Trip Report
Zodiac in a day and a bit with a blind dude
Sunday June 9, 2013 8:04pm
Been quite an up and down week here in the valley. We arrived as just as they lifted a dead British climber from El Cap, and people are quite down due to another fatality on el Cap the week before (I've never seen El Cap so quite). We spent a few days fixing ropes on Tribal Rite, trying to dodge the sun, but I hadn't heard from Karen for a few days and so texted her 'Are you alive? XA' only to get a message back:

'Don't panic but I'm in Carlile hospitalÖ got hit by a car on bike. V lucky. Sleeping off the shock and bruises. Not sure how long I'll be in yet but don't worry and climb well X'

Credit: Andy KP
Credit: Andy KP

Karen being hit by a car had been something I'd been expecting for as long as I've known her, and it was never a question of if, but when - and if she would just be dead or badly injured (when you only have a small percentage of your body working, there's not much real-estate left to break). I called her straight away and could tell from her voice it wasn't good. She'd been hit from behind by a car going fast down some lanes, the sun low so the driver didn't even see her, and thought he'd just hit a sign. All Karen remembers was an impact, then laying in the road seeing the driver running back to her and holding her and telling her not to fall asleep (the ambulance took an hour an half to arrive).

Once in hospital they X-rayed her and said she was OK to go home (?), but luckily a friend came round to check she was OK, and by morning she was back in a ambulance and has been in hospital (Carlyle) ever since, having Cat and MRI scans (she has blood in her spinal fluid, and her right arm was not moving - which is not surprising as she has bloody tire marks on her shoulder). One inch the other way and she would be dead.

As you can imagine I was all for jumping in my car and flying home, but she was insistent I stay (Steve has spent a year training to climb El Cap with my help, and I'm sure she knows how much this means to him). She told me she was fine, and so I asked for her mate Simon's number to talk with him (Simon had been at the hospital, and being a trained paramedic was a good judge of how bad things were). Of course by the time his number appeared via text I knew she'd primed him, and so the answer was 'Stay in Yosemite', with a number of texts coming from other people saying the same thing.

"Just wait until I have my scans back before deciding what to do" said Karen.

I was left with a million dark thoughts, worse being what if her arm never came back to life? For Karen it would be as good as game over, being unable to do anything she had before (tranfare into a wheel chair, ride a handbike, drive a car). I selfishly thought about our life together, and what it would mean for me, and if we'd be strong enough to face it, by which I mean me.

Then I get a text from Simon, saying not to go climbing unless I could totally focus on being safe, with no distractions with thoughts of Karen.

I came back and told Steve (we had our ropes fixed two pitches up a route and were going to blast the following day) what had happened, and found myself feeling a bit in shock, and very upset (if I'd been with her maybe she'd have been OK - but then I hate cycling these days as I think it's unjustifiably dangerous).

I knew what Steve was thinking - was this it - was I going home, but he never said it - I know this means so much to Steve, who in a few months could be totally blind.

We went down to El Cap bridge to work out what to do now, and for some reason I just needed to get climbing and take my mind of this. I kept talking to people ("Hey - You're Andy Kirkpatrick - I love you dude") but as soon as I forget aboytr Karen I get hit by the reality again like a ghost passing through me. "Maybe we should just go and climb El Cap in a day" I said to Steve, "Like do Zodiac - starting tomorrow morning at 5am".

As I said Steve has been practicing in a quarry for a year for this trip (he only has 10% vision left - I kept saying 20% but was wrong - so he's got a ton of other stuff to deal with), so me suddenly coming up with a one day ascent was probably a bit radical (this would be Steve's first big wall to boot).

"I'll lead it all" I added "and I promise it'll be safe".

"Yah OK" said Steve, and so we went up and slept at the base. Below is Steve's account of the climb:

Credit: Andy KP
As I fell asleep again Andy pushes on in the dark. His stamina is remarkable. 1600 feet off the ground I hang off two bolts holding a rope the only thing that links us together apart from the need to climb. I struggle to hold up the weight of my own head as I drift off again, Iíve turned my head torch off to save the batteries so I hang in darkness. Iím shocked awake as Andy pulls more rope through my belay plate as he makes valuable progress, I turn my torch on to check the time itís 1:17am. My mind wakes up for a minute to compute what we doing and where we are.
At 4am the pervious day we woke up from the worst night sleep we have had, Andy slept on an ants nest and was woken by hundreds of ants crawling all over him along with tooth ache. I just couldnít seem to settle, maybe with the fear of what was to come. We dragged ourselves to the base of Zodiac a route on El Capitanís 3000ft granite mass. Our plan is to try and climb it in a day. I have never climbed a big wall before and this will rack up 20 ascents of this great rock face for Andy. I watch as Andy eats a cold tin of beans and I almost throw up, Iíve never been good at eating food in the morning. At 5am we set off. This style of speed climbing relyís on skills, fitness and maybe a bit of luck.
Itís now 2:30am and Andy to pulls onto Peanut Ledge just 3 pitches from the summit, he yells down to me that we need to stop and sleep, part of me wants to keep pushing on but a bigger part just whatís to be asleep safe and comfortable in bed. As I arrive at the ledge itís only 12 foot long and maybe 2 wide at best. We attempt to sort gear and give up, our bodies not wanting to give another ounce of energy. We only have one sleeping bag, a bivi bag and a roll mat cut in half between us to sleep. Andy kindly offers me the sleeping bag, maybe heís seen how I feel through my heavy eyes. I tie in and lay down. All I want to do is sleep but my body wont let me, maybe its paying me back for what I have put it through in the last 22 hours. 3 hours later we are back on the move. We have little water between us, at 6am itís already heating up. This is a dangerous place to be now and we need to move quick.
As I pull over the top Iíve climbed my first big wall. Andy welcomes me into a club in which he has made a name for himself, itís a small club and I feel privileged. Itís mid day and after 31 hours Iím wrecked, my body not feeling like my own. We sit on top of the ĎCaptainí in the shade of the trees recovering before the 2 hour decent, we fall asleep in intense heat.
As we pack the haul bags Andy asked me if he told me about the system we would be using to speed climb and I answer no. We both laugh. I ask him why he came up with a plan to climb Zodiac in a day when we have never climbed before, he scruggís his shoulders.
Maybe itís trust, maybe we are stupidÖÖÖÖ.

All the way up the wall I kept wondering if this might be the last time I climb in Yosemite, considering what it would be like to have to care for someone (I know it's morbid but there you go), but mostly I thought about the climbing. That's the good thing about climbing. Half way up the wall I stopped and waited for Steve and I texted Karen to say that we were half way up Zodiac, and that whatever happened we'd get through it together. This was my sixth time up Zodiac, my 20th time up El Cap, if I was strong enough to face the commitment of this (no portaledge, no sleeping bag, only enough water for one day) I must be strong enough to face what fate would bring.

When we reached the top I guess the word 'tired' doesn't cover it, but the first thing I did was switch on my phone and see what the results where, getting a text saying that they showed torn ligaments in her neck (but no fracture) and localized impact to her shoulder that should recover in six weeks and a nice picture of Karen already training from her hospital bed.

Credit: Andy KP

And so a day later I'm still here, not sat on a plane when I know I should.

Steve plans to solo El Cap, and the idea was I would solo it above him, and try and make a film about big wall solo climbs. I asked Steve what he would do if I went home (I'm not sure how Steve could get without me being here, as he'd have no transport and a ton of kit, so would probably have to come back as well), and he said 'I'd still do it'.

Sometimes - no always - the climbing is the easy part.

[Click to View YouTube Video]

  Trip Report Views: 3,219
Andy KP
About the Author
Andy KP is a climber from the UK

Johnny K.

  Jun 9, 2013 - 08:59pm PT
Best wishes to Karen for a speedy recovery,and thanks for sharing such an amazing adventure with Steve,quite amazing.

Big Wall climber
Ogden, Utah
  Jun 9, 2013 - 10:41pm PT
Very nice write-up, Andy. My bet is that Karen will bounce back stronger than ever.

Cheers, Ammon
wayne w

Trad climber
the nw
  Jun 10, 2013 - 12:10am PT
Wow, Andy, what a week! Congratulations to you and Steve on an amazing accomplishment, and healing thoughts to Karen. May she recover quickly, and get back after it like nothing ever happened.

Big Wall climber
salinas, ca
  Jun 10, 2013 - 01:22am PT
Congrats on the send. I can't imagine sleeping on Peanut Ledge was too comfortable. Guess if your tired enough, anything will work.

Big Wall climber
  Jun 10, 2013 - 02:24am PT
nice tr andy and vid. hope karen is ok. umm, don't most people die when they are run over by a car? is she like super tough or what?
cheers, steve

Big Wall climber
Ogden, Utah
  Jun 10, 2013 - 02:57am PT
I can't imagine sleeping on Peanut Ledge was too comfortable. Guess if your tired enough, anything will work.

It's actually as plush as it gets... when you're tired. Ha ha!

Trad climber
The Illuminati -- S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Division
  Jun 10, 2013 - 03:31am PT
Great TR, but I found myself way more gripped about Karen's situation then the actual climb.

Was just reading about her:

Please let her know that we're all pulling for her.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Jun 10, 2013 - 01:07pm PT
Really nice report, thank you for posting. Hope your friends get better.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jun 10, 2013 - 01:23pm PT
Andy and Steve!

Great to share some laughs and that same lack of sleep with you guys at the base that night! LOL

Appreciate the trip report. Honest reporting.

I didn't get it at first when you said Karen was in an accident. I thought that was the original incident. Hope the climb cleared the head and glad Karen is mending.

Steve is a bad ass! Blind! Congrats on your 'in a push' ascent! Nice job!

I think I have a couple pics from the ground while you were on the Nipple pitch. I'll send them on after sorting pics.

Kev may have some as well. I'm sure he would be thrilled to share them with you. heh

cheers mates!

On-Site Flasher 69

Sport climber
  Jun 10, 2013 - 02:35pm PT
Nice! Love the video!

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
  Jun 10, 2013 - 08:44pm PT
wow thanks

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
  Jun 10, 2013 - 08:50pm PT
Cool video!

so the spot at 2:10, that's where park trespassers BASE? looks perfect

Social climber
  Jun 11, 2013 - 12:17am PT
hey there say, thanks for your trip report ...
and KAREN, :o I AM so thankful you are still alive, :O

did not know this happened... :O where can send a get well to you???

whewwwwwww.... :(

happy that you have a climber buddy take you to free your mind up, :O
well, all for now...
god bless...

(what is karen's last name, please, i know two karens, but by name
and not many pics)... i don't want to confuse the names, though i have seen the faces, of some, once or twice, here--EDIT:
OHHHH, someone posted a blog for her,
so, i do not know her, then...

dear karen, get well soon!!!!
wish we could send you some cards, :)

email, please, andy, if there is some way that we can...

say, graniteclimber... THANKS for sharing the links...

wow, NOW, i can know karen, at least by LINKS, :))

thank you karen, for sharing the blog with us!

*i knew a guy, paralyzed, that had a BIKE-by-hand-bike...

though, he could not use his hands much, but COULD use his shoulders...
he ENJOYED THAT BIKE so much!! 'til:

someone stole it... :(

he used to joke though:
perhaps it was better, many times folks did NOT see him, and he used to wonder if he was 'in the car-target lane' at times, :(

once again, get well! and be 'back up and at em' ... :)
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jun 11, 2013 - 09:30pm PT
Hope your friend Is ok Andy!!!!!!
yellow mzungu

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
  Jun 18, 2013 - 05:39pm PT
excellent and gripping write-up, Andy... i've been watching the elcapreport for news on Steve's solo...

i hope Karen recovers quickly. her story is a powerful one, she is an inspiration to us all.