Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Moonlight Buttress Rope Solo Winter Ascent February 4-6 2012

Moonlight Buttress Rope Solo Winter Ascent
February 4-6 2012

Climbing the Nose on El Capitan had always been such a powerful goal of mine.   So in September of this past year, after a successful ascent, I was left wondering what to do next. 

I decided to take three months off of climbing and did what any regular 27 year old male would do; went out to the bars, dated women, focused on work and socialized with non climbing friends.  It was a good change of pace and I enjoyed the subtleties of showering everyday, not driving 6-7 hours each weekend, a routine fitness schedule, female companionship, good food and sleeping in a bed. 

Then in Mid November, something hit me.  I lost all of my energy, was vomiting and over 103 fever.  I went to the ER, then to my Doctor for bloodwork - my results were abnormal.  I was bed ridden and missed two and a half weeks of work.  I slowly got my energy back, started working again, and then was hit with the same sickness.  This time it lasted a week and a half.  I was worried something was seriously wrong.  There were nights that my fever was so high and my shivering was so bad that I needed meditate just so I could separate my mind from my body.  I was scared, depressed and lost.   I rested and patiently waited.  I slowly began to regain my strength got my blood retested (it was back to normal) and was finally feeling normal again. 

Being sick reinvigorated my craving for adventure.  I realized how precious the time is that we spend and how quickly it can be taken from us.  I wanted more than anything to just “get out there and climb.”  I thought long and hard about what was next to climb and I decided that the next logical progression from big wall climbing was big wall soloing.   Solo wall climbing is the epitome of self-reliance and at that point I felt like I needed to climb but I also needed to be alone. Climbing has always been one of the rare times that all my worries leave me and I am truly in the moment.  I wanted to feel that again.

At 8pm on February 3rd, after work and feeling like shit, I decided to drive out to Zion to attempt a Rope Solo Winter Ascent of Moonlight Buttress.

Moonlight Buttress
Driving out to Zion video

I drove through the night, arrived at camp at 3 am and bivied for 3 hours.  Got permits, packed my haul bag and set off for the base of the climb.  The virgin river was low, but my pack was so heavy that I had to shuttle loads to the base.

After Pitch 1 Video

I climbed and fixed the first three pitches by dark and rappelled down to the base to eat and sleep.

Pitch 2 looking down

Top of Pitch 2 Video

Top of Pitch 3 Video

I woke up early in the morning and jugged up to pitch 3 and began to climb pitches 4-7.

Pitch 4 Looking Up

Pitch 4 Looking Down

Pitch 5 Looking Down

A Shot From The Road

A Shot From The Road Zoomed In

I arrived at the top of pitch 7 (linking 6 and 7 with a 70 meter rope) by nightfall and decided set up my ledge, eat and rest for the night.

Top of Pitch 7 Video

I started to see storm clouds accumulate and I got a little nervous.  I didn’t bring much bivy gear and it would not be smart aiding/free climbing wet sandstone.  I decided to fix a line to the top.  I linked the last two pitches, topped out at midnight and rappelled back to the ledge to sleep.

Summit Anchors
Celebratory Fruit Cup

Top of the Climb Video

I woke up in the morning happy although it was cold at night.

I packed up the ledge and the haul bag (somehow in the process I lost the porta-ledge cover, so I had to shove the ledge in the haul bag). I then jugged to the top

Summit Shot

...and then hiked out with a really heavy pack and a Bed Bath and Beyond Bag!

My Topo

Back in September I had no idea how to solo aid climb.  So I casually browsed internet forums, asked peers for advice and email corresponded to numerous climbers.   I finally had enough information to give it a shot.  Sometime in late October, I went out to Joshua Tree and rope soloed Equinox.  I felt like I had my systems down and I was ready to try a wall.  After my whole “sickness ordeal,” I felt like I was ready to go!  The night before I was planning to head out to Zion in February, I realized that I had no idea how to set up a ledge solo.  I went to the local gym and attempted to set up and take down the ledge.  It was pretty ugly.  I was hanging upside down, contorting my body, reaching long – until I finally got the hang of it. I  felt like I may possibly be able to set it up alone.

Notes on the climb:
Solo Aid climbing is a lot of work. 
I often forgot to eat lunch because I was rushing to beat the sunset; but aid climbing in the night and setting up the ledge wasn’t too bad.
I probably overpacked gear.  I thought that I would sew up each pitch, but ended up back cleaning a fair amount.
I used an unmodified Gri-Gri, it worked well for aid.
Face climbing with a Gri-Gri is a little heady, you need to pay out however much slack you expect to climb and make sure not to fall.
Bed bath and beyond makes awesome rope bags if you two of them ($4 total) and reinforce with a hanger to keep the lip open.
Twisti lock carabineers work great to back up your lead climb and jugging.  You don’t need to “screw” them shut each time.

Special thanks Mark Hudon, John Mac and Zak Tourville for putting up with my questions!