It has taken a lot of energy and a lot of time to sit down and write out this trip. Reasons for delay have been: life.
This trip originally involved 3 souls, 2 of which were unable to attend. Life happens throughout this story, and as such, details may be skipped. For those who want the abridged version, just the big wall bit, scroll down to: “THE OFFICIAL BEGINNING OF THE BIG WALL TALE”, but if you’re in for the whole yarn, read on:
Ben Berry, Adam Edwards, and myself were the originators of the idea. We’d climbed together in the Southwest deserts of California (Joshua Tree) and Arizona (Phoenix area, Superstitions Mts.). As life has it, we’re all growing apart due to careers and location. But in Early 2012 the idea is seeded, “We should climb the Nose!”. We all agree and go our separate ways until the next meeting (still yet to happen at the writing of this report).
Months go by and the idea has floated around, mostly to my instigation, but nothing has materialized yet. Others have been suggested to join, to fill voids intermittently left by the original cast. Ben Wilson, Aaron Eveland, Jacob “Jib” Holmstead, and various others get temporarily volunteered to man the assault.
After months of getting excited and plans yet to solidify, I put my foot down. As life would have it, Jib is ALL IN. The two of us still hang on to the idea of bringing a 3rd, for sick photos and to share the experience more broadly. Aaron, a mutual friend whom we know through independent means, takes amazing photos and would and amazing addition on our expedition. Aaron lives in Hawaii and would be unable to attend the trip due to… life.
We’ve got our team finally. Jacob and me. Me and Jacob. We’re going to do this thing. We’ve got the gear, we’ve got the funds, we’ve got the guts, and we’ve got the grit.
Jib is in town during the off-season from commercial fishing up in Alaska. We sit down to generate some details and come up with our game plan: Jib will spend several weeks traveling and climbing in the southwest deserts: Red Rock, Moab, Zion, and other areas; I’ll get off work early on a mid-April Friday and fly into Vegas and the two of us will haul our gear into the Valley from there.
We’ve got details sorted. A plane ticket gets purchased, bags get packed, well-wishes are shared and Jib drives off into the night. We part ways with 3 weeks before my plane is supposed to arrive.
As life goes: I’m working out in our local gym, with “The Bens” (Berry and Wilson, previous interim members of the team). I’m having a rough session, I’m just so tired and hungry. The session progresses and start to hit my stride. I’m thinking, “yeah, I’ll give this 11+ a burn--whatever happens happens, and don’t hold any expectations for failure OR success, go learn something”. My belayer puts me on, and offers some comfort, “you can’t be that tired if you’re thinking about 11+.”
I rope up, strap on my shoes, and jump on the route. I climb well through the vertical “techy” section which requires precision footwork and total body control, I’m feeling good. Things are finally clicking today. I get the first crux, a difficult dead-point off a gaston to another gaston on a roof. I’m mid-move and I think, “This is going great, I’ve never stuck this move first-go”......
It was at this point I find myself falling, head first.
“What happened?” “Why am I falling?!” “Why am I upside do…”
POP! This gnarly, slurping, and cracking suction sound echoes through my mind--my brain catches up to my body as my shoulder reduces itself (it dislocated to some degree during the move).
Plans… on the rocks…
Time goes by, but clearly not enough to heal.
Skip forward a few weeks: I rush to the airport after work to meet with Todd before boarding the plane. Who’s Todd in this tale? Todd has joined the trip as a straggler, his partner bailed due to life when they were Valley-bound. We invited Todd to join along and he could wander and pick up partners while we’re up on the wall.
Our flights (yeah, we couldn’t get the same flight), leave and arrive at the same times--pretty convenient. We land, and eventually meet up. By the time I find Jib, Todd has picked up his bags and Oli is in tow. Who’s Oli?! He’s a dirtbagger Jib picked up in Red Rock, they traveled together to Zion and Oli will share the ride all the way back to Portland--eventually.
We drive into the valley from Vegas, the drive took approximately 8 hours due to a false start and some midnight groceries (food is cheaper in Fresno than in the valley, sort of). We’ve crammed 4 dudes and at least 4 haul bags into a Forester with a rocket box up top. Those of us who aren’t driving, are asleep in an upright position due to us literally being packed into the car. I wish we could have taken a picture of the show. It’s approaching 2AM by the time we roll into the valley. We sleep on the ground “in line” for Camp 4.
We wake to gorgeous views of Half Dome, and the spectacle that is The Valley (none of my 3 traveling companions have ever been in the Valley, waking up in Camp 4 is definitely the way to experience the place for the first time). Turns out, we’re early enough in the season that we can go claim a camp spot. We set up camp, make breakfast, go buy a guide book for “in-a-day climbing”, eat our elevensies, load the car up and drive off to a nearby crag.
We find this place called “Pat and Jack’s” and climb around through the early afternoon, a mix of 5.8’s, 9’s and a few 10b/c’s. Things go well, especially for the injured shoulder. I started off on the 8, an arching flared crack that starts nearly horizontal and ends up just shy of vertical. Things go fine for my first time on rock since the injury, only the 3rd time I’ve tied in since then, gear feels solid--I’m definitely slow, but not too shaky.
I run it out to the top of the pitch, lower, and clean. So nice.
They day goes by, Jib makes a go at the 10c tips crack, and cruises it on the second burn. It’s my turn to climb again, and I’ve noticed a pair of climbers rappelling down onto our crag. I hear the guys communicating,
“OFF RAPPELL MARIO!”
I think to myself, “I know these guys…” I shout up, “ANDY, IS THAT YOU!?!”
“YEAH, WHO’S THAT!?!”
“KYLE, WE MET ON HALF DOME IN AUGUST”
The conversation had a few more exchanges, but we agree to meet at the base.
I blast off on my line and Todd and I limp our way through the 10b fingers. I reach the anchor as Mario is getting to the anchor to set up the final rappel.
I cleaned the route and met all the guys at the base. Andy and Mario are still working for Nature Bridge and basing out of El Portal, just 10 minutes drive from where we’re cragging. They invite us over for showers and tacos--WE’RE THERE!
We join these guys and many of their co-workers for a party and spend the evening into the failing-light hours swapping stories, learning backgrounds and just having a good time. (There was a moment when at least 6 of us pulled out identical “dumb-phones”, to share our appreciation of durable technology).
THE OFFICIAL BEGINNING OF THE BIG WALL TALE
DAY 0 BEGIN
After second breakfast, Jib and I pack the bags and hike to the base. Our plan is to climb the first 4 pitches, haul the bag and rappel down to the ground for bed.
It takes us a long time to even get the bag up to our starting point, about an hour longer than I would’ve expected. The wind at this point, somewhere between 2PM and 3PM, starts whipping. We’re getting blasted. This is a conservative guess, but somewhere between 25-35 mph winds--consistent.
I’m up first, we’re swinging pitches (playing leap-frog, I lead you follow, you lead I follow) on this day. I climb up to the first anchor, a nest of bolts and old ratty webbing. I’m rushing pretty hard, trying to make up for lost time on the approach so I build a rope anchor to haul the bag on. I start hauling and Jib starts climbing the rope (jugging). He helps the bag through a few tough sections. The wall at this point is low angled and friction is high!
We take way too long on the exchange, Jib gets ready and he blasts off. He cruises the free stuff, gets through a series of tension traverses (hanging from a piece, and using friction and the rope to get to a slightly lower point far to one side), links the pitches and starts hauling. The bag gets ghetto clipped through some carabiners along the way and Jib has to wait for me to jug up to the bag and get it unstuck. The thing is, all those tension traverses Jib got through, we now have to lower the bag out or risk losing our gear. I Jerry rig an impromptu lower out, in the middle of a pitch, and let the bag out.
I get to the top of what is the 3rd pitch, since Jib linked, and again the changeover takes way too long. We’re moving slow, but we’re still on schedule to be “home by dark”. I take off, and too be honest this pitch is a total blur. I don’t remember any of the details, all I remember is getting to the anchor and we had an enormous lower out again. I haul, Jacob jugs. We load everything to survive the night and we make for the ground.
**Lessons learned so far: no rope anchors, link as much as possible, drink more water, and get the camera out of the bag.
We tie our ropes to the anchors and rap off. 3 ropes: two 60’s and a 70 meter. All basically end to end. Jacob goes first, he gets to the stations without issue but he comes up short on touching the ground (if we can’t get the ropes to the ground, we can’t climb our ropes from the ground in the morning). I follow down, untying the last line from the anchor and using the 15ish feet from previous rope I tie the lines together underneath the anchor. Now I can rap down, pass a knot, and continue to the deck. All goes smooth after a little finicking. I have, again, confirmed my loathing for rappelling.
In the time that it took me to get back to the ground Jacob had walked back the base where we started and picked up our leftover bag (for walking in our loads), and was waiting for me.
We go back to camp for dinner and sleep.
DAY 0 OVER
DAY 1 BEGIN
5AM Wake up. Quick breakfast. Refill the water bottles. We’re off.
6AM we’re jugging up the ropes. Oli and Todd have followed us in to pick up one of the 3 ropes we used to get to the ground, we’ll only need 2 to get to the summit and no point in dead weight.
As we jug a team of 3 approaches the start and gets to work. Somewhere we lost some time, by 8AM the team of 3 catches us, we let them pass… they’re “in-a-day” and their looking like they’ll make it with time to spare. 8:30 AM and they’re out of the way and almost out of sight. Time to get to work. Jib gets the first block (today we’re leading in blocks: 3 pitches for Jib, 3 for me, 3 for Jib, and I end the day). A 4th class ledge leads to an interesting 5.8 chimney/flake/layback exit to an anchor. After a few minutes Jib has dispatched the entire pitch (which was actually 2 pitches linked); BUT, the haul line is looking shorter than the lead line. Not good. He’s able to manage the extra weight for a few feet and clips the anchor.
The follow is tough to start as it begins with a 4th class blocky traverse over tons of loose rock, so I’m half-dragging-half-rolling the haul bag through this section. I get to a point where I’m thinking I’ll lower the bag the rest of the way out…..
and there goes the pig…
The rope was tight (it would have been horrible if it had any slack) so the bag does a huge pendulum and takes a few bad bounces along the way. This was the point where we put a hole in the porta-ledge bag, and we added a few extra fuzzy spots to our haul-line. After the bag comes to a plumbline under Jib, things go much smoother.
I second the rest of the pitch on self-belay until about 6 feet shy of the anchor, where I switched to jugging the rest of the way. This was a much faster alternative than me jugging the whole way, and it afforded me an opportunity to generate some body warmth.
The next pitch was probably our slowest pitch of the day. Jib lead us through a series of pendulums and weird tension traverses. At one point he tiptoed his way across a 5.9 face section with some of our smallest gear as his protection (after a bomber bolt from a tension traverse). He moved about 90 feet to the right and 40-50 feet up. There are 3 ways through this section, we took what’s considered the lowest of the 3. And it seemed the fastest, and most straightforward with the least amount of up-down-up-down. We basically went horizontal for 80 feet.
Another long lower out of the pig, and one of my slowest follows of the route. It’s pretty time consuming following all these pendulums… I’m exhausting myself trying to be quick about it all, and I start to set the tone for my block--which starts after 1 more pitch.
I meet Jib at our first hanging belay. Nothing to stand on, except the haul bag, and blank stone. To this point it was our highest degree of exposure: we can feel the how high we are off the ground. We’re getting close to being 1,000 feet off the ground. We just have 6 pitches to go before we’re done for the day. The time is getting on, we’re near mid-day. But we’re in good shape to hit our bivy by dark.
Jib has one pitch left, “The Stove-legs”. It ended being among the cooler pitches for Jib, with extended sections of hands crack and a few thinner sections. He climbed it like he was going for a stroll--it was a glorious pitch.
The next pitch is mine, lay-back to flaring hands to flaring stacked hands… I gave it all that I had, and I didn’t have enough. I took a 10 footer on a .75 buried in the flare. I climbed back up to my piece and tried to commit to the sequence again but my soul began crying out from exhaustion. For the first time on the route, it crosses my mind how out of shape I am. I waffle for a few minutes and try the sequence. After a few takes and a lot of whimpering I realize I don’t have it.
“Hey bud…. I can’t do this, I can’t even aid it…. you’ll need to put me down.”
I was torn. Jib put me down. I let myself down. I let Jib down. I failed...
Jib winces as he puts his shoes back on, he REALLY needed the break. He sprints up to my highpoint and blasts through the awkward section. After a few more minutes Jib calls off belay and starts to haul.
I putter my way up, shamefully cleaning the gear. The piece I fell on was in fine shape, nothing to worry about. After a few minutes of jugging I reach the bag, which has been docked low on this tiny triangular ledge big enough for us to both sit on. Jib had set us up on the perfect lunch ledge, 3:00PM.
All the fatigue and weariness I’ve been dragging up the wall climaxed when I had to bail on my first pitch of the day. After lunch, thanks to some dried mango bits, I felt like a whole new creature. Here I go, headed up some easy open-book corners with large hands on the left. The hands turn into fists and turn into butterflied hands, after 40 quick feet I hit a ledge. I haul the bag, drag it over to the other side of the ledge and start prepping for a good sized tension traverse into another corner.
I’m feeling much better, but I’m still slow. Jib lowers me out and I hit this squeeze chimney with flaring gear. Again, I whimper my way through the squeeze and hit a great ramping corner that takes fists and stacked hands. At this point, Jib points out if I back-clean (removing all my previous gear from below me) I can reduce rope drag and link the next 2 pitches. The climbing isn’t too bad, so I lower down a few feet and pull out my lower pieces. I’m hanging off a blue C-4, bomber. I re-climb the section and begin to take off above my #3. After 15-20 feet I start to see that my remaining #3 might not be large enough to finish these pitches.
I run it out about 30 feet and plug one of my two #4’s, it’s not going anywhere--except that I need it higher up. I start dragging it with me after a few moves, rinse; lather; repeat. I find a slight constriction where I can leave my remaining #3 “tipped out” as protection. I don’t remember the distance, but it wouldn’t have been good to fall in this section. I keep bumping up my first #4; as the butterflied hands start to feel bomber I start getting ahead of myself and have to down climb a move to be able to reach the cam. I can’t see the anchor, but I know it’s close. I’m approaching 140-150 on this pitch and it can’t be that much farther. The angle of the ramp decreases subtly, enough to where I think I can slab-climb my way up and forgo the awkward jamming. I have 1 #4 with me, and no other usable gear for the rest of the pitch. I leave my “bumper” #4 and start off on the face. After a few spicy tip-toes I start to feel that exhaustion returning. I force myself to focus on the feet, and make a move. After 20 more feet the climbing is getting “easy” and I think this would be a good time to plug that last cam. As soon as it’s in the rock, I feel my third wind--and catch a glimpse of the anchor bolts--GAME ON. I paw my way up the rest of the ramp and start what would be, for me, the most difficult haul of the wall.
Jib is forced to jug slowly due to the several lower-outs and the traversing nature of the pitch. I get the pig within 15 feet of docking by the time he shows up, we lug it up and tie it off.
We can see our bivy. It’s some 5.easy scrambling up a loose and blocky ramp. Jib offers to take us “home”, I don’t argue--I’m so slow.
He sends the 80 feet in his boots, in about 4 minutes. He fixes me, I lower the pig, and I climb the pitch, also in my boots. We haul and set up for the night. The sun is still up, it’s probably around 6:30PM.
We eat, drink, and be merry until dark. We call the girls and tell them how it’s going. A little nightcap and we shuffle into the bags.
** Lessons learned: don’t lose control of the pig, drink more water, jug in control, eat dried mangos, butterflied hands are so sweet.
DAY 1 OVER.
DAY 2 BEGIN
We get a SLOW wake-up, we’re up with the sun. We dawdle packing up and loading the bag. Around 8:00 Jib begins climbing “The Texas Flake” pitch. He methodically works his way through the chimney, making sure not to slip. The runout nature of the chimney has a “Plinko” landing should one fall, with only a single bolt for protection in the 50 foot chimney. I lug the bag around loose blocks again, Jib hauls, I jug and clean.
We’re at the bottom of the bolt ladder leading up to “The Boot Flake” by 9:30 or so.
I tell Jib not to leave any draws (unless he needs the comfort) on the bolt ladder, as I will just be following in my own aiders, rather than jugging.
After about 15 minutes Jib is giggling on some cam-hook moves to gain the bottom of the flake. Another 10ish minutes and he’s at the anchor…. he just freed 10c hands at 1,600 feet off the deck and made it look like a morning stroll. This guy is an amazing climber… I’m in awe.
I jug, he hauls.
The King Swing Pitch: We get everything lined up, I point out to Jib where he’s looking to land and down he sails. He calls for some slack on the haul-line and then calls for a stop. He starts sprinting across the ocean of granite, to then scramble back the opposite direction.
Something goes screwy and Jib is flailing like a 4-limbed-fish-out-of-water, the haul line got caught on a flake and sent him reeling at the apex of his swing. The gazelle leaps, to avoid the mouth of a crocodile, and resumes sprinting across vertical granite savannah. A few more swings and the lead-line slips passed a notch in the ledge, securing his high-point even closer to his destination. One more sprint away from the crack, a leap, and BINGO! The Valley goes apey. Hoots, grunts, applause and whistling follow Jib through the glorious pitch of the King Swing.
I lower the bag out, but the portaledge gets hung up on a flake. I haul the bag back up 6 inches (no small feat when you don’t have a pulley and you’re belaying the pig), and flick it over the lip. It clears, and we reach the end of the line. I untie my stopper knot and let the end fly through the Grigri (a truly terrifying feeling).
The pitch for me is a lot less exciting, as I mostly rappel down to Jacob. Things go a little wonky for me too as the Grigri is loaded sideways and the rope slips behind the locking cam on the belay device--considering that this is my main (of 2) point of contact I start sweating bullets and whimper as I slip under the protection of the anchor.
Welcome to Eagle Ledge. My block begins here. I aid past this guillotine of a flake, pointed straight at Jib and his anchor. I free/french-free through about 30 feet of fingers to a mini pendulum. Back clean a few pieces and go free. Fingers and hands lead to a variation which we’ve decided to take, a 5.12- face traverse with bolts too far apart to aid. I charge ahead, mixing tactics of tension traverses and legit face climbing. I get through 3 bolts of leaving a biner on garbage webbing/cord.
The 3rd bolt was especially bad, it was a loop of rope tied through the bolt and left. There were exactly 4 strands of core holding this piece of tat in place. I opted to leave my own draw rather than face the perils of relying on this piece-of-trash to keep me from a massive whipper.
The 4th bolt had a section of dyneema tied through it, it looked better than the cord on 3 and the climbing looked manageable, so I clipped it with a spare-a-biner and moved on. 10 feet leftward and I’m cruxing out on the face. There is no place for pro, and I have no hooks for the tiny edges I’m pulling on.
I eek out on the tiny ledges, do a systems check--”relaxed breathing? check. Feet? Smearing. Hands? Good ledges for now, no new holds to be found save for that gaston 3 feet to the left. Gear? Tat 10 feet to the right.” I call down, “watch me!”. I butter my feet out onto more smears trying to finesse my way to the gaston. Left foot pops, I replace my boot and hope for the best. I lob my right foot up about twelve inches trying to gain some traction with increased pressure. The right foot starts sliding, and the reality of my fall sets in--I’m going to fall, unless I move.
I call down, “WATCH ME!” I hear “YOU GOT IT YEAGER!” and go for it. I hit the hold, feel the grit of the granite in the tips of my left fingers. I catch the hold, “BOMBER!”. Those buttery feet catch on to nothing and I’m airborn.
Free-falling. I’m flying over the granitic swells, and feeling the sea-spray on my face. Enough time passes that I wonder if there was anything this far below the traverse. The rope begins to slow me as the slack runs out. I feel the tug of the belay coming tight, then…
I’m sailing again as the dyneema snaps under the weight of the fall. The little deceleration that occurred gave me enough control to orient my feet in the direction I’m headed (I’ve yet to contact the wall as it’s been a sheer vertical face for the last several hundred feet), the rope begins to tighten again.
I begin thanking myself for leaving the draw on the 3rd bolt rather than trusting the section of rope that was in worse shape than the dyneema. The rope comes tight, I come to a stop.
Systems check, “limbs? all present. Head? not smashed. Feet? Left ankle is throbbing, but nothing I can’t climb on. Distance? 50ish feet.”
“You alright buddy?”
“Yeah, gimme a minute… but I think I’m good!”
A moment passes..
“Hey, pass me the hooks, would ya?”
I reel in the haul line and put the hooks on my harness, I pull out my ascenders and start climbing my line. I reach my trusty draw and go in direct, while Jib slurps in the slack.
I take another few minutes, and start it all over again. I edge out, clip a draw to that 4th bolt.
I get to the second to last move I had made, and throw a cliffhanger onto one of those tiny edges. It sticks and I put my foot in a ladder to get something to actually stand on. Now I’m able to lean out enough and stick that gaston.
I rally through the next few moves and plug a ball-nut slider I had. It was the only piece that might fit somewhere on this traverse, it just happens to be post-crux. The climbing eases and I find the anchor station.
I haul, Jib jugs. He goes through a series of swings (rather than lower-outs) to get through the traverse. I pulled that ball-nut slider during the haul so he’d have one less swing to deal with.
It seems the best way for me to impress Jib is to take a massive whipper, he joins me at the belay and congratulates me for finishing the pitch.
We hussle the bag over, and I leap out on the next short traverse pitch of 5.2 difficulty.
Jib has a hell of a time baby-sitting the bag as the terrain is too rough to lower the bag out, it’ll snag for sure, but not quite flat enough to drag the bag. A combination of hauling, pushing, and swearing at the bag and we get it docked.
Jib calls the next pitch (I think he’s tired of waiting for me, as I’m still slow as a snail). So far we’re up 4 pitches from our bivy, and have 4 to go to our next ledge. I get the Great Roof in 3 pitches.
The next 2 pitches are wandering and mostly indescript. Besides some manky lower-outs and some “slick-as-snot” rock there isn’t anything to write home about--and it’s obvious where to go. Jib takes both pitches down, and the bag begins to feel lighter. I jug up, lower-out, jug up, lower-out. One of the lower outs got a little wild, in the slick-as-snot section. I think I swung about 30 feet, this time with the rope tight, right into a dihedral. Luckily I had my Air-Scarpa’s on and leapt over the bulge before impact. I finish jugging and snap a few photos of Jib at the station.
The camera dies just as I’m starting the Great Roof pitch (insert 80’s arcade Pac-Man death sound effect here). The spare battery is buried too deep, with not enough daylight to spare. I grab all the tiny gear we own, a few draws, the cam hooks and the haul line.
With one last sip of water I blast off. Jib has given me the arbitray-ish goal of finishing the pitch in 30 minutes. I have roughly 130 feet of tips crack to aid, and 30 minutes.
Challenge accepted. This could be legend…. wait for it….
I start flopping hooks in as fast as gravity will allow. Hook it--weight it--Climb it. Hook it--weight it--Climb it. Rinse, lather, repeat. I put a red C3 about 15 feet into the mix. Do a few more hook moves and clip some fixed gear as it comes (and looks good enough). After about 50 feet the fixed gear spreads out. Also, it was my intention to span the upper portion of the arc without leaving gear which would allow Jib a minimal number of lower-outs.
It was about this time that I’m maxing out my fall potential threshold with only welded stoppers to keep me up. I know my hooks are solid, so my rational brain overrides my emotional brain and I continue to climb. However, my emotional brain was screaming so loudly that I found myself literally screaming, “I’M SCARED, I’M SCARED, I’M SO #!@@#%ING SCARED!!” while plugging away at these cam hooks--which are still ultra-bombproof. I know I’m not going to pop a hook, so after 20 or so feet of my magic mantra I find myself in the middle of the Great Roof. I decided that this was the point at which I’d leave more gear to prevent the fall that would have dwarfed the earlier whipper. After clipping that stopper, there is a line of stoppers which I can just clip and traverse through. My mind gets a break and I shoot through the rest of the roof.
In total, I think I left 6 pieces, 3 low and 3 high. 35 minutes on the pitch... it felt like 3 minutes--SO CLOSE. I zip the hooks down the haul line, so Jib can re-aid through the end of the roof instead of lowering out.
At this point the wind is howling and my 20 foot loops of line are blowing horizontally around the nearby arête. The sun begins to set, and the light begins to fail. Jib joins me at the anchor, and quickly racks and takes off into the Pancake Flake--a bomber flake with amazing feet and great gear. Unfortunately for us, we can only see a tiny fragment of our universe which is contained within the LED swath of our headlamps.
Jib starts out, but quickly jumps in the ladders.. We don’t have time to muck about with trying to free this thing. We need to bivy...
After about 140 feet of aiding Jib calls off belay. I hadn’t realized how cold it had become in the wind, and my joints resist all movement. After launching the pig I begin the longest jug of the day.
At the next station, we quickly debate whether to continue or weigh anchor and put the ledge out. The debate lasted about 9 seconds and we hope we have enough clearance to set up the ledge. We’re in a dihedral and the bolt we’d like to mount the ledge on is pretty close to the corner.
Remember how the pig got caught on the lower-out after the King Swing? Yeah.. we bent a pole on the ledge. The end of a tube has been pinched and won’t fit over the joint.
The meltdown begins, emotions begin to swell and exhaustion is well established in our bones.
Jib asks for the multi-tool to fix the end of the tube, I go diving into the bag to find it. After a few seconds I pop out, and Jib with his MacGyver thinking cap has used the nose of a carabiner to wrench out the tube to a perfect fit.
The ledge goes up, we sack out. We eat “dinner” well into the eleven o’clock hour. We call the girls, hydrate, sedate and clear the decks.
Lessons learned: don’t lower the portaledge into a crack, the power of MacGyver is contained within all blonde hockey-haired men, use your own cord on gnarly 5.12- traverses--don’t trust the tat, climb faster, when in doubt--share your feelings and keep climbing, have the spare camera battery within reach of the top of the bag.
DAY 2 OVER.
DAY 3 BEGIN
We’re not fallin’ for the sleepin’ in trick again. We’re up early.
Fed and amped for summit day we snap a few quick photos (we swapped batteries in the camera), and I’m off on the longest block I’ll get on this wall. 3-5 pitches (linked, mangled and made up).
Basically it went: long pitch of awkward aid in a constricted dihedral, free climb through a trough, Beached-Whale-Technique over some ledges that made me feel like I was the 3 year old on the playground, more aid, easy free, and then the changing corners pitch.
I have been busting to get to this point, the next anchor is the end of my block (it’s been about 3 hours since we left our bivy site, probably felt like 30 hours for Jib). I have been in my aid shoes all day, my feet can’t take it anymore. I got lost on the previous pitch and just decided to “park it” in the “most comfortable looking” spot I could find.
Time to begin the Changing Corners. Everything floated into place for the first many yards, I can see some bolts that I need to hit for the mini-pendulum into the crux dihedral. I flap my way up the crack and onto the face with the bolts. A few hangers were missing, so I “choked” a few bolts with a stopper and continued. I hit the highest bolt and then it occurs to me: I’ve gone a long way since the previous anchor, this one’s gonna be close.
I call down, “How much rope!?”
“I dunno…. 30 MAYBE 40 feet”
Panic sets in: I don’t think I can stretch that much rope to the anchor…
“Hey, bub… I’m going to need every inch you can give me!”
“You got it Yeager!”
I plug through the last few moves to get within swiping distance of the anchor bolts--I’m being pulled down by the haul-line, and the lead-line doesn’t have any slack either. I grab the longest, and ONLY, sling I have left--thankfully, it’s stupid long--a 12 footer.
I eek a biner through the bolt, with my maximum reach. I now have my ladders I’m standing in, and 1 bolt clipped. I take out an ascender, and clip it to the sling. I rig the ascender on the haul-line to take the weight (yes, a single point of contact for the pig).
Almost complete relief from the ridiculous amount of strain from the rope being maxed out.
I am then able to stretch a little more out of the lead-line and get a knot for Jib to Jug on--and to hold me in for a secondary (but at this point only) personal anchor--I clipped it to the other biner on the mega-sling and grunted it into the hanger. Next I got to use my recently enhanced MacGyver skills--inspired by the evening prior--and I use my other ascendor on a daisy to pull up what little more I can for the haul line. This extra 4 inches, was enough for me to attach the hauling device onto a magic-X anchor created out of the super-sling.
I can’t remember exactly what Jib said he had to do to give me enough line for me to be able to get to the anchor, but I think it had something to do with him military pressing the haul bag while keeping me on belay--whatever was securing the pig, if it was secured, I have no idea. Everything is loaded, hanging and ready to bring Jib up.
Good, now turn the wind on.
Same-ole from here. I haul, Jacob cleans and jugs; and I am finished with my block.
We do the changeover. Jib had it all ready to go by the time he reached the anchor: I used every piece of gear, sling, and carabiner I had to get to this anchor. I hand him our “leader-bottle” dubbed “Wilson” freshly filled with delicious H2O. And he does his thing.
I summarize the final pitches, which he climbed entirely free,--save for the bolt ladder-- and our descent in poem.
My attempts with words cannot describe the grace and ease,
with which Jib sails through these granite seas.
His methods of jamming and gear plugging,
smoother than the water we’ve been chugging.
He floats and flows so free,
so glad he’s on the sharp-end--and not me.
With one of five pitches done,
Jib finds himself as our rope gun.
With haste he crosses through,
Oh look! He didn’t even tie his shoe…
To reach the “Thank God Hold’,
One must make a move most bold.
Out the roof he goes, lay-backing,
At the top of the pitch, I catch him snacking.
The pig begins to fly and sway,
I miss the shade from that last belay.
For Jib it is no matter,
someone put in a bolt ladder!
The slowest I’ve ever seen him climb,
It’s okay, he’s saved us so much time,
free-ing those last few lines--he truly crushed.
Through this journey we haven’t rushed.
As rope drag increases and his pace slows,
We find ourselves cresting “The Nose”.
Pack the bag and finish the flask,
in summit bliss we get to bask.
Hurry climbers, you’d better run.
to reach the rap stations in the failing light of sun.
In darkness we rappel and listen,
to the booming voice of Neil Degrasse-Tyson.
Okay… the last bit was TOTALLY TRUE, but I’m out of rhyming.
The walk-off was smooth with only a few bobbles, I wrenched my shoulder slipping down a slab (it made that same slurping pop sound, no bueno). We kept saying we’d bivy on top if we couldn’t find the rap lines before dark; we found the first station without a headlamp, but needed lights by the time I made it to the second station. We hit the valley floor, and after that HUGE day the walk was blistering.
We crashed the pig on the table in Camp 4 sometime around 11:00 PM, where we found a heroes welcome with hot pizza.
**Lessons learned: the comfy belay will drag you down in the end, channel your inner MacGyver, dromedary bags are the big-wall equivalent of camels--they’ll carry your water and only spit-up if you mishandle them.
DAY 3 END
We slept in the next day.
THE OFFICIAL ENDING OF THE BIG WALL TALE
There was more adventure had on this trip, but if you’ve made it this far reading you probably don’t want any more details from me.