in late afternoon and figured that we'd just spend an extra day on the wall and climb to El Cap Spire the next day.
On a sidenote, we found a gallon of juice that someone had ditched up on the ledge. It had been in the sun for too long and fermented! We popped the lid and the juice began to fizz! We had found El Cap champagne! It was glorious and we drank the whole thing.
The Second day from Heart to El Cap Spire has much of the wide climbing on the route and was surely a wake up call for me. I hadnt done much wide climbing and had assumed in my ignorance that I would think it no big deal. It's all under 5.10. We'd just cruise through it quick and without sweat. I was wrong. I laugh now as I write about it, but much cursing and thrutching was done on that fair day of climbing. Alec lead the Hollow Flake and the squeeze directly after it. I got the Ear and I agree with Robbins, it is the most terrifying “5.7” in the world. I jumped across the chasm behind El Cap Spire and onto the bivy well after dark that night. Wow, we thought, we definitely underestimated this route.
The third day was going to be our money day to the top. I had the first block and was going to lead off to past the Salathe Roof. Alec was going to crush to the top from there. The first pitch went with a couple minor hitches but we were doing fine. Then I reached the c1 pitch preceding the Sewer. It was c1 and difficult free so I donned my tennies and prepared to aid up the thing. No worries I thought. However, I got sucked into the Teflon Corner which is part of Freerider and runs parallel to the Salathe pitch I should have been on. In any case, most of the way up Teflon, the crack peters out and becomes more or less unaidable. It looked feasible so I went for it free. It normally wouldn't have been an issue, but in tennies and chest harness I biffed it and took a fall. I penjied right to get back on route and climbed up to the anchor, backcleaning heavily as I went. It was only there that I realized I might have hurt my ankle.
With some apprehension, I went off for the next lead, combining two pitches and getting us to the block. I took off my shoe and discovered that the pain I felt was not unwarranted. My ankle was pretty swollen and turning a dark purple fairly quickly. Shit! I felt my trip grind to a stop. This was just the first climb! I was 2/3 of the way up El Cap and with a potentially broken ankle.
Alec arrived at the Block after cleaning and we discussed options. There was never any mention of bailing. If there's one thing we have going for us, it's persistence. It was probably easier to get off the top anyways.
Alec was going to probably have to take the remainder of the leads though. His reaction to this was admirable. He assumed the additional responsibility and physical/ mental strain with great strength. He climbed c2ish pitches through the roof and up the headwall to Long Ledge that night. I belayed him until 1:30 that morning hanging delirious from anchors most of the way up El Cap. It feels now like a dream. Alec climbed admirably and I gained a lot of trust in him as a climbing partner.
The next morning we were running low on food and water so we decided to just book it for the top. The two pitches off of Long aren't pushovers either and there was certainly some excitement as we moved steadily upwards.
We topped out on the fourth day of climbing. We had planned on spending just two or three days on route. I felt like a cripple. We reveled in our victory but the cost of it was much higher than either of us had anticipated. The Salathe is an amazing route, and a historical one that every wall climber should do. Just be prepared for wide climbing, and sustained aid on the headwall.
We were miserable, but began discussing future climbs even as we both limped and hobbled our way back down to the valley.
I feel like I've gained a lot of experience from this climb. I feel like I know more of what to expect when I get on a wall. I hope this climb has taught me the humility to become a better climber in a more honest way. I can't wait to be up there again.
I think my greatest strength as a wall climber is that I somehow find great happiness, fulfillment, and perhaps even moments of enlightenment amidst all the grand misery.
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