Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Nose in a Day (Again?!) - Dehydrated in November

I guess I have no imagination. What did I do a few days after climbing The Nose last week? Call up Mark Melvin of course: so, you want to climb the Nose this Friday?

Mark gave me the I am psyched on that idea… but not really response “Well, I guess that would be ok, but if you find someone else, you should go climb it with them.” Nobody else, dude. Its you, me, and the big stone.

Here is the gear we brought

and a close up of the rack

This time we started an hour later at 7:37 to let the rock warm up. I wanted to climb The Nose in just a t shirt in November. On the first pitch I ran into my old friend Brian Biega who I did one of my first El Cap speed ascents with 9 years earlier. He greeted me ”Good to see you chris. Wait didn’t you guys just climb this last week?!”

“Yeah, I know, I know. It’s kinda silly. But it’s the nose, it’s the best route in the world. I just cant help myself ” I replied. He was going to solo The Nose. I imagine the number of people who have soloed the nose in November can be counted on one hand.

We traveled lighter on this ascent than last week. Only 2 candy bars per person, 1 liter of water, no headlamps, not extra clothes, and less biners. When Mark was leading the third pitch, I actually poured out an extra half liter of water to go lighter. Bad move. Ten minutes later we climbed into the sun and realized this was not your typical November day.

Just above sickle ledge we passed a team of two. One of them called down to me, “Hey SuperTopo! Wait, didn’t you guys just climb this last week?!” I know, I know…

Me jugging right after sickle

Mark in The Stovelegs

I knew we were trouble when we reached Dolt Tower and I was already rationing water. This wasn’t just a warm November day, it was a HOT November day. While the valley high was forecasted at 75, on the wall, with no wind and surrounded by baking granite, it felt more like 80.

Mark leading The Boot Flake

Me belaying the boot flake

Last week, The king was a little tricky for me. This time, I figured out the secret: Swing when you are even with the last bolt on the bolt ladder. This seems really low. But it’s hard to go to low on the King Swing.

Mark mid King Swing

Me jugging up to the great roof

When we got to the great roof, I prepared to take over the lead. Normally bring free shoes for The Nose, but this time I just yanked the laces as tight as I could on my approach shoes. I took a swig from my full 10oz waterbottle and managed to down almost all of it without noticing. I now only had a few sips of water to get me to the top and it just seemed to get hotter and hotter. There was still no wind.

Me in the Changing Corners

On the changing corner’s I yelled down to mark, its not warm up here, it’s hot.”

“Yeah, I know”, he replied.

“No, I mean when its 70 it feels warm. But this feels like 80 or more. This is HOT.”

I wanted some reaction like, “Yeah, this is ridiculous!” But he just let out another “yeah.” He didn’t look psyched. I didn’t look psyched. Neither of us were saying much now. And both of our bodies started to feel the effects of dehydration. My legs and arms got a little heavier and my power began to fade. I compensated by leading the last few pitches with only the pieces I knew I would need: 6 cams and 8 quickdraws.

We got to the top and I watched mark take almost a minute to wrestle the watch out of his pocket. We then spent about 5 minutes trying to subtract our starting time from our ending time… we were so dehydrated now our minds were numb. “Wow, we did it is 5:36… anyway, where can we find some water!”

We found some about half way down the descent. It was warm and had thousands of tiny white floaters in it. I thought it looked suspect. Mark thought it looked great. We both took big swigs.

Ten minutes later I was downclimbing 4th class when I slipped, took a five foot fall, and caught myself before going another 15 feet. Yeah, we were so gone now the descent was feeling harder than the route.

We got back to the road and I took this shot of el cap through the trees. We were psyched, but worked.

So Mark, what you doing next week?

PS: A few people have emailed me asking about our techniques:

- yes we run it out, but never on anything harder than 5.9 or C1. Everything else is well protected.

- short fixing is key. After the leader gets to an anchor, he pulls up the remaining rope, fixes it, and keeps climbing. If the terrain is ever harder than 5.9 or C1, then the leader self belay while waiting for the cleaner.

- the main technique is looking at the whole route as a free climb. I would say 80% of the route is 5.10 or easier. On that other 20%, we try to pull on gear rather than bring out the aiders. And for a small fraction you use aiders but no daisy chains. Even when I am aiding, I am using handholds and the crack so that I can top step every single placement. So I am never in “full aid mode” which goes really slow.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Nose in a day trip report

After belaying Tommy Caldwell on his Nose/freerider link up, I got inspired to free the nose in a day yesterday.

well, to free about 30% of it anyway.

I teamed up with mark Melvin, the guy who started my el cap addiction by giving me my first fix on The West Face when I was 15. When I was 16, we climbed the nose in 18 hours together. Ten years later, we hoped to knock our time down a little. I announced that I thought we could do it in 7-9 hours. Mark silently thought I was full of crap and was going to be happy if we climbed it in less than 14. He thought it would be really cool if we didn’t have to finish the climb at night.

We met up around 5:30am. El cap meadow was as cold as I have ever experienced it. I briefly considered bailing on the climb and just sitting in front of the car heater.

We started climbing at 6:18, right when the sun hit the high clouds above el cap… creating the cool pink glow in this photo.

Mark is one of the best off-the-couch climbers I know. He led each pitch in 5-10 minutes. Here is mark cruising up the start of the stovelegs. 5.8 hand cracks forever!

Here I am jugging up to Dolt Tower.

Ever wonder what those critters are that eat your foot while your camped 1000’s of feet up el cap? Here you go:

6 or 7 inches long and fat. How does a rat that big get up el cap? And why did it suddenly expire in the middle of dolt tower?

mark Leading above Dolt Tower

And now the main event: The King Swing. For El Cap meadow spectators, this is as entertaining as big wall climbing gets. We doubled the viewing pleasure by using the latest speed double penji technique:

Mark led the boot while I simul-climbed behind him on the bolt ladder. When he got to the top, he threaded his rope through the pendulum point and then lowered and cleaned the pitch. He did the king swing and belayed on Eagle Ledge. Since he cleaned the pitch, I now got to also do the king swing and meet up with him.

He continued blasting up the free pitches to the base of the Great Roof. Here I took over the lead. Usually The Great Roof seriously spooks me. But for the first time, I was too rushed too be scared. After ten nearly painless minutes, I was at the belay. Each pitch after that really cruised by, I think partially because we had a tiny rack and partially because for the first time on the nose, I didn’t use daisy chains. With no daisy chains, you never have to deal with tangles with your aiders and you just get inspired to free climb more.

Here I am leading up the pancake flake.

Above camp 6 we caught up with a cool team of 3 doing their first el cap route. As I led up to them they shouted down “We will have some music ready for you when you get up here!” Clearly, they were doing the route in style.

Passing this team was really easy because they were super cool and they were cleaning the pitch as I was leading it. Toward the end of the pitch, I caught up with the cleaner. She offered to let me pass but I decided it was easier and more courteous to give cleaning tips and help out. I told her “You can keep going and ill clean this stuck yellow alien for you.” And a few piece later, “If I hold the rope, you can slide the yellow ascender down and get the tension off the piece.” She thanked me and said “Wow, its like having my own cleaning fairy... uhm, wait, sorry, I didn’t mean to call you a fairy. Uh, you’re a cleaning angel.”

We passed by and topped out a few minutes later. It was really hard to tell what time it was. It could have been 4pm for all I knew. When mark told me it was only 12:59 I was floored. Wait, we did the route in only 6 hours and 40 minutes. The perfect November climbing day.

Here is a shot from the summit:

PS: here was our rack

8 stoppers
1 purple/blue alien
1 green alien
1 yellow alien
1 yellow/red alien
2 red aliens
2 orange aliens
2 red camlots (#1)
1 gold camalot (#2)
1 blue camalot (#3)
1 gray camalot (#4)