Lincoln Else saved me from that fate. At 9pm on the night of the 24th, he said he could climb. However, the very next day was the last sunny looking weather for January. I couldn’t leave San Francisco until 11pm so I got to Yosemite at 2:30am and woke up at 6am.
Two Bulls and a Bad Caffeine Twitch...
We pulled got to El Cap just after 7am. As we were ready to walk to the base, I realized I didn’t have a harness. I guess after 3.5 hours of sleep, my brain wasn’t fully on. So on the drive back to Link’s house to get a harness, I drank the equivalent of two Red Bulls on top of the two cups of coffee I had had earlier. I might have had a bad caffeine twitch, but at least I was now awake.
We started climbing just after 8am. The sun hit us on Sickle Ledge and for me it would be t-shirt climbing for most of the route. The lighting on El Cap in winter is exceptional. The sun light is much softer—like its perpetually late-afternoon. There was nobody else on the wall. It was a good place to be.
Lincoln also wants to climb El Cap every month this year. Since I had climbed 6 walls in December and was in better wall shape, I would lead this entire climb. Then in December, Lincoln would lead the whole route and I would jug.
The route was mostly dry for the first half. Occasionally I would put my hand in a dry-looking crack to find water running in the back. But, this was the exception, not the rule.
On the King Swing, we could hear our friends in the meadow cheered us on. Thanks Dov, Brandon, Naomi and crew! Its too bad with the belay location, wasn’t able to watch Link do the main part of the King Swing. But I did get to watch the last crux big were suddenly a hand, then another hand, latched onto an arête. Next, Links body slowly and carefully did the delicate “horizontal mantel.” I still have not found a cooler pendulum on El Cap… except maybe on the Pacific Ocean Wall.
Who Turned On the Faucet?
At Camp IV, the summer-like conditions on the route ended abruptly. Water from the Muir Wall dripped down on us. The pitch off Camp 4 was partially soaked because water seeped out of every inch of the Great Roof pitch. I was not happy.
I took my time on the Great Roof. Not only because I was terrified of the tiny alien placements in wet rock: many of the fixed stoppers looked extremely suspect. This fear was confirmed when I clipped into a few only to have them wiggle out in my hands just before stepping on them. Luckily, the increased fear kept me warm or at least distracted me from the fact that my pants were now soaked (from the water on the rock, not because I was scared).
The next pitch, the Pancake Flake, was dry. Unfortunately, my arms were now locking up from cramps. There was still over 1000 feet of the steepest climbing on the route to go. I got a bit nervous. If my arms kept locking up, was I going to fall unexpectedly in a section I usually runnout? Or were we at least going to move so slowly that we might have to climb at night… in January?
Jamming Water, Slime and Mud
To make things worse, the route seemed to be getting wetter and wetter. The crack below Camp 5 involved jamming a mixture of water, slime and mud. The Glowering Spot pitch was mostly soaked, as was the pitch above the Glowering Spot.
Lincoln definitely helped my psyched shouting up encouragements. He also has the cool habit of yetting out a cheerful “Yahoo!” scream every time I finished a pitch.
He enjoyed the wet conditions in a different but equally special way. The rope was now soaked and we soon learned a new equation: water + nylon rope = bungee cord. For the rest of the route, the rope would stretch in ways that, well, ropes just shouldn’t. The same principle applied to my aiders. Each time I stepped into them, they sunk down a few inches. Nice.
But the true wet climbing wouldn’t come until above Camp VI. Here, the first 30 of face climbing were drenched by a waterspout in the rock. As I approached this mini-waterfall, I imagined how I would quickly and gracefully climb to the dryer rock above. Of course, as soon as I entered the spicket, I fumbled with the climbing and gear and was soaked in seconds. I was still wearing a t-shirt… but not for long.
Somehow, the cramps in my arms worked their way out. instead of topping out at 9pm, as I imagined after finishing the Great Roof, we topped out around 3:30, a little under 7.5 hours after starting.
The greatest moment of the climb soon followed as we took inventory of the remaining food: 4 cliff bars, raisins, a granola bar and 9 little squares of chocolate. Big smiles and huge props to Lincoln for such foresight.
Somehow I envisioned that, even in January, a week of sun would have melted all the snow off the slabs at the edge of El Cap. I could not have been more wrong. Snow was everywhere.
I set up the camera on a log to take a shot of Link and myself. But after setting the self timer and starting to run back over to Link, my foot sunk down three feet into a hole and the following shot resulted.
Anyone who has done the East Ledges descent will appreciate this photo of Lincoln on the slabs between The Nose and Zodiac.
Post Holing the East Ledges Descent
Despite the snow, the descent went quickly. Mainly because Link was going so fast and breaking trail. He managed to find all the big sinkholes like the one in the phot above. Thanks Link! We were back at the car at 5pm, about 9 hours after leaving the Valley. Dov achieved superstar status by picking us up and Manure Pile and driving us back to El Cap Meadow. Here is a final shot of Half Dome I took on the rappels.