Trip Report
The night I topped out on the nose
Saturday August 16, 2014 6:40pm
My friends have heard this story before, but I wanted to post it here, just because it was a hell of a deal.

The year was 1979, and Michael Paul and I were on day 4 of the nose route on El Cap. It was our first big wall, and we had made every rookie mistake along the way, but now we were 2 pitches from the top with daylight running out. I led the pitch up to the base of the summit overhang, and I couldnt get a good anchor in the horizontal cracks there. Back then there werent bombproof anchors at every belay like there are now, and I only had one 1/4 inch bolt and these awkward cracks. So i burned most of the remaining daylight screwing around with the anchor, and darkness was falling as Mike took off on the overhang. It got dark when he was halfway up the first overhang, so he lowered a loop of rope and pulled up our only headlamp.

Mike started complaining about rope drag as he turned the second tier of the overhang, and by the time he got to the lip he couldnt pull the rope any more. As it turned out, he had clipped every bolt as protection rather than every third or fourth, same as i had done on the great roof - so no wonder he had such bad drag. So Mike yelled down that he had some anchors and was going to setup a belay, because the 5.7 slab wouldnt be possible with so much rope drag.

So i hung there in the darkness forever while Mike set up a belay. It was a pitch black and moonless night, and I couldnt see my hand in front of my face. Finally Mike yelled down that he was off belay. We decided that it would be safer for me to follow the pitch on belay rather than jug the fixed line, which would mean taking the ascender off the rope and putting it back on over and in the dark. So Mike took up the slack to put me on belay, leaving a long loop of rope hanging from the belay. We had been lowering the haul bag out with our spare rope the whole way, but i decided to just let it swing this time, and i did. This is where our real problems started.

Unbeknownst to us, the haul bag was circling round and round the hanging loop of slack as Mike hauled it up, and when he got the bag to the belay there was a beach ball sized knot on top of the haul bag. He had to really crank to get the bag high enough to clip in, and in doing so pulled the knot into the hauling rig and cinched it tight. Mike yelled down that he had a huge knot and couldnt get it undone. He tried to untangle it for a long time, then the headlamp died.

I had been hanging in this belay for hours and told him to bring me up and we would figure it out. He put me on belay and i started out the first overhang, feeling for the bolt ahead, clipping, stepping then feeling behind me for my other aider. It was slow work, all by feel. I had just clipped the last bolt on the second overhang, and when i stood on it, it pulled out. I fell backwards about 12 feet and came to a stop with my head lower than my feet and spinning like the second hand on a clock. I was completely in space, and as i turned in circles i saw the distant lights of yosemite village then black rock. Twinkly lights, black rock. Funny thing is that we used hip belays the whole way. We didnt even have a belay device, so i was hanging off Mikes waist.

Mike was making horrible grunting noises as i clipped my ascenders to the rope and jugged back up to the next bolt. When i clipped in and unweighted Mikes waist we both heaved a sigh of relief. I will be forever indebted to Mike for that life saving belay. I climbed up to the belay and took the light from mike. It was dim but worked, and when i saw the anchors i about had a heart attack. We were on vertical, featureless rock with our haul bag, and the entire anchor was three 1/4 inch bolts, only one of which had a hanger. Mike had used wired stoppers to clip the other two hangerless studs. I set to work trying to undo the knot, but it was hopeless, then the light died again.

We hung there in the dark with our big ol knot as the seriousness of our situation settled in. If i had been thinking right I would have unclipped and had Mike belay me using the free rope that i had just come up on. But we were both a bit frazzled and somebody had to do something, so i pulled up the rope loop and tied the end to my harness in a big granny knot, and gave the double rope to mike to belay me. I stepped onto the haul bag, then mikes shoulder, then i stepped onto the slab. Its probably 11pm by now and im standing in pitch darkness at the very lip of el cap, wearing a pack and my worn out vasque ascenders, climbing on a double rope hip belay off a manky anchor. I turned on the light and it gave me a poof of light and died, but i could see a line of scoops leading up and left, so i followed them by feel to where the rock steepened. Another poof of the headlamp and i saw a flake, then liebacked it in the dark. I was now way off the belay with no protection, so gripped i thought i would barf. Once on top of the flake another poof showed a low angle slab, and i started sketching my way up it in the dark. It was probably 5.6 but felt like 11d, greasy and without holds. I still hadnt found any protection and was at my wits end on this slab. I got to a point where i could use the light again and poof....i saw it, the most beautiful sight in the world, a little tree maybe 4 feet tall, with a trunk about as thick as my wrist. I knew if i could get to Mr tree we would live. I also knew that if i fell i would pull the belay and we would take the long ride.

The last bit of slab seemed extra greasy as i inched my way up in stark terror. Then i grabbed mr tree and tied him off. The relief was indescribable. I fixed a rope to Mr tree and used an ascender to get back down to mike. So how were we going to get the haul bag up with no haul line? We decided that on the count of 3 he would unclip it and i would pull it up over the lip. Dropping the bag would probably pull the anchors, mr tree and all, so excitement was running high right then. We counted 3, mike unclipped the bag and i swung it up with all my might, realizing in mid swing that i had nowhere to put it. so I swung it up onto the slab behind my legs and held it there with the friction of my shoes, the toes of which were over the lip and pointed at the void. Mike somehow unclipped and launched into a really difficult looking mantle, and managed to get onto my tiny stance, where we jostled like drowning men for secure footing.

Mike clipped his ascender into the rope and together we pushed and pulled the bag up the slab, with mr tree our only anchor. We passed at least 4 bolts on the way up that i had missed in the dark. When we finally got ourselves and the bag on top, we couldnt get to our bivy gear due to the knot, so we laid down in the coffin like cracks in the capstone and shivered ourselves to sleep. The next morning we saw that mr tree was actually only 6 feet from the lip, and we had been wakling all around it in our socks the night before! Aye twas the best of times and the worst of times.....

  Trip Report Views: 1,190
gonamok
About the Author
gonamok is ron amick a climber from Poway, CA

Comments
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Rudder

Trad climber
Costa Mesa, CA
  Aug 16, 2014 - 06:49pm PT
Great and scary story! TFPU
looks easy from here

climber
Ben Lomond, CA
  Aug 16, 2014 - 06:55pm PT
Ho! Ly! CRAP! Awesome epic, at least looking back at it. Probably less awesome during. Thanks for sharing.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Canada
  Aug 17, 2014 - 05:44am PT
Really good !
crøtch

climber
  Aug 16, 2014 - 07:38pm PT
Great story, Ron!
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Aug 16, 2014 - 07:43pm PT
Unbelievable. Thats Supertopo gold right there man. Stuff like this every once in a while makes super topo all the worthwhile. I hope this story becomes legend.

Do you mind me asking your guys names? Or at least where you guys were from? When I tell it around the campfire it'll sound so much better than "this guy on super topo."

Thanks for sharing a blast from the past.

-scott
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Aug 16, 2014 - 08:01pm PT
Wow! My palms are still sweating! What a great story!
TLP

climber
  Aug 16, 2014 - 09:53pm PT
HO, MAN. That's an absolute classic, incredibly well written. Even someone who's never been there would be just right there with you, just about puking into the office trash can from the terror and physical duress. Glad you lived to tell about it! Got any more like that? (Actually, I kind of hope not, can't imagine how many years would be sheared off your life if you had very many of those epics.)
KP Ariza

climber
SCC
  Aug 16, 2014 - 10:42pm PT
Real McCoy sh#t.
The ascent yes, but especially the written account of it. I was sixteen years old that year. Did the route four years later with a good friend who was only eighteen at the time. To his credit, we swapped leads as well. We had epics of our own, the worst of which was a day two near strike by granite scuds. Big peices cut loose by a team near the top. Funny thing, I can barely remember what was for breakfast yesterday, but I can recall in vivid detail those three days of my life. That and many others in that big ditch.
Great read.
gonamok

climber
dont make me come over there
Author's Reply  Aug 17, 2014 - 12:02am PT
micronut, im Ron Amick and my partner was Michael Paul, both San Diego climbers
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Aug 17, 2014 - 06:48am PT
What a great and gripping tale. TFPU
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Aug 17, 2014 - 08:04am PT
Nice story.....certainly kept my attention!
PhilG

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
  Aug 17, 2014 - 08:36am PT
Great trip report,
I dropped the mouse, my hands were sweating so much!
So glad you didn't fall on the slab.
Tami

Social climber
Canada
  Aug 17, 2014 - 08:41am PT
Awesome story. Epic. Glad Mr Tree was excellent. A imagine there's quite a few of us on this forum who owe our lives to trees in a very literal manner.
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Aug 17, 2014 - 12:41pm PT
eeeeyowza!! it's good to make it through the clueless years.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
  Aug 17, 2014 - 03:38pm PT
Well-written and positively gripping. Amazing the Ole Cascading Errors Phenomenon wasn't on duty that night! Thanks!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 17, 2014 - 05:31pm PT
Awesome, well written!!!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Aug 17, 2014 - 08:20pm PT
Thanks for a good laugh!

We've all had top-outs nearly that bad. Well, actually not.

Well, we've all had pitches and belays that bad. Well, actually not.

But hey - we've all cheated death like that a time or two! So there ya go.
FRUMY

Trad climber
Bishop,CA
  Aug 17, 2014 - 08:26pm PT
Great post thanks.
Johannsolo

climber
Soul Cal
  Aug 18, 2014 - 07:35am PT
Great Ron. Come on up to Suicide.
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Aug 18, 2014 - 08:06am PT
Thanks man. Our children's children will talk of this tale.
mongrel

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
  Aug 18, 2014 - 01:20pm PT
Bump. This needs to stay on page 1 for a while longer.
gonamok

climber
dont make me come over there
Author's Reply  Aug 18, 2014 - 09:26pm PT
Great Ron. Come on up to Suicide.

Jonny i might just do that if you dont mind climbing some easy 5.10. Im actually climbing alot better than last time i saw you (which isnt saying much, lol) Ill give you a call
drljefe

climber
El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
  Aug 19, 2014 - 07:12am PT
Epic!!!
thekidcormier

Gym climber
squamish, b.c.
  Aug 19, 2014 - 09:47am PT
SNAFU!

Great story Ron. It's not hard to tell how embedded in your memory that experience is.

Funny how much you can learn from totally botching the sequence. I'd imagine you managed to avoid unwanted knots in your haul line ever since.

Thanks for the share.

-Luke
W.L.

climber
Edge of the Electric Ocean Beneath Red Rock
  Aug 19, 2014 - 09:55am PT
fantastic and gripping tale! thanks for sharing!
gonamok

climber
dont make me come over there
Author's Reply  Aug 22, 2014 - 03:16am PT
post script: Other notable moments on this climb

When we started the route we found that one of Mikes ascenders wasnt reliably gripping the rope, so we bailed from the top of pitch 1. We had bailed on our previous 2 walls, and as we walked out we decided no way we were going to give up this easy. We would use mikes ascenders for hauling only, and start again in the morning. We filled our water bottles in the creek and headed back up, finding a nice little bivy spot just off the trail. In the wee hours of the morning we were awakened by voices, someone coming down the trail from the crag. It was Mike Lechlinski and John Yablonski, and Yabo looked like he had been dragged behind a car for a couple miles, contusions and scrapes all over him. They were going for the speed record on the triple direct route, and yabo had taken a full pitch fall. Just as he was about to hit the ledge next to mike, the rope caught on something above and saved his life. Mike said that the rope caught yabo only 8 feet off the ledge, and after he lowered Yabo to the ledge the rope unhooked itself up above and fell down.We gave them some water and they headed down to the creek to tend to Yabos wounds.

2 days later we were just waking up on dolt tower when we heard voices in the stoveleg crack below us, even though there had been nobody on sickle ledge the night before. Before we could do anything, John Bachar joined us on the ledge, followed by Mike lechlinski. They were in the process of setting the speed record on the nose at that time, which was 9 hours and some change. Bachar was leading every pitch and Mike was jugging and cleaning. They were on top of texas flake before we had the haul bag packed.

That same day had an interesting ending. Our target was camp 4, but we were moving slow and darkness fell when mike had just finished leading the 4th class ledges pitch. The pitch starts with a short section of crack, then a pendulum from the end of the crack over to a series of flakes that are perched on a 2 foot wide ledge. I barely had enough rope to lower across the pendulum to the edge of the ledge, and the next piece was a big hex behind a flake that was sitting on the ledge. The hex was fine for mike to lead off of, because he was pulling it to the left, but i was pulling it to the right, and the hex had walked itself to the edge of the flared placement it was in and would have come out, but the edges were caught on some little bumps in the rock. I knew that the moment i unweighted that hex it was going to fall out. The pitch traverses horizontally from there and i had no idea where the next piece was, but since it was easy climbing assumed that it wasnt real close. If i pulled the rope through the pendulum point behind me and that hex blew i would fall until the next piece (hopefully) caught me, then take a swinger and end up having to jug back up to the ledge off of whatever held me, while hoping it didnt blow too. The only thing i could see to do was the keep the hex weighted, pull the pendulum rope and in the same motion grab the edge of the ledge and mantle up onto it, and thats what i did. I was hampered by the fact that we had been clmbing for 12 hours straight, and i had completely blown my arms out freeing a stuck haul bag on the previous pitch. I pulled the trail rope and as i hucked for the ledge, the hex fell out and the rope sagged in a long loop, meaning the next piece was not close at all. The ledge was flat and slick, with no edges, just a corner like the top of a brick wall, and i was hanging from it by both hands with my blown out arms fully extended. The 165ft 11mm back rope was hanging from my harness, i was wearing a pack and had a giant rack under each arm. Of course my hands were sweaty too, so it added up to the equivalent of a 5.13e mantle. The penalty for failure was a massive swing into darkness that would not be good. My first heave produced no upward motion whatsoever, whereby my fight or flight mechanism kicked in and i began to press out the mantle in a desperate adrenaline fueled effort. Just when i was almost high enough to belly onto the ledge, the rack caught on the bottom and stopped me. I was forced to do sort of a vertical version of the worm, with my arm at 3/4 extension to free the rack, and when i finally heaved myself onto the ledge i was a completely spent, shivering, shell-shocked wreck. After a rest i made my way to the belay and our bivy for the night, a 2 foot wide section of ledge about 5 feet long, one pitch below camp 4. The next morning we were eating breakfast when we heard rockfall bearing down on us. We jumped up and hugged the wall, only to have a base jumper fly past our ledge head down, no more than 20 feet out from the wall. the noise was the rustling of his flight suit. Talk about a shock, seeing someone fall past you like that. He didnt deploy until real low, it was a sketcky looking jump.

2 pitches higher, i forgot to clip the haul line onto mikes harness when he took off to lead the pitch before the great roof, and i had to perch the bag, unanchored, on a little ledge and take the haul line up to mike. The thought of the bag falling off of its perch and dropping a full rope length on a rope that was clipped to my harness occupied my mind for the entire time i cleaned that pitch.

It was a sporting ascent to be sure, and having survived it we made sure that subsequent walls were climbed in a more recommended fashion. Silly youth, we thought we were happy...
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