Being afraid is relative to the situation you are in. If you are afraid while truly knowing you are in no danger, are you really that gripped? I may have employed the method of whispering "Jaysen, you are a f*#king badass" to myself more times than I care to admit, but that's how we got it done. We climbed the shield on El Capitan, my 5th bigwall in the span of the summer and mickey's 8th.
It all began as zodiac did. We were fresh off the wall and felt like zodiac wasnt too much of an ordeal, so why not do..... another? Mickey threw around the idea of climbing the Shield. As I let it ferment in my soul, it soon surfaced and all it took was a facebook message to get mickey in the valley a few days later. I was fully aware this was going to be a bit more of a beast, but photos of monkeys on the triple cracks really looked outrageous. Out came the red tarp to start sorting gear.
9 Beaks: 2sm 3med 4lg
8 Sawed Angles
2 sets: offset micronuts
cams: 3ea .33-.75
2 ea offset cams
1 ea hooks
8 gallons o' water
1 ghetto blaster
Pre Hauling Day
Mickey and I met up, packed our bags and with the goal of pre hauling to mammoth, set off for a half day of exciting happenings. We had 2 bags, one el cap size bag and my halfdome size bag, this is the biggest haul either of us have ever done so we learned some lessons real quick. Hiked loads to the base and jugged the fixed lines up mammoth. Hauling sucked with that much weight and forced us to resort to a 3 to 1 a couple of times. We hauled to mammoth, docked our bags and took a rest day to look at the mountain and get scared.
...Drank a bunch of cobra
We woke up not too early, kicking off with some breakfast at the coffee corner and off we went to the bridge to start. Hiking to the base we past a peculiar party of two in the meadow, after a few seconds of wondering why this aura of badass was so thick in the air (I knew it couldent be me), it rang up in my head HOLY F*#KING SH#T THATS CHRIS MAC AND SEAN LEARY! We chatted with them aslong as we could without being "those guys" and waltzed to the base of free blast. There was 2 parties on the first pitch... one was hauling three bags... we then learned that this guy was taking to newbies up triple direct and the other team was currently passing them. Why you would haul up freeblast, I dont know but regardless the route was clogged so mickey and I decided not to loose a day and just jug to mammoth and start there. I was pretty stoked someone els was actually going to be on the wall with us! Until now whenever mickey and i have been on the captain we had been all alone (it was to happen again, that party of three bailed that day). Off we went on the first pitch, the most wandering and low quality of the route.... and it was even kinda fun. P2 I got the 170 foot c2 pitch which was an exelent warmup to the route, as was p3 for Mickey. p4 SUCKED, it was this chimney I was too much of a baby to free and reinforced my new notion that "awkward" written on the topo actually means "this is awful just free it". Got to gray ledges and set up camp. I gave mickey the ledge to himself for the first night and opted for the natural ledge. We fixed a pitch to p5 and off to sleep.
Today's original goal was to make it to the hang between the two crux pitches. We woke up again not very early and ate some peanutbutter bagles and canned fruit. Mickey cruised the 160 foot c2 corner up p6 and it was my turn for the 160 foot c3 left leaning dihedral leading to the shield roof. I was not afraid of C3 at this point, even thought the amount of C3 ive done could be counted on one hand, I was confident. On the previous pitch mickey had stopped 20 feet before to marked belay on the topo because the haul was better making my pitch somewhere around 180 feet. Pins still in the bottom of the bag, I made my way half way through the traversing digedral and found myself on my 2 smallest offset microcams. I yelled down to mickey as everybody does like every 2 moves "watch me mickey" before he knew it I picked him right out of his belay seat and being eye to eye with him we both burst out laughing. Sometimes scary things like taking a 40 foot fall are just funny. Regardless this was my first aid fall and after re racking the 3 pieces that ripped I immediately jugged back up not allowing time for fear to set in. Got the pitch done and now it was mickey's turn to take us through the portal to the new world... The shield roof. This was thought to be not such an ordeal. Still we pulled out the rack of sawed off's from the bag and racked them because the roof had alot of fixed pins (thank god we did). This was a benchmark moment in my bigwalling career, belaying (yes belaying) mickey on this pitch. Until this point we were just on el cap as we had been before, but entering the headwall freaked me out more than I had anticipated. I have never been afraid of exposure in my entire life, nothing from the nose or zodiac even entertained a second thought, but belaying a slightly shaken mickey up the shield roof into the howling wind was something in its own rank. As his feet went out of view and all i could hear was the ...ping...ping...ping of his hammer in the howling wind, I knew things has just gotten slightly more real. Knowing there was 0% chance of hearing mickey (we sussed our our commands via sequence of actions) I started cranking AC/DC from the coveted ghetto blaster. I learned that the best way to handle fear is to become a part of it, convince yourself that becoming one with what you are afraid of puts you at the same metaphysical level of your fear. I just became as badass and scary as the howling wind on the headwall so how could it hurt me? Mickey fixed the line and hauled, as I lowered the bag out I then had a real life representation of how much fun the remainder of the route was going to be, the bag was 40 feet out from the wall. I treated the shield roof as a 1 way portal into the unknown, by committing to the roof, I knew there was no way I was going to bail. The dynamic between Mickey and I is that its always easier just to go up, even if it was some a5 whoreshow, im usually more afraid of rapping. Regardless, there was no way we would down aid the roof and we were past the point of no return and committed to the crux pitches of the route. Arriving to the belay to a mickey I hadent seen in a while, I stoked him up and set off on the longest pitch like ever. I'll spare the details but p9 felt like it was 200 feet (only 170) and i was WAY stoked to have finished my leading for the day. At the base of the groove, what was to mickey's lead we both simultaneously agreed to bivy below the "crux" pitch of the route and gaze at it for the afternoon.
Today was "the big day". Sleeping on the headwall was surreal. It was everything all the dreams I had of being a real climber entailed. To get to experience that position and remain calm and happy was easily achieved. Also, belay the next 2 pitches out of the portaledge was CLUTCH. At this point I had taken most of the longer pitches and the groove was only 90 feet. Mickey really wanted the triple cracks so I decided to take it easy on myself seeing how I had inadvertently gotten most of the harder climbing to this point. The groove with the technology of the beak is no longer the crux of the route. All the dead rurps were really awful, It seemed so unnecessary. I used alot of large beaks and my 2 small peckers near the end and romped the hang bolt ladder. It was really secure and I climbed it in half an hour. WAY STOKED that was out of the way we flagged the ledge to the base of the triple cracks and I set in for a comfy belay. Mickey super stoked that went so fast got up and racked for the trip cracks, we were hoping for chickenhead ledge that day so getting that head start was really nice. Mickey made his way up the triple cracks with a good strategy. The triple cracks are trisected by bolts connecting the cracks, so at each bolt upon transfuring to the next crack he would go down and back clean that section to get his angles and beaks for the next. Somehow we only had 1 1in angle, something we place like 5 times every pitch so there was alot of back cleaning goin on (thank god for the funk-ness!). Mickey took down the triple cracks and we felt like we had gotten over the hump. We dident. I found the following 2 pitches the crux of the route. First, flagging the ledge in the wind ended up shaking violently and crashing against the wall so that got put to an abrupt stop, also the wind was just a little eerie so these pitches ended up being "get it done" pitches. P12 was the hardest for me on the entire wall. Another rope streatcher, but this time rated at c4 a2, I basically went from a nailing gumby to guru. This pitch was so tenuous because it was restrictive. I couldent place a cam as far as i could reach, I could only place a pin at my face and move up to the next scar that was just out of reach and back clean to move up. I placed the same angle 1in angle 7 times on this pitch and will never forget it nor the lesson I learned. (note: the 1.25 angle was crucial for me on this pitch(im 6 foot tall)) It took me 2 hours of looking up and being taunted by the triple bolt anchors. Mickey took the next pitch in the same fashion and romped the bolt ladder. SO STOKED we were going to make it to chicken head in the light, I did p14 in 15 mins (mostly fixed with a little free climbing) AND WE ARRIVED AT THE BEST LEDGE ON THE PLANET! The exposure of the headwall instantly perished and again we were coexisting in the real world as mere mortals. There was some much needed hooting and screaming of profanity as we layed foot on a non artificial means of standing. Very confident about the following day, it was a relaxed night. Mickey and I joked about what the R meant in my C3R pitch i had the following day and ate a shitload of spaghetti o's and chili. Mickey crashed and I took a few reflective moments and joined.
Today was a 6 pitch day, I knew it was going to be work but I dident care, I was damn well ready to top this bitch out. I woke mickey up early and he slammed out his last C3 pitch. And again with my C3 P16 where I actually was stoked to have the number 5 (thought you can get around it). All the hard climbing out of the way we were STOKED. Mickey got the primp c2+ corner to the roof where i got to do some pin clipping on p18. I volunteered for the following 5.7 slot pitch. Racking on my harness again felt SO GOOD. There is now a bolt about a quarter the way up the route which is cool. Topped it out and mickey took the 4th class to the top and hauled. WE MADE IT! I knew this was my last el cap route this summer and therefor my last topout on the captain. It was a big deal to me. I had arrived to the valley 3 months earlier with a job working for DNC and aspiration to MABY climb the nose by the time I left. I had demolished my goals by a multiple of 5 and committed to some of the most monumental achievements in my life. As I write this trip report in the airport on ym way back to NY, college, work, no bigwalls, and a more certain life. I envy those moment spent on the top of the mountain, those sparse seconds of glory, glory with nobody there to be happy for me but myself and my partner.
(not a part of the trip report)
Bigwall climbing has been the most badass sh#t ive done in my life. One of the reasons it was so cool is its something I was capable of doing all by myself. With parents that arent huge fans of my decision to come to yosemite I got to do something under my own power that was important to me. Although working for DNC sucked (until I quit) that was the only way I could be in the valley. Finding something I love so much is inspiration to treat school just the same as walls. Knowing I will be back (new dawn and mescalito next) leaving the valley was a bit easier than I thought. After a badass summer im going back to school where noone will understand what I did and it doesn't matter, because the only people worth impressing are you guys on supertopo. Keep climbing walls and posting tr's, because I am now temporarily becoming a reader as opposed to a writer. And even though im not 16 like mickey (im 19) I guess I can now pride myself a wall climber.
As in my favorite Bigwalling song, "for those about to rock, I jaysen henderson salute you"