Prow C2F 5.6
Trip ReportSolo on the Prow
Iíd been itching to knock off another big (ok, medium) wall since I soloed the West Face of Leaning Tower back in March. I spent two nights on the wall, and topped out the last 40 feet of 4th class scrambling on the morning of the third day. I didnít move fast, but I also didnít die. I neglected to bring a poop tube, and though I didnít desecrate any of the ledges, I did make a frantic dash down the talus to the bathrooms at the Bridalveil parking lot after rapping the gully. For my first wall and first solo wall, I considered it a success.
Fast forward to August. After suffering through the Tenaya-Cathedral-Matthes in-a-day, my cousin and I came down from Tuolumne to to try to bag his first big wall. We took a stab at the South Face of Washington Column, but decided weíd had enough after the Kor Roof. We also hatched a plan to do the Salathť wall to Mammoth Terraces and then rap the Heart Ledges fixed lines, but we ended up bailing after the third pitch. It was disappointing, especially after my early success on WFLT, but it was exactly what we needed to light a fire under our butts. My cousin spent the fall back home in the Red River Gorge polishing his free climbing and getting in tremendously good shape. I went back to school in Los Angeles, and devoted the little free time that Physical Chemistry and Differential Equations allowed me to brooding over revenge on the Washington Column.
My initial plan was to exact solo vengeance on the South Face. But the prospect of having to solo haul the first three low-angle pitches sounded somewhat less than appealing. Plus, I wasnít really sure that I was fast enough to leave my bags on Dinner Ledge, blast to the top, and then rap back down to the ledge on the second day. The only alternative would be dragging my portaledge up the South Face, which would be far too embarrassing to stomach.
Instead, I started flicking through the big wall book for something of a flavor similar to South Face: easy, well-traveled, and doable in my 4-day window of Fall Break. The Prow fit all of those criteria, and it had the added bonus of being portaledge-mandatory.
As I groveled through my first round of midterms, Fall Break inched ever closer, and I watched the weather with increasing anxiety. By the time I started the drive up 395 on Friday morning, it looked like I was in for rough weather on Saturday and Sunday, but blue skies on Monday and Tuesday. With all the rain and highway closures, it ended up taking me 8 hours to get to the Valley because Bakersfield was effectively cut off from the rest of Southern California, but that is a story for another time.
Saturday morning found me at the base of the Washington Column with low grey clouds above me. I opted for the traditional 5.10a dihedral first pitch; I figured I could come back for Jo-Jo some other time with a belayer. The dihedral went smoothly, but I made the mistake of setting an anchor at the top of Jo-Jo instead of continuing through the rough to the ledge at the base of pitch 2. I ended up passing the actual pitch one anchor and going straight to the top of pitch two with my 70m rope. The topo designates the start of pitch 2 as one of the only C2+ sections, so I was a bit apprehensive. However, even with a slight drizzle starting, I found it fairly mild due to the number of fixed pins. By the time I rapped, cleaned, jugged and hauled pitch 2, the drizzle had abated.
It was replaced, though, with my first taste of rolling white-outs. A bit unnerving at first, but I got used to it fairly quickly. Soloing kept me so busy that I didnít really have time to get inside my own head or psyche myself out.
I found pitch 3 very enjoyable. A couple of fixed cams made turning the initial roof very mellow. As I passed the bolt towards the top of the pitch, it started to drizzle again. As I pulled onto Anchorage Ledge, it started to rain in earnest. It was then that I noticed I had neglected to bring my haul line up with me. Crap.
I fixed my lead line and made a quick rappel and clean back to the safety of the roof above the pitch two anchor. I dug out both of my rain rackets, bundled up, squatted on top of the pig, and prepared to wait out the shower. I figured the 6x5 roof would keep me dry, right?
Wrong. I pretty damp from drips, although the worst streams were far to my right. It wasnít to cold, though, probably in the high 50ís or low 60ís. I dozed for an hour or so in my slings before the rain relented. I quickly jugged back up to Anchorage Ledge (this time WITH the haul line), rappelled down again, freed the pig, and jugged again. On the second jug, my hands started cramping. This made me nervous for the days to come, but strangely this would be the only time it would plague me.
Back on Anchorage Ledge, I set up my portaledge, a Black Diamond Double with the simple fly. Goddamn, that thing took forever to set up. Whatís more, I never quite got the perfect set of strap tensions, so the blasted thing swung around whenever I shifted my weight too much. With the portaledge set up, I took a quick break to munch on some cheese and chocolate before fixing pitch 4.
Pitch 4 wasnít particularly difficult, but it could definitely be a bit of pain without the fixed heads at the top. This pitch is pretty short, and about 1/3 is a bolt ladder. I took way longer than I would have liked, mainly because I had to do some substantial back cleaning of my single set of offset mastercams. I lead most of this pitch in the heaviest whiteout of the climb; visibility was less than 20 feet at times. I fixed the haul line and the lead line, and rappelled back to anchorage ledge just as it was getting dark.
Snug and comfy in my portaledge, I stuffed myself full of my big wall diet: flour tortillas, block cheese, peanuts, and ľ pound chocolate bars. I made the exciting discovery that the Washington Column gets impeccable 3G service from Verizon, so I was able to text my girlfriend and let her know I was still alive. Just I was drifting off towards sleep, the storm started.
Holy Motherf*#king Jesus Christ Sonofabitch. It was bat-shit insane. Every minute or so, the lightening would be bright enough for me to read by, and the thunder was deafening. The rain was hard, but I luckily wasnít underneath a drainage route. What really saved my bacon, though, was the lack of wind and the lack of cold. I didnít catch any water coming up from the underside of the ledge. My bag ended up getting fairly damp from my breath condensing; the Black Diamond simple fly does not ventilate at all! Even so, I stayed fairly warm all night, which was nice considering I barely got a wink of sleep for all the ruckus the Sky Gods were raising.
Sunday morning didnít come quickly enough. After choking down a breakfast of more tortillas and cheese and breaking down the bivy, I jugged pitch four and hauled the pig. Pitch 5 was a thoroughly unremarkable bolt ladder that went fairly quickly. The topo mentions a camhook/micronut placement, but I managed to reach through fairly easily. Pitch 6 I honestly canít recall very well. I do remember several confidence-inspiring fixed pins in the first 40 feet and a single hook move towards the end, one of only 3 I used on the whole route.
Through pitch 5 and 6, the weather remained grey and gloomy, but I didnít suffer anymore rain. The white-outs also became increasingly infrequent. Even with the compliant weather, I moved pretty slowly, even by standards. I had hoped to fix a pitch above Tapir Terraces that day, but ending up running out of daylight.
Pitch 7 was very intimidating. I may not be remembering this entirely correctly, but I believe it was pitch 7 where there was a bolt only a couple of moves off of the anchor, right before getting into the strange dihedral. High-stepping on a fixed head, I was just shy of clipping the bolt. I tried to hook a tiny edge. It passed the bounce test with flying colors and, naturally, pinged the second I transferred my weight to it. The daisy whipper flipped me upside down because my left foot was still in my bottom aider. Suddenly confronted with 700 feet of air between me and the ground, I quickly right myself, top-stepped off the head again, and dunked the bolt with a little bounce. Heading up the Strange Dihedral was slow, but probably not worth of the C2 rating, probably more like C1F. I reached the bolted intermediate anchor and was faced with the exposed tension traverse. My pendulum point was an old pin equalized with an offset cam in a grainy crack, and the slopey footholds were slick from the rain. Doing a tension traverse with silent partner is a bit of a trick. On WFLT, I pulled out some slack and then ran the rope through a cinch so that it was easy to adjust the amount of rope between me and the pendulum point. On this traverse, though, I really didnít like the idea of putting my full weight on the pin and questionable cam. If those two pieces blew, I was in for a very un-fun pendulum down and around the corner to the dihedral. Therefore, I walked across the ledge, nose pressed to the granite, just holding the rope like a leash to keep a bit of tension on the pendulum point. Clipping the first fixed pin in the bottom of the seam at the end of the ledge was an almost religious experience.
This seam was definitely a bit scary. Itís mostly fixed (I think I only placed one piece of my own gear on it), but a lot of the heads and beaks are showing their wear. The last head is the diciest of all. All I could think about was blowing it and zippering the whole thing down to the pendulum. Luckily, the head was fine and I clipped a couple of glory bolts on the way up to Tapir Terraces.
Getting to the correct part of Tapir Terraces was royally confusing. First of all, the mandatory 5.6 was enhanced by the weights of the ropes and racks, clunky approach shoes, and the still-wet granite. After wandering around the ledges and getting mislead by the obvious right-hand set of anchors, I finally I found the left set of anchors that belongs to the Prow. I rapped the haul line down to the belay, and jugged and cleaned in the rain. After hauling, I waited out a few more minutes of rain and setup up the portaledge. I ran out of daylight for fixing pitch 8, but I figured it wouldnít be too much to tack on to tomorrow. I again enjoyed excellent cell phone service, allowing me to drift off to sleep listening to the Pandora standup comedy channel. The weather was downright pleasant on that night, although I was a bit chilly in my wet sleeping bag.
This is a good time to mention the major flaw in my plan of attack: I planned on rapping the route to descend. I thought that the North Dome gully would be way too sketchy to do for the first time with 100 pounds of gear on my back. I had seen whispers of ďexposed fourth classĒ traverses and ďdownclimbing trees.Ē I figured that rappelling the whole thing would save me time and the trouble of hauling the last four pitches, as well as being far safer. We will come back to why that was a really dumb idea, but for now, just appreciate that I didnít have to haul the last four pitches.
Monday morning brought blue skies and warmer temperatures. Pitch 8 turned out to be the crux for me. It said C1 on the topo, but Iíll be damned if I didnít take my first aid fall on this pitch. I spent a long time fiddling with insecure cams and wishing that I had a partner and free shoes to dispatch the 5.9 portion of it. Also, there is precariously flake right as you pull onto the belay ledge. It has the potential to rip loose and wreck your rope and/or your belayer. Donít yard on it.
Pitch 9 was downright pleasant, just easy C1 in a long, arching crack to some 4th class scrambling. I was glad to have two #4ís on this pitch, but you could probably survive with just one. The gully super easy, even in approach shoes and dragging loops of lead rope on my hip.
Pitch 10 was a mixed bag. First of all, donít get suckered in by the nasty slanted offwidth to the left of the belay ledge. It is much easier to downclimb back into the gully, scramble up a bit further, bust two or three 5.7 moves, and belly flop onto the little ledge under the bolt. After clipping the bolt, youíre confronted with two cracks; the right-hand one starts wide but quickly narrows and rejoins the left one after 30 feet or so. The two cracks merge in a dihedral. At this point, the rock is very grainy and more than a bit crumby. I spent a good chunk of this pitch digging sand out of my teeth and eyes. I also got granite flecks embedded Japanese POW-style underneath my fingernails. They didnít hurt much at first, but I spent a good five or six days after getting home being unable to touch things. The top of pitch ten is some broken 4th class, and I spent several minutes trying to find the belay. It hides up and around a small corner to the right on a small, featureless slab.
Pitch 11. The home stretch. By this point, the sun was taking its toll on me, and I was getting very thirsty. In my infinite wisdom, I left all of my water back on Tapir Terraces. Pitch 11 is two aid moves two a bolt, after which you can grovel and mantel your way up on to a big ledge that marks the beginning of loose, sandy fourth class scrambling the top. Instead of setting an anchor at the summit, I decided I would just downclimb after topping out. This ended up working remarkably well. I spent all of 90 seconds on the summit, mostly spent taking selfies. Then I downclimbed to the bolt and improvised a short rappel off of a tree down to the pitch 11 anchor. From there, I spent a good 20 minutes untangling my ropes before heading down to pitch 10. From pitch 10, I managed to rappel straight down to Tapir Terraces, but just barely with two 70 meter ropes. Luckily, when my ropes steered clear of the monstrous haulbag-eating flake when I pulled them.
Back at Tapir Terraces around 3pm, I guzzled a bunch of water and decided to evaluate my options. On one hand, I could try making all of the rappels now and being back on the ground tonight (glad I didnít!). On the other hand, I was still feeling very worn out and not 100% focused due to the hydration. The weather was going to be nice, and I ample food, water, and cell phone service. I elected to spend a second night on Tapir Terraces enjoying the view and listening to music. It was one of the best evenings Iíve ever had: Perched on my portaledge, shoving chocolate and brick cheese in my face and watching the red light of dusk on Half Dome while listening to the dulcet tones of Duane Allmanís slide guitar.
I woke up late on Tuesday morning, maybe 9am. I took my first poop on a big wall, and managed to get it all into my homemade PVC pooptube. After packing up at leisurely pace, I rapped down to pitch 6.
At the pitch 6 anchor, I had the surprise of seeing not one, not two, but four parties coming up the Prow beneath me. After not even seeing another human being for 3 and half days, I was elated. The highest party was working through the pitch 5 bolt ladder. As I rapped toward the pitch 5 anchor, the leader told me I had enough rope to make it to the top of pitch four. Well terrific! I continued on past them.
This is where my mistake became apparent. I had forgotten how much the Prow arched to the right. I was level with the pitch 4 anchor, but a good 40 feet to the right. With the weight of the pig on my waist (should have ridden it, in retrospect) and the steepness of the wall, I couldnít get sufficient momentum to pendulum to the anchor. Lucky for me, the second highest party was a soloist just finishing pitch 4. I pendulumed to within 15 feet of him, and tossed him the tail of one of my ropes. He fixed me to the anchor, and I pulled myself over with jumars without incident. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadnít been lucky enough to arrive at the anchor at the same time as a soloist. I probably could have devised some means of tying the pig off too the bottom of one of the rap lines and then jugging up the line on the side of the anchor opposite the knot. However, that would have been very scary, and Iím not sure that would actually work.
I quickly rappelled down to Anchorage Ledge, where an expanding clustercuss awaited me. The soloists bags were already taking up most of the ledge, and the addition of mine made space very scarce indeed. In addition, the third party pulled onto the ledge a couple minutes later. After sorting through bags and ropes and anchors, we arranged things so that I was out of the way (kind of) and the soloistís bags were on top of everything, in a ready-to-haul state. I spent several minutes chatting with the leader of the third party before rappelling all the way to the anchor of the first pitch. There, I bumped into the leader of the fourth party and the follower of the third. As I set up my final rappel, the follower of the third party was cleaning the second pitch, which her boyfriend had linked with the third. After struggling with a couple of stuck stoppers, she yelled up to her boyfriend ďI canít get any of your nuts out!Ē Needless to say, the leader of the fourth party and I found this immensely humorous.
One more rappel found me back on the ground, finally. Before I go further, I should say that all seven climbers that I passed on my rappels deserve my sincerest apologies. All of them kindly put up with an idiot who should have just hiked down the North Dome Gully rapping through their business and pulling ropes around them while they were trying to do climb. The soloist in particular deserves my utmost gratitude for saving my bacon on my ill-fated rappel to the pitch 4.
Back on the ground, I conversed with a soloist bound for Skull Queen who was stuck waiting for South Face parties to get to Dinner Ledge. A couple of the folks I passed on the way down asked me if I was the wacko who had been up on the Column during Saturday nightís storm. I admitted to the foolishness with a red face.
I shuttled my gear down in two loads to the base of the fourth class, then humped the whole shebang down the talus to the stables. Some hikers I bumped into on the trail mentioned that they had seen lightening strike the top of the column during Saturdayís storm.
I caught the shuttle back to Curry Villiage, dumped my gear in my truck, chugged a half gallon of milk from the store, and (miraculously) managed to not ralph it back up. Then I drove 5 hours back to LA and did my physics homework.
BD Daisy chains
Yates Big wall ladders
BD Half Dome Helmet
Scarpa approach shoes
70m 9.3mm bluewater lead line
300ft 3/8in sterling haul line
Metolius gear double gear sling
2 apline draws
25 free biners for clipping gear
bunch of extra lockers, biners, and a couple of slings
BD offset micronuts
1 set of brassies
single set of nuts, plus the 2 biggest DMM offsets
set of BD C3ís
and 00 mastercams
full set of offset mastercams
full set BD C4ís (.3-4), with doubles at .4,.5.2, and 4
an old green dmm cam (about the size of a BD #1)
2 rivet hangars
1 fish doubloon (not used)
1 each of peckers (not used)
1 RURP (not used)
1 KB, 1LA, 1 angle (not used)
1 hammer (not used)
1 grappling hook
1 BD talon (not used)
2 regular camhooks (not used)
1 micro camhook (not used)
BD Double ledge w/ simple fly
Marmot down sleeping bag
A quarterzip jacket, a softshell, a hardshell
24 flour tortillas, 3lb cheese, 2lb peanuts, 1 lb chocolate
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