Shortest Straw A4 5.7

 
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El Capitan


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
The Shortest Straw
Friday July 8, 2011 11:38pm
"What's that duck-taped to the wall with a screamer on it?" a guy asked from below. I was too gripped to answer.
"Oh, uhh.. hey there buddy hows it going?" asked another guy, his voice questioned with concern.
"It's going fine." I lied. "Just taking it easy today." I reached up and placed my first ever beak, melting it into the wall with about 30 hammer blows. This first pitch was way harder than anything i had climbed before. 'A3+' the topo explained- a grade I had never climbed. I didn't know it at the time but this turned out to be the easiest pitch of the route. Leading with a hammer, pliers, metal file and a wire brush hanging off my harness, i felt more like a carpenter than a climber. A small toy dog named Jim was my only companion for this climb.

Jim the wall dog
Jim the wall dog
Credit: Neil Chelton

With a solid belay from Jim I crushed the following pitch and was feeling like an aid-master until I saw pitch 3. The 'Journey Through the Brain' is a wild, poorly protected, rising traverse through a heavily featured band of crazy rock. Rated A4, this was also a grade I had never climbed before. I must have done 20 hook moves interspersed with hard free moves and a few unconventional cam placements. A real pant loader. And I loved every moment of it.

Credit: Neil Chelton

"Next pitch is A2." Jim reads the topo. "Oh it'll probably be a cruiser splitter crack of bomber cams" I said to Jim, comparing it to the C2 pitches of Lurking Fear, my only other solo. In fact, it was a long string of hooks and heads topped off with the sickest equalized sideways beaks I ever imagined possible. "Surely it can't get any harder than that." I said to Jim. I couldn't have been any more wrong..

Pitch 5, A4R loose. Another grade I had never climbed before. The 5.8 variation seemed much more appealing. This, however, was drawn incorrectly on my topo so I spent the afternoon accidentally climbing a pitch of ZM. A storm rolled in so I retreated down to my portaledge where I onsighted some pasta and chili beans. The winds were so strong that I had to anchor my ledge down from the bottom to prevent it from blowing upside down during the night. Alone in such a dangerous position, I had never felt such a high level of fear. The storm was still in full swing the next morning, fear was building with every minute. I knew I had to do the pitch right then before the fear took over completely. Shaking uncontrolably, I put on my rain jacket and headed out into the booming thunderstorm..

Credit: Neil Chelton

I climbed up using an irreversible sequence of delicate hooks and free moves, the rock crumbling with every movement. 30 feet above a jagged ledge I reached a small flake which had the consistency of a pile of damp brown sugar. I had to hook it in order to progress higher. Sharp rock threatened to cut my rope as it blew wildly in the storm, no protection between me and the belay to keep it under control. I hooked the flake, particles of rock crumbled under my weight. I was off-route. I was impossibly scared. I wanted to solo something way harder than anything I'd done before, with or without a partner. I wanted to experience real fear, and here it was. I took a deep breath and gently stepped into my aiders.

Credit: Neil Chelton

The hook shifted and more rock crumbled underneath it. I let out an involuntary loud squeal. The sound reminded me of a job i once had castrating goats on a farm. I crept up into my top step, tried to forget about the screaming goats and busted out a sick mantelshelf onto a 6-inch wide ledge, the hook tumbling off its perch as I balanced up.

Thankfully, the rest of the pitch was much easier and I returned to my portaledge happy to see Jim who had been waiting patiently all day.

Credit: Neil Chelton

After negotiating loose rock for another 400 feet, I reached what I felt was the best pitch. A 50 foot expanding beak seam leads up to a series of outrageous blind hook moves, followed by a super sick inverted pin move to finish. More than once I had to top-step off a hook, smearing with my other foot, in order to reach a micro crimp with one hand and then stretch as far as possible with a hook duck-taped to the end of my hammer to barely reach the next feature. Real A3. That night another massive storm rolled in unannounced. A nearby waterfall began blowing directly into my sleeping bag. Fumbling around in the dark I couldn't figure out how to put on my horribly twisted ledge cover, so I just wrapped myself up in it and hoped the storm would stop.

Credit: Neil Chelton

I awoke to a spectacular clear morning. El Cap seemed to be producing its own clouds as the rock dried in the morning sun.

Credit: Neil Chelton

An intricate hook sequence on the following pitch was the final hurdle. Shortly after that I joined Zodiac and sunk the first bomber cam on the whole route. I could easily have topped out that day but I didn't want the adventure to be over, so Jim and I had a rest day drinking tea on Peanut Ledge. The following afternoon I sat on the summit in a clusterfuc#ed pile of rusty, scratched and bent pins, all of which were unused at the beginning of the climb. I had dried chili beans encrusted in my beard and a 1000 mile stare. Some guys walked past, "Hey are you Neil?" one of them asked. "Ummmmmm yeah." After 9 days conversing with a toy dog my social skills were as rusty as my pitons. "Dude we've been following Toms report, you were the only person on El Cap during that big storm."

Credit: Neil Chelton

It was the craziest adventure I've ever been on. I genuinely didn't think I'd be able to do this climb, but I had an overwhelming urge to 'get my balls out of my purse' and escape the 9-5, bill-paying, gym-climbing lifestyle that I was slowly slipping into. Big thanks to Rock Exotica, the Silent Partner is by far the greatest soloing device ever invented. And also to CMI whos expedition ascenders and hauling device made this climb possible.

  Trip Report Views: 3,616
Neil Chelton
About the Author
Neil Chelton is from England, likes to drink tea and eat beans on toast with melted cheese. He dislikes working, paying bills and obeying rules. He still thinks that climbing big walls is a great way to meet young attractive women, but so far he has failed to prove this theory to be true. He currently lives in Boulder Colorado where the tea just isn't quite as good.

Comments
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Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Jul 8, 2011 - 11:51pm PT
Good effort man! Outstanding!
Captain...or Skully

climber
in the oil patch...Fricken Bakken, that's where
  Jul 8, 2011 - 11:53pm PT
Nicely done. TFPU!
Slakkey

Big Wall climber
From Back to Big Wall Baby
  Jul 9, 2011 - 12:02am PT
Way to hang in there nice
Daphne

Trad climber
Northern California
  Jul 9, 2011 - 12:33am PT
Right on! Thanks for posting up your adventure!
Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Jul 9, 2011 - 12:51am PT
Ballz to you sir!
Gal

Trad climber
going big air to fakie
  Jul 9, 2011 - 12:56am PT
That sounds spectacular. And freaky-way to hold it together.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
  Jul 9, 2011 - 01:09am PT
What is it about your hard men and your teddies, anyway?
Mark Hudon's mascot
Mark Hudon's mascot
Credit: Mighty Hiker

Good report, and amazing climb!
BriGuy

climber
black hills, south dakota
  Jul 9, 2011 - 01:26am PT
Neil, it was nice to meet you. Proud solo! Sounds like a very memorable experience.

Cheers
Brian
Studly

Trad climber
WA
  Jul 9, 2011 - 01:46am PT
Wow, stout!
T2

climber
Cardiff by the sea
  Jul 9, 2011 - 03:20am PT
That was a really cool trip report Neil. Nice work persevering.
freerider

climber
  Jul 9, 2011 - 04:04am PT
verrry nice... exciting adventure, huh?
Awesome Report, and quite a trip!
Looking forward to the next one! cheers!
cowpoke

climber
  Jul 9, 2011 - 06:11am PT
outstanding. so good it makes me wanna go get scared...but not that scared.
perswig

climber
  Jul 9, 2011 - 06:48am PT
^^ Agreed.

Well-written, scary, and inspiring.
Thanks.

Dale
mctwisted

Trad climber
e.p.
  Jul 9, 2011 - 12:31pm PT
neil, way to hang in there! good job
bringmedeath

climber
la la land
  Jul 9, 2011 - 12:42pm PT
Neil, I think a couple of your photos are the wrong way. Sounds like you had a great time!
mrbaksh

Trad climber
Fresno, CA
  Jul 9, 2011 - 01:54pm PT
Simply said: ur a bada$$.
spenchur

climber
Flagstaff/Thousand Oaks
  Jul 9, 2011 - 02:00pm PT
woahhh...i want to get scared now. thank you sir
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jul 9, 2011 - 02:03pm PT
Nice TR but a question. You call a pitch A4 R. Wouldn't that be redundant? It seems that, by definition, A4 is R.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jul 9, 2011 - 02:43pm PT
A4R is a peculiar McTopo-ism for A4 above a ledge, with a potential nasty fall onto the ledge. A better rating might be A4+ or "A4 with ledge fall".

This is yet another reason why CRS - the Casual Rating System as invented by Peter Mayfield and Jim Bridwell - is a better way to describe aid pitches. I would rate something like that PDH/DFU - Pretty Darn Hard / Don't Blow It.

Nice send, Neil, and a fun trip report!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jul 9, 2011 - 02:43pm PT
Hey Jim!

It's me, Wee-Wee!



Congratulations on the First Canine Solo of Shortest Straw, eh? You were the Last Dog Standing in the storm.

Me and Jim spent twelve days climbing Atlantic Ocean Wall together, and I can vouch that he is an excellent topo reader, and while he is not the greatest at hauling - like me - he is a very patient belayer. In fact, I never heard a word of complaint from him. Jim is a little shy on some of the leads, preferring to remain in the haulbag, but I really appreciated him making tea every day at 4pm on the nose.

Cheers, eh?
Wee-Wee the Big Wall Crab
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jul 10, 2011 - 01:35am PT
Bump for Jim, and the second proudest solo of the spring season!
Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
  Jul 10, 2011 - 05:50pm PT
Wow, amazing job. Way to stick with it.

Cheers,

Doug
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 10, 2011 - 10:50pm PT
Awesome Job Neil, way to go, love your belayer!!!!....:)
Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Relic MilkEye and grandpoobah of HBRKRNH
  Jul 10, 2011 - 10:55pm PT
Two thumbs UP MAN!!!! Stellar job and TR!
Roxy

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jul 10, 2011 - 10:59pm PT
most excellent adventure!!!!

Gunkie

Trad climber
East Coast US
  Jul 11, 2011 - 08:30am PT
Nice TR! If you were up there the week before the 4th of July weekend, then we saw you through our telescope. My daughter tried to take pictures through the telescope. So, if this is you, we have a series of images if you blur your eyes you might recognize something. This was Wednesday, mid-day, as the storm was clearing.

Credit: Gunkie

Credit: Gunkie

Credit: Gunkie

Credit: Gunkie
Gagner

climber
Boulder
  Jul 11, 2011 - 10:37am PT
AWESOME TR - way to stick with it and have a memorable experience.

Paul
Mikemcee

Social climber
Mill Valley, CA
  Jul 11, 2011 - 11:50am PT
Awesome adventure Neil. Thanks for sharing.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
  Jul 11, 2011 - 11:51am PT
Badass, Neil! You didn't look too scared on the first pitch when I saw you up there. Good one climbing through that bad weather.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jul 11, 2011 - 09:49pm PT
Pure
looks easy from here

climber
Ben Lomond, CA
  Aug 22, 2014 - 10:25pm PT
Came here from Ned's Excellent Adventure TR. I think I'm going to read the rest of Neil's TRs now. :)
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El Capitan - Shortest Straw A4 5.7 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Shortest Straw is route number 28.
Photo: Galen Rowell
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