on the forum or you can just buy a Metolius Waste Case.
ok, down to business:
It had been a couple years since I last belayed Tommy Caldwell on the first double free ascent of El Cap in a day
to be honest, I still have not "climbed" with him, only belayed except for a brief, shining moment where I aided a pitch in the Grand Canyon
but I guess I can belay OK.... because I got the nod again to belay again on a new el cap free project: Mescalito!
For those who don't know el cap, the idea of free climbing Mescalito is kinda out there. Routes like the Nose and Salathe, while they are hard, and way harder than I will ever climb, follow large crack systems that you can see from el cap meadow. Mescalito, on the other hand, follows large "flared seam" systems that finally relent to... large blank sections?? Impossible!! or is it?
>> Check out Video of this climb
The Nose and Salathe are probably 90% 5.11 and easier. Mescalito/ Dawn wall likely be 80% 5.12 and harder. It will break down something like this (Tommy's guess)
(note, 60% of the pitches are on Mescalito, other pitches are on Dawn Wall, Adrift or are new free variations)
I'll break the suspense: no Tommy did not free the route on this trip.
So why am I (with permission from Tommy) spraying so much about a route that hasn't been done yet? Because Tommy, who's freed all buy two hard routes on el cap, thinks this might be a ten year project... and he's hoping some new up and coming climber will get psyched and start the 10 year process now so he doesn't have to wait till he is 40 to free it... (crap, Tommy, we are not in our 30's, how did that happen?!?!)
anyway, back to the spray fest
the ascent started with a descent: rapping off the top of el cap... exposure!!!
here i am rapping into wino tower, a proud (but slanted) ledge half way up a blank wall... and the place where Warren Harding camped out on his epic first ascent of the Dawn Wall
Shortly after we landed, Tommy warmed up on a 5.12b pitch to loosen up. NOTE: I call this pitch 5.11 in my book. I was wrong. (it's the Wall Of Early Morning Light pitch off Wino Tower)
True story: the morning we packed up in el cap meadow (remember, this is in April), with a more than minor chance of rain, Tommy thought we did not need a rain fly up there. And after I raised the idea that we should probably have one, just in case, he had to drive back to his house to get one... which we are all glad he did!! midway through the night it started to rain/snow. We jumped out of the ledge and set up the fly. By morning, we were clearly in a storm. which was kinda a big deal for me since I had never been in a storm on El Cap before.
tommy under the ledge
Corey and Coop hanging out in the COLD
With bad weather, I was off the hook for belay duties. But Tommy, being the animal he is, decided to work on the route self-belayed with a Mini Traxion. Nothing like 5.14a friction in the rain/snow.
Halfway through the day, he let us know that he made a breakthrough and found a way to get around the 5.14+ crux with some 5.13+. Now the route only had 5 5.14 pitches… no problem!!
Here is a 1-minute video of Tommy talking about finding a way around the 5.14+ section. I am shooting from the portaledge in a mellow snow storm - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz6Q0cgv4b0
And here is another video where Tommy talks about the remaining hard pitches he has to figure out - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX_f3brdWvs
And one last video in the portaledge where Tommy lists off the ratings of all the pitches - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1wj1-X80F4
I was pumped to sit in the portaledge and answer email, watch youtube and read the forum on my iphone when tragedy struck!!! We realized our solar panel didn’t work without direct sun…. noooooooo….
we were all pretty bummed.
Instead, I turned my attention to staring at the portaledge and outside the portaledge all day. I made these observations.
A mini review of The Black Diamond Cliff Cabana Ledge
it took me a long time to set up. Granted it was the first time I had done so. But I like how much more simple the A5 ledges were to set up.
The rain fly is excellent. This is a big improvement from the A5 rainfly I was used to because:
it ventilates extremely well because it has a big “awning” at the top of the door that is molded to stick out and let air in. This is crucial. Nothing worse than keeping out all the rain only to get wet because of your sweat… eeeoowww
nice increase of space with the tent pole that pushes out the outer wall
That aside I was very impressed with the rainfly and give it the grade of an A. The portaledge gets an A for comfort but a C for weight and easy of set up. So overall I think I would give it a B. I am not sure how it compares to the other portaledges out there. My ultimate ledge right now would be an A5 ledge with a black diamond fly. But I hear the Metolius fly is pretty sweet, too.
While on the topic of gear reviews, we had this awesome Petzl hammer on the trip. I had never seen it before but its now my new favorite. I don’t even know where you can buy it.
Also, I did a gear test on the new Moses Cam Hooks:
that you can read about here
Ok, back to climbing, the next day the sun came out after some sweet clearing storm clouds
Here is 37 seconds of video of the clearning storm clouds - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZqVP-8RBxg
And Tommy emerging from the portaledge after the storm -
Tommy warmed up on some of the easier climbing on the route: 5.13c
For those of you following along in your supertopo big walls book – this is pitch 15 of wall of early morning light
That blank seam is the 5.14+ pitch that Tommy no longer has to climb. But just for fun, the next day he did work on it. This next photo, and all the good ones that follow, are from Corey Rich and I stole them from the Big Up Productions Web Site
Tommy on the 5.14+ pitch 15 that he can now avoid with the pitch below
unfortunately for Tommy, a lot of the hard climbing on wall of early morning light is protected with the original Harding aluminum dowels.. yikes!!
luckily for Tommy, we had the new Moses Keyhole Hangers, which are awesome. You can read a great thread and see how these are made here
luckily, the sun came out and our solar panel was back in action and I could once again follow “As The Taco Turns” and web sites - by the way, if you are going to spend a lot of time at belays on el cap, I really recommend an iphone and a solar charger
Ok, enough with the 5.13+ warm up, lets get to some REAL climbing
Below is one of the route cruxes that Tommy has not figured out yet: the features end and he has to make an eight-foot horizontal dyno! it looks impossible. and it might be. but that didn't stop Tommy from making about 20 tries (and 20 falls). He was hitting the almost every time, but its just such a big move that the swing through of the legs will be really hard to control.
There are a couple dyno's like that. But for the most part the reason the route is so hard is not the BIG moves but the little ones. You have to hold onto microscopic edges and stand on... well stand on things that don't even resemble footholds. Tommy said this has been the key to unlocking so many hard el cap routes "It took me 4 years until I finally learned how to stand on "edges" I never thought were possible to stand on."
Tommy continued "That is the reason so many 5.14+ or even 5.15 climbers get shut down on El Cap. It takes years to learn the technical hand and footwork you need on el cap."
its hard to tell in photos like below, but he's standing and holding onto just about nothing on a vertical wall -
Here are what some of the handholds look like
photos by Corey Rich and Aurora Photos
The next day we moved down to a pitch on Adrift (near pitch 8 of Mescalito). Here there was another 6-foot horizontal dyno that Tommy was able to do (after a few nice falls). He was out of view so I didn't really know when he would fall. Every few minutes there would just be a big yank on the rope. I think i was more scared than he was.
After working out those moves, we moved back to the ground. He didn't send all the cruxes, but overall, Tommy was psyched. He thought it would be a 10-year project before this trip and now it's possibly only a 2-year project.
i think there are only 2-3 sections that he needs to figure out. one of them is that sick dyno (photos above)
however, once he figures out the moves, that is just the first step. the real challenge will be becoming fit enough so that he can do all the pitches in one go. There is as much 5.14 on this route as the rest of the Yosemite Valley crags (i think there are five 5.14 pitches on this route and 3-4 5.14 cragging routes in the valley). And keep in mind that 5.14 on granite is not the same as 5.14 on limestone. There are very few 5.14 limestone climbers that can show up and quickly send technical valley 5.13... let alone 5.14.
Then there are the 8 or so 5.13 pitches. Overall, it will easily be the hardest big wall free climb in the world.
Tommy's Rack for the climb:
1 set of Black Diamond Stoppers
1 set of Black Diamond Micro Nuts
2 sets of Black Diamond Camalots #0.3-5
60m x 10.5 mm Blue Water Lead Rope
1 60m x 8mm Static Rope
10 Black Diamond Oz Quickdraws
12 Shoulder Length Slings
Black Diamond Ozone Harness
Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device
La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes
Black Diamond Padded Gear Sling
10 Keyhole Hangers
10 Wire Rivet Hangers
Petzl Mini Traxion
2 Spectra Daisy Chains
Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag
Black Diamond Cliff Cabana Double Portaledge
Metolius Waste Case
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
La Sportiva Men's Exum Pro Boot
Click here to see what is currently on my El Capitan rack