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!

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