Shortest Straw A4 5.7
Trip ReportThe Shortest Straw
"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.
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.
"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..
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.
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.
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.
I awoke to a spectacular clear morning. El Cap seemed to be producing its own clouds as the rock dried in the morning sun.
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."
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.
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