West Face 5.11c
Trip ReportWest Face of El Cap
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.
-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.
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.
What we can see of our route looks mostly dry - dummy’s optimism pays off baby!
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:
View toward p2 from the belay:
Our p4 - not often have I encountered arete positions like this in the trad game. 10/10 pitch.
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.
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:
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.
Wild to look down on Sherwood and the Ribbon Amp:
El Cap Arms:
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.
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.
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.
Recent Trip Reports
Other Routes on El Capitan