Saturday, December 24, 2005

Baja Surf Trip Slide Show

Check out this Quicktime slide show from the latest Baja surf trip

The file is 20mb so it may take some time to load. You need QuickTime to watch the movie

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Triple Direct, El Capitan, One Day Ascent in December

I’ve always thought the best time to climb in Yosemite is a warm November. The temperatures on south-facing climbs are perfect. The sun casts a softer light on everything. And you feel like you own the Valley because there is nobody around.

Since this December has been as dry as your average November (or October, for that matter) Hans Florine and I decided an El Cap ascent had to go down. We hadn’t climbed together in 9 years since we did the first one day ascent of the Muir Wall.

I left the Valley for El Cap meadow at 6:30 just as daylight was creeping into the Valley. I took this shot of Half Dome.

I realized I didn’t have any food and that there was nothing open. So I can proudly say that this speed ascent was fueled by the vending machine behind the Yosemite lodge:

1 bag Famous Amos cookies
2 Mothers oatmeal cookies
2 snickers bars

I met Hans at 7am. El Cap Meadow was arctic. Ice covered everything and it felt like the forecasted low of 18 degrees. Since we were doing the route in free shoes only, we got to walk to the base with just 5mm of sticky rubber between our feet and the frozen tundra-like ground. For clothes, I just had a t-shirt and a thin polypro top. Two minutes into the approach Hans jokingly suggested turning around and going back to the car for more clothes. But I told him about the phenomenon where the cold sinks to the valley floor and its actually 20 degrees warmer once you get 50 vertical feet up to the base of the route.

“Yeah,” he replied “That is true. But its about 8 degrees warmer, not 20.”

He was right. But I was used to climbing with numb hands from my last week in zion. No biggy.

I started leading and Hans would yell up “That pitch took 8 minutes, at this rate we will have a time of…” Every so often he would call up and recalculate our projected top-out time. “Well, its now taking you about 10 minutes a pitch…” Hans clearly earns his title as being one of the best and most enthusiastic speed climbers in the world.

At pitch 3 we climbed into the sun. It would be T-shirt temps to the top.

Here I am on pitch 4:

On Mammoth Terrace, a team called down from about two thirds the way up Sunkist. “What’s the weather look like for the next few days?” I was really hoping that we would have El Cap to ourselves. But if we had to share it with someone, then it at least it was cool that these guys were doing such a demanding route. I couldn’t even imagine the sub-freezing temperatures they had to endure between 5pm and 7am. “Good weather for at least two days” I screamed back up. We were the personal el cap weather service for the day. There was a purpose to our climb after all.

I led the first 16 pitches in a little over 2 and half hours and then Hans took over. He got the crux aid pitch, a long and sustained C2 corner. I was going to give him the two bigger and more comfy aiders, but he insisted on taking just one of the smallest ones. “The more uncomfortable you are in the aiders the faster you move. The ideal might be to just have 4mm cord… but that could cut through your arch.”

While I still was still in a two aider world, I had to admit that he moved FAST. Two and a half hours later, we were on Camp VI on The Nose.

Here is Hans on the traverse into The Nose

Here is Hans leading the great roof:

Hans on the Pancake Flake

I took back over the lead. I now have that last part of the nose pretty wired, so I only took half the rack and made it last for four pitches. This meant that I topped out with three micro-cams and no extra biners. Hans had to jug with it all of it… which is not fun on the severely overhanging last pitch. Sorry hans.

Me leading the last pitch

We topped out in 6:27 which was a new fastest time for the route. On top, we stuffed 2 x 2 inch pieces of foam pad in the heels of our climbing shoes. This is a trick Peter Croft gave Hans. It made a big difference on the descent.

Team Primary Colors on top.

The view from the top. Its winter up there in the high country!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cosmic Trauma, Zion National Park, one day ascent

Cosmic trauma

Day 3 of 3 in Zion. At 10:00 we met up in the coffee shop but couldn’t figure out what to climb. Everyone recommended Cosmic Egg but we were done climbing north facing shaded routes. We had our eyes on another celestial route: Cosmic Trauma. By all accounts it was just an OK route. Nobody in the coffee shop was really all that psyched on it… but it was in the SUN!

Driving into the canyon, we didn’t see another wall climber anywhere. I think we had the walls to ourselves!

Here is the route:

When we got to the base, Ammon remarked “Whoa, I don’t know quite what to think about this… It’s warm!”

We were ready to climb at 11:43. We debated waiting 18 minutes to maintain a perfect streak of post noon starts. But decided to start climbing anyway. Two pitches of Spaceshot led to 3 free pitches. I was at the pitch 5 belay 25 minutes after starting and Ammon Took over.

Here i am (a wee bit runnout) nearing the top of the fifth pitch

Here is Ammon toward the top of pitch 6.

I suggested that he leave the hammer behind so he would be lighter on the delicate clean placements (and therefor not take a whipper back onto me). He could always pull up the hammer if he needed it on the tag line. But he insisted. You see, we have two different styles: Ammon Feels that since every speed climbing rack is lighter than a full el cap nailing rack, its no biggy to carry the extras. I need to feel as light as possible. I feel no shame in leaving every single piece of gear with ammon that I don’t think ill need: extra big cams, my camera, candy bar wrappers…

Here is ammon midway up the Awkward pitch 7.

The route was rated A3 but we knew it had gone clean once. He led the first aid pitch clean. On the second aid pitch, he nailed one bugabook (big knifeblade). This would be the only hammered placement on the route. I think you can do that one move clean if you equalize the tinyest slider nuts. Or maybe you can do one sketchy free move around it? Ammon cruised the next aid pitch and then I lead 3 mostly easy free pitches to the top. One recommendation: once the route joins with Equinox, avoid the 5.10ow by climbing the cool 5.9 arete out left. We topped out with a time of 2:54. We think this was the first one day ascent of the route.

Here is the view from the summit:

When we got ready to walk down we realized we forgot the double rope rappel device. We only had two gri gris. Hmm. Guess we are simul rappelling… but does an 8mm accessory cord tagline work in a gri gri? Only one way to find out: 1) determine who has the newest Gri Gri with the least wear (that would be you, ammon) 2) start rappin.

Here ammon in enjoying the thin line. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they call him the El Cap Pirate?


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Swoop Gimp, Zion, Trip Report w/ the El Cap Pirate

Swoop gimp

Day 2 in zion with Ammon “The El Cap Pirate.” We vowed to get earlier start on today’s climb… so of course we showed up at the base of Swoop Gimp right at the crack of noon. And, of course, Swoop Gimp only gets morning sun. If we couldn’t climb a north facing route, at least we could wait until our east facing route went into the shade. The good news: today felt a little warmer than yesterday. Maybe even above freezing.

The route climbs in the SHADY side of the sun/shade line

Even better than climbing a shaded route in Zion in December, is crossing an icy river barefoot before climbing a route in Zion in December. I went first.

“How is it?”, Ammon asked.

“Its like walking through a hot spring… in the summer… in Bali. If only the bottoms of my feet weren’t burning up from these scorching river rocks.”

If you don’t believe me, just look at the look on Ammon’s. Doesn’t he look uncomfortably warm?

Ammon lead off. After a 5.6 pitch came the crux. A super-bad-ass pitch of overhanging C3 brass offset nuts and small cams. The pitch was overhung about 10-15 feet in 160 feet. Because the pitch was so overhung, many of the stoppers cleaned themselves as soon as I weighted the rope. Nice.

Ammon starting off on pitch 2

Ammon higher up on pitch 2.

I killed time at the belay by taping the core shot I caused the previous day on Desert Shield. The last two climbs that Ammon and I had done together had yielded two core shots. Somebody has to keep the rope companies in business. And the rope needed a middle marker anyway.

However, this was a pretty weak core shot compared to the one on El Capitan’s Horse Chute, last year.

On the next pitch, Ammon called down, “so there’s a bolt ladder going out left and one going out right. Which one do I take?”

Hmm. Its moments like this that you wish you had brought a topo for the route.

“Uhhh… go right.”

“Are you sure,” he asked?

“yeah, pretty sure.” But from looking at a topo for 30 seconds at the visitor center that morning, I seemed to remember the route trending right… I thought?

A few minutes later, Ammon called back down “These are old crappy star drive bolts sticking way out…. We must be on route!!”

Here he is on pitch 5

A few pitches later, I started leading the last 5 pitches. I got all the free climbing including a great 5.9 ow. It was great because it really didn’t involve any offwidth climbing. I face climbed fun 5.8 flakes on either side of a nasty looking wide crack.

I’d climb about 20 feet on the face, then place a big piece of gear in the offwidth, then climb more face. “Look” I called down to Ammon, “Its sport offwidth climbing!” Why can’t all offwidths be like this?!

After this it was mostly 5.7 with a touch of 5.10 thrown in to keep me on my toes. At one point I almost pitched when a big ledge/hold crumbled under my feet. That’s sandstone for ya.

Part of of what makes climbing in Zion so exciting in the winter is you only have a 5 hour window of non-ridiculously cold temperatures. So if you start climbing at noon, you better be done by 4. Luckily, we topped out 3 hours and 40 minutes after starting. Leaving enough time to descend and chill out for a few. We met up with the only other people we had seen climbing that day, Jordi and Heidi from maine. Two surgeons who spent there vacation time climbing big walls. Pretty cool. I joked about the lack of crowds and how we essentially owned zion’s big walls at that moment. “Tell you what, tomorrow, you take this side of the canyon and we will take that side.” (Brian McCray, Zack and James had already claimed the end of the canyon near Moneky Finger).

We headed back for food and drink in town with all 7 zion wall climbers at that moment. Another perfect day of big wall cragging. There are benefits to there only being about 5 comfortable climbing hours a day. Namely, you only have to climb for 5 hours a day. No full days of climbing El Cap style that then take a day or two to recover from. Instead, you put in your 3-4 hours on the rock, then spend about 20 hours eating, drinking, chilling, sleeping and, of course, spraying on the internet.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Desert Shield, Zion Naitional Park, in december

There’s a reason not many people climb in Zion in December: “Its cold out there!”

They understand average route gets less than 5 hours of sun a day and temperatures in the shade hover around freezing.

The cold doesn’t like me. I usually have to wear three layers of clothes in the winter to stay warm… inside a heated house. So I tried to get Ammon McNeely to go to Mexico and climb the Trono Blanco. But he was already in Zion and wouldn’t be free so venture south until January… I needed to climb walls right now!

Morning temps were in the teens. By noon, temperatures had warmed up to just above freezing. On the drive into Zion Canyon the climb I pointed at a few frozen waterfalls hanging off the walls. Maybe we should have brought the ice tools.

“Its cold out there!”

because it was so cold, and we are so smart, we choose a route on a north facing wall, of course: Desert Sheild.

The regularly sandy trail leading to the base had formed into permafrost. It was kinda cool to walk on surface you expect to be squish under your foot only to have it respond to your shoe sole like steel. If only this effect didn’t depend on the temperature being below 32 degrees.

I led the first five pitches. I soon realized that there are both pros to your hands freezing. The pain of the cold does mask the pain of poor hand jamming technique. The cold also makes you move faster.

Here is me on the second pitch:

I led the first half of the route in just under and hour and then Ammon took over. The first five pitches are really just the approach for the Desert Shield: 400 feet of flawless, steep, and richly red sandstone.

Ammon starting up the bolt ladder on pitch 6.

I was really glad Ammon was leading these pitches. You basically just place offset stopper after offset stopper in placements that are often a little more shallow than you like. You often ask the question “Is that stopper biting INTO the rock or biting THROUGH the rock.”

Ammon starting up pitch 7.

At one point, Ammon called down. “Whoa… this stopper that I am standing on just broke the rock under it and slid down a bit.” You can’t get that kinda excitement in Yosemite.

Two pitches from the top, despite our attempts to avoid it, we actually found ourselves in the sun. Well, the sun was glancing off us anyway. It didn’t really warm the rock but it did make for some cool photos.

Two pitches of Ammon at the top of pitch 8.

When we topped out, for the first time, we were actually directly in the sun. it was glorious. Despite doing the route in under 3 hours (2:57) Ammon felt we could have moved a little faster.

“Today I didn’t want to fall so I was being a little more cautious,”

“uhhh… there are times where you don’t care about falling?” I asked.

”Sure!!” he shot back, “Sometimes I am just like “F--- It! I don’t really care .”

I wanted to say “Yeah, I can relate to that… the feeling of fearlessness while standing on crappy gear thousands of feet above the ground.”

But I can’t. There are times when I have no fear on a big wall, but they are pretty much limited to 5.8 C1.

We rapped the route back to the ground and I took this photo on the way down.

And this photo of the surround walls on the way back to the campground.

For an updated topo of the route that I just made, click here

For other free topos, go here: click here