Monday, June 11, 2012

South Face Washington Column Rope Solo 7-9 to 7-11-2012

South Face Washington Column Rope Solo
June 9-11 2012

I had been debating climbing another big wall route solo ever since my trip up Moonlight Buttress in February.  I distinctly remember telling myself “I am never going to do this shit again” and “That was the hardest thing I have done in my life.”  Well, four months later, I found myself planning another adventure.  South Face seemed like the obvious line.  It would be my first onsight solo and I could rappel the route at any point.  I packed my bags, cleared my head, and set off.

The Gear

Pre Climb Night:
My good friend Joven accompanied me to Yosemite.  He was planning to hike Clouds Rest and Half Dome.  We loading up the car and set off.  Traffic began to slow and then came to halt right past Magic Mountain.  Are you kidding me?  They closed down I5.  There was a fire and traffic was proceeding at a little less than a walking pace.  After two hours in traffic I told Joven “We should just turn around, it’s not worth it.”  I was rationalizing.  At this rate, we would arrive in the valley at sunrise with no sleep and a big day ahead.  He told me “Let’s keep driving and see what happens.”  This was the first of three times that I almost gave up on the climb.  We pushed through and 8.5 hours later, we arrived in the Valley.  I had slept 1.5 hours in the car and 1 hour when I got there.

Day 1:  
I felt sluggish; more sluggish than usual.  I was run down from the week before.  I was out late every night, was fighting a cold and to top it off I had a Yellow Fever shot on Friday that wiped me out and took away my voice.  I looked like shit and sounded worse.  To be honest, it added to the experience.  I enjoy type 3 fun, so stacking the odds against me didn’t seem too bad.

Pitch 1-3: 
I humped my haul bag to the base and made quick work of the first three pitches.  I had climbed these before en route to skull queen so I knew what was ahead.  Free climbing is much different with solo belaying.  What was a piece of cake a few weeks ago turned into a heart racing mental struggle.  “Should I put in a cam?  Will this device hold my fall?  Do I need another rebelay?”  These thoughts were running through my head along with “should I have brought approach shoes instead of trail runners?” as I was tip toeing through easy 5.7 terrain.  I made it to the ledge, unpacked my bag, ate my first meal of the day and took off to lead the Kor Roof. 
Some Pre-climb Venting

My Rope Systems

Top of P1 and onto P2

Dinner Ledge

Pitch 4-5:  I was fatigued on Kor Roof and was moving a bit slower than usual.  After a bit of time, I made it to the top and rapped down.  I thought to myself “Damn, do I really have to clean this?”  I rapped and cleaned and after some more energy, I made it to the anchors of the fifth pitch.  I finished by 6pm.  I was exhausted.  I had been climbing 13 straight hours with only a 10 minute break.  I was nauseous and very tired.  This was the second time I thought “I think I’m going to bail.”  I decided that I would just wait it out.  I wisely decided to stash all my gear on the anchor.  This way I was forced to jug the line and get my gear in the morning.  That as a smart move – gave me some motivation.
Looking up P4 Kor Roof
P5 Traverse
Left gear on top to force myself to climb the next day
Night 1:  
There was a party of two and a party of three but we had a comfortable sleep on Dinner Ledge.  I told everyone that I would be waking up at 5:30 AM because I would be moving slower.  They all agreed with this plan and I dozed off the second I hit the pillow.

Day 2: 

Pitch 6-9:  (There is a lot of rambling - you can just skip the text and check out the video/photos)
I woke up at 5:30, packed up my gear and took off.  I made it to my gear, racked up and said to myself “I'm going for it.”  I was energized by the sleep.  I made good work of the next two pitches and was finding a nice rhythm.  There were a few 5.7 free moves that were a bit spooky with trail runners, but I got over it quickly.

Next came the chimney.  I aid/groveled up it.  It was not fun.  I had eaten and drunken very little and was expending too much energy.  Every few moves I would make, I would get pulled down my Gri-Gri and would have to pull out more slack.  I was tying my backup every 10 feet, so untying and retying it was getting to be an issue but I didn’t trust my Gri-Gri would catch me, so I wanted the piece of mind.  To add to it, I was climbing the chimney with my back pack.  I made it through to some anchors but I had misjudged the belay.  There was another chimney in front of me and I thought it was part of the previous pitch.  I hung my bag and set a rebelay.  I wasn’t feeling very well and I had taken a break all day.  I was intimidated by the chimney; It looked about 50 feet.  I looked up and saw no pro options.  I thought to myself “I'm going to bail.” But I pushed on and saw the chimney was only 5 or 6 moves and there was a crack with a piton that exited out to the right.  Hell yeah.  I kept going and was aiding some easy 3 inch crack.  All of a sudden, the rope came snug.  This is when I realized that I linked pitches.  I was 10 feet from a tree anchor but couldn’t move, so I set a three piece anchor and rapped down to clean.  I raced up to belay and soloed past it and pulled up my ropes.  I set my belay then climbed the final pitch. I aided a bit, did a tension traverse, did some free/aid moves and made it to the anchor.

There is a 5.6 gully system that some parties choose to do and I was debating if I wanted to go up it or not.  I had no interest in topping out the route since I have been on top of column before and I had completed all of the technical climbing, so for me it was an easy decision.  This was the top of the route.  But I thought that at least I should go check it out.  I aided a mini overhang, mantled up and traversed 30 feet on loose exposed class 3 talus blocks.  I saw that could possibly be a gully but was not convinced.  I decide that I would forgo the true summit and rappel from the final aid pitch.  I was also concerned of rock fall in the gully solo aiding and then rapping and jugging.  I was happy with my decision.  At the same time that I was rappelling, the other party had caught up and had accidently coiled their anchor on top of mine.  I was glad that I didn’t rope solo the last section because this added rope drag and feeding issues could have lead to be a problem.  They were friendly though and I began my rappel.

I do not like the idea of double rope rappels in heavy wind but I made it down with no incident, ate some food and chugged my final liter of water.  It was 6:30pm.  I had been going non-stop with only a 10 minute break for lunch for the past 13 hours.  I was wiped, but happy.  I played some Cat Stevens and just relaxed.

Looking up to P7
Pitch 8
Midway up P8
Pitch 9
My Rope Bag on P10

Bottom of P10
Looking down pitch 10
Happy Jared

All done!
Night 2: 
The party of two ended up bailing, but the party of three that were below me topped out.   They had extra food and water and offered me a cliff bar and a liter of water.  It was heaven.  Thank You guys!  I waited for the stars to come out – tested out my SPOT device to prep for usage in Peru, called my parents and went to sleep.

Final Recap
My Favorite Sunset

Day 3:  

I woke up and I finally had my voice back.  I felt weak but rested.  I packed up and began my rappels.  At the second rappel, I went to pull the rope and it wouldn't budge.   I tried every trick in the book but I couldn’t free it.  This left me with three options.  I could wait three hours for the other party to come down and free it (they had decided to re-aid pitch 4 and 5 to retrieve some gear).  I could re-aid the pitch with the remaining rope (although my gear was in the bottom of the bag).  Or I could cut the rope and rappel off half of a 60 meter rope.  I was run down, in a bit of a rush to meet my friend at our determined time at the Awanee and just wasn’t feeling re-aiding or waiting; so I cut the rope.  I have a feeling that trailing party cleaned it on their way down but if there is still a fresh green rope up there, then someone could use it to re-rig some of the fixed traverse lines on the pitch.  I apologize for leaving a cut rope on the route – the rest of the route was done clean.  After I cut it, I setup a beaner block for the final pitch and extended the pull cord with 50 feet of coordellete that was my anchor.  I made it to the ground safe and sound.  I packed up and headed to the Awanee for a sink shower and continental breakfast. It was such a contrast being up on the wall struggling and to come down and see plump tourists overeating and waddling around.  I felt pretty rugged and I felt special – In my own mind I had accomplished a goal of mine:  To rope solo a big wall onsight  in Yosemite.

-I think I wrote this last time on my moonlight TR but “Rope Soloing Takes A LOT of work”

-I averaged about 5 pitches a day.  I could do 6 a day but no more.  I took about a 10 minute break each day to catch my breath and have lunch

-Camp Nanos are awesome - such a weight saver

-I pooped in a VONS bag with laundry detergent, put it in a ziplock and then cut an empty water bottle, shoved it in and taped it shut.  I left it on the outside of my haul bag.  the odor wasn't too bad.

-I drink more water when I solo.  I went through a gallon a day and still felt dehydrated

-I thought the more I did chimneys, the easier they would get.  I haven’t got to that point yet

-Aiding to freeing while soloing with a Gri-Gri  is scarier than when being belayed

-People usually think you have no friends if you solo aid – or for someone reason nobody wants to climb with you. The majority of the time (95%) I climb with partners, but I get much more out of soloing than anything else I have ever done climbing related.  It’s just you and you only.  You are in the moment for the entire time.

-It is easier to give up when you are alone because you don’t have someone telling you “no, let’s do it man.”  I just had to stay focused at the task at hand and keep doing my “Job” and eventually I made it through.

-There is a lot of rope to manage.  At some point, I need to ditch my 10.5 cm 70 meter rope – it’s really heavy

-I was glad to make it down with plenty of daylight

-Music is nice before bed but I don’t listen when I climb.  I had the same Cat Stevens song running through my head the entire climb – I’m an old soul.

-My haul bag weight was 75 pounds – much more manageable than the 100+ pounds I lugged up and down Moonlight Buttress

-Writing trip reports on my computer in the car is a good use of time but I realized I had about 100 typos!

Shots of other parties on the route:

Special thanks to Joven Borro:  Thanks for encouraging me to keep driving to Yosemite in 8.5 hours of frustrating traffic.  If I had driven alone, I would have turned around.


  1. Great job Jared! I'm still not so sure where the fun is in all that time you spent in Yose, but I'm glad you find joy in that sort of thing. Keep at the chimneys, and if you need any recommendations, do let me know.