Trip Report
Sunkist, May 2011 - Threading the Needle
Wednesday June 1, 2011 1:10am
Ever since Gary Thunen and I made an early ascent of Son of Heart in 1986 I've been intrigued by Sunkist. Looking out and down from the Tonsillectomy Traverse at the A5 Arch and the golden headwall that the route was named for was super inspiring. Somehow though it was one route I just hadn't made it back to do.

"Slow forward" to this past month, 25 years later, and my buddy Tom Dickey and I decided Sunkist was the route to do, even with all the terrible weather the Sierras have had this past year. So, on a Friday afternoon we flew from Denver to Sacramento, rented a car, loaded it with about 250 pounds worth of gear, and headed towards the Valley.

Driving to the Valley:

Our first stop was Schneider's house in Mariposa to regroup and pack. Unfortunately the weather report for the next week was looking a bit dicey, but I had a secret weapon. My buddy Jim Woodmency is a meteorologist in Jackson Wyoming, and an expert on mountain weather (check out his web site: He always gives me a dialed in weather forecast before trips, and his prediction was that we could likely just barely thread the needle and squeeze the route in - woo hoo!!

Credit: Gagner

Since there weren't any fixed ropes to Mammoth Terraces our plan was to climb Freeblast the next day, haul the day after, and spend that night, and the next one on Mammoth since it was suppose to rain and snow the day after we hauled.

The next morning we enjoyed a short "El Cap lieback" session before heading up the hill.

El Cap lieback before fixing:

Sunkist follows a line up the center of the main shaded face on the left of this photo, to the left of the Shield, and just right of Son of Heart. It climbs a really spectacular panel of orange rock.

Credit: Gagner

Coincidentally my buddy Dave Nettle and his friend Karen were planning to climb a route, and settled on the Triple Direct, so we joined forces to fix down from Mammoth. Soon we were on top of the Half Dollar, enjoying a nice though slightly windy day.

On top of the Half Dollar:

The next day, Sunday, was a worker day, and even though the weather was suppose to turn bad, all we had to do was haul our bags 5 ropes to the top of Mammoth Terraces - something always best done in cool temperatures.

Credit: Gagner

Above us is the Sunkist headwall which we will reach in about 5 days. Lucky for us we get to Mammoth, get the ledge set up and settled in just as the rain starts. Woody told us it would rain that night, with rain and snow the next day (which was a Monday), but it would clear out Monday night. Evidently we shouldn't see any precipitation then until Saturday night - just enough time to thread the needle and make it to the top.

Storming on Mammoth:

Credit: Gagner

Sure enough it rained and snowed on Monday, but by late afternoon the clouds broke and we were able to get out of the ledge, stretch, and fix a pitch. I clean and rap down in the dark.

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

The next day is nice, so we pack up and climb another 4 pitches, along with our junk show, to where Magic Mushroom and Sunkist part ways. It's still light, but we decide to relax and enjoy the view before we get on to Sunkist proper.

Tom hauling after Cast Away Matey Pinnacle
Tom hauling after Cast Away Matey Pinnacle
Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

The next day puts us on the start of Sunkist. I get to lead the first pitch of the day past a loose block, with a pendulum and some traversing. One thing about this route is that there's a lot of traversing to get to the Sunkist headwall, but in the end it's well worth it.

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

We end up on this nice ledge and decide to fix a pitch to the base of THE slot. I'm looking forward to struggling up it first thing in the morning - it will be better than coffee.

Credit: Gagner

The next morning I take the bare essentials - three #4 Camalots, a #4.5, and a #5 - luckily I don't mind the wyde, and the pitch turns out to really be not that bad!!

Credit: Gagner

At this point you are pretty close to the headwall, and the rock is starting to really turn a burnt orange. Two more pitches get us there. Tom gets to lead the first of the three headwall pitches. This is what we've come here for - woo hoo!!

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

We're now bivied at the base of the main, long headwall crack. This single crack is somewhat similar to the pitch after the Triple Cracks on the Shield - steep, long, straight in, in orange rock, and in a stunning location. I get to lead this pitch first thing the next morning, and as advertised, it's a beauty.

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

The third headwall pitch leads us to the base of the infamous A5 Arch (now F1+, as in fixed something heads). Tom gets up on the pitch and is top stepping a #1 Pecker, which blows, and he takes a 40 foot upside down fall - he gets caught by another #1 Pecker right off the belay - bad form to fall on the belay mate, so glad you didn't. Man, I though he had ripped several placements, but it turns out that the slightly worked, and frayed, wires on three #2 Peckers broke, leaving the Peckers in place. Dang!! Tom gets back to the belay with a bruised rib, and I take over the lead, which is heads and Peckers for about 45 feet to a rivet ladder.

Tom looking down on me just before his big fall
Tom looking down on me just before his big fall
Credit: Gagner

Man the rock here is gorgeous
Man the rock here is gorgeous
Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

Looking back at the A5 Arch
Looking back at the A5 Arch
Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

It's now Friday evening and weather is suppose to move in the next day. We're hoping it hasn't sped up, but we're unable to call Woody because my cell phone battery is dead. I decide to lead one more pitch in the dark to position us 2 1/2 pitches from the top so we can sprint to the top in the morning if need be.

The next day we wake up to threatening skies and know we have to punch it - so we're up early. I lead the next pitch, which puts us at a long, mostly free climbing pitch below the top - woo hoo!!

Credit: Gagner

Soon enough we're on top where the real fun begins.

Credit: Gagner

Credit: Gagner

And I kid you not - we got down to the road at 10:30pm. I catch a ride to the car, drive the loop, and arrive back at Manure Pile to pick up Tom and the bags at exactly the moment it starts to rain.

The next morning we awoke to three inches of snow in El Cap Meadows.

Credit: Gagner

Great route, great friend, and all the more satisfying since we barely threaded the needle between storms.

Thanks for reading....and WOO HOO!!

  Trip Report Views: 9,552
About the Author
Gagner is a climber from Boulder.

Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Jun 1, 2011 - 01:23am PT
Wooooooooooooo-Hooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!! I'm "gaggin" over here!

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Jun 1, 2011 - 01:25am PT
Spectacular perspective in the pics!

And I have to pay attention to that weather website!

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
  Jun 1, 2011 - 01:51am PT
Wow! Unreal shots and a job well done.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jun 1, 2011 - 01:53am PT
You need a huge wheel barrow for those BRASS BALLS!!

kick ass
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  Jun 1, 2011 - 02:12am PT
Where's that rascal Jeremy, anyway? Eating crow, perhaps?

Great report!

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Jun 1, 2011 - 02:11am PT
great photos btw
adam d

  Jun 1, 2011 - 02:14am PT

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Jun 1, 2011 - 02:17am PT
cool man, very cool.

London, UK
  Jun 1, 2011 - 08:56am PT
"Yeeehaaarrr!" for gold headwalls.


Ice climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 06:15am PT
Paul, VERY nice work by you and Tom up there. I am green with envy.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jun 1, 2011 - 09:04am PT
Now that's what I'm talkin' about....THANKS PAUL!!

Good job men!!

More Pix More Pix Morepixmorepixmorepix!!!
Wade Icey

Trad climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 09:42am PT
excellent. thanks

Trad climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 10:06am PT
Great TR. Well worth the wait.

Your Youtube vids are private. Can you change that?


Random Nobody
  Jun 1, 2011 - 10:14am PT
awesome trip report!!!

Great photos!!!

Private Vidoes?

felt like I was going to see some climbing porn... But got thwarted in the end.


Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jun 1, 2011 - 10:22am PT
great pics and a nice write up. thanks for sharing.

keeps the working man from going too insane getting to escape into a TR for a bit.


Big Wall climber
From Back to Big Wall Baby
  Jun 1, 2011 - 10:37am PT
Great Report on a Great Route and some really fine pictures on top of that Cool.

Author's Reply  Jun 1, 2011 - 11:03am PT
Thanks everyone.

Will someone please tell me how to change the youtube privacy settings ... I can't find a link to do that...

Cain J Waters

Mountain climber
Ithaca, NY
  Jun 1, 2011 - 11:08am PT
Excellent TR. Thanks for sharing. -CW

Author's Reply  Jun 1, 2011 - 11:10am PT
Okay, I figured it out - will someone confirm that the videos work.



Big Wall climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 12:47pm PT
Nice job!

Sunkist is perhaps the best El Cap route I've done. I wish I had photos like Paul's, we took a disposable camera & lost it on the descent. :(

Way to get in an early season ascent in fickle weather.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 01:50pm PT
Nice job. Those pics are sweet!

Trad climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 01:58pm PT
awesome t.r. guys. way to go for it with that threat of bad weather!

Trad climber
One drink ahead of my past.
  Jun 1, 2011 - 02:05pm PT
Ian Gill

Big Wall climber
Redding, CA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 02:31pm PT

Awesome TR Paul - great pics!!!

Gets my blood boiling for a wall!!!!!

Way to use that secret weapon and thread it!

Gym climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 03:05pm PT
Bravo Paul!!

Reading this, one would believe that an ol' couch like me could finally get up and open the 'fridge door for another beer. Man, now that is inspiration!
Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
  Jun 1, 2011 - 03:19pm PT
Thanks a ton for this TR Paul. I was on the shield in '94. I could easily be lured onto sunkist by this report. Just need to find a yound and strong partner. Awesome pics. Thanks again.



Trad climber
Station Wagon, USA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 05:54pm PT
Thanks for sharing your TR and amazing photos! I caught of glimpse of you gentlemen from the ground and watched in awe.

Now, I sort of empathize with the tourons, gawking at the Nose, and asking, 'how'd they get the rope up there?'

I look at lines like Sunkist, Shortest Straw and the Sea of Dreams and quite often ask myself the very same question.

A job well done. Inspiring!

a small wall, C1 Junkie

Oakland, CA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 06:22pm PT
This was great. Those headwall pics are stupefying.

A long, head-first fall onto the only piece above the belay, which was a pecker... makes me shudder.

Seems like 90% of the routes on El Cap are for the truly stout of heart, people for whom a fall like that isn't a show-stopper. Lots of respect to those who send stiff routes on El Cap!

la la land
  Jun 1, 2011 - 06:27pm PT
BD is lame for using that #2 wire on the Pecker line!

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 06:43pm PT
Great stuff thanks for posting.

  Jun 1, 2011 - 08:04pm PT
All Right! thanks for posting. Great pics.

Big Wall climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 08:35pm PT
sweet TR! Stoked for you guys!

Mudcat Spire
  Jun 1, 2011 - 09:03pm PT
No clip wire. Wire bad.

Nice send!

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Jun 1, 2011 - 10:19pm PT

Tell BD you want a refund, after that 40 footer!!!!

Big Wall climber
  Jun 1, 2011 - 10:47pm PT
Way to knock off a killer route guys.

Great pics`too...

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jun 1, 2011 - 11:03pm PT
Great report and photos, Paul - thanks for sharing!
the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
  Jun 3, 2011 - 03:33pm PT
great job you guys!

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
  Jun 4, 2011 - 02:57pm PT
Only in my dreams....way to power through and make that weather window! The views were stunning!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jun 4, 2011 - 03:21pm PT
Hey! I missed this one when we were up on the wall - great stuff, Paul!

I really enjoyed Sunkist, and believe it to be one of the best A3-ish routes on all of the Captain. I am in amazement at how few times Sunkist has been climbed since I did it in '97, but now that we've got it in the new McTopo it's sure to finally become popular - about bloody time.

Superb trip report, thanks so much for sharing.

Not-Even-Pitch-A-Day Pete

P.S. Pecker cables are really not all that strong, especially when they become slightly frayed. The two things you need to do is back up the cables with a hunk of tape that's the same length, and be sure to use Screamers on the pieces when you are so close to the belay.

Big Wall climber
El Portal, CA
  Jun 4, 2011 - 04:52pm PT
SO AWESOME GUYS!!! Thank you. I love the picture of the #5 Vermin hook - would not go on a wall without.

Awesome send, way to thread the needle.

Oh, I have Yates add spectra slings as small as they can make them to my BD peckers. I clip both the wire and spectra for pro and this also helps keep from damaging the cable when cleaning (no jerking hard on cable with funkness)

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Jun 4, 2011 - 06:14pm PT

Nice send.

  Jun 4, 2011 - 07:30pm PT
Way to go, Paul! Looks like you had a blast up there.

Big Wall climber
  Jun 8, 2011 - 02:22am PT
great effort by these guys, they only made it by putting the pedal to the metal. it starts raining just as the car reaches the manure pile, great threading guys. shipoopoi

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jun 8, 2011 - 09:58am PT
Bitchin' Bump for the GagMeister!!
Carmel Climber

Mountain climber
Carmel California
  Jun 8, 2011 - 06:13pm PT
It goes to show the old guys can still teach the young whippersnappers a thing or two!

Trad climber
East Coast
  Jun 8, 2011 - 08:47pm PT

Trad climber
  Jun 9, 2011 - 11:55am PT
The Cunning Runt

Boulder climber
Charlemont, MA
  Jun 9, 2011 - 09:44pm PT
Fine lookin' route, Gentlemen (and Tom, too! :) And beautiful photos!

How's Tom's rib doing?

Trad climber
  Jun 15, 2011 - 06:30pm PT

Trad climber
Golden, CO
  Jun 19, 2011 - 09:00am PT
Beautiful photos and great report! Just climbed with Mr. Dickey yesterday and he pretty much gave the same account without the pictures.

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  Jun 19, 2011 - 11:52am PT
Just posting here to shine slightly in reflected orange glory.

Super photos and age-irrelevant story.

Trad climber
  Jun 19, 2011 - 03:37pm PT
Awesome report.

Sign me up for the next ascent.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Jun 19, 2011 - 03:42pm PT
Good one, Paul, hey, BTW, are you sure you're not older than me.... you sure look older than me.

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jun 19, 2011 - 08:00pm PT
Hell Yeah! TFPU!!!
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Jun 19, 2011 - 10:09pm PT
Great trip report, and find pictures



Author's Reply  Jun 19, 2011 - 11:40pm PT
Glad you guys enjoyed the TR.

Mark, just remember, you will ALWAYS be older than me. If I shaved my beard off I'd probably look about ten years younger - but then I'm too lazy to deal with shaving every day so that probably won't happen ....


  Jun 20, 2011 - 04:48pm PT
Whoo Hooo!!
the Fet

  Jun 20, 2011 - 05:04pm PT

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Jun 20, 2011 - 06:28pm PT
Very impressive----and great story and photos to boot.

I'm going to have "big wall fall" nightmares tonight.

Mountain climber
Wilson, Wyoming
  Jun 20, 2011 - 10:24pm PT
broken wires? is that like the screamer rule: you deploy you buy...?

I likes me some aid climbing, even if it is from the couch. Thanks for the photos and stoke.

Trad climber
San Juan Capistrano, CA
  Aug 31, 2011 - 12:17am PT
INSPIRATION always, Paul. Thanks.

Trad climber
  Oct 17, 2011 - 06:46pm PT
Excellent report.
Thanks for taking the time to write it up!

Trusty Rusty

Tahoe Area
  Oct 17, 2011 - 07:08pm PT
Nice, way to go gents, Bravo.

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Nov 3, 2011 - 08:35pm PT

Big Wall climber
The Bear State
  Jan 24, 2013 - 12:20pm PT
This deserves a BUMP.

Great photos, great story.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
  Jan 25, 2013 - 07:48pm PT
Wooo Hooo! Get some.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jan 25, 2013 - 06:51pm PT
Killer Big Wall motivation!

Social climber
boulder co
  Jan 25, 2013 - 08:24pm PT
Sunkist looks sick, nice job and another bump for rad climbing content!!

  Feb 16, 2013 - 02:55am PT
Johnny K.

  Jul 16, 2013 - 07:17pm PT

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
  Nov 12, 2013 - 01:09pm PT

Big Wall climber
Typewriters and Ledges
  Sep 3, 2014 - 02:29pm PT
Bumpidy bump
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Sep 3, 2014 - 03:54pm PT
Bump indeed. How did I miss this the first time? If (when) I ever get back on the Captain, Sunkist will be the ice breaker.