This is a report of a new speed ascent on the Zodiac. No one has ever climbed the route in this time, starting from, and finishing on, my couch.
Here's our trip report:
We left San Francisco about 6am and drove to the valley. We hiked up to the base with all our gear and some water. We fixed two pitches, hiked back to the car for the haul bags, brought them up to the base. We saw a party of two on Mescalito and hollered up at them while hiking with the bags. It was fun to watch them for the remainder of the climb as we both made upward progress.
Horsetail falls was going fairly good at this point, and I got a little bit wet throughout the night at the base but it wasn't too bad.
Blast off! Woke up, pooped one last time on sweet mother earth, clipped the jummars on, and took off. It's always super exciting to blast off onto an adventure like this. So much unknown! Would I run out of food? Would it rain? Would I die?
Anyways, we worked our way up the next few pitches pretty easily. The falls got us a little bit wet especially at the top of pitch 3, however, the sprinkles seemed to lighten up by the time we got to our planned bivy at the top of pitch 7. We linked 5 & 6. Pitch 7 was pretty heads up above the black tower. The urge to hammer was strong but we resisted. The ledge at the top of seven is outstanding. Definitely good for one to sleep, but I don't know if anyone does this route without a portaledge?
We woke up, took care of business, and started climbing. Pitches 8, 9, & 10 go on forever. They were much harder than what was below. To start, everything was fairly overhung. Pitch 9 was notable for more than one stripped head. There was chalk everywhere on the smallest holds. Damn free climbers upping the grade of this aid climb! My partner tomahawked his way through this section and the hammer remained in the haul bag (I would have called out for it without hesitation, so good on him).
Let me say that I have never brought a belay seat on a wall with me before and after this day I will never again climb a wall without one. I'm thinking of just turning my belay seat into a harness. Did I say these pitches went on forever? I mean FOREVER. The nipple, or pitch 10, was going to be our last for the day as we planned to sleep at the large sheltered, albeit hanging, bivy atop this pitch.
My partner wanted this one too and I had no objections. This thing looked hard. He worked his way up the bolt ladder quickly, and then started out the traverse on small cams and nuts, back cleaning everything so I could lower off a fixed pin at the start of the traverse. At about 1/3 the way through he got spooked and started leaving gear. I said that would be fine (anything was fine if I didn't have to lead the sucker), so long as he left every piece of gear, I would be able to get everything back. A few pieces out, I've slouched forward in the belay seat, my head resting on the power point (this is a really comfy position if you haven't tried it) when suddenly I hear a sound and the gri-gri slams up into my face, I'm lifted up off the belay seat about 2 inches.
Now the only respectable thing to do in this situation is to play it off like you weren't asleep when your partner fell, right? So that's what I did. "You're ok?" He was sitting only 8-10 feet below the traverse, apparently a micronut had popped on him, and a yellow Metolius #2 caught him. Clean fall, I hoist him back to the little cam, and he puts in another piece and starts to go for it again. I fall back asleep (not really, but there IS a reason I use a gri-gri) and BAM, he falls again. Yellow cam catches again, I hoist him back up again and am started to get a little worried. I really don't want to lead this thing now! I gently remind him that that the topo recommends leap-frogging cam hooks the whole way. He doesn't like that idea, but puts one in, it holds, and off he goes. For about 20 feet without any gear. We both know I'm not getting that yellow cam back and he's ok with it, so I'll just lower out off it. A small sacrifice for the big stone. He finished the pitch, I jug up bolt ladder, lower off the pin, clean a few cams, am up to the yellow one that has now caught 2 falls and begin to set up to lower off of it, when POP! It rips out! I had most of my weight on the cam at this point which caused a fall right on to my jummars. I haven't had that pleasure before. I fell, swung, and popped a bunch of small gear above me (less cleaning). As soon as I realized what happened I screamed loudly. I didn't know my voice could go that high! My partner, above, was oblivious.
Got that yellow cam back at any rate.
Anyways, finished the pitch, partner had the ledge setup by the time I got up to the belay (I think I jugged extra slow after that fall). It was getting dark. All day for 3 pitches! Slow!
During the night we slept fine, but were woken up by some massive rock fall. It was my turn to sleep on the inside of the ledge and when I heard this massive sound, I immediately knew what it was and just instinctively turned into the wall, clutching one of the ledge straps. It was over. I was gonna die.
That didn't happen, the fall was east of us, and we fell back asleep after trading a few "Oh, shit! We're gonna die!" remarks.
We planned on sleeping on peanut ledge the following night and then toping out the day after, but checking weather that morning it looked like there was a storm brewing so we decided to push as far as we could and hopefully do two days of climbing in one and summit that night.
Our friends over on Mescalito were bivyed on a nice looking ledge and didn't move all day. Rest day for them!
The wind really picked up this day and the temp dropped. I was wearing a huge puffy most of the day. We go to peanut ledge around 5pm, but neither of us wanted to stay. We decided that the next 3 pitches looked short and easy-ish. So we would go for it. The wind died down around sunset. We ended up topping out a little before midnight. I wish someone had seen/videotaped us trying to get the bags over the top. It was so awkward, we were so wrecked, I imagine everyone on the 'taco would have really enjoyed watching that fiasco.
MOTHER F*#KING RINGTAIL CATS!
You guys know the story; it's been told before. We were exhausted when we topped out. I couldn't even hold a can of soup up to eat out of it. Fell asleep with gear everywhere. This is not the first time that this same thing happened to me. I should know better. But I'm a slow learner.
So just before dawn, I hear a noise, there is a ring-tail cat in my haul bag (I left it open). He runs off, I fall asleep, he comes right back! Some screaming and chasing and he's gone for good. In the morning, I discover he's taken my cinnamon raisin bagels. Which is the same food they stole the last time they got into my stuff over on the Column! Interesting choice, but it seems that they have a preference.
It wasn't a big deal (other than the poor form of feeding the wild life) because we had topped out a day early so I had plenty to eat still.
The east-ledges descent was hard, long, and painful. It always is--I needn't go into more detail. One day I'd like to do this without a bag just to see how easy it would be!
In spite of the weight on our backs, we were happy! Summit!
The whole route went clean for us, although I would not judge anyone who busts out the hammer on some of those sections.
We drove back to SF that night and made it all the way back to my couch by 8pm without dying!
Climbing walls is fantastic. I remember the first night I spent in a portaledge. I was out of my mind with fear. It was on Lurking Fear, top of pitch 5 and I made my partner bail the following morning. I swore off all climbing for good.
Only, slowly, the obsession crept back in. I could not believe I had failed. Of course, we went back and did that route. There was some drama, some fear. But we made it. Later we did the Nose, and our style had improved further.
This was my 3rd time up El Capitan, and I know it won't be my last. With each summit there has been decreasing length of time before I get the bug and have my eyes fixed on a new line. That length of time used to be months. Now it is hours.
It was Big Oak Flat, precisely, where my partner said, "What's next? The Shield?"
YER GONNA DIE.