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El Capitan


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
Solo on the Muir: via the YOSAR finish
Monday June 27, 2011 9:58pm
Credit: POTATO


Time to think is a rarity in the modern world. Busy work schedules and increasing use of technology have worked incessantly to diminish our time for free thought and self-reflection. Big wall aid climbing is a great release from the busy schedule of the world. While our partners slave away on the next pitch we can indulge in the hours long belays, with nothing to do but to think: inner reflection at its best. Solo climbing provides a different release. The days are spent in full motion, the mind in sharp focus on each maneuver: meditation through action. This is the type of meditation that I prefer. Always moving, working towards the next goal, my mind is at ease most in these moments.

The idea to solo the Muir Wall on El Capitan grew slowly in my mind over the past few years. First was the thought to solo El Cap in my lifetime. Then the idea started to take form, and soon I was looking through Yosemite Big Walls reading route histories, descriptions, and looking at topos in detail. The Muir stood out as a possible solo option: not too crowded, not too technically difficult, a proud line on the center of the formation, and impeccable history. Soon, I thought that someday I might try to solo El Cap via the Muir Wall. Still, it was all theoretical. I had never climbed El Capitan; indeed I had never even been to the valley.

The moment of commitment came just days before my trip was to start. I was sitting in the airport in Bozeman Montana, reading Royal Robbins AAJ article on soloing the Muir when my mind made the commitment. I had just spent a week in Montana doing emergency repairs for work. A week I was supposed to be in the Valley. This following a month of originally unscheduled work in Southern California. Again, time I was to be in the valley (a blessing in disguise given the wet May Yosemite had this year). These most recent delays getting to the valley were, in my mind, simply the last few obstacles in the way of finally getting to Yosemite to climb. I am not sure exactly why Yosemite has been so hard to reach. Living in Western Colorado was hardly a legitimate physical barrier, the valley being an easy day’s drive for two. Between relationships, school, commitments to friends, work, and relationships (did I already mention that one?), and the same issues with potential partners, Yosemite trips had fizzled before getting off the ground time and time again. All the while Yosemite, and El Capitan in particular, had been built up in my mind, the ultimate destination and the ultimate goal.

By early 2011 all of the previous issues that had disrupted my Yosemite trips were stripped away. I had been divorced, was well finished with school, and had thoroughly neglected my friendships. I had taken a job on the road and had worked hard the previous 18 months in order to get time off in the late spring. So it was that I found myself with five weeks in June and July to climb in Yosemite and the Sierra. By the time my flight brought me back to L.A. I was packing for El Cap. I had waited long enough; the time was now. Eight days’ worth of supplies, gear, ropes, and hardware were carefully packed in the bags, and within an hour of first entering the valley, I was humping loads to the base of the Captain. After a 20 minute wait for some Euros on Moby Dick I was climbing my first pitch of Yosemite granite.

“You climb to top solo?”

“Oui oui.”

After a day and a half climbing, I had reached the top of pitch eight, and a gathering storm threatened several days of rain. I bunked my gear and swung over to the fixed Heart Ledge rappels. Three days of rest gave me time to decide if I was going to commit to the route. I had been moving slightly slower than planned, but all in all my systems were working quite well. I decided to head back up on the wall with two additional days of supplies.

Gathering Storm
Gathering Storm
Credit: POTATO


After more climbing, a short rain storm ended the first day back on the wall. The extended forecast had said about 20% that day followed by excellent conditions for the following week. Soon I was climbing the pitches that are shared with the Triple Direct, having a ball, and following closely behind a party of three. A very wet night on Grey ledges (take note: if any water is running down the Shield headwall it lands right on Grey) preceded more excellent climbing and the divergence of the Triple Direct from the Muir. Now I was on to the upper pitches of the Muir and was starting to feel truly alone; no one else on the remainder of the route. Relishing in the experience I decided to take a rest day atop pitch 23: the first crux. There was a decent stance on a slab I used to set up and eat. I had enough supplies and the weather looked great for several more days. The past several days had been great, falling into the rhythm of solo climbing, sleeping well, and finding a peace I had been missing for quite a while.

Great climbing above Mammoth
Great climbing above Mammoth
Credit: POTATO

Credit: POTATO

On Sunday, June 12, I went through the morning routine and got ready to lead Pitch 24, a classic thin nutting dihedral that climbed at C2 on the topo to a C3 or A2 bulge. I began the pitch with a 00 C3, and then began nutting, placing two small DMM nuts. I then made a cam hook placement up to a yellow HB brass nut. Bouncing the nut resulted in some shift, but confidence in the nuts body weight ability. Then I placed a green HB brass, more shifting, but it seemed fairly solid. I was getting close to a fixed Alien. I decided to place a cam hook to gain the fixed piece. As I tested the hook, several things went wrong in quick succession. The hook popped and I shifted onto the green HB with my fi-fi, shock loading and pulling it out of the crack. The next HB nut popped as well, and I was gaining speed. My left foot hit the slab after I had fallen about 20 feet, and I continued to fall about a body length as I crumpled onto the slab.

I waited a few minutes without moving. “Give the pain a minute to settle in,” I thought. After a few minutes I did a quick scan for pain. My left ankle hurt, with 4 out of 10 on the pain scale. Nothing else seemed to hurt. My head and spine seamed alright and I was able to move my neck with no pain. I stood up on the slab with my right foot, and gingerly weighted my left foot. Instant blinding pain shot up my leg. “Well….sh#t.” Luckily (I suppose) I had fallen to the belay. I went back in direct and took off the gear rack. I dug out my day supplies bag and reached for the Ibuprofen and my cell phone. I checked my watch 8:45 a.m. I had an overwhelming desire to talk to someone, at least to make someone else aware of my situation. I flipped on the phone, two bars, nice. I called out to my oldest friend, climbing partner, and emergency contact, Jesse. “What’s this?” The phone wouldn’t dial out. I tried 5, 10, a dozen times. I cursed the phone “two bars!!” I screamed at it, I pleaded with it, I begged it, and finally it dialed out. I had to hold the phone in a specific position for it to work. Jesse answered the phone in his usual friendly tone.

“Hey man, I’m in trouble.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just took a ledge fall, and I think I broke my ankle.”

Jesse helped me work through the situation, and we discussed the options. How quickly I had given up on the self-reliance of a solo ascent once a real problem reared its head. I could try and rappel the Muir. With the last few pitches being overhanging, and several traversing pitches to regain Grey Ledges, I would have to down aid quite a bit. I also thought about how tantalizingly close the Nose had been down in the grey bands. Could I somehow rappel over to the Nose? Or, failing that, climb up, across the Triple Direct pitches to gain the fixed rappels on the Nose? I wasn’t sure. In either case, making the rappels happen with the use of only one leg was going to be difficult and painful. The last option was to call YOSAR for a rescue. At the time, I did not want to consider this option. I was in the mentality of being a self-reliant climber, “I got myself into this, and I’m going to get myself out of it.” Jesse suggested we at least call YOSAR and make them aware of the situation. Perhaps they would know the best rappel route from where I was on the wall. To save my phone we decided that Jesse would call them and get a hold of me afterwards. I would call Jesse back in an hour if I did not hear from him.

I started breaking down my haul bags, pulling out all my water in preparation to jettison most of it, and packing away a lot of gear I wouldn’t need now that I couldn’t continue the route. When I was nearing the end of this process, I heard my phone ringing. It was Jack from YOSAR. After a quick assessment with an EMT over the phone, we started discussing the situation. Down aiding was definitely going to be necessary to bail. In the end, Jack asked me to stay put and call them back in two hours. They would have a look at where I was and determine what actions were possible.

I set up my portaledge, and decided to have a closer look at my foot and ankle. I gingerly removed my shoes and socks and placed my feet next to each other. It was obvious within moments that my left ankle had a significant deformity, doing an s-bend towards the inside. However, I could move my toes and circulation looked good. I began to think more seriously about a YOSAR rescue. If they could get me easily from the top, it might be a good option. I was still feeling like I should attempt to self-rescue. But doubts started to seriously enter my mind for the first time. If I couldn’t pull off the self-rescue, I was going to need YOSAR’s help anyways. The pain in my ankle was increasing. What if it became too much and I lost concentration, or began rushing the rappels? The chances of something else going wrong were beginning to look likely.

Something looks wrong
Something looks wrong
Credit: POTATO

I called Jack back at the YOSAR office. From where I was they could perform a rescue from the summit. Jack then put it to me. If I felt confident that I could self-rescue, I should, if not, YOSAR would begin mounting a rescue from the summit of El Cap. He also pointed out to me that if I got in trouble lower down on the wall, a rescue would only become more complicated for them. “I’ll wait here for a rescue.” The decision was made easily, almost without conscious effort. Jack then asked me if I had supplies left. I had three days of food and water left, which was good, because a more effective rescue effort could be mounted the next day. My heart sank just a bit, but I knew my situation was stable, and I had the supplies to make it through to the next day. It was 11:30 a.m.

As soon as I got off the phone, my mind started swirling. I was going to have to wait at least another 24 hours for rescue. I looked at the pitch above me. I felt failure and embarrassment. How had I fallen on this pitch, it’s only C2? Another 24 hours sitting looking at the spot where the accident had occurred. I wanted to escape the place. “I should have self-rescued,” I thought. “I could have made it, damn it!” I wanted to keep moving. I knew that if I stopped moving, I would have to confront the reality of everything that had happened that morning. I cursed myself, I cursed El Cap, and I cursed Yvon Chouinard, TM Herbert, and Royal Robbins. I cursed climbing, cam hooks, and small nuts. I cursed myself again. I ate and drank. I got out my bivy gear and set up for the long wait. I wrapped my power-stretch around my foot and ankle for compression, and splinted it using my wall hammer and athletic tape. I took every action I could think of. Then I ran out of things to do.
Now I had time to think.

My internal dialogue started admonishing me for all the mistakes I had made. “You should have bounce tested better. You should have gone for another nut, instead of trying to go fast and use a cam hook. You should have… You should have…” The dialogue went deeper pointing out mistakes, now years distant, which had led to this failure. I had sacrificed too much to get here. My marriage had fallen apart. I’d lost all but my most patient and forgiving friends. I’d taken a job on the road, sacrificing any chance of meaningful relationships or friendships. All so I could climb more. All so I could do the big climbs I had dreamt of. And now I had failed in climbing one of my main objectives. Furthermore, I had failed to maintain my self-reliance. I had called for a rescue. Other people, good people, people more valuable than me, were going to be put at risk to save me. I had launched onto the route determined to climb El Cap, and to have the effort be all mine. I wanted to own the outcome, success or failure. And I couldn’t even do that. I was a failure in climbing, and in life.

Hours passed, and my mind kept dwelling on the same thoughts. Eventually, I gained some composure. I realized that I did fully own the outcome of the climb. The actions and decisions that had led to this had been all mine. I apologized to Herbert and Chouinard for thinking I could so easily climb their route. I apologized to Robbins for thinking I could solo the route as he had (in much bolder style). I apologized to El Capitan, and to myself. I admitted to myself that a rescue was always a possible outcome of the climb. The minute I stepped onto the rock, only four things could have happened: success, bail, rescue, or death. No matter how remote I thought the possibilities of the latter two options were, I had accepted all four when I decided to solo El Capitan. The fact that others were going to be put at risk to assist me was still hard to accept.

I began to ponder the question no climber should ask themselves. “Why do I climb?” When other people ask me why, I have no trouble answering. It’s fun, freedom, a challenge, etc… But I know, as we all do, that those explanations are superficial. I arrived at the conclusion that the real reason I climb is that it is the only thing in my life that makes sense. Once I discovered climbing everything complicated in my life was neglected to near ruin or total disaster. I began seriously wondering if it was worth it. Then I thought back to the previous few days of climbing, moving up El Capitan, living on the wall, finding peace through action. Despite two wet nights, the bleeding fingers, and mental and physical fatigue, I could not think of a time that I was happier. Was it worth it?

The night passed slowly, as every time I moved, my ankle would wake me up. At some point after midnight, I rolled over and looked out at the valley below. The moon was nearly full, and the wall above and below me, as well as the Cathedrals, were illuminated. Despite the accident, the pain, and the doubts about my actions and decisions, I marveled at the sheer beauty of my position and surroundings.

Credit: POTATO

In the half waking state of the morning I heard a woman’s voice close by. I sat up and looked around. Were there other climbers coming up the Muir? I had heard a few shouts from climbers on other routes in the previous days, but this voice was talking and I could hear it although not quite make out what she was saying. They had to be close. In what she was saying I made out two things, “Matt….911.” I realized with a jolt that she was talking to me from the valley with a loudspeaker. “Matt Seymour, if you can hear me raise one hand to acknowledge.” The hand goes up. “If your phone still works dial 9-1-1.” Soon I was on the phone with Jack again. The rescue was mobilizing; they would reach me around noon.

I broke down all my gear into the haul bags except my ledge. The bulge at the top of the pitch obscured my view of the summit, leaving me wondering where the YOSAR team might be, and when they might reach me. I was obsessing about breaking down my ledge before they got to me. I didn’t want to inconvenience them any more than necessary. At some point, I was looking out at the valley and casually looked up to see someone about 50 feet above me being lowered to my position. I got up and broke down my ledge.

“Matt Seymour?”

“Yes, I am Matt.”

He threw a rope to me and I clipped it to an anchor bolt. Soon he pulled in to my position.

“Hey I’m Matt,” I extend my hand.

“Jesse,” he takes my hand and shakes it.

We often seek to have our successes define our image. We want to see ourselves, and want others to see us, in our best moments. However, it is our failures that often truly shape us. Warren Harding climbed The Nose in part because he missed out on the first accent of Half Dome. It is these times that force us to grow. We accept limitations, or gain the determination to overcome them, only after we find out where they are. I failed to climb El Capitan this time; epic fail in fact. But in the two weeks since the accident has happened I have had time to think. I have learned more about myself, my motivations, and my goals than I have in a long time. Our failures can define us in positive ways, just as much as our successes. In the past few years, I have become very well-defined. My name is Matthew Seymour, and I am a rock climber.

Credit: POTATO

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POTATO
About the Author
POTATO is a trad climber from GRAND JUNCTION, CO.

Comments
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POTATO

Trad climber
GRAND JUNCTION, CO
Author's Reply  Jun 27, 2011 - 10:00pm PT
I wanted to share this story in part because the YOSAR team deserves more recognition in the public forum, and I rarely see trip reports that validate their efforts. I also wanted to share an experience in which things did not go well in an open and honest way. After I was down McGahey asked me if I would want to use my real name in public accident reports. My answer was that I would. Apparently a lot of people are too embarrassed to use their real names. In some ways I am embarrassed by the whole experience. I fell on an easier section of a climb that I felt was well within my ability level overall. I failed to self-rescue, and I asked for help (not something I am usually good at). But in the end getting assistance from YOSAR was the right choice in the situation. Could I have safely self-rescued? Maybe, I will never know (I try not to let this keep me up at night). Did YOSAR preform an excellent and safe technical rescue? Yes, absolutely.

A few things came out of the initial analyses that are worth noting. Firstly, a cell phone turned out to be the most important piece of gear I brought on the climb. It allowed me direct contact with Jack at YOSAR, and I was able to talk with an EMT to diagnose the problem. Without a phone I would have been down to S.O.S. with a headlamp until someone saw me, and YOSAR would have had difficulty determining exactly what my problem was. They might have rushed a rescue, at greater expense and risk in order to get me off sooner.

Secondly, my level of medical training was not up to snuff. I had a front country First Responder Certification, now four years expired. I have been thinking about getting a WFR for a while now, but thinking about it didn’t help me when I was injured. This turned out to be important as I did end up receiving minor trauma to my head (a rope burn across my left eye and eyebrow), and cracking my helmet in the fall. An injury that I didn’t notice, even after talking with an EMT, until the next day. If I had more training, I probably would not have missed the injury. After the rescue, the head injury was noted and I was told they probably would have extracted me sooner if they had known about it.

Another item that came up well after the injury was the fact that I have a SPOT emergency beacon. My family love and worry about me quite a bit, and bought it for me. I brought it with me backpacking, and when climbing in more remote areas for a year or so, but soon dropped it out of my routine. A certain attitude of casualness certainly added to that decision. During the climb the SPOT was safely in my car, at the bottom of a Tupperware container. Given that I had the device, I absolutely should have had it with me in this case. I had heard the cell phones worked on El Cap, and I was relying on that. When the time came, I had fairly poor service, and the SPOT would have given me a backup.

I hope that if nothing else someone will stay out of trouble by learning a bit from my mistakes. And perhaps someone in trouble will have read this report, and gained some insight as to when to ask for help. Thank you again to Jack, Jesse, and everyone else at YOSAR for saving my ass, you guys rock.

There is a whole epic story to be told after YOSAR handed me off to the major medical system. I’ll be brief and just say our medical system is broken. Eventually, I discovered that I fractured my Calcaneus and Talus (heal bone and ankle bone), dislocated my Talus, and severely sprained my ankle. Luckily no surgery will be required (at least for now). 8 weeks is the earliest estimate on walking strongly enough to return to work, so maybe 8 to 10 till I can start climbing?
Lambone

Big Wall climber
Ashland, Or
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:08pm PT
That's a bummer man, but you made the right call. Glad it wasn't a worse situation! Sounds like you did some soul searching up there and came out all right in the end...
rlf

Trad climber
Josh, CA
  Jun 27, 2011 - 10:16pm PT
Nice report Matt. Thanks for that. Sorry about the ankle. Hope you heal soon!
Captain...or Skully

climber
in the oil patch...Fricken Bakken, that's where
  Jun 27, 2011 - 10:24pm PT
Whoa. Intense TR. TFPU in a big way.
Dude, you can write.
QITNL

climber
  Jun 27, 2011 - 10:31pm PT
Hey Potato - I was camping up top when YOSAR landed. Was happy to hear they got you off okay, it's great to hear your story. YOSAR is the business!

Heal up fast.
murcy

Gym climber
sanfrancisco
  Jun 27, 2011 - 10:46pm PT
That's some real soul-searching and a great account both of your partial triumph and of your misfortune.
Melissa

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:06pm PT
Thanks for sharing your beautifully-expressed ordeal. There's a lot to chew on in there.

Re: cell phones: I'm so glad that yours came in. There are a lot of dead spots on the West side. I would never have expected it either.

A hint for desperate times for others who might be reading this and a question too: Texts can go through often when calls can't. If you have something like an iPhone loading up a voicemail can be impossible w/ really weak signal. Is it possible to text 911?

Edit: Potato..how is ankle healing?
seneca

climber
jamais, jamais pays
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:04pm PT
Great trip report! I strive to own my actions as completely as you do in this piece. Sometimes it is really hard. Congratulations.
Bob
Lambone

Big Wall climber
Ashland, Or
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:07pm PT
If you have something like an iPhone loading up a voicemail can be impossible w/ really weak signal. Is it possible to text 911?

A lot of times you can reach 911 even with no signal at all. I dunno how...
froodish

Social climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:36pm PT
Matt,

Thanks for the beautifully written and engaging trip report.

Hope the ankle heals quickly!

-S
mtnyoung

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:38pm PT
Matt, great writing.

You made the right choice. Your post crash analysis is smart on this issue (before going you knew it would come down to one of four results).

Two things that especially stood out when I read your story:

1. I also popped a stopper on that pitch when I led it. It was one of the few aid falls I've ever taken. It came out of the blue, and after the piece had held for a while (for me it was a clean fall);

2. About your comment "I'll be brief and just say our medical system is broken." Yeah, no sh#t, that's well stated. Not to turn this into a political thread, but, yeah, no sh#t

Heal soon and get back to it.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:42pm PT
Thanks for sharing your adventure, especially with the thoughts before, during and after.

I led that pitch in 1998, and I felt slow there, too.
Maybe being too scared to use camhooks kept me out of trouble?
Eventually I backcleaned all the way back down to the belay to get more of the size nut I needed (#1 Rock).
From my TR:

"Day 4. In the morning, Paul probably got fairly tired of the small belay stance on the slab, as I took 3.5 hours to lead the next pitch, ... . The pitch itself was nice, sans any big pin scars like on more popular routes, and went clean mostly on solid #1 Rocks. The main problem was that we only had 3 of these, and one was in the belay anchor; having 5 or 6 would have helped. So I had to constantly move back down to backclean my 3rd-highest nut (with 2 highest nuts in place). And I couldn't always make the highest possible placement because I had to try to use my other sizes whenever possible. Finally I thought I was out of the woods after a roof traverse on small TCUs. But the short section above required more #1 Rocks, so I had to lower down and backclean all the way back to the belay at that point! Maybe if I had been willing to use cam hooks, it would not have been so slow, but I steadfastly refused to even try them. Finally I arrived at the gray alcove with its small stance, after puzzling at a small unnecessary rivet/head below the alcove. I set up a solid belay anchor using a #2.5, #3 and #3.5 Friend, all in the same deep section of the crack."

I read a TR later about a guy who nailed on that pitch, and placed bolts at the belay. I thought it was cool to have an all-gear belay.

I hope your ankle/heel mend well.
One other thing. It sounds like climbing was not the only thing that "made sense"; work did, too. Even if it was inconvenient for other parts of your life.
Daphne

Trad climber
Northern California
  Jun 28, 2011 - 01:05am PT
Thanks for your thoughtful and open account. You've gone deep into your being and that matters more in the end than going high.
nutjob

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Jun 28, 2011 - 01:10am PT
Thanks for the honest and open sharing. For me, a few big "failures" have triggered important periods of reflection and growth that have made me a person I am happier and secure in being.
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jun 28, 2011 - 01:15am PT


Thanks for posting. It's good for us all to hear about when things go wrong, and how one person or party deals with it. Hope the ankle heals well.

YOSAR, from us all: thanks for being there.
jamatt

Social climber
Asheville, NC
  Jun 28, 2011 - 01:26am PT
Wow. On a much smaller scale, I've been some of the places you went while waiting for YOSAR. That was a really moving piece. Thanks for it.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
www.alohashirtrescue.com
  Jun 28, 2011 - 02:16am PT
good job all around
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Jun 28, 2011 - 02:21am PT
Awesome report, thank you for sharing. Honesty is a rare thing, great to see an honest report. YOSAR deserves a lot of praise for what they do.
jsb

Trad climber
Bay area
  Jun 28, 2011 - 03:10am PT
Thank you for posting this, one of the most honest and insightful climbing reports on Supertopo. Anybody thinking about an El Cap Solo should take these words to heart.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
  Jun 28, 2011 - 02:11pm PT
Matthew,

You did great! I hope you aren’t too hard on yourself now about how this particular experience turned out, Yosar Finish and all (v. funny btw). It would be easy to get all maudlin, but you mustn't. It was all valuable time spent. You did a huge part of the route, were going along really well. Stuff just happens sometimes, you know. Especially with aid---since you cannot absolutely know how adequate many placements might actually be. Your rescue sounds incredibly orderly; Jesse and his pals had little trouble extracting you. It seems clear you could not have proceeded further, as well, descending would have most likely been unsuccessful. This has to be one of the least troublesome rescues ever on El Cap!

If anything should be said, perhaps it would be to point out the problem of ‘daisy chain falls’ and how they have to be avoided at all costs. And I also notice that you are a good writer!!
Trad Climber

Trad climber
Alexandria, VA
  Jun 28, 2011 - 11:48am PT
Matt,

This is Dan from the party of three on Triple Direct that was right above you. I'm glad you're in one piece (relatively) and are ok. We didn't learn about the accident until we were back home and tuned into the El Cap report. I have to admit I was surprised as you definitely have your sh#t together and were moving very smoothly (more so than we did and the 2 other parties we ran into on the Nose)!

In the end I think it demonstrates the nature of climbing on El Cap and how easily and quickly a situation can change from good to bad notwithstanding our abilities and preparations. Sh#t happens to good climbers too sometimes, and this was one of those times.

Anyway, I'm glad you're putting your down time to good use. What a great, reflective piece you wrote! I can imagine it was a difficult choice to call for a rescue, but I'm glad you did it. The traverse back to the long C2 corner above Grey or to the Nose would have been tough to say the least.

Here are a few photos we took of you from a distance. I've got a few more if you are interested. Just send me a note directly and I'll send you a link where you can download them.

Take care and get well soon!
Dan

Matt on Grey Ledges
Matt on Grey Ledges
Credit: Trad Climber
Matt from the travese to the Nose
Matt from the travese to the Nose
Credit: Trad Climber
Photo from Camp 4 on the Nose
Photo from Camp 4 on the Nose
Credit: Trad Climber
Bivy on the Muir
Bivy on the Muir
Credit: Trad Climber
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Jun 28, 2011 - 11:49am PT
Excellent! You almost had it too!!!

Thanks for sharing the tale.
Kurt Ettinger

Trad climber
Martinez, CA
  Jun 28, 2011 - 12:10pm PT
Matt,

I rarely post (mostly lurk) but I just had to chime in and say I also really enjoyed your trip report. Well written and thoughtful.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
  Jun 28, 2011 - 12:38pm PT
hey there say, potatoe/matt...


this was a wonderful write-up.... you shared about such things that most guys would not spill out so quickly to others, and you know what?

the spill makes the trip twice as precious, as, others learn a two-fold in-depth look at the climb of not only el cap, BUT at any climb, for that matter:

climbs, and adventures sure DO speak to folks as to who they are deep in side, and who they want to be, in the future, as well, and as you said, they tend to remind us of who were along the way, in a sense, and WHY we are who are now (i think you get my drift)...

say, really neat to see that ?trad climber/dan had those pics and was there to share the adventure from afar, :)

well, i loved this part:

My name is Matthew Seymour, and I am a rock climber.



*i had a character, jake smith, in my novels and after all his injuries while saving a buddy's life, he had reached a point in his life where he said "jake smith" (introducing himself to a UPS guy, that wasa trying to find his ranch) (trouble was, he couldn't talk, so his name did not register with the guy for quite a few minutes) but you know what:

ol'jake KNEW who he was, at that point, he was STILL himself, and NOTHING could ever take that away... not even feeling like a failure, being unable to talk... he was BEYOND that 'ledge'...

being rescued, you are SURE matt seymour , still, to all, and
one great climber, too... you knew the call you had to make, and you faced up to it... and you'll face many more great climbs too...

:)

god bless...

Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  Jun 28, 2011 - 12:46pm PT
Great trip report and really good writing. I hope that your ankle heals fast and completely. The sprain will probably take longer to heal than the bones. Hope all turns out well.

Now that you are on the mend, safe, and reflective, you have to be asking yourself: (when) will you go back up, again, solo?

Nice to meet you Matthew Seymour, rock climber.
Ian Jewell

climber
  Jun 28, 2011 - 02:10pm PT
hey. I liked your account.

two years ago, i also set out to solo the muir. and in a sense, i also did a bit of a yosar finish.

i was almost to heart ledges on the muir blast, and there was a party of three coming up the fixed lines to do the albatross. they bivied and then two of them decided to bail, but the third , a woman who was on YOSAR, still wanted to climb.

we had breakfast together and partnered up for the muir, one half hour after meeting each other, a third of the way up the wall.
i had bailed on my solo, but ended up doing my first total stranger/ hitchhike/ carpool ascent of el cap on the muir.

at one point, i blanked on her name, and finally, at station seventeen, i had to break down and ask her what it was. it was by far the highest up, and strangest location i had ever had to ask my partner what their name was.

anyway , i liked your TR a lot. i like it when people talk honestly about real feelings they experience on a wall, rather than just giving a blow by blow of the "radness" or sufferfest or sendfest. i think that as far as climbing stories go, the internal dialogue, and experiencing the full range of human emotions under extreme circumstances, is what i enjoy reading or hearing about.

some of the most memorable times on el cap (for me) have been the tantrums and freakouts and squabbles and bails.

the good stuff, the victories and awesome times and fun things, have been memorable too, but i feel like it's not accurate that we only talk about them afterward.

anyway, i liked that you explored some of the self doubt and difficult feelings regarding your experience in your TR, i think that stuff is interesting and honest, and i like reading it.

you should write more.

ian
em kn0t

Trad climber
isle of wyde
  Jun 28, 2011 - 05:41pm PT
A most amazing TR and inner journey. TFPU
Melissa

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
  Jun 28, 2011 - 06:24pm PT
at one point, i blanked on her name, and finally, at station seventeen, i had to break down and ask her what it was. it was by far the highest up, and strangest location i had ever had to ask my partner what their name was.

LOL! And you couldn't exactly wait it out for someone else to say her name. Reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry forgot the name of the girl he was dating and tried to trick her into saying it.
Blakey

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
  Jun 28, 2011 - 06:30pm PT
Potato,

I feel for you, I pulled a piece on the same pitch while leapfrogging gear. I ended up inverted, don't know how, from one piece, looking 30 foot or so down the corner to the ledge. cos I'd been leapfrogging it was likely I'd have piledrived into the ledge if the piece that I was suspended from had pulled.

I really had to lever on that piece to get the right way up - I was not happy!

Pleased you got out ok tho' and for sure lots of gratitude to YOSAR they certainly deserve it.

Steve
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Jun 28, 2011 - 08:22pm PT
Ian

Toooo much, you forgot her name! That is the trouble with blind dates.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jun 28, 2011 - 09:12pm PT
thoughtful
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
  Jun 28, 2011 - 09:23pm PT
Great TR, Matt, sorry about your fall and ankle.

I heard a helicopter from over that direction while I was soloing ZM. My first thought was "I hope whoever it is is okay". My next thought was of how easy it would be to end up needing a rescue myself.

Again, great TR, heal well and fast.
Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Jun 28, 2011 - 11:53pm PT
The fact that you were so calm and collected for so long, I'd give you the summit.
Heal up and TFPU.
Great job!
hollyclimber

Big Wall climber
North Rim, AZ
  Jun 29, 2011 - 12:28am PT
Nice read Matt....
Funny how we all come together on the taco.
That was my black alien that you were going for and my voice that woke you in the am. And, Ian, her name is Janet!

Heal well Matt!
HB
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jun 29, 2011 - 12:45am PT
Holly,
That's too cool. Talk about a "world wide web".
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jun 29, 2011 - 01:11am PT
Matt,
Thanks for opening up and sharing some of your heart and brain matter with us. We all have those questions...I hope you find some answers out there.
scuffy b

climber
heading slowly NNW
  Jun 29, 2011 - 12:28pm PT
Potato,
Thanks so much for this report.
Amusing, thoughtful, useful, impressive, etc.

Ian:
When you asked her name, did she say "I want you to remember that"
or anything like that?
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jun 29, 2011 - 11:55pm PT
Matt, beautiful writing man, you have a gift,

I'm also a climber, although not as committed as you!

It sounds like you really figured out your priorities through the whole thing. Best wishes, and hope to see you at the crag some time!
-Ezra Ellis
Crimpergirl

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
  Jun 30, 2011 - 12:24am PT
Great TR. Seriously excellent.
Cuckawalla

Trad climber
Grand Junction, CO
  Jun 30, 2011 - 07:50pm PT
bump for a friend. And, he doubted his writing abilities. Spot on Matt!
Crimpergirl

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
  Jun 30, 2011 - 07:53pm PT
Hoping for an update on the leg. It looked wicked!
POTATO

Trad climber
GRAND JUNCTION, CO
Author's Reply  Jun 30, 2011 - 09:01pm PT
Thanks everyone for the good wishes.

I can clarify and say that I have a chip fracture on the top left side of the Talus, and a chip fracture on the bottom of the Calcaneus. The photo with the deformity is mostly due to the fact that my ankle is dislocated there. When I showed that picture to the paramedic they thought for sure that I shattered my Talus. So I'm glad that the injury is only as bad as it is. I have more orthopedic appointments next week, and have my fingers crossed that I can begin some resistance type rehab at that time.

Cell phones on El Cap: I had to dial out several times to get out to regular numbers. I did call 911 twice and both times it went through easily, first try. So, I think there is priority given to those calls, or the phone boosts the signal; something is definitely going on there.
makelove

climber
New York, NY
  Jun 30, 2011 - 10:03pm PT
great trip report. its easy to write the successes! it was so personal in a reasonable sort of way, somehow not whiny, just a statement of facts.

get well soon.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Jun 30, 2011 - 11:46pm PT
Great report and thoughts!

Still, while nobody should get rescued lightly, it's not as if YOSAR hates their jobs and the monkeys on Yosar don't get paid unless they work. So don't feel badly, they got paid for having an adventure too.

You did great. You would have been long finished with a solo of Zodiac by the time you fell.

My biggest injuries have been aid climbing. You never know when things are going to rip, although I"m probably with you on not testing hard enough. (but hey, if you know it's bodyweight, why overtest?)

hope the healing goes well (I'm in your boat) do things you otherwise wouldn't take the time for

Peace

Karl
OR

Trad climber
  Jul 1, 2011 - 12:00am PT
NIce TR and a fine ending. Thanks for sharing. Now heal up soon Matt and get back on the Captain next year!
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Jul 1, 2011 - 08:20pm PT
Matt wrote:

Now I had time to think.

My internal dialogue started admonishing me for all the mistakes I had made. “You should have bounce tested better. You should have gone for another nut, instead of trying to go fast and use a cam hook. You should have… You should have…” The dialogue went deeper pointing out mistakes, now years distant, which had led to this failure. I had sacrificed too much to get here. My marriage had fallen apart. I’d lost all but my most patient and forgiving friends. I’d taken a job on the road, sacrificing any chance of meaningful relationships or friendships. All so I could climb more. All so I could do the big climbs I had dreamt of. And now I had failed in climbing one of my main objectives. Furthermore, I had failed to maintain my self-reliance. I had called for a rescue. Other people, good people, people more valuable than me, were going to be put at risk to save me. I had launched onto the route determined to climb El Cap, and to have the effort be all mine. I wanted to own the outcome, success or failure. And I couldn’t even do that. I was a failure in climbing, and in life.

Oh man, the wicked and swirling darkness! But who among us hasn't wrestled with something similar? Time to think can sometimes be a test of epic proportions... Thanks for sharing on yours.

Hoping that the next time you have time to think in the Valley it's on the hallowed ground of the Captain's summit, at sunset, and with 30+ pitches below your toes and a huge grin on your face!
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
  Jul 2, 2011 - 12:21am PT
Well, I broke a calcaneous once and i can verify that it hurt far more than a simple tibia fracture in the ankle. And it took forever for it to heal. The soft tissue..fascitus (spelling) hurt like a bitch for over a year.

ShawnInPaso

climber
Paso Robles, CA
  Jul 2, 2011 - 03:43am PT
Excellent TR, great writing - glad you're okay.

Cell phones on El Cap: I had to dial out several times to get out to regular numbers. I did call 911 twice and both times it went through easily, first try. So, I think there is priority given to those calls, or the phone boosts the signal; something is definitely going on there.

Pardon the nerdy comment, hopefully it'll be helpful to others.

By law (via the FCC) all cell carries must provide access to 911 via all cell towers regardless of who you pay for service. So, for example, if you subscribe to AT&T you will only see "bars" from their towers. Yet your cell phone can still communicate with other service providers for 911 - and no bars will show for those other providers. What this means is, if you're in a pinch and your cell phone shows no bars, try 911 anyway because your phone will attempt to access any cell tower for 911(I think there are multiple providers in the valley).
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Jul 4, 2011 - 06:09am PT
Ya know Spud, those kinds of deep and self-questioning thoughts are not necessarily confined to efforts that end with a bail. Your writing took me back to a moment on my only solo... apologizing to everyone I cared about for endangering myself, thinking I was so arrogant for imagining I could solo such a big route, cataloguing the errors that had led me to that point- it's all there. But my ankles were OK, so I had to keep going.

I recall reading comments from Jimmy Dunn to similar effect, regarding the Cosmos. I think it just comes with the territory.
426

climber
  Jul 4, 2011 - 10:54am PT
Good stuff, thanks for sharing. Best withes for healing. There's a light @ the end of teh tunnel, get yourself a good PT, do your exercises +++ religiously. I remember the 10,000s of reps with therabands just burning, but my PT was rad, he knew what a physiowonk I am and told me to "visualize mitochondria" etc....


I fractured my ankle a year and a month ago and am climbing harder/better than I ever have...injury can be a blessing in disguise (?) It really pissed me off...a call to arms

I remember that pitch as well---vaguely---Gerberding told me later that side of the Captain basically "sux" because you hit stuff when you fall.
Ted Baker

climber
  Jul 4, 2011 - 01:45pm PT
Hey, thanks for sharing, I wondered about you. I was bivying at the top the morning they flew down to get you. Glad you weren't hurt too badly. It made my ascent that much more memorable for me though ;)
The rescue crew just seemed excited to be out on a job, so I assumed it wasn't super serious. I was soloing that same day and also fell when a brass nut I had tested and was standing on popped. I fell ~25', but luckily only got some slight rock rash. It happens, just too bad about yours -next time.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jul 4, 2011 - 03:29pm PT
Hey Matt,

Thanks so much for writing such a superb and entertaining trip report. Neil Chelton and I are sitting here in Yosemite Village this morning, I was reading it out loud and we were laughing our asses off.

I particularly liked the part where you were cursing Chouinard, Pratt and Robbins, and then later apologized to them. Glad you stopped beating yourself up, too. Thanks to YOSAR for a great job.

I believe your biggest mistake, apart from getting married, was you should have fukking nailed a pecker or two into those cam hook placements. If you had nailed, you wouldn't be in this situation. And while it's commendable to climb clean whenever reasonably feasible, I think it was stupid of you not to have nailed here. I sure as hell would have nailed in that same situation.

Thoughts?

Congratulations on the commencement of your Post-Divorce Renaissance! It's too bad that you are now a Mashed Potato, or at least temporarily one. However as one who also [stupidly] busted his ankle on El Cap from a [similar stupid] accident, just hang in there, do what the doctors say, and with any luck we'll see you out here in the fall.

Cheers and beers,
The erstwhile Frankenankle
The user formerly known as stzzo

climber
Sneaking up behind you
  Jul 4, 2011 - 03:26pm PT
Awesome report. Well-written and in-depth.

Thank you.
dbird

climber
  Jul 4, 2011 - 10:17pm PT
I do not call myself a climber, but your report hits close to home, 11 years to the day from leaving the hospital after a bouldering mishap north of Yose left me with a dislocated ankle and fractured Talus. Fortunately, I was referred to a group of surgeons at UW in Seattle who specialize in Talus/Calcaneus repair. A handful of titanium, 4 months on crutches (completely non-weight bearing), 1 month in walking cast, and several months of PT had me back in action. I am glad to hear your injury seems slightly less severe, and hope that means your recovery will go quickly and smoothly and that you'll be back at it very soon.
Every time I climb, hike, or ski, I am enormously thankful for the SAR team that put me on that helicopter, the cheap "catastrophic" health insurance policy my folks insisted I buy as a volunteer field biologist, and the innovative surgical team at UW.
Thank you for sharing, and good luck to you!
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jul 5, 2011 - 10:44am PT
Great write-up Matt. So glad you're alright.

You'll get 'er next time.

Don't worry bro, there are lots of "lost" climbers trying to figure out how to make all the parts of life fit together, when climbing is the only thing that seems to make sense.
noshoesnoshirt

climber
Arkansas, I suppose
  Jul 24, 2011 - 01:33pm PT
Matt, sorry to hear you messed up your ankle.
I the Arkansan who talked with on the belay at the top of pitch 8 and watched your kool-aid leak from your bottom bag as you hauled.
Anyway, good effort, get back on your feet as soon as you can. I fractured a talus once, be sure to keep your foot well vasculated (I wiggled my toes constantly for 6 weeks).
Regards,
Kerry
Roxy

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jan 8, 2012 - 08:31pm PT
very enjoyable TR!

Hope the healing is behind you.

BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
  Jan 8, 2012 - 10:16pm PT
Excellent writing, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I missed this one until now with the recent bump. Hopefully you are fully healed and back at it!
xtrmecat

Big Wall climber
Kalispell, Montanagonia
  Jan 8, 2012 - 11:19pm PT
Thanks for the bump, as I missed this one. I too solo, and there is some world class stuff in here. I also hope the healing is behind you.

The stuff in here makes me know I need to check myself mentally, ego, confidence, and probably my deepest and innermost honesty. Thanks for the reality check Potato.

Burly Bob
lazide

Big Wall climber
Bay Area, CA
  Jan 8, 2012 - 11:32pm PT
Sorry to bring this up in this thread - but that first photo is one my wife took several years ago of a friend and I attempting the Shield (you can see us as tiny specs on the lower free pitches)?
JSpencerV

Trad climber
Santa Monica, CA
  Jan 10, 2012 - 11:38pm PT
Very touching report. Stay positive!
WanderlustMD

Trad climber
New England
  Jan 12, 2012 - 05:25pm PT
I agree with the above post about how this TR is more "real" than the fist-pumping ones, although those are definately great by their own. I like Hudon's for this reason as well.

Like most said above, this seems to be a more of a case of sh#t happening to a solid climber than someone who got in over their head. I'm as much for self-rescue as the next guy, but I think we all know that SAR is there for a reason. This was one of those reasons. Hope you have realized this, are healing and are planning your next trip!
melski

Trad climber
bytheriver
  Jan 21, 2012 - 09:46pm PT
sharing gives power,,gives power,,on,and,,,this road is only understood by the traveler,,every trip will be different,,keep your eyes on the prize,,,peaceandlove,,
lumineferusother

Trad climber
Great Falls, VA
  Jan 23, 2012 - 04:29pm PT
Amazing and heart felt story! Having participated in SARs involving climbers, both as a volunteer and on an NPS Helitack crew, it's nice to see "victims" get back in the saddle after recovery. Granted a lot of ding dongs get rescued that shouldn't have been on those climbs to begin with but when climbers who know what they're doing become victim of sh#t happening I always keep it in the back of my mind that I hope they have a full recovery and make it back out on the rock. So kudos to your epiphany and acceptance and I hope you make it back on the Muir!
mareko

Trad climber
San Francisco
  May 30, 2012 - 03:14pm PT
Beautiful story Matt. Even with the ups and downs of climbing. We still climb.

Peace
Hoots

climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
  May 30, 2012 - 04:05pm PT
Pretty sure that pitch is NOT C2. I felt cam hooks and 4 thick LAs made that pitch solid A2, with the C2 occuring out the bulge and up to the anchors.
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  May 30, 2012 - 04:12pm PT
Worth a second read.

Can't help but think there's a reason I go to the pin rack at times.

Sorry clean freaks, I always pushed clean climbing, right up until the moment where I thought there was a good chance of getting hurt, then ping ping ping PING!
Cuckawalla

Trad climber
Grand Junction, CO
  May 30, 2012 - 05:03pm PT
Matt and I are going up this fall/winter for a rematch, together!

-Jesse
Cuckawalla

Trad climber
Grand Junction, CO
  May 30, 2012 - 05:08pm PT
Matt Back on it last Fall

matty
matty
Credit: Cuckawalla
labrat

Trad climber
Auburn, CA
  May 30, 2012 - 05:30pm PT
Great read! Have fun on the rematch....
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  May 31, 2012 - 02:12pm PT
Thanks for posting. I went decades without a serious climbing injury but apparently the Zodiac had other plans for me with a sliding block breaking my Arm last june.

It put me on a journey that I needed but not wanted to take. Be sure and take healing time to be with people you might not have otherwise had time for (like family) and do those things that climbing keeps you from

Peace

Karl
Silver

Gym climber
  May 31, 2012 - 03:16pm PT
^^^^^karl your words are so true especially the last sentence.^^^^^^
fivesix

Trad climber
Girdwood, AK
  Jun 3, 2013 - 02:22am PT
I read this TR about once a year. As my experience grows it impacts me more. TFPU and thanks for your honesty.
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El Capitan - Muir Wall A2 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The Muir Wall is one of El Cap's greatest natural lines.
Photo: Tom Frost
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El Capitan - Zodiac A2 5.7 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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El Capitan - Salathe Wall 5.13b or 5.9 C2 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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The Salathé Wall ascends the most natural line up El Cap.
El Capitan - Lurking Fear C2F 5.7 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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Lurking Fear is route number 1.
El Capitan - East Buttress 5.10b - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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East Buttress with top of The Nose on left.
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