South Face C1 5.8
Trip ReportSouth Face of Washington Column Wall Gumby TR
Apologies in advance for the complete fail in the words to pictures ratio department.
It's hard to say where ideas like this come from but somehow they appear. From nowhere, maybe, but more than likely from a seed planted once in a past, genesis unknown.
I begin like this because I am a product of an elevator culture. A guy that grew up hanging out of windows staring at street scenes in NYC yet oddly enough, petrified of being in high places. My friend Leon started off as a ski partner, then introduced me to backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, then to a climb up Kindergarten Rock in Donner where I thought, in no uncertain terms that I was destined to die. I didn't. Leon is a great partner who then decided my brush with mortality required a trip up Cathedral Peak in sideways snow, then to the valley to stretch my comfort zone a little more by leading him and his adult son up Snake Dike. With my ticker still ticking and having gotten a first, perhaps life changing look at the sea of headlamps adorning the vertical campground of the big stone, El Cap, the seed slowly began to emerge.
I have a supportive family. A wife who, while looking through the lens of one of Tom Evans' gigantic scopes at the bridge in El Cap Meadows uttered the words: "baby, you gotta get up there". I also have 2 great kids that think it's completely bizarre that their dad likes to climb but also love to tell their friends how cool it is. With the seed now deeply planted, the only questions were how, when, what, and with who.
The how actually seemed like the easiest of the three questions to answer. Get the Road to the Nose, the Big Walls book, watch Chris Mac's how to big wall videos, buy, beg, and borrow some gear, and figure it out on the 25ft rock in the backyard. Oh, and ask LOT'S of questions.
The what was also pretty simple. From a commitment and logistics standpoint, the South Face of Washington Column is considered the starting point for anyone with big wall aspirations. Beautiful ledge, minimal hauling, easy climbing, and a little bit of everything. Sure, some jump straight onto the Nose but I am old, cautious, and like to follow the process. Besides, the climbing was all C1 which seemed to make this route a fine place to get our toes wet.
The who eventually fell into place. Lenny hadn't been climbing in a while and thus wasn't into this mission. After hearing "no interest", "too much work", "you're outta your mind" time and time again from anyone I asked, I finally mentioned my interest in doing a wall to my buddy Kyle O'Meara. Kyle is good. I am not even close to Kyle when it comes to skill or strength but somehow, Kyle also thought it would be cool to do a wall and learn some aid. The seed begins to sprout.
The when was trickier. Since the day my wife had gazed through Tom's scope, we found out she was pregnant. Yes, I took a pregnant woman up Snake Dike and yes, we're still married. I am a cubicle puke. Kyle has a real job. We needed a window and with the baby due in early June, May 21 and 22 seemed like the best days to play hooky and go climb. Yes, 2 weeks before our kid was due, I took off to do my first wall. Nominations now being accepted for husband of the year.
I am a big believer in creating your own luck and that good planning is a big part of that.
A plan was hatched, a date was set, gear was sorted, and 15minutes after arriving home from my son's 10th birthday spent at a go kart track with a bunch of his buddies, I was on my way to the Valley. A fitful night's sleep. Dreams of leading the Kor Roof, nightmares of leading the Kor Roof. Angst from every direction but soon the sun was up, breakfast eaten, coffee down, pig on my back, and we were off in the early light marching away from the truck and up the climbers trial that leads to the base of the Column and our route.
After grunting our gear to the base of the route and turning into the first of many sweaty messes I was to become over the course of 2 days, I led the fairly straight forward first pitch without incident, the words of another climbing friend, Joel Booth ringing in my ears: "man, even when you're free climbing, it's aid climbing. Grab anything, step on anything, do it any way you need to but keep it fast". Bingo, done. Note: I had been led to believe that the hauling on this pitch was tough but by using a 2:1 off a 2 piece anchor in the crack above the low bolts, the bag was up in no time with minimal effort. Note 2: maybe it's cause I provide so much ballast?
Kyle led 2 and 3 with ease and I got my first lesson of many on real life jugging. Lesson 1, theres a lot more jugging in place using the lead line than there was using the static line you practiced on. Lesson 2: the gri gri is a great back up but makes the bottom ascender impossible to to move up the rope without a little help till your well off the deck. Grunt, sweat, curse. Get to Dinner Ledge. Look up. Ugh.
The Kor Roof pitch was something I had thought about a lot. Intimidating, scary, damn, hanging from bolts in my aiders, horizontal climbing, exposed. All in my mind. Reality though was that I needed to lead this pitch. If I was ever going to climb harder, longer aid routes, this one had to be overcome. As the wind blew at a steady 20 or so mph, I first watched the party ahead of us zip up it in no time before I finally set off up the easy free climbing that led to the bolts through the roof and ultimately the beautiful C1 crack that went across the face and then up to the belay alcove. In approach shoes, I started yarding on gear as soon as the pitch steepened, finally clipping the tat attached to the first bolt of the roof. Although my mind told a different story, at this point, I was committed. I don't quit very well and knew the consequence of backing off was far worse than anything that could but, would likely not happen between where I was and where I was headed. Working my way through the bolts the thing that struck me wasn't being gripped (ok, standing on that one spinner had me a little concerned but it definitely made me move fast so it was actually a positive) but at being pissed that the wind was creating a crazy cluster of aiders, daises, fifi, and anything else that could get tangled. When I eventually cleared the roof and moved into one bomber C1 placement after another, I was overcome with an incredible sense of relief as the pitch was now on cruise control and our rap back to beer's on Dinner was close. The dream was reality, the nightmare, a fiction. Honestly, at that pint, I was worked, thirsty, and glad to be sitting in a nice comfy spot waiting for Kyle.
Kyle made quick work of the short 5th and I followed, getting myself a nice tutorial on cleaning traverses via re-aiding and lowering out on the one penji move on the entire route. The lessons I had learned in advance had worked. Good fun.
When we rapped to the ledge, both of us were stoked the day had gone so well and confident that we would send. In hindsight, the fear had come not from concern about whipping, failing, or anything involving risk or danger, the fear came from not having any idea what it was going to be like. It was, perhaps, the greatest learning day in every sense that I'd ever had on rock.
After a beautiful, warm night, on an otherwise empty Dinner Ledge (save for the in a day guys that rapped onto us a little after midnight), we woke, ate, packed, jugged, and got back to business. Here Kyle rock the ultimate stopper pitch or..the 7th if you're counting:
We decided that given the amount of free climbing on the route, Kyle was going to lead to the top. Interestingly, other than remembering how beat up I felt I don't remember a ton about the second day besides that even with a whopping one day of experience in the books, jugging and cleaning the chimney was not the most fun I've ever had, and wondering how the rock quality could be so incredibly good for an entire route and so incredibly bad on the last pitch. Oh yeah, I also remember thinking I really needed to get my organizational skills in order cause no matter what I tried, my belays were in a constant state of clusterfucation. (Sorry Kyle)
2 from the top, should have left the pack and extra gear and grabbed it on the way down:
Rapping was fairly uneventful aside from getting a rope stuck on the 3rd or 4th rap that required some creative unsticking. It was good to finally be going down and even better that the lights were still on.Back at Dinner, I put the pig back on and got ready to get down and do the quick hoof back to the truck before it got dark.
Mission accomplished, we were on our way back to the Bay, tired, hungry, but most of all satisfied that we had waded into a world of unknowns and come out the better for it.
Things that may have surprised me: Aid climbing is harder and more physical work than I imagined. Aid climbing is really slow, especially when you're new. I got more beat up than I expected. The dirt under your nails takes forever with a lot of effort to get rid of. I was less concerned about standing on gear than I thought I'd be. I learned a lot in a hurry. I forgot to take a lot of pictures.
Things that didn't surprise me one bit: Wind is a bitch. I cursed. a Lot. As long as you keep going, eventually, you will make it. Beer in the haul bag greatly improves the experience even if it makes the bag heavier. I forgot to take a lot of pictures. The realization that the key to getting to the top is all in starting.
Thanks to Kyle for being an awesome partner and thanks to my family for kicking me out the door to go do crazy things. In the end, this was a stepping stone on a path to bigger projects, and, perhaps, greater accomplishments. Yes, many may scoff at the long windedness of describing a 2 day ascent of a route now regularly done by many in a short day but for us, it was a baptism by fire and, yes, we will be back. Are we psyched? There is absolutely no doubt.
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