The Shield A3 5.8
Trip ReportSheild TR - 6/11
It had been a couple years since I've been on the Captain when we gave a run for the Shield last week. In '09 I skied into a tree at full speed, smashed my knee bad and didn't walk for 5 months after. I was devastated and my biggest worry was that my future El Cap dreams were lost in an instant.
Well, I kept my faith in the bodies ability to heal, worked hard in rehab, hired a trainer to whip my ass back into shape, recruited a local partner and started flipping through the guide book again plotting on routes. It's a fun ritual, making plans for routes...who would lead what pitches and how long each would take etc. Once the Supertopo book comes out a couple months before a route my wife pretty much writes me off as a lost cause!
My partner had been climbing since the 90s, but was a noob to aid, so route selection was important. Initially the idea was to have a run at the classic Nose. But I only really wanted to repeat the Nose if I could better the style I did it in previously, namely knocking a day off my time and doing it in 2 bivis vs 3. Aaron had a different vision of his first El Cap experience and wanted some nice chill time in the ledge to knock back a couple beers each evening and have 2 cups off coffee each morning. Well that's not really conducive to doing 10 pitches a day on the Nose, plus I hadn't been climbing much and am about 10lbs over fighting weight. Factor in the crowds and it was easy to rule out the Nose. Tom's reports and pic epic cluster f*#ks on the Boot and King Swing confirmed our decision. The morning we started on the Shield we counted 18 climbers on the first 7 pitches of the Nose! Luckily we had the Sheild to ourselves, with only one brief encounter as a Tripple Direct party crossed paths. Nice guys, hope they made it up!
We tossed around Never Never Land as an option, I wanted something new, but the topo just had too many hardish pitches if we were going to try and split up the leading, as I didn't want to lead the whole climb, and Aaron didn't want to jug his first EC route. We settled on the Shield for a couple reasons. 1st, most of the first half of the route is free or C1, perfect for Aaron. 2nd, location...I really wanted to get him up into the best location on El Cap, and there was some selfish motivation in here too.
Shield was a repeat for me, I did it 10 years ago as a EC noob. It was my 3rd EC route after the 3D and Zod which was then a clip up. We were scared and never placed pins before. I think this is the curse of the poor Shield. We beat her into submission as many parties had done in the past. I remember leading the pitch above the Tripple Cracks, placing every single pin on the rack and finishing the end with stacked knifeblades, which scared the sh#t out of me at the time. So my goal this time was to better that poor style by placing less pins, gentler, and go as clean as possible.
The wild cards in this equation were Aaron's noobness, since he had never been on a wall before, and neither of us knew if it would be his game or not...and my gimpyness...whether or not my knee could hack the work. We somehow worked a training run up the WFLT a couple weeks before the big one. The training run checked out Arron's aid abilities and drive. He cruised the Tower and led most of it. I just felt out of shape and climbing the Tower confirmed my fears of being able to get my ass up the Captain.
Time away from families was the crux of these climbs, as we both have two young kids at home. Major props goes to the Mom's for supporting our "vacation." How one considers suffering on El Cap vacation...I dunno. But that's what it is in the wife's eyes. If only they knew. Yeah it's kinda like fun...but different....
Ok, enough chatter, on with the pics. I'll post some of the better ones with some commentary, and add Tom's when they show up in the mail. (Thanks Tom!)
We did the Pre-Haul to Mammoth method and got our asses handed to us with heavy pigs. Getting to Mammoth took most of the day. The real bummer was we lost a couple beers on the way. Beer Down!!!
Aaron smiling through the pain of sore hips on day 1!
The Shield looms above, talk about intimidating!
Aaron leading the free pitch above Mammoth which he styled in afternoon light. He also led the big pretty corner on the Muir that looms above, though light wasn't good for pics. At this point we made the decision to bail on our plans to rap back down and do the Freeblast the next morning. I didn't enjoy it much last time, and although that section was to make up most of Aaron's leads, we were both worried about making it home on time to spare any marital disputes. ;)
Aaron belaying me on the 1st pitch of the Shield. I fell 3 moves into it and immediately had doubts about continuing. I was secretly looking for any excuse to bail at this point, which isn't normaly my style, but I was letting the gravity demons creep in a bit. I'm proud to admit I have been up EC 10 times in a row without a bail, knock on wood...but this time feelings of incompetence, was I still an aid climber??? The night before we had to deploy the rainfly on Grey Ledges due to a bad drip coming out of the roof, and realized I brought the fly for my single ledge not the double..that was a pretty good excuse to bail, but the damn forecast was sunny all week!
Made it across resorting to just one tapped angle. Aaron was nervous cleaning this pitch, since he had never cleaned a long traverse. But he styled it, leaving only one HB that I stupidly welded (our only abandoned piece on the route.)
I think committing to going past the Shield Roof is the mental crux of the climb. I got on it as quick as possible to reduce the time we had to convince ourselves to bail! Aaron had a tough time cleaning the roof while I was flailing around trying to get our A5 Cabana set up for the night. We were both imagining being laughed at by the hordes of monkeys down at the bridge. A video of us flailing like gumbies would be priceless footage...
"Ole Yeller" in the breeze. Yeah it's a little bit steep here!
Aaron gets the long C1F pitch above the roof. Killer lead through a small waterfall.
Aaron in the Maw
First light on the clean headwall.
I'm headed up the Groove in the morning. This was the crux of the route for me. 10 years ago it took me 30 minutes as every single move was fixed. This time it is much cleaner with only 3-4 usable fixed pieces and a ton of useless fixed RURPs. I took a 40 footer on a bad tipped out beak, and had to resort to placing a copperhead in an obvious head scar when all other options had failed. Our only head placed on the route. It felt like a small failure, but oh well, couldn't spend more then an hour on one move, had to advance! Bailing was a scary option at this point. The Groove felt like the hardest pitch I had ever led on El Cap, with none of the placements being obvious. Harder then anything I remember on ZM. 100ft of one crappy piece after another.
Right before my whip almost back to the belay anchors.
Big lower out to the anchor.
Wall burritos rule! We only made two pitches that day, oh well...I've learned on a wall not to sweat the small stuff. Thanks for the catch Aaron.
Tripple Cracks. I nailed a few beaks and I think one angle on this pitch. Call me a wimp. I ended up lowering off the midway bolts to backclean the big beaks. bobo was right, shoulda brought more big ones! In hindsight I probably used the hammer too much, but I am satisfied with how I did. It's hard not to think the massive crowd on the bridge is boo-ing you through Tom's lens everytime the hammer comes out. I was having these visions, wife and kids on one shoulder saying "put in a bomber pin!"...Bridge Monkeys on the other shoulder yelling "run it out you pussy!" I compromised. Anyway, big beaks really own the big pin scars, and I feel the damaged caused by them is somewhat less destructive. Placed a ton of handplaced angles, tiny nuts and offset aliens.
Aaron rocking the tough cleaning. The intense wind was f*#king with his head, but he soldiered onward. I was super psyched he was able to get all the gear, not to shabby for his second aid climb! It's really important t me to leave a route as we found it, and Aaron worked hard at keeping things clean, putting the new D5 hammer to action!
I short fixed the whole headwall to get us to Chickenhead ledge before dark. Was hoping Aaron could lead one of the pitches but we had to make tracks. You can see I'm back cleaning handplaced angles and beaks between good gear.
Short fixing the bolt ladders at the end of the headwall really saved some time. Soloing experience really pays off in these situations when you are racing the sun.
I was exhausted by the time we landed on the big ledge, we commenced drinking our last two beers!
Pitch above Chickenhead is probly the dangerous crux of the route if you were to blow it. I nailed a beak or two here also.
Camera got neglected as we raced for the summit before dark, but we made it with some grunting! Aaron handled the last 5.7 chimney in great free climber style! All said and done...6 days/5 nights on the wall. And home on time to the wives!
Tom's view, second to last pitch.
Cheyne saved our asses by running the big pig down the East Ledges! Thanks bud! Aaron led the top out pitch and said, "he looked like our little magic helper elf sitting there watching me grovel to the top hunting for anchors!!"
Aaron was a rock solid partner with no hesitation, and NO exposure demons. Only smiles and witty jokes. Perfect EC partner! He learned to clean like a champ and got some fun leads, more next time for sure!
The Shield is a kick ass route, an CMac is right, the location and exposure can't be beat. The scars are a shame, but beaks make the climbing fun. It's pretty easy to do the route mostly clean. The only times I had to nail I mostly did just to reduce the length of a potential whipper, cause I'm not that bold. I'd usually hand place a couple angles, work a couple tiny nuts or tipped out cams in, then tap in a beak home with a screamer. I think someday the use of beaks will allow for more secure nut placements. Most of the angle placements can't be nailed with regular angles now anyway. They all seem to be in between 1" and 1 1/4" and neither work for nailing. But more often then not a 1" angle hand placed hooks really well in there.
The trip ended as usual with a lodge breakfast and sometime at the bridge with Tom. Tom has become a fixture of my Yosemite experience and somebody I consider a good friend. Thanks for the pics, can't wait till they arrive! Was good to see Bobo again, it's been a few years, and thanks for the extra big beak dude!
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