I spent most of August seeing friends and hanging out in bars, with some climbing in between. It was enough climbing to realize i wasn't psyched as usual. I doubted I would do much in yosemite. the prospect of climbing an el cap route seemed to be much work. The vortex would probably be stronger than ever this time, i thought as i boarded the plane. I had this one plan with PK to push the Shortest Straw. God knows why that was the case while I knew I was not fit.
As I rode into the Valley and saw El Cap, my psyche took the elevator to the top floor.
Because he didn't have much time left before leaving, PK set his sights on the NIAD with Bud and hooked me up with another partner, Ben Doyle. We met in the Meadow and looked at el cap. With all due respect to the Supertopo, that seems to be the far and away best method to choose a route. We started to talk about the Native Son and how Ben had a week off. I suddenly had a partner for the route I wanted to do the most on the big stone. I could remember Ammon's stories about the golden finger of fate and the coral sea. With some party coming up, we decided to start friday, in 3 days. Back in Camp 4 it didn't take long for Ben to show up again. Lesson number 1 for this trip: if a plan is older than 20 minutes, it's probably already changed! Ben had to leave the Valley on Monday morning, we would have to start climbing Wednesday, as in tomorrow. Alright, all the better! Ha.†
It was about 8pm when we racked up while having dinner with PK and Breezy. Some of my gear was already at the base of the Straw because I had done the first pitch with Ryan on Sunday. We took every empty bottle there was in Ben's house for a total of 9 gallons, and a whole bunch of food for 4 nights and 4 breakfasts. It was the first time I took a stove up on El Cap, and in retrospect I wonder why I've never done that before.†
The next morning we took all of our stuff to the base, 2 heavy bags. Around noon, Ben got on the first pitch. After climbing up a tree, he leaned out to the wall and mantled on a small ledge.
A long pitch with some crazy hooking to pass blown circleheads near the end. I did the second pitch which is mostly fixed stuff to some hooking and easy free on the most beautiful rock. I realized that the picture that had inspired so many of my aidclimbing dreams had been taken on this pitch. A short but really scary 5.9 off-width pitch led to a manky anchor which I skipped and got right on the coral sea. After a rivet, some not so great gear and loose hooking leads to a life station in form of a #1 Lost Arrow and #0 Offset Cam. One more tricky move and good gear makes for quick progress to another rivet, from where the topo indicates "A3 heads or 5.7". Well... that's not really an accurate description. I self belayed myself with the grigri because of heinous rope drag on what I would call 5.sketch A0. Take a chalk bag and fill it with luck, you'll use it.
This pitch is a great opportunity for safe airtime.
The next day pitch 8 gave us some hope that things may indeed ease off, and I proceeded shortfixing. A few pieces off the anchor a fine film of sand indicated that a flake had said farewell here recently. The last remaining bit of it took a talon but I couldn't reach the next hook, from my second step. I didn't dare top stepping of fear of breaking the flake and got ready to use my hammer as an extension as I was flying through the air. Aaargh. The flake had broken. A little higher, as I placed a beak behind an expanding flake a little higher on the pitch, I heard a "crack!". Was that near me? I pulled on the beak a little bit causing part of flake to break off, hit my face and kick one lens out of the frame of my glasses. Dear jesus.. I reached the anchor shortly after, with a slide headache and happy to know that Ben can take over from here.
AAA++ location. Great irish whisky in a plastic water bottle. Floating above the dark in the portaledge. I love El Cap.
Ben set off the next day and I followed up the remaining pitches to the top. I left my contact lenses in the bag saving my eyes from swelling up because Ben led it all from there.
It looked different up there without glasses. The Golden Nipple was a last hurdle, and we arrived on top as it gets dark. What a sweet route...
I can't believe Ammon climbed it 23:53 with Ivo Ninov. Un - f*#king - believable. Really.
Sunday we took our stuff down and hung out with our friends. On Monday, Ben left for his vacation, and I was incredibly sore... One of the monkey stewards working with Ben is Cheyne. His ticklist for this season is impressive to say the least and I was psyched to go climbing with him. After another day of vortexing, I got to go along for the ride on the Regular Route on Half Dome with him. It was his fourth time on the route (his third time was a 10 hour solo!!), and it was a joy to climb with someone that solid on this exceptional route.
Another climbing steward, Bronson, asked me if I was interested in helping †Timmy O'Neill and his paraplegic brother Sean on their try to climb the Regular Route on Half Dome. Just having done the route a few days before, I felt confident that I could help. I had already made plans with Ben and Cheyne to climb Watkins or the West Face of El Cap, but Cheyne was in for Half Dome too and Ben supported our mission. We got some details from Timmy and the next morning, Bronson, Niels, Cheyne and I met Timmy and his crew near the staples. Plans evolved to where there would be only one party of three would go on the wall, Timmy, Sean and me. Justin Bastien would film from the ground. He brought his friends John and Grant with him.
(grant nyquist photo)
This was going to be fun. Timmy provided some rather luxurious food for our bivy at the base. Bronson and Cheyne would be available for help if necessary, and Niels would rap in from the top and put bivy gear for us on Big Sandy to where we would have to get the first day. The staples crew did some great work to make a saddle suitable for Sean and the mules carried our stuff up too. As I said, it won't get much more luxurious. A few more problems (Cheyne hiked up and then down the death slabs during the night after we realized we had forgotten some essential gear) we started climbing the next morning.
(grant nyquist photo)
This was Monday and we had to be down by Wednesday for the facelift, where I would give a slideshow and Timmy would emcee. With the late start, the low angle, bocky terrain, and the many traverses ahead, we realized after six pitches that we were biting off a bigger piece than we could chew. We bailed. It was extremely inspiring to be up there with Timmy and Sean. Against all odds, they make these adventures happen with more willpower and determination than I've ever seen before. There was a lot of courage and good energy up there. Sean would never have bailed, but we didn't s a chance of reaching Big Sandy until the next morning and decided that going down was the only prudent decision. This is the first time they had to bail off a wall, and I am sure that Sean will be back and send Half Dome.
(justin bastien photo)
Even without climbing success I still feel like everyone did great work up there and we had an unforgettable time. I can't really believe my luck on this trip, with climbing partners, new and old friends and such perfect climbing.
After my slideshow at the Facelift, I said good bye to all my friends in the Valley and got a ride to the airport by Conrad Anker. It's always a little sad to say good bye after these awesome trips. At least, this time driving to the Airport through the night was great. Conrad is definitely the man.
I will be back next year, guaranteed. And that time longer than 19 days!