West Face 5.11c

  • Currently 3.0/5

El Capitan

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
West Face of El Cap
Thursday April 27, 2017 2:40pm
During the back-and-forth talk in the days before the climb, general tone was uncertainty and doubt umbrella'd over a framework of stalwart optimism. When doubt began to cover everything optimism would always push back through. This is required for certain objectives! But you can’t be too smart of a person, or it will not work.

-Thing is, it could be pretty wet up there.
-Yeah, could. Freeblast was mostly dry last week though, so...
-We'd have to start damn early, but temps...?
-Uf, yeah man, not sure about those first two pitches with numb fingers...
-But we'll be warm from the approach. A good warmup.
-Definitely true. Hmm. But what about Crucifix? Or Hotline? Shorter, drier.
-Maybe. Maybe.
-Worst case scenario on the West Face? Maybe climb a bit with headlamps. Descent is easy.
-Looks like the cruxes are stacked beneath p9, and lots of cake on the higher pitches, so as long as we hit 10 by... 3?
-We can link a bunch of the higher pitches after the traverse. Maybe bring the 80m?
-Think there'll be snow up top?
-Pack? No pack?
-What about a second line?
-Definitely could be wet on some of those pitches.
-No doubt but also look at it this way could be dry...

Morning of the climb we woke up somewhere near El Portal (not the sandlot, lesson learned after a night there a while back) blinking and disoriented. Strange land for two 120 commuters/bivvyers, different vibe. Less high and quiet and cold, more earthy and roaring river and car sounds, less Sierra more foothill. No disrespect to 140 commuters.

6 a.m. a base jumper opens her parachute above us at El Cap Meadows. How high, 400 AGL? Seems lower than I've seen in the past. Perfect quiet as she maneuvers down and starts putting her kit away. Other jumpers I've seen and catalogued in the memory banks over the years flash across my eyes. Always feel a positive and protective feeling toward this tribe. After glancing toward the loop road for any rangers I'm scanning the volume of sky between El Cap and the meadow for a second jumper. But just the one this morning. Hiked up alone?

Few minutes later three walking legends pass us, check in on what we're going to go for, wish us luck, then head off hooting and laughing toward the Salathe. (year later edit: this was Honnold, Anker, Chin, about a month before AH's solo of the Freerider)

Rack sussed, we head off at 6:10, later than we intended. All of El Cap’s western flank is running in water, but optimism is bulletproof at this point. Music repeating in the head is a mix of stuff I listen to and stuff my daughter makes me put on: cumbia, Hamilton, Cass McCombs, Taylor Swift, Violeta Parra. Somebody on the Heart lines hears me complain to the pard about having Hamilton in my head and hollers down “Now I’m going to have Hamilton in my head.” The virus spreads.

7:30 we're at the base and 7:50 I'm heading off on the first lead, the phrase “All...will...be...revealed!” repeating in my head as I reach between rails and feel the runout build beneath me, drowning out the music. Climbing will sharpen up any debris blowing around the mind that way, like an empty Frito Lay bag being blown off the street into an open fire. Poof, smoke, clear street.

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What we can see of our route looks mostly dry - dummy’s optimism pays off baby!

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Some of the new’ish hardware on this climb, top of p1. I know I know, device on the ring - partner wasn’t on belay yet and I moved it before he was. Old pin lurking, relic from another time:

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View toward p2 from the belay:

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Our p4 - not often have I encountered arete positions like this in the trad game. 10/10 pitch.

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The steep, physical crux. Thought back to this awesome, awesome TR before seconding up: http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Half-Dome-Reggae-and-El-Cap-West-Face-Free-In-a-Day/t12048n.html. Key moment on this pitch for those guys. One of ST’s best TRs.

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Big traverse w some down climbing. The stone on this route is as beautiful, intricate, and awesome for climbing as everyone says. Exposure 10/10 here:

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Views up that way 10/10. Imagine the $ Kansas climbers would pay to have this obscure and mostly untouched cliff of granite transported into their state.

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Wild to look down on Sherwood and the Ribbon Amp:

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El Cap Arms:

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J Tree style .10d crack way up high saved us (temporarily) from the really nasty + wet big LFC. Big LFC got us a little higher up.

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Cam’s exif data shows 6:40 at the above picture, with only a few modest pitches under 5.8 to the top.

This next pic, first East Ledges rap, shows 3:30 a.m.?!!!?!!

That’s 6:45 to 3:30, a long 9 hrs that neither of us will soon forget, most of it spent in a semi-fugue state plodding around El Cap’s summit flanks in the grips of, in my case, a sonic phantasmagoria of cumbia, Hamilton, Taylor Swift, Cass McCombs, Violeta Parra.

//Esta vez, quiero acercarme a ti / y poder declararme hacia ti//
“Where the f*#k arrrrrrrre weeeeeee Nicoooooooo?!!!!”
We (we)... are never ever ever... getting back together!
Balance carefully across fields of snow.
//My fate’s mercy seat / sought blood to gulp and flesh to eat.//
Thrash through thick forest. Pause, breathing hard. Peer at the black silhouette of the Cathedrals across the Valley. Trudge off again.
//There’s a million things I haven’t done / but just you wait, just you wait…//
“F*#k f*#k f*#k all this maaaaaanzanita!”
//Primero perdí las plumas / y luego perdí la voz / y arriba quemando el sol.//
Whispered: “Is this the Horsetail drainage or not sweet lord what is the answer”

Repeat repeat repeat, nine hours of that. Oddly it registered as mostly pleasant. El Cap's inherent good vibes soaking up through the soles of our feet. The kind of nine-hour block of shared time that makes a friendship + partnership grow stronger.

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Long drive back to Oakland that morning. Long day drooling and nodding at desk trying to feign work. Didn't have the energy to wrestle with the dog on the floor, which landed me on her sh#t list. Fell asleep after slurring words while trying to read a bedtime story to the daughter. First epic since 2010. But: Optimism unscathed! And ready to be deployed for next time.

Gear: Small nuts, double cams to BD #2, single BD #3, + your favorite smallest cams, should be Aliens but some people just don't see it. Runners. 70m.

We pulled hard and wanted it all free but didn't get it - falls or French on the .11+ sequences, which were all dry.

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Credit: le_bruce
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  Trip Report Views: 4,970
About the Author
le_bruce is a climber from Oakland: what's not to love?


Trad climber
  Apr 27, 2017 - 03:30pm PT
Nice job boys!!

I love that route.

Those new bolts are nice.

Last time I did the route the fixed gear was verging on mank ;-)
Lynne Leichtfuss

Trad climber
Will know soon
  Apr 27, 2017 - 03:53pm PT
Super Kool TR and Pics. Optimism at its best.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Apr 27, 2017 - 04:01pm PT
Besides the music, what's not to love?

Finding a window in the weather this time of year is sweet, huh?
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  Apr 28, 2017 - 07:41pm PT
Nice TR. Great route. I even remember some of the specific shots, particularly turning the arete and the traverse. Thanks.

Big Wall climber
  Apr 27, 2017 - 04:33pm PT
Nice trip report and terrific photos. You've made me want to go do that route again, this time I'd take a camera, last time I didn't.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Apr 27, 2017 - 04:49pm PT

Yes yes yes yes yes.

Hadn't logged onto the ol Taco fer a while, and lookee lookee what pops up today. This TR is just what the doctor ordered. Nice send Brucey.


Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Apr 27, 2017 - 04:50pm PT
And we want more lurid details of the drama up on top in the dark. Do tell!!!

Social climber
  Apr 27, 2017 - 04:57pm PT
hey there, say, le_bruce...

wonderful! i am constantly amazed at you climbers... i am just a hiker, not climber--but i have loved the rocks for as long as i can remember.. (well, and trees and streams, too) ;)

say, nice fun wording, as to this quote:

Few minutes later three walking legends pass us, check in on what we're going to go for, wish us luck, then head off hooting and laughing toward the Salathe.


a bit of dessert for the hard work, :)

thanks for sharing, :)

  Apr 27, 2017 - 11:05pm PT
Thanks for the TR. The photos bring back some memories. We got a little lost around P4, going around that arete, after repeatedly consulting the topo in Meyer's guide, wondering whether to go up or L. The rest of the route was pretty obvious, and great, though.

Trad climber
  Apr 28, 2017 - 01:50am PT
Duuuuuuuuude! You are steppin' it up a notch!

I'm glad lyrics don't stick in my brain too much, otherwise I'd be bustin' out Yorktown raps in sympathy. My daughter is all over that.

Glad to see you out taking big bites.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Apr 28, 2017 - 02:52am PT
Nice job Bruce,
I feel your pain about T swizzle, lol

Balcarce, Argentina
  Apr 28, 2017 - 04:44am PT
Climbing hard!
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Apr 28, 2017 - 06:38am PT
DUDE, Nice! Wonderful TR and GREAT pics. This is just what I needed this morning after all the drama yesterday. Sometimes life is like that, and I really do appreciate the lift your write-up gave me.

Awesome climbing, hope the rest of your season goes as well.
wayne w

Trad climber
the nw
  Apr 28, 2017 - 11:27am PT
Nice one! Glad that you guys had such a fine time, in spite of a bit of moisture. Thanks for the TR!

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Apr 28, 2017 - 07:08pm PT

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Apr 29, 2017 - 04:18pm PT
Way to get it done....thanks for the tr!
Killer K

Boulder climber
Sacramento, CA
  Apr 29, 2017 - 09:16pm PT
The rock on that route looks amazing!

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Apr 29, 2017 - 10:24pm PT
good stuff, tfpu

that arête move looks sweet

Trad climber
  Apr 29, 2017 - 11:21pm PT
Wow! Just awesome TR.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Apr 30, 2017 - 12:00pm PT
It's a great route! If you liked it and got up it, try the emperor on bubbs creek wall this summer. The climbing is even better! With 2 ropes you can rap down all the way from pitch 14. Great anchors etc. Woot!!!

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Apr 30, 2017 - 08:31pm PT
Heading to the Valley next weekend... might be changing plans based on this TR, that route looks awesome!
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  May 1, 2017 - 06:28am PT
Great stuff. That was my one and only El Cap route--at the age of 18, fresh out of high school in 1980. We did a mix of free and aid. Those photos bring back so many memories. I led that overhanging crack pitch--aid, of course. Just as I cleared the lip, Ron Fawcett and Jill Kent arrived at the ledge below. He blasted right past me--no biggie as I could easily step to the side up there. Really nice guy. Zip! Then they were gone, climbing away like fiends. We still had a night to spend on the wall, which we enjoyed immensely.


Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  May 1, 2017 - 10:30am PT
drF: still some mank on this baby but not much.

Lynne: optimism FTW

Mouse: some of that music is A+ though, check this one out: [Click to View YouTube Video]. (Check out the descending keyboard riff at 1:37 and ensuing badass vocal improvs)

Roger B: that arete pitch is a gem

Levy: yup I'll definitely be back up there

Micro: No way José! The Ribbon Amp is definitely a place of power but 100% good IME. Give it another visit.

neebee - Yeah like Jordan, Magic, and Drexler walking by and wishing me luck in my next pickup game down at Mosswood.

mcreel - we got off route on the ".10dR" pitch after the traverse.

NutAgain - next weekend with your clan is going to top all of this

W.L. - heal up man

Vitaliy - you sandbagging? would need to pull through at that grade - doable?

karodrinker - it's a go but definitely wet on the last two pitches to Thanksgiving, and on the escape pitches above. don't get disheartened as you approach by how wet everything looks!

Bad - no shit! I read Kent's awesome writeup of that ascent recently. Great tone to her writing.

Everybody - thanks for the comments, had given up on ST for a while there glad this was worth it to people
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  May 1, 2017 - 03:15pm PT
Great report. A lost art.

San Jose, CA
  May 1, 2017 - 04:13pm PT
I can not recognize Nick without his glasses -, is it him?
And black helmet?
Summit shot from selfy stick of two man hugging in the dark would be nice too

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:15am PT
Alexey, yup that's your boy! Wearing my helmet b/c he forgot his + I had a spare. We had to eat the selfie stick on route.

Just learned that Honnold soloed this one as well. Hard to imagine soloing that first half of p2. It's just so insecure. Have you been up this one man? I guess you probably have.

The "three legends" we bumped into that morning in the meadow were Honnold, Chin, and Anker, and I think the monkey who was going up the fixed lines was in their crew. Small glimpse of some of the prep that happened before THE EVENT OF JUNE 3RD 2017.

dont make me come over there
  Jun 7, 2017 - 12:51pm PT
thanks for taking lots of pics, and good job! could that thing be more classic than i suspected?
El Capitan - West Face 5.11c - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Photo: Chris McNamara
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