Thursday, June 22, 2017

Yosemite and El Capitan!

On the day we arrived in Yosemite Alex Honnold free soloed Free Rider on El Capitan. While the extreme danger of this ascent is grasped by the general public, and this understanding is what makes Honnold the most famous and highly compensated climber in the world, if you are not a climber you cannot understand the magnitude of this feat. Caldwell and Jorgenson’s Dawn Wall climb got massive press as the “hardest climb in the world” and while incredibly impressive it was repeated by Ondra the next year. It will be at least a generation before El Cap is free soloed again. If you don’t understand climbing but understand track, this is equivalent to someone running an eight second 100 meters - beyond what anyone thinks is possible. Or if tennis is your thing, this is like someone winning Wimbledon without dropping a single game. Yet, many of us knew it was coming. Honnold is such an anomaly and this goal, so terrifying and obvious, was on his radar. I know Alex, a bit, and have climbed with him twice. I knew he was thinking about it when he told me about his Easy Rider ascent - another free solo up El Cap, but via a route not considered a main El Cap route.  A poster on summed it up nicely: This was both inconceivable and inevitable. And, yes, I do know what “inconceivable” means. I heard about it when Hans called me as I drove from the San Jose airport to Yosemite, just a few hours after Alex’s ascent. When Hans said, “Did you hear about Alex?” my first thought was that he had finally fallen and was dead. He is pushing things so far beyond the realm of understanding of even very experienced climbers that it can only end with his death. Now that the “moon landing of free soloing” has been accomplished, I hope he quits extreme soloing. After this, he should be set for life. I’d pay good money to see the film. I’ll buy the movie. If he writes a book about it, I’ll buy that (I already have his first book). I climb in the shoes he wears (though they are TC Pros, so I guess that money goes to Tommy Caldwell). Now, Alex, please, turn your attention to massive, roped linkups, like you did in Patagonia and Yosemite with Tommy.

I viewed this tremendous feat, on the first day of our trip, as a good omen. That we would have a safe and successful trip.

We flew into San Jose, arriving at 10 a.m. and had no trouble getting the rental car, which was right at the terminal. I love this little airport. It is so convenient and so easy compared to almost every other airport I’ve been to. We were soon on the road to Yosemite and I was reminiscing about this southern route (101 to 152 to 59 to 99 to 140) to Yosemite that I did so many times, mostly with the Loobster. But my memory was flawed and when we drove by the 59 turnoff I said to Derek, “Hmmm, that sounds so familiar. I think we should have taken that.” Doh. We corrected and drove into the Valley to find the most traffic I’ve ever seen there. A sign warned us that if we went by the turn-around at the east end of El Cap Meadow, it would be three hours before we got back out. Three hours!!??That worked and we parked on the road connecting the one-way-east side to the one-way-west side.

Derek at the top of the 5.9 direct start to Nutcracker.
We pulled out the climbing gear and got organized. I wanted to go climb Nutcracker as a gentle introduction to Yosemite granite crack climbing. We threw our gear into our packs and hiked off, two miles to Manure Pile Buttress. We had to hike mostly on the road, against the traffic, because the trail by the Merced River was flooded in numerous spots.
Derek leading After Seven (5.8). This pitch is steeper than it looks here.
Arriving at the base of the route we found a party on the first pitch of Nutcracker. All excited to climb, we couldn't queue up for it, so opted for the 5.9 direct start, hoping to pass them at the top of the second pitch, where our variation merged with the standard route. The climbing on this variation is just stellar. There is a thin, distinct crux, but the rest of the pitch seemed more like 5.7 and was super fun, low-angle crack climbing, with great gear. It was my first time climbing in my new TC Pros. I was very impressed with them. On granite these shoes are just awesome. They friction, edge, and crack climb so well. I felt so secure in my feet.

Derek motored up the pitch as well, climbing in the same shoes, same size. That's convenient and he's climbed in my shoes quite often. His foot is a bit bigger, but my high instep frequently forces me into a shoe slightly bigger so that works out well. I led the second pitch as well, just for speed reasons, and arrived on the big ledge there to find quite a party. Three teams of two were here and another team was climbing the third pitch above us. Momentarily confused, I asked, "What's going on?" But it was just a giant traffic jam.

I brought Derek up, but with no variation to get by, we had to go down. I wasn't going to wait for four parties. Everyone was really nice and one of the teams built a rappel anchor for us so that we could rappel down to the top of our first pitch. Once down there we rapped off slings around the tree and were soon back on the ground. We simul-rappelled of course, as that is our MO.

Derek on top of Manure Pile Buttress with Middle Cathedral Rock behind him.
We headed west along the base to the other popular classics of After Six (5.7) and After Seven (5.8). The former was clogged up by a single party but the girl trying to follow the pitch was climbing outside for the first time and had no idea (her own admission) how to climb cracks. It went about what you'd expect for her, yet she wouldn't give up. Good for her. Bad for us.

After Seven had a party of two guys on it and leader was more than halfway up the first pitch. They said they'd be moving fast, so we queued behind them. Once the second got up twenty feet, I encouraged Derek to start leading, as he'd be slower on lead than that guy would be following. Derek was itching to lead it and cruised up and through the crux smoothly, confidently, like he'd been on the route many times before. I followed and led the next pitch, a short, easy one, up to join the two climbers above, who were just starting the third pitch. I wanted to simul-climb by, but I resisted and they didn't offer. No big deal.

Derek joined me and we waited on them again. Derek led, again following the follower up the route. Clearly we were a lot faster, but the route was just five pitches and things were going fast enough. I did feel slight pressure when a third party joined me on the ledge and even climbed up ten feet above me, part ways up the third pitch. We were already waiting on the party above. There was no way I was going to let another party climb by us.

While waiting, I changed out of my TC Pros and into my approach shoes. Belaying with a Gri-gri lets you do stuff like this. The TC Pros are great, but both Derek and I get some serious foot pain (mostly in our left foot) after a number of pitches. My mentor Chris Weidner would tell me, "That's supposed to happen! Just take them off after each pitch. Oh, and WTFU!"

I then started simul-climbing a bit, managing the loop of extra rope, to make sure I was moving up the third pitch before these two new jokers. Derek eventually put me on belay and soon I was done with the third pitch and this time moved on directly into the fourth pitch lead. Here I could climb parallel to the other leader and moved by him. I belayed short of the top, though. Derek followed and led up behind the next leader, with both ropes running next to each other. He gained the top of the formation where he found a couple of the Nutcracker parties. I followed quickly and we coiled, re-racked, Derek changed shoes, and we were the first ones to head down. We didn't want to be out too late, as we were planning to climb the 10-pitch East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock the next day.

Whenever I go to Yosemite, I like to stay at Hans' house in West Yosemite. It's a bit complicated, though. Hans is rarely there himself, as he lives in the Bay Area. The house is a VRBO rental and Hans has caretakers that live in the first floor and manage the renters and cleaning of the upper house. Each time I go there Hans has a different crew as caretakers. This time it was Haley and Erik. Hans introduced us via email and we made plans to stay there, but this is their house. They don't know us and even though Hans has vouched for us, they don't need guests staying in their very small place for a week. To make a good impression we brought them a bottle of wine and a six pack of beer.

After our climb we headed up to Hans' place. No one was there and it was locked, so we hung out on the driveway and organized our gear for the next morning. Soon, though, Haley and Erik showed up. They were incredibly nice and welcomed us into their home. They had two other people with them, a cousin and a friend. The cousin moved into their bedroom for the night so that we could have both couches in the living room. That was really nice. We'd have been fine sleeping on the floor. We hung out talking with them until pretty late.

East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock

I have some very tough history with the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock. It was the first climb I ever did in the Valley. I had graduated from CU and was moving to San Jose to start my first job out of college with IBM. Naturally, I drove through Yosemite to get there. I met two climbers in Tuolumne Meadows and we agreed to team up for the EB of MCR. I was drawn to this climb because it was a “Fifty Classic Climb” and because it was mostly 5.8 with one pitch of 5.10 that could be aided.

Due to some miscommunication over how much water the other two were carrying, I didn’t bring enough water for the incredible heat we faced. My two “partners” didn’t feel the need to share their water with me and I became massively, dangerously dehydrated near the top of the route. Even though I did the bulk of the leading and all the harder pitches, they felt their water was theirs and it was just too bad that I screwed up with my water. This incident would greatly affect how I viewed my climbing partners from then on. My philosophy now is simple. You are a team of climbers and everything you carry is team gear. Everything. If someone screws up and doesn’t bring enough water, then the team is low on water. There is no individual food or water, though each team member might carry some of it. Hence, everyone is responsible for whatever goes up the route. If you are new to climbing with someone perhaps you need to check how much food and water they are carrying, knowing that these are team resources and if they are carrying too little, you’ll likely not be eating all the food you’re carrying. Since that day I’ve been very lucky here. I climb with incredible people who share this same philosophy. I’ve literally been given a shirt off my partner’s back. This team aspect and this bond between my partners and me is by far the most rewarding aspect of climbing. It’s not the climbing. It’s not the mountains or the route or the views. While all are important, it’s the people that make climbing so special.

The second time I did this route it was with three friends: Fred Yenny, my main climbing partner at the time, Dan Fitzsimmons, a friend and climbing partner from work, and Don, a friend of Fred’s. Since Dan and Don weren’t very strong climbers, at least compared to Fred and I, we split into two teams. Dan and I would climb first and Fred and Don formed a team following us up the route. As I was leading the tenth pitch, Dan yelled up to me, “They’re gone! They’re gone!” Whose gone? I thought. Obviously not Fred and Don for where would they go? But it was them and indeed they were gone. I finished my lead, struggling to keep my composure. Dan had said that Don was leading the ninth pitch, a tricky-to-protect pitch rated 5.7, and he fell about thirty feet above the belay without getting in any protection. He fell directly onto Fred and the belay anchors ripped from the wall. They fell 800 feet to the rocky slope below.

It was all I could do to stay safe and get Dan and I up to the top of the route and then down the tricky descent back to the base. What we found there will haunt me the rest of my life. I won’t describe it. We had to make sure they weren’t still alive. We headed down to notify a rescue team but we met them coming up the slope, for Fred and Don had fallen past another party, who had then rapped off and hiked to get help. Once I met these guys I knew my job was done. I sat down and completely lost it.
Derek at the top of the "disaster pitch"
I needed some new memories on this route and what better person to make those memories than my son?

We got up at 5 a.m. and were out the door shortly thereafter. We drove down to the turn-out below the route and easily found the trail leading to the base of the route. We were a little disappointed to find a party already on the route, at the top of the second pitch. It was no big deal, though, as I knew there were two options at there crux pitch: either the classic 10c face/bolt ladder pitch or the new 10a “Fifty Crowded” variation, which I heard was very good.

Derek combined the first and second pitches, included a tricky 5.8 move, and set up a belay just below the other party. I climbed past Derek and up to Elaine to start using my Hans-Florinesque-passing charm. Turns out she and her partner Todd were from Louisville, Colorado. Todd had even soloed Lurking Fear before. Cool. Everyone you meet is a badass these days.
Derek at the start of the crux pitch.
Derek moved up to join me on the better ledge and I followed Elaine up at a respectable distance. We originally planned to pitch out this route so that I’d be leading the crux pitch, but I ended up linking the third and fourth pitches, since they did this as well, in an effort to show them that we were fast enough to pass them (they didn’t offer to let us by). But doing this put Derek in the lead for the crux pitch. The other party opted for the “Fifty Crowded” variation so we had to do the 10c “Classic” pitch. He wasn’t intimidated by the pitch and was probably encouraged by all the bolts on it. He took the sharp end. It wasn’t long before he was french freeing up the bolts, though. Figuring this out on lead while trying to pass another party isn’t the ideal situation. I didn’t put any pressure on him either way, though. It was his call. He moved easily up to the top of the bolt ladder and then did a tension traverse to the left to gain the crack, which is rated 5.9, but seemed harder.
Derek working the 5.9+ crack section on the crux pitch.
Derek put in a piece low, too low for rope drag purposes and I told him so. He knew it, though. He moved up with difficulty and clipped a fixed pin. Then he pulled the piece below him. He struggled here, but stuck with it and made the move over the overlap. He then moved nicely up easier terrain to the belay.

I followed free up until the last delicate traverse left to the crack. I was rushing a bit here, knowing I had to be quick to pass the other party, and I slipped off. Derek caught me fine, though he was a bit surprised that I fell. I then also found the 5.9+ section to be quite tricky. I solved it with a little deadpoint, which I shouldn’t have to do on a 5.9.

I moved quickly into the lead for the runout 5.7 pitch that traversed back to the right. Elaine was just below me as I did this section, still leading her “Fifty Crowded” pitch. We worked together fine, though, and I encouraged her to clip into my gear if she needed to. I set up a belay from bolts and Derek soon joined me.
Derek on the 5.7 6th pitch that traverses back to the right.
While the other two took a bit of time to eat something and relax, Derek led the next 5.7 pitch. He motored right up and and then had to set up a gear belay. He’d done this before, but this was his first time doing it on such a big climb. Derek was extremely conscious of the fact that a bad-gear belay was the downfall of Fred and Don. This made it more nerve-wracking for him to set up  this belay, but he also took a lot more care to ensure it was 100% solid.

I followed and led a pretty long 5.8 pitch that traversed a bit left at the top. This put us at the bottom of the “disaster pitch.” When Don led this so many years ago, I thought it was a poor choice for him to do his first lead of the climb, despite the easy rating. Back then it was rated 5.6, but it is now rated 5.7. I remember it as tricky to place gear and that would explain Don not placing any for thirty feet. I was overly cautious giving Derek directions on the lead and asking him to place gear early and often. But I had a solid belay and could take any fall he might dish out. Of course, he didn’t fall. He found it easy and protected it great, but he knew the mindset I was in and he humored me. He'd say later that he tried to put in everything but the pieces he needed for the belay.

The last pitch of the route, at least if you opt for the rappel descent, is a long 5.8 pitch, which is pretty tricky and changes crack systems a couple of times. The climbing was engaging and it was getting quite warm. I was happy to end up on a nice ledge with a small tree on it. I took off my shoes here and relaxed while belaying Derek up. When he joined me we ate and drank and just hung out. We called Hans, who had left us a message to call him back. It turned out that it wasn’t cool for us to stay so many nights with Haley and Erik. Once explained, this was obvious. They didn’t really know us and didn’t need us hanging out in the main living area for so many nights. We promised Hans that after we launched on Lurking Fear, we wouldn’t be back to sleep any more nights. We also called Chris Weidner to talk more about Alex's ascent. I know Alex never wears a harness for his solos, but that seems crazy. I'd want a harness and some slings just in case I wanted to clip in and call for a rescue. I guess, deep down, there might be some differences between Alex and myself. Chris confirmed he didn't wear a harness. We also called my mom and Sheri, which we tend to do on the top of each mountain we climb (provided we have cell service).
Derek at the first rappel anchor.
 The last time I did this route, there wasn’t a rappel descent. Now there is one and you can do it with a single 60-meter rope. How convenient. We went down this way and it went smoothly in general, though I had a very hard time finding one set of anchors. They were just in the shade and it took me a long time to finally see them. Almost all of the anchors were   hanging or near-hanging stances and both of us were in some serious foot pain because of our climbing shoes. We should have brought our approach shoes to change into for the descent. I think it was 13 rappels to the base and we simul-rappelled each of them.

This route was a great confidence builder for us. Derek did great leading. We moved quickly and efficiently. I got in some thin granite face climbing, which I’d have to do on a number of pitches on Lurking Fear. And we got down early enough where we’d be fresh to start El Cap the next day.
We made another run to the grocery store and then we headed back up to Hans’ place where we organized our gear to fix the first three pitches of Lurking Fear the next morning.
El Cap from Middle Cathedral Rock. The Nose is the sun/shadow line. Honnold solo up just to the left, in the morning shade. Lurking Fear is far to the left, about the left edge of what we see here. 
Monday we started. The plan was to ease into things by fixing the first three pitches. We carried most of our gear up there in one go. The only things we didn’t bring up there were our sleeping bags, additional gear for the wide cracks, some additional clothes, and some food. I carried the haul bag and was working pretty hard up the slope, but we didn’t need to do any rope shenanigans at the fixed lines and I was able to just climb up them using it as a hand line, albeit with considerable effort.

We saw Hilary and Wayne at El Cap Meadow. They were headed for Dolt Tower, training Hilary up for the NIAD with Hans in September. Her original goal was to do the Nose jugless, but that is one huge step up. I think she’d need a lot more training for that and, after her recon on the route, she agreed.

My friend Alan Doak had lent us his bosun’s chair for the ascent, but when packing up, it seemed like too much stuff to bring up there. This chair, while comfortable to belay from, is bulky and heavy and just another thing to deal with. We stripped it away and took a butt bag instead. Alan also recommended two carries to get our gear up there, but we pretty much did it in one. This wasn’t so much that we’re so strong (Derek might be, but I’m certainly not), as I am so lazy. I didn’t want to hike up there twice just to bring the gear up there. Alan recommended mosquito netting and bug spray and we ignored that too, mostly because we forgot and were lazy. Basically, whatever Alan recommended, we didn’t do. It’s a bit strange to ignore the advice of a better climber, but we worked things out our way.
Hiking in to fix lines.
Upon arriving at the base of the route, the mosquitos descended with a vengeance. Derek immediately took off to find the water source and see if he could fill the bottles, but he had to be at least partially motivated to keep moving and get some relief from these blood-sucking marauders. I busied myself flaking the ropes and gearing up. We were taking both ropes up, but nothing else. Our haul bag wouldn’t be ready to haul until tomorrow morning.

Derek reappeared without any of the bottles. He said he had them propped up to fill from very slow drips and hopefully they wouldn’t tip over and be full by the time we got down.

Pitch 0: The top shows an optional belay (with two bolts) at the top of the initial 5.4 climbing that led up to a small pedestal sixty feet up. I belayed there at Derek’s request to get him out of the mosquitoes, which were brutal at the base of the route, but non-existent just a tiny bit off the ground. In fact, Derek climbed up just ten feet to harness up and found just that small difference to cut down about 75% of the nasty pests.
Derek starting off on the second pitch.
Pitch 1: This pitch surprised me with near immediate mandatory free climbing. It was a good introduction, though, as I’d be doing plenty of that on the route. Transitioning to free climbing from aid climbing isn’t that tricky, but there are a few additional considerations. The first and most overwhelming is the sheer amount of gear clipped to you, even on a mostly bolted pitch. In addition to a regular rack I had a haul line clipped to my harness, hooks, aiders, daisies, and, for the rest of the route but not on these three pitches, I’d also have ascenders with which to haul the bag up. It’s not just the weight either, but the bulkiness of it all. I didn’t feel precise or fluid. The other thing I had to remember was to detach my daisy from my aider, if I was going to free climbing out of an aider. If not, I needed to pack up my aiders on my harness before starting to free climbing, which meant either hanging on a fifi hook or a quickdraw.

I had a tiny ledge to stand on at the top of the first pitch, which was a rare treat on this route. There is another ledge at the top of the third pitch and then nothing so much as a foothold until you get to the top of the ninth pitch. Then nothing until the top of the twelfth pitch, where there is another tiny ledge. It’s pretty sheer on this route.

I fixed Derek’s line and even pulled up the entire haul line and stacked it on the tiny ledge. While I was waiting for Derek to arrive a couple of climbers walked up to the base of the route and yelled up, “We’re doing Lurking Fear too and we’re going to head up there and pass you.” Sure it was a bit aggressive to start with such a statement, but despite having climbed El Cap before, I still consider myself one of the weaker climbers on it. I hear so much about people climbing routes on El Cap in a single day, of climbers freeing various routes, and aid masters doing the terrifying A4 routes, that by aiding the easiest route on El Cap over 3+ days, we must be the worst climbers on El Cap. That’s okay. It still seems to be a pretty elite group, at least in my mind. Hence, I just yelled down, “Sounds good!” I don’t know if this response surprised him or disappointed him because he was only kidding and I think wanted to cause us some momentary stress (in good fun). He quickly responded, “Nah, we’re headed to do Mirage.” This was another El Cap route to our left, in-between Lurking Fear and the West Face.
Leading on the second pitch.
Pitch 2: Derek arrived at the ledge and turned over the jugs to me and I passed him the aiders. He then set off on his first ever lead on El Cap. He took a bit of time to get his rhythm, but we were in no way rushed for time and I had a comfy belay, so I was relaxed about it. Derek might not have been relaxed at that start. I wouldn’t be. Leading on El Cap for your first time is pretty daunting. He got some considerable mental relief by knowing he wasn’t headed to the top, at least not today. About halfway up, Derek calls down, “It’s ten feet to the next bolt!” I responded with a bit of distress, “Ten feet?!” He moderated and said, “Well, at least six feet. I’ll have to free climb.” Derek tried free climbing, but forgot to unclip his daisy and his progress was stopped by it. When climbing back down he noticed his handhold could be used as a gear placement. One .75 Camalot later he was by the difficulties and cruising well to the belay, having gained a bit more confidence and groove.

Pitch 3: Here I was a bit intimidated by the lack of bolts on the free climbing variation to the left and almost went up the normal pitch on right, but was worried if I had enough gear for it. I wrestled with this decision for awhile. I’d look to the left and be anxious by the gaps between the bolts. Then I’d look to the right and wonder if I had enough gear for that crack. I decided to man-up and try the 5.10 A0 variation on the left (this is rated 5.12d if you free it all). I stretched between bolts, taking some tension to maximize my reach, and did a bunch of free climbing to get through the bolts and to the crack which began about halfway up the pitch. I could french free the crack up to the belay. I back cleaned the traverse so that Derek didn’t have to lower-out too many times, though he became quite the lower-out expert by the time we topped out.

Derek arriving at the top of the third pitch.
At the top of this pitch was a stashed bottle of water. With no fixed lines I knew it was abandoned and free for us to drink. This is a pretty common practice amongst El Cap climbers. It’s so much work to get water anywhere on El Cap and the water is obviously so precious to climbers, that it is never poured out and not carried down. You either drink it or leave it for others. More than once I’ve been overjoyed to discover some extra water left on a route. There are some exceptions to this rule, where sometimes climbers pre-stash water for a subsequent ascent, but that is still relatively uncommon and I’d hope that it would be marked for that purpose so that others wouldn’t think it was okay to drink it.

Derek cleaned the pitch without any trouble. He was really getting proficient with all the cleaning tricks and seemed remarkably comfortable so high above the ground. Our El Potrero Chico training was paying off.

We fixed our lead line to the bolts and I rapped off first. There would be no simul-rappelling for us this time, as there was just a single strand heading down. I had the haul line fixed to my harness and down I went. I went 190 feet down and found two sets of two-bolt anchors, separated by about fifteen feet. I chose the one with a rappel chain installed and clipped in there. I fixed the haul line here and left on the second 190-foot rappel before Derek arrived.
Derek rappelling down our upper fixed line. I'm rappelling the second line as I take this photo.
Soon we were both back on the ground and we headed up to check on the water. The bottles were filled and we went about filling the rest of them. I was able to scramble up a bit higher to a stronger drip and within fifteen minutes we had our three gallons of water. Our plan was to limit ourselves to two liters (roughly half a gallon) per person to day (one gallon for the team each day). Since “a pint’s a pound the world around” (thanks for that Loobster, I’ve never forgotten it), that amounted to 24 pounds of water.
Derek rappelling the second line ot the ground. I love his comment: 

We packed up all our stuff into the big haul bag so that it looked neat and tidy. We’d need to unpack all our climbing gear tomorrow and repack for the ascent, but we left it neat and headed down, carrying just our empty Atom Smasher mini haul bag. We’d use that tomorrow to bring up the sleeping bags and the rest of our clothes, gear, and food.

Just above the fixed line we ran into two climbers resting in what little shade remained. Piotr and Jaukijewickzch had the same plan as we did: to fix three pitches on this day and blast the next day. They were disappointed that we beat them to the punch, but were nice enough not to crowd us or pressure us and just shifted their ascent by one day. Why they chose to do both the hike up there and the fixing of the three pitches under the brutal sun, I don’t know. I’m sure they were now doubly regretting that choice.
Heading in to jug the fix lines and blast for the top. This is all we carried in. Well, by "we" I mean Derek.
Our hike down was easy now that we were working with gravity and not against it. I pointed out all the El Cap routes that I knew to Derek on the way down. Once back at the car the Valley heat hit us hard. We headed for Half Dome Village (formerly known as Curry Village) to fuel up with an absolutely humungous burger, fries, and a milkshake. I couldn’t even eat it all, taking half the burger with me for dinner later. We’d burn off those calories in the next few days. Afterwards, we headed back to Hans’ house for one more night and one last shower.

We were up at 4:30 and out the door before 5. We drove to El Cap Meadow and then decided we really wanted a bathroom. We made a quick loop over to the bathrooms at Bridal Veil Falls and back again. We returned much lighter and ready to hold our shit together, literally, for the next three days. That was the goal, but we were prepared with a poop tube and carried it the entire time.

Jugging the lines was much more tiring that I expected, as the angle wasn’t quite vertical - the ideal angle for efficient jugging. I think it was because we had to go 190 feet without a good reason to pause. Derek went up first while I made the final preparations with the haul bag. We had the haulbag pretty full and then clipped the portaledge (in its own bag) and our mini haul bag to the bottom of the main haulbag. It was a sizable load.
Body-hauling the bag.
When I arrived at the first anchors, Derek was already on the next fixed line, though he didn’t move up because he needed to pull the haul line up with him. I tied into the end of the lead line with about fifteen feet of slack and transferred my ascenders from one side of our Microtraxion (which Derek had already set up in haul mode) to the other side. This way I had my entire weight on the haul line as a counterbalance. This technique is called body hauling and it works great. As soon as I weight that side I quickly went down to the limit of my tether on the main line. I needn’t have made it so long. I then “jugged” the haul line, remaining in the same position the entire time, as the bag moved steadily up the face. We’d use this technique entirely up the route and it made the hauling about as easy as hauling gets, which isn’t that easy. This way the leader of the pitch not only had to lead the pitch, they then he essentially jugs it as well, to haul the bag.

The bag was soon up and we docked it with our docking cord using a Munter friction hitch and then wrapping the excess cord around itself for additional friction. This is a great technique where the second never needs to physically lift the bag off the anchor to unclip it. This is key when the bag is heavy, as all the gear to lift the bag is up with the leader at the top of the next pitch. Learning these systems are the keys to getting up big walls. Having said this, Derek and I had never used this technique before and only learned about it the week before we left for the Valley, just watching a YouTube video on how to do it by my friend Mark Hudon. I’d heard of this technique for a couple of decades, but never really needed it, as the few times I’ve hauled up a route, the bag was light enough to manhandle if I had to. And many times, if the leader is straight above you, the leader will just haul the bag off the anchor and there is no issue. But if the leader is significantly sideways, then this technique is very handy.

Derek, haul line clipped to his harness, then jugged the second fixed line, set up the haul, and lifted the bag off the anchor. He did a body haul as well, while I jugged up to join him.
Me leading the fourth pitch.
Pitch 4: This pitch started off with more free climbing between bolts. The topo calls for more hooks here or 10b free climbing. I always opted for the free climbing and never used my hooks on this route. The rack also called for 3 beaks, two sets of nuts, and two sets offset micros. I diligently prepared by buying a second set of these tiny nuts, which I carry frequently when climbing in Eldo. On the entire route, I placed three nuts total. Of those three, one was just so I didn’t leave a cam behind, one I immediately back cleaned and one was a micro - the largest size. I avoided all these nut placements by micro cams and offset cams, which I absolutely loved. Each offset cam was completely bomber.

Anyway, free climbing got me to the 5.12a crack which was supposedly C2, but went routinely. I set up the belay, fixed the line, and hauled the bag.

Pitch 5: Derek’s lead. This is a beautiful crack rated 5.12b and out of the question for any free climbing. It was a hundred feet long, rated C1, and supposedly ended on what looked like a small ledge, at least on the top. There was basically nothing there. Derek, who had been in his running shoes up until now, changed into his climbing shoes for the lead. He did a great job leading and steadily made progress up to the belay. At this point he had still led less than twenty pitches of trad climbing. He was on a ridiculously accelerated pace to be leading an El Cap route. He even had to back clean some gear, his first time. At the belay, he set things up and hauled the bag, using our now familiar body-hauling technique.
Derek leading the fifth pitch.
Pitch 6: This started a stretch of three pitches where we thought it was best for me to lead. This pitch supposedly had some C2 on it and I wanted to limit Derek to just C1 on his first El Cap route. This pitch seemed pretty straight forward, though I think I placed one of my stoppers on this pitch and used some of my now favorite offsets. It didn’t seem any harder than Derek’s pitch, though it was a bit longer. It ended in a complete hanging belay before the C2 (or 5.12) seventh pitch.

Pitch 7: I was a bit worried about this pitch because of Loobster’s tale of his partner leading this pitch. He got so despondent that he put his head against the wall and slammed it with his hands, crying out, “I can’t do it! I just can’t do this!” He did it. So did I. It might be easier now than back then. The topo mentions hangerless bolts, but all the bolts were shiny and solid. I did a tension traverse and some free climbing and it was all over in a jiffy. The rest of the pitch was moderate crack climbing and I free climbed to the belay.

Once I arrived at the belay Derek’s stress level greatly increased. Why? Because the ropes had become a tangled mess. Both of them - together. He had to untie from the lead rope, which is not as scary as it sounds, since he remained clipped into the belay with two redundant slings, in order to untangle that. He thought he was going to have to untie the haul bag as well, but eventually worked it out. This took a long time and caused Derek lots of frustration and stress. A hundred feet above him, I could do nothing to help him.

Derek would later say:

So, the scary part was down jugging and then untying. But there I could tie in short. It was just a much less secure position than hanging on the bolted belay, and constantly moving down the rope, camping back the jugs. And then leaning way over to the bag, etc. You did help by suggesting down-jugging! I didn’t know what to do until then. Felt helpless. I couldn’t lift the bag of course and the problem was that the rope would loop under the trailing bags (mini and portaledge) and then catch on the big one, around the connecting biners. So I had to go to the smaller bags and free the rope from around them. And then untie… Ugh, what a mess.
Me leading the sixth pitch.
Derek also had to lower-out the bag because of this traverse. He was easily able to do this, once the ropes were untangled, because we had the bag clipped into the haul line via a Microtraxion. This allowed Derek to pull a bunch of haul rope out the other side of this device and use it to lower out the bag. This worked great and soon I was hauling the bag straight up to me. Then Derek had lower-out twice from bolts, where there were leaver slings, to follow the traverse. Unfortunately, when he got across and could now jug straight up, the ropes were tangled around the haul bag below him. He had to down jug the line, which was a first for him and a bit scary. He tied in short to reduce his stress and straightened out the ropes, but this cost him some precious mental reserves.
Me leading the start of the seventh pitch. 
Pitch 8: This is the infamous pitch with the 80-foot 4-inch offwidth. On the first attempt on this route the climbers retreated back to the ground to get the specialty gear required to climb such a crack safely. We had that gear with us and we pulled it out of our bag and I clipped it to my rack: just two #4 Camalots. Rated just 10a, the offwidth should be free-climbable by me, or at least french-freeable. But for me to do that, I’d need at least four #4 Camalots and I wouldn’t want any other gear on me. So, I aided it. Carefully. I was able to leave one #3.5 Camalot about halfway up, so that’s two 40-foot runouts, risking a couple of 90-foot falls. I think the key to climbing such a crack efficiently is to not hop one cam above the other, but to “crack jumar” the pitch, where you keep the same Camalot as the top piece the entire way. You stand on the top one, then move up the lower one until it is just below it, stand on the lower one, and then move up the upper one. Lather, rinse, and repeat. It all went smooth and I wasn’t too nervous, except when I got one of the #4’s stuck! I needed both of these to finish the pitch and I wrestled with it for a few minutes before I got it free.
Derek following pitch 7, where we had to lower-out a number of times.
The pitch ended at two bolts on the blank face next to the crack. The crack didn’t end, though, it got thinner quickly. I hauled and Derek jugged.
Looking up the eight pitch from a bit below the belay. This is the #4 Camalot crack.
Pitch 9: This was one of the pitches we had designated as Derek’s lead. Most of this pitch is rated just 5.9 with a 5.10 step across or A0 tension traverse at the top. and was only supposed to be a hundred feet long, but Derek took out more than half of our 230-foot foot lead line. Derek did another good job with the leading, placing tons of pro, yet not running out of gear. He did a little judicious back cleaning, too. It was time consuming, though, and I anxiously watched the sun getting closer and closer to the high horizon. I called up, “How’s it going, Derek?” I try not to do that, as I don’t want him to think I’m critiquing his speed and I don’t want him to rush and be unsafe. Yet I did. And I did it a couple more times. I phrased as casually as I could. Just getting an update, no worries about that sun setting over there, should be at least thirty minutes of light after it drops below the hills, no pressure. But in my mind I was concerned. We’d only set up the portaledge from a hanging stance once before, in the Flatirons. Now we’d need to get it assembled or we’d be hanging in our harnesses all night.
At the eighth belay. 
Alas, Derek called down “off belay” and was soon hauling the bag, while I cleaned the pitch. I was impressed with his gear placements and told him so. He was at the Pillar of Despair belay and he dropped down below it to try to get his full weight into the hauling, but was still having some trouble moving the bags. I clipped in and lent a hand. As soon as we got the bag up, we retrieved the portaledge, which was clipped in below the haulbag, and pulled it out as a tangled confusing mess.
The portaledge, once erected consists of a rectangle of aluminum poles, with a fabric bed strung between them, upon which we sleep, and a number of straps from all the corners and additional locations, which all come together at a single point, which is clipped into a solid anchor, like a bolt. But before that the ledge is six aluminum tubes strung together with shock cord so that you can’t drop any of them. Getting these tubes untangled from all the straps had us befuddled for a while and then it had us frustrated and finally it had us fairly desperate, though not yet frantic. At times we were at a complete loss at how to fix the issue. It was getting darker and darker and our stress level continued to rise. We never got short with each other, though. We just worked the problem and eventually, almost by divine intervention, we finally had it deciphered and it went together. We got on it just before we had to pull out our headlamps.

By the time we dug out dinner and sleeping bags from the bottom of the haulbag we had gear clipped everywhere. With both ropes tangled and dangling from both sides of our ledge it looked like a giant had flung our haulbag against El Cap and it exploded and stuck to the wall. I was a bit stressed. We had barely done six pitches of climbing today, though we did haul all nine pitches. We’d been having trouble keeping our ropes untangled. I’d love to blame this on Derek, but truth be told he was handling the ropes better than I was. Part of the problem was our borrowed, static haul line. This rope was purchased by Chick-fil-a for Hans to fix ropes down El Cap for some commercial. Erik offered 70 meters to us and we figured it would be better than the dynamic line we had. I don’t think it was easier, because this rope was astoundingly stiff. It was hard to even coil and flake because it stuck up at nearly rigid angles.
Looking up the ninth pitch, our last for the day.
Lying there on the ledge, I realized I’d never really been in such a committing position with such a inexperienced partner. And this wasn’t just a weaker partner, but my son. I really didn’t think going down was an option. Much like the Loobster when we climbed Bugaboo Spire, descending seemed out of the question. Rappelling with the gear and doing the pendulum rappel would be challenging and scary. In retrospect, we should have been fine. It just would have been time consuming. One person would descend first. Then the bag would be lowered down to them and finally the third person would come down. But even then the haul system would be needed at each rappel station to lift the bag off the anchors and onto the Gri-gri to be lowered. Of course, going down was worse than just the work of descending. There was the burden of failure to carry down as well and I feared that would be considerably heavier than any weight we needed to get up the route. Above us was what I figured to be the crux pitch - pitch 12. This pitch traversed nearly its entirely length. I figured it would be hard for me to lead and for Derek to follow. I knew the burden of getting us up the wall was entirely on me. In all my other ascents of the wall I had either an equal partner (Tom, Loobster) and a much stronger partner (Hans, Jim Herson, Mark Hudon). I’d been up El Cap five years ago, when I turned forty-ten, but with Hans and I had done very little to advance our team. The last time I had done significant leading on El Cap was when Tom and I climbed the Salathe Wall. That was, what? I couldn’t even remember. Ten years ago at least. I’d done fine on the first couple of days. No pitch had given me that much trouble and I moved steadily up them. Yet, I was stressed. Probably, somewhat due to the insanity of our position. On a tiny, aluminum cot attached to a smooth granite wall one thousand feet off the ground by a mere three 3/8” bolts. I slept uneasily that night due to all these thoughts racing through my head.

At one point Derek said, "That's disturbing. I see only one of my approach shoes clipped in." That would make hiking down slow and painful. He'd have to go barefoot or wear his climbing shoe. I was already thinking of giving him one of my approach shoes (we wear the same size remember) and hiking down in one of my Mythos climbing shoes. When Tom and I did Nose-in-a-Day we didn't bring any shoes to descend with. We hiked entirely down in our Mythos. Those shoes are so comfortable. Everyone should have a pair.

Anyway, a moment later Derek looks over the edge of the ledge and says, "I see it. It's wedged in the crack down there." Amazing. I wouldn't have thought it was possible to drop anything at all anywhere on this route (save Thanksgiving Ledge) and not have it fall to the base.

The next morning I was awake early. Heck, I was awake parts of every hour of the night, I think. I peered over the edge of the ledge, down a thousand feet of smooth, shaded, gray granite. It was early, but I wasn’t cold. We both climbed the entire wall in shorts and long-sleeve shirts. At six a.m. I asked Derek, “Should we get up and get moving? Or do you want to sleep a bit longer? I’m fine either way.” I should have been anxious to give myself as much time as possible to get to where we needed to be, but I also feared the mess we had around us and feared getting started. Derek slowly nodded that we should get moving. It seems he had a lot of the same trepidations that I had, though I hoped his were less. I hoped he was just thinking, “My dad will just take us to the top and all I need to do it make sure I can clean these pitches safely and manage the bags.” We never talked about an explicit change in plans but somehow I knew we were thinking the same thing: that I’d take over all the leading. This would lower the stress level of both of us a bit and we’d have clear, unchanging roles for the foreseeable future.
Me leading the tenth pitch - our first pitch on day two. The first roof above me and a bit to the left is the start of the eleventh pitch. The 2-tiered roof way up there is the twelfth pitch.
To further lower the stress, I modified our goal for the day. Originally, we had planned to go clear to Thanksgiving Ledge at the top of pitch 17. That would be eight pitches of climbing, including the crux. And it would start with us getting everything untangled and packed up. It seemed like too much of a burden to take on so early in the morning. I told Derek, “Let’s just aim to get to the top of pitch 14. We know there is a good bivy there for two people.” Derek did not react the same way I did to this suggestion. He deferred the decision making to me, but he’d later tell me that he already wanted to be down on the ground and the only way to get there was to go up to the top. Anything that slowed that progress wasn’t a good thing. Hence, in trying to lower my stress, I increased his stress, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I also proposed that, instead of sorting everything out immediately, I lead this next pitch, the tenth pitch, the pitch we had hoped to have fixed the day before, while Derek belayed me from the portaledge. Then I’d rappel back down, cleaning the pitch and we’d have one rope straightened out and a bit less of a mess to deal with. He agreed and, after racking and sorting the lead line (and rappelling down to retrieve Derek's shoe), I led up.

This pitch was another C2 pitch and our topo called for cam hooks and RPs. I didn’t use either, but used plenty of micro cams and offset cams. I fixed the rope and rappelled back down. We packed up the haulbag and then packed up the ledge. This was all much easier to do with me still on rappel with my Gri-gri and able to move around with great freedom.
Leading the traversing twelfth pitch.
Derek jugged up the fixed line and tied into the end fixed up there. Then, as he hauled the bag, I jugged up to join him. Somehow we already got the ropes messed up again. Hauling tended to do this to us, since the extra haul line drops down the route. We could have hauled a bit, stacked the rope, hauled a bit, stacked the rope, but it’s time consuming and frustrating to break your rhythm. We got into a routine that we’d continue the rest of the route. Derek would stack each rope over his shoulder and then bundle it with a sling and clip it into the belay. I know others have used rope bags and I think they would have been an option for our lead rope but that would have been absolutely impossible with our ultra stiff haul line.

So, what would I do while Derek did all this stacking? Generally, nothing. I re-racked. I rested. It worked well for us and Derek was so good with the ropes, so diligent in getting them organized. I was never short of rope when leading; never had to wait on him.

In order to speed things up a bit I decided to try to link pitches 11 and 12. Pitch 12 ended at a same stance and this will skip yet another hanging belay at the top of pitch 11. To do this I needed to be judicious with my placements, especially my slings. I was a touch concerned at the 5.10 free climbing required to skip some hooking at the very end of pitch 12 because of the tremendous rope drag I’d have after pulling out nearly 200 feet of rope, but I could reconsider when I got there.
At the top of the thirteenth pitch.
Pitch 11 started with some C1 up to a hard traverse to the right called “tricky” on the topo. It didn’t seem too bad. Above was a C2 section but wasn’t anything more difficult than I’d already done and I was soon up to the top of pitch 11, which was only a hundred feet long. I back cleaned the traverse to make things easier on Derek and I did this very aggressively on the strong leftwards traverse on the next pitch. In my efforts to help Derek, I made some minor mistakes. In a couple of cases I back cleaned above a piece I placed, where he’d have nothing to lower out from, unless he left our piece - highly undesirable. I heard his frustration from above and I took it as a critique on my leading. He didn’t mean it that way. He knew I was doing my best to make things easy and if I made a mistake, then I made a mistake. It’s difficult to not voice your frustration in times like this and we did very well with each other. We never got cross with each other and always treated each other great. In such a stressful position for so long I’m very proud of that.
Derek belaying at the top of the thirteenth pitch. See the nicely flaked ropes? This was the first time we didn't have each rope hanging in a sling at the belay. Our first real ledge since leaving the ground the previous day.
The free climbing at the end of the pitch, like elsewhere, went pretty easily and all of it seemed way easier than the 5.10 rating. I’d have guessed more like 5.8, maybe 5.9-. I certainly wasn’t disappointed in this and maybe the topo author was just being conservative. With all the gear on you the free climbing can certainly feel harder.

I arrived at a stance for the third time on the route and above me I could see the angle tilting back a bit. Once you go around the corner at the end of the 12th pitch, the nature of the climb changes and everything eases up. Ledges appear, the angle decreases, the climbing is free instead of aid. It was a great relief to get here. Derek did an awesome job with the advanced cleaning on this pitch and didn’t have to leave any of our gear. He did have to take some swings across the face, because he had no way to do some lower-outs, and these are always nerve wracking. Derek is just a natural at handling exposure. Most people, thrust into such a crazy exposed position, wouldn’t have lasted three hours, let alone three days. While he wasn’t any more comfortable up there than I was, it was his first time and it was my eleventh time. I think he can attain the mental state where going up El Cap is a natural, comfortable thing for him, but I doubt I’ll ever achieve that.
Derek jugging the fourteenth pitch. The bag is stuck and I'm waiting for a little help from Derek.
Pitch 13: This pitch started with a very thin crack, free-able at 12b. The topo called for micro nuts, but my micro cams worked fine. After thirty feet the climbing turns to 5.8 free climbing and then ends with  a 40-foot ramp of 5.4 climbing. Hence, this pitch went very quickly. It ended on a large, sloping ledge. It wouldn’t be comfortable to sleep here, but taking a nap might not be too bad. I was grateful to be off my harness. I hauled with bag with a little help from Derek and we took a short break to eat and drink.

Pitch 14: After Derek did his usual flaking of the ropes, I clipped the bolt just above the belay, stood in my aider, placed a 0.75 Camalot, pulled on it, and I was on a sloping ramp. I back cleaned the cam and carefully inched across the slick ramp to 5.7 free climbing the rest of the way. This was a bit circuitous and I ran things out greatly to make the cleaning easier. This wasn’t scary at all since there were many ledges and the exposure seemed greatly reduced. This was a long pitch, but it ended at the bivy ledge, which was pretty flat and would have sufficed fine.
One happy guy to be at the top of the fourteenth pitch - a possible bivy location.
Derek jugged the lines and helped the bag along nicely in the few spots where it got hung up. We took another break here and asked Derek if he wanted to continue up to Thanksgiving Ledge, three pitches above us. He definitely wanted to continue, but didn’t push it because, as he said, “You’re obviously doing the bulk of the work, so whatever you think.” It was only 2:30 p.m. and I was feeling strong, so we opted to go for it.

While I just rested, Derek did his task of flaking the ropes. He got quite good at handling the ropes and never shirked from this job or asked for help. I’d occasionally help with the stacking and always with the slinging of the ropes, but he pretty much did this all himself.
Looking up at the fifteenth pitch.
Pitch 15: This pitch is rated 10c and is pretty long at 130 feet or so. I went up this pitch pretty efficiently, never using the aiders, but french freeing the 10c section. Here I never had to clip into the gear and never had Derek take me on tension. I just placed the gear, grabbed it, clipped in the rope and continued on. It worked well and soon I was hauling again.

The ropes were a different story as these last three pitches to Thanksgiving Ledge were all in a big left-facing corner system and the ropes were accumulate in the corner and tangle. We didn’t cut any corners, though, and after each jug and haul, Derek dutifully stacked both ropes.

Pitch 16: This pitch was rated only10b, but the top twenty feet were so slick, sustained and awkward that I opted to stand in aiders. I didn’t feel solid french freeing it and didn’t want to make a mistake so late in the game. Plus, I had the time and it wasn’t a big additional time cost. It was another long pitch. All of these three pitches were markedly longer than our topo stated. They were all at least 130 feet and this one might have been 150. I belayed on a small stance where I could drop below it, hanging completely free, to easily body haul the bag.

Pitch 17 finished on Thanksgiving Ledge so it was great to finally start up this pitch. It began with some steep crack climbing that I french freed and soon hit the 11d 4.5-inch offwidth, which I very carefully aided on tipped out (accurately described in the topo as “barely works”) #4 Camalots. Thankfully, it was only 15 feet before the crack pinched down to a more reasonable width and I was able to place bomber gear for another 15 steep feet. Once I turned the lip of this steep wall, it was 5.7 climbing up blocky terrain to Thanksgiving Ledge. There were two bolts right as I hit the ledge, which made for convenient hauling, but I needed some help from Derek below to get it unstuck a couple of times. We wondered how wall soloists handle stuck haul bags.
On Thanksgiving Ledge!
Thanksgiving Ledge is indeed large and an awesome bivy, though it could be flatter and smoother. One advantage of having such a deep ledge was that I could take off my harness and give my hips some relief. Derek didn’t do this and diligently remained tied in at all times. His mom will be pleased by this. I sure was. It wasn’t really risking taking off my harness, as it was impossible to fall off the ledge…except for when I got up during the night and inched out to the edge to pee. That was just a bit nerve wracking. I was concerned enough where I tried to maintain a slight tilt back toward the wall.

Once on the ledge I confirmed what I feared on the last lead. We were missing two yellow Aliens. I must have dropped them, but I didn’t notice them being dropped and Derek didn’t notice them flying by. I dropped another cam on the sixth pitch, the day before. I noticed that and watched it drop. I still don’t know what size cam that was, as I didn’t notice anything missing from the rack. I did add a few extra cams to the rack, just in case, and it must have been one of those. At least it wasn’t a core cam. But the yellow Aliens (0.3 Black Diamond size) had been extremely useful. I brought four of this size and there was at least one pitch where I used all four. I also had four in the red Alien (0.5 Black Diamond) size. We were heavy on the same cams, per Chris McNamara’s suggestion (“They don’t weigh anything”).
Thanksgiving Ledge - what a treat.
Thanksgiving Ledge was sort of lumpy and the best sleeping spots were under an overhang so that you couldn’t sit completely upright in your bag. This wasn’t an issue, as there were plenty of other places to sit. There was a sizable tree at the very edge of the ledge. There are rappel anchors here, just below the ledge and it was scary to contemplate rapping down that blank face below us. I knew it was going to be a lot of work getting up the last three pitches and then hiking up and over the top of El Cap to descend the East Ledges, but I’d much rather do that than to head down that wall.

We emptied the haul bag of pretty much everything, laid down our pads and bags. We ate heartily, as we had plenty of food. We’d still carry down two cans of spaghetti the next day. Maybe we should have left them for subsequent climbers… We surveyed our water situation and we were right on track. We drink a bit of the next day’s rations, but it wasn’t going to be a full day anyway. We found a log book up there and signed it, each pouring out our hearts about each other. Even though it wasn’t the top, it was an emotional moment. We knew we’d get to the top the next day, as there was just one 10a pitch to go and then a couple of low 5th class ones before we unroped.
Reading the Thanksgiving Ledge log book.
The next morning we organized and packed everything. I led over to the start of the next pitch — an eighty-foot traverse across the easy, wide ledge and anchored the rope. I then came back to get the haul bag. We’d broken the drawstring at the top of the bag and when Derek was moving the bag over to me, it tipped over and opened. Before we could react one of our 1-liter Nalgene water bottles tumbled out and over the face! We yelled but there was no chance anyone would hear us. I screamed a profanity and Derek buried his face in his hands. Immediately I felt bad. I never heard anything about an injury below and likely it bounced off the face and fell far away from the face. At least I hoped it did. We bundled the top up tighter and moved on.

I french freed up most of the 18th pitch, but clearly didn’t study the topo very well, as I didn’t notice the 4-inch crack marked on it and left behind all the big cams. It wasn’t too bad and I was able to climb by it. Above I stayed in the main crack too long and went into the “off route” section. I could see the two-bolt anchor down and left of where I was. I climbed up onto easy terrain and slung a flake so that Derek could clean the pitch without taking a big swing. I then downclimbed twenty feet to the belay bolts at the top of the steep climbing. The belay was located here in order to make the hauling easier and it certainly did.

The next two pitches were easy rambling, mostly. The first had two bolts where I could belay and haul. Now on lower angled terrain, I had to walk down the slab to haul the bag. I’d then climb back up to the belay using one ascender and then walk down the slab again. The bag came up reasonably well.
Done with the roped climbing!
The last roped pitch had a bit of real 5.6 climbing on it and I zigzagged a bit. I ran out our entire 70-meter rope, just barely reaching a small tree where I belayed. More slab haul ensued with considerable help from Derek. We found ourselves on lower angle terrain where we could hike and moved all the gear to a large boulder. We emptied everything out of both of our haul bags, put the waist belts and shoulder straps back on the bags and jammed them full of all our gear. Derek then carried the small haulbag, which didn’t even have a waist belt and probably weighed 40 pounds. I carried the big haulbag which felt like it weighed a ton, but a lot of that had to be the awkward nature of a bag that big. It probably weighed between 50 and 60 pounds. We kept our harnesses on, as we knew we’d be rappelling down the East Ledges. This was a mistake. It doesn’t take long to put on a harness, but we both wore ours clear to the parking lot.

There was a fixed line on one last steep section and I just barely made it up that with the use of an ascender as a handhold. Derek was moving along well, as he’s a very strong kid. Above this line, we had to climb steeply uphill for another ten minutes or so. At one point we stopped and I scoped the route up to flatter ground. Once up on the flatter ground we dropped the loads to continue just a few minutes to the very summit of El Cap. I’m not sure I’d ever been there before. If so, it was on my first ascent of the Nose, when Sheri and John Black met the Loobster and I and we hiked out to the trailhead on highway 120. After taking a summit photo we retrieved our loads and laboriously hiked down and east, down and east, picking up the well cairned descent route near the top of the Nose and following it all the way down to the fixed lines on the East Ledges.
Taking a rest on the way down.
Here I made a bit of a rash decision. I decided to rappel with the haul bag on my back instead of attaching it to my harness and rappelling with hit between my legs. The first rappel isn’t vertical and I thought it would get hung up too much. Derek went down the first fixed line to confirm that the rope was good and I wouldn’t need to pass any knots or other shenanigans. Derek zipped down without trouble, but couldn’t get on the second line because a climber was jugging up it.

Derek turned to me and said, “I have to wait for Jimmy Chin to get up here.” Derek and I knew of Jimmy Chin the famous climber, photographer, and film maker probably best known for “Meru” — a film about his ascent of the Shark’s Fin with Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk. We knew Conrad through my brother Chris, who met him in Bozeman, where Conrad lives and my brother has a vacation house. In fact, Chris helped finance the finishing of that film and is in the credits as Executive Producer. I’d never met Jimmy before, though.

I waited for Jimmy to jug up the top line as well. While waiting, two climbers coming off the Nose in a Day joined me. I’d let them pass me after the first rappel, as they were off to do another climb. These guys were psyched to meet Jimmy and everyone introduced themselves. Jimmy didn’t know who I was, not surprising, and I had to name-drop my own brother…to a climber. His eyes lit up and he said, “Hey, that’s crazy for us to meet on the East Ledges of El Cap. Say ‘Hi’ to your brother for me.”

The second rappel pushed me to my limit, as it was very steep and had a knot in the rope just before the end of the rappel, to protect against a core shot. Derek used his ascenders to get by this and I had mine on my hip and was ready for it, but the haulbag was crushing me and I had trouble breathing here. Derek saw me in a bit of distress and soloed up to me, unroped, and pushed me into the wall and used his head under the haulbag to lift some weight off my shoulders, so that I could get my composure back. It was both impressive and scary to see Derek come to my aid so quickly, unroped, and with a 40-pound pack on his back. This wasn’t quite as scary as it sounds, as the terrain wasn’t extreme, but, still, a fall would have been fatal. Derek, most definitely and in this situation quite literally, has my back.
Nearing the fixed lines.
The remaining rappels were tough on me, but I made it down safely. We then hiked carefully down the steep, loose trail, past the Manure Pile Buttress and down to the parking lot where we finally dumped our huge loads. What a relief! I was so thankful to finally drop that haul bag and strip off my harness. It was two miles back to El Cap Meadow and Derek was soon off to retrieve it.
He was gone less than a minute when the shuttle bus pulled up. It’s next stop was the Meadow, so I called Derek back and we hustled to pick up all our gear and drag it onto the bus. We were quite a scene and a man on the bus knew we had climbed El Cap by the look of us. And then he asked the question every wall climber hates. He asked it as his very first question. He should have first asked, “How can you two be so incredibly brave to go up that cliff? Just thinking about that makes me wet my pants.” His second question should have been, “Can I get a photo with you two guys? I’m so impressed by your skills and fitness. This is the highlight of my trip to meet two hardman, big-wall climbers.” Instead he asked, “How do you poop up there?” I hate that. It’s not the most dignified question. I gave him my best steely-eyed, Eastwood-esque squint and said, “Do I look like I poop? Guys as tough as us have evolved past such gross bodily functions. Our bodies use absolutely everything we ingest and our only waste products are CO2 and water.”

Indeed, we walked a bit taller now. You never look up at El Cap the same after you’ve climbed it. Derek’s now gone through a door into the world of big wall climbing. He’s broadened his experience considerably. What’s next for us? We’ll see. We have some ideas. I doubt we’re done with El Cap…

That was pretty much it for the trip, though we didn’t head home until Sunday. Derek was taking two online summer college courses and needed to get caught up on all his homework and even take a test. After cleaning up at Hans’ house we decided to drive to Oakhurst to stay in a motel (a bit of a disaster, but I won’t go into the details. Suffice to say, I made a bad mistake) where Derek could get wifi and do his work. The next day we hung out the entire day. We watched the French Open semi-finals, Derek did his school work, and I organized our gear.

Friday night we guerrilla camped at the ski area along the Glacier Point road and Saturday Derek worked all day in the Yosemite library in Half Dome Village. We were originally planning to climb the first four pitches of the Nose that morning and do school work in the afternoon, but I found out the wifi was much better in the morning and we switched plans to climb it in the afternoon. But as we got to lunch time it was clear Derek had a lot more work to do and we bagged climbing for the day. I worked the morning with him, helping him out with his programming class and then did a 15-mile hike in the afternoon where I visited Illilouette Falls for the first time. We bought dinner in the small store there in the Village and heated it up in the microwave. We hung out some more in the library and met two climbers, Steve and Inga, who, after finding out we didn’t know where we were sleeping that night, invited us to join them their site in the Upper Pines campground. Awesome.

We were up early the next morning and were back at the great coffee shop in the cafeteria at the Half Dome Village. After a quick bite and a coffee, we headed back to the Manure Pile Buttress to finish off Nutcracker before heading for San Jose, the airport, and home. When we got to the parking lot we saw three guys gearing up. Knowing there was a good chance they were headed for our route, the most popular route at the crag, by far, we hustled.

As we approached the base I didn’t see anyone and thought we had it to ourselves. Alas, Kate and Walker were just starting up. Kate was belaying Walker who was halfway up the pitch. Kate didn’t even have her shoes on. We waited. We had to. We really wanted this route.
I followed Kate up the pitch, not too close behind, as I didn’t want to be rude, but close enough where I was hoping they’d offer to let us pass. I made it known that we had to be down and driving out of the Valley by 9:30 a.m. I strung the first two pitches together, following Kate as she led the easy 5.4 pitch to the top of the pillar. I thought the crux of the whole route was a move or two at the top of the 5.8 lieback on the first pitch.  Derek might have thought the flared wide section on the fourth pitch was the crux. Alas, we didn’t have trouble with any of it and loved the climbing.

Derek followed quickly and we all waited and watched Walker lead the third pitch. He belayed from a slightly hanging stance and yelled down that he’d let us pass here. I asked if I should start up and he said that would be fine. I zipped up the pitch, moved left, and was linking in the fourth pitch. I opted to belay before the crux wide flare over the mini roof and took just a tiny bit too long to call down off belay. Kate had started to move up the pitch before Derek, so he was clogged up behind her.
Once by her, at their third belay, he soon joined me. We re-racked and I led the remainder of the fourth pitch and brought him up. I was leading everything this morning, only because of our need to move quite quickly. I zipped up the fifth pitch and the crux mantle move, which isn’t really that much of a mantle and definitely not the crux for me, and was soon pulling in rope as Derek swarmed up the final moves to the summit.

We knew the descent from our first day in the Valley and here, on our last day, we repeated it. Back at the car, we threw in the gear just as some raindrops started to hit us. We’d timed the trip perfectly. In a couple of days Hans’ house would be covered in snow. Derek drove us to San Jose where we had lunch at my friend Steve’s house. We were best friends when I lived in San Jose. It was great to catch up and he and his whole family seemed quite interested in our trip up El Cap. We packed our bags, drove to the airport and flew home.

It was a nearly ideal trip.