South Seas A4 5.8
Trip ReportSouth Seas, El Cap
Walking into the captain this morning with slight anticipation. There is smoke in the air from the controlled fire in the valley which makes for an atmospheric walk, there is not a soul around on the whole approach it gives me a nice feeling of solitude, which keeps me calm. Entering the alcove feels very different; usually you’re just going in to play on the best rope swing in the world with no worries, but not today. Today I have got some very steep strenuous climbing to do so my mind stays focused.
I drop back down for another load, the rolling sounds of deep house in my headphones takes me down the trail and then back up in the blink of an eye.
I am only 2 or 3 placements up, it all feels wrong! The kit seems alien and all the systems that I have learnt over the years feel like there from another planet. I climb down and take of my harness and chill for a minute. Thoughts rage through me “Am I about to bail after 15 feet of climbing?” “Is this too hard for me?” “Do I even like big walling?” Quickly I push those questions out my thoughts and think of the advice gave by my non climbing dad “just one move at a time boy”.
I put on my harness “one move” check ropes are anchored “another move” and so on it went like this for two and a half hours until I was at the belay.
With my lines fixed I rap off now I have a mantra the wall doesn’t seem so far out there.
Day 2 and 3
Storms, storms, and more storms - the worst I have ever heard in the valley. The thunder and lightning shook the ground so hard you felt it in your chest. I managed to do Lots of final prep and walked in a final few loads between showers.
Blast off day for 2 weeks of adventure. As always I awoke 2 hours later than my alarm. Everything is easier today. My mind is strong and so is my body. Every placement is perfect, the ropes behave well and the climbing is spectacular. I remember why I play this game of big walling. After climbing the start of the season with a partner it feels so nice to be solo all decisions are mine and I am busy all day making the Evenings on the ledge so much more savour able. Tomorrow is the crux and I feel more than ready to take on the challenge.
Today was my best day on the big stone ever! I woke up keen and ready to crush, I packed up camp, organised my ropes and started climbing the only thing I remember about the 4th pitch is reaching to clip a copper head and realising its just sat on the rock not attached to anything it was a miracle how it had stayed there so I placed a beak and carried on. Hauling my pigs I stare at my next pitch in awe. The guidebook says this is the crux of the route and what a beautiful pitch. It starts in a thin mini corner into a few rivets up to an 80ft horizontal overlap. This is the best pitch on the route without a doubt. Cam hooking and a few cams and nuts see’s me to the belay. I reward myself an early finish and set up camp. It’s really nice to be relaxing on the ledge sipping a beer with a hard pitch behind you and just to take it all in.
Woke up on the wrong side of my bed this morning. I have got hazy eyes, swollen hands and an urge to stay in my sleeping bag. Maybe the crux pitch took more out of me than I thought or was it the multiple empty beer cans in my rubbish bag that has made me feel like this. Unfortunately the rest of the day follows in this same manner, badly. I had a reasonable fall after a head blew out, luckily only a small scrap on my arm and a very good lesson learnt, always bounce test heads! Next pitch was to do battle with the Great White Shark not a hard pitch but 15 feet from the belay the crack widens, it’s not a problem, if you have got a couple of #4 and #5 cams for such situation. They’re not on my harness and looking down I see them glinting in the sun 135 feet below me at the belay so down I go. Yet again an early finish is needed. Was hoping to do 3 pitches today but it wasn’t that day today although any ground gain is a definite plus. I’m going to stick to 2 pitches a day.
Pendulums are a lot of fun and this was my favourite so far “The Rubber Band Man”. On the first ascent the team pulled the leader back on his haul line then catapulted him across the wall hence the name. I had no such team but managed to stick it 4th or 5th try it was awesome. The mood very quickly changed on the 9th pitch even from the belay the topo makes no sense it says there is straight in crack but there is an ugly corner fall of loose flakes this is the first pitch I have encountered like this. Luckily a good placement shows itself and I bail back to the ledge to ponder. This is the last pitch of south seas before the pacific ocean wall it isn’t making it an easy crossover, once down in the safety of the ledge all the feeling of that last pitch hit me at once they go very quickly from pure euphoria to doubt to anxiety to the feeling like death himself is sticking his scythe out the crack and going to chop my rope at any time. I breath deep, shut my eyes and go into what some people might call a form of meditation not asleep but not awake just silence I come out of this weird trance about an hour later. Now my mind is still clear and I know what I have got to do tomorrow.
I’ve woken up psyched to get this pitch done. Packing down camp is second nature now, systems for everything, jugging up to my high point the same feelings I had the previous night start to creep in but I block them out. Hitting a few pins a few cams behind jammed blocks get me to the anchor I let out a sigh of relief. This point marks the end of South Seas and apart from the final pitch every pitch was a stunner and would recommend to anyone. Now Onto the Pacific Ocean wall with a fresh mindset and new inspiration for the climb. An extended plane ticket helped with that, it was worrying me I wasn’t going to make it down in time and that was causing unnecessary pressure.
Today was amazing. I now know, when soloing only climb 2 pitches a day its good for the head. The second itch of the day was a splitter crack starting thin and technical into good fun c3 climbing, intricate but never dangerous. The pitch prior was a bit of a clip up on good heads with rivets in between. In my ledge now, watching Dan and Pete on the secret passage was very inspirational. It’s been nice to have a small amount of communication with them even if it is just flashing head torches. Earlier that day I heard a scream that made my heart drop an it sounded horrendous. It was a climber on El Niño luckily she was ok and had only slipped of a move it was a scream of frustration but enough to put shivers down my spine. That night I noticed that I was on my phone for a while. It seems weird having the internet up here I don’t how I feel about it you don’t feel very alone. I think this is ok though because when on the captain, even though you are pretty out there you can never find pure solitude, there is always car noise, bins being emptied and general monkey behaviour on and around the wall. I’m sure one day IL make the opportunity for me to experience what it’s to be like truly solo on a wall somewhere in the middle of nowhere but till then let’s keep little creature comforts.
I’m on the island in the sky it feels awesome; I’ve been walking in circles as it is the first real ledge I’ve had in 6 days. I have a fun few hours sorting kit squashing bottles making the most of the ledge. It’s funny how my mood can change from day to day at this moment I don’t want it to end ever I wish the wall was 4000 metres high so I can keep going and going whereas a few days ago after I bailed on pitch 9 I hated everything about being on the wall and was wandering who I would sell my kit too. I guess that just how it goes up here when you only got you and your thoughts.
Day 11, 12, 13
These days were spent relaxing:
Day 11 I didn’t do anything laid in till it was too hot in my sleeping bag. Sunbathing, eating extra food and drinking lots of coffee was the order of the day. It was actually quite refreshing not get on the sharp end for a day. I even started my book.
Day 12 Started early fixing a pitch above the ledge then back down for more relaxation. Looking at the forecast the storm that I’d been keeping my eyes on was due to hit tomorrow, so the last few hours of light was spent getting storm ready.
Day 13 I woke to torrential rain it’s ok I just turned over and fell asleep again my storm day was spent reading my book. It’s been a long time since I read the majority of a book in a day.
I got to move today unfortunately I have got 3 pitches to do I feel great and ready for it after lots of relaxing, eating, and hydrating I manage to lead 3 pitches instead of my usual 2. They all go smoothly but never let your mind wander other places with thought provoking placements and some danger which was good but what is not cool is it’s my last night on the wall.
Top out day with 3 easy pitches to get me there. As always when you think they’re going to be easy the mountain takes your over confidence a stamps on it pushing you too dig deep one last time. Pete jerry and plaid had topped out a few days before but were still shuttling loads after their 26 day epic on the tempest Pete handed me the mandatory beer and it was gone in seconds forgetting I’ve still got to clean and haul rapping of el cap with a spinning head from a downed beer was interesting. Bags on top I help jerry with a load down to the rappels then mission back up to bivvy crashing hard as soon as my head hits the pillow. In the night I go to the toilet, walking back I manage to cut a huge flapper of the bottom of my big toe. How can you climb a wall over 12 days and cut yourself taking a wee on flat ground?
I send out a distress call to Greg on the valley floor bout my cut foot and luckily he comes up to the rappels to help me down with one of my bags this day is a bit of a blur after the rappels all I can remember is beer and burgers were had that evening thanks Greg!
I think when you top out a route you don’t get all the crazy feelings of what you‘ve done till you get down sometimes its during the decent sometimes in the car park sometime that evening but for me it was a few days later. This time I was sat in the meadow on my own sorting kit and looked at el Capitan I could scope by eye every pitch I had lead and pretty much relived the climb while sat there I had been through good times bad times interesting times. This wall was quite intense I had never really been tested physically or mentally the way it did. Low down on the wall was hard the situations you put yourself in and the task ahead drains you I had to build a new level of resistance to forget about it and remember nothing will get done if you don’t make the next move back which reiterates my dad comment of “one move at a time boy”. I had really low days and really high days on the wall luckily more of the latter. The difficulties in the climbing made me call on 10 years experience using all the tools I had in my box, whether it was mentally to block out fall potential or placing a tricky piece that looks improbable. All I know no is I am sat at home in the u.k writing this with a guide book next to me full of marked pages showing my next adventures to come and I cant wait.
South Seas photos courtesy of Tom Evans of El Cap Report
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