Friday, September 28, 2012

Lurking Fear - El Capitan 9-21 to 9-26-2012

Lurking Fear - El Capitan 
September 21 to September 26 2012

Life is crazy at times.  This past year was characterized by taking risks.  I quit my job that I loved and moved away from the city of Santa Monica.  I packed my bags with climbing gear and flew down to Peru with some lofty objectives.  The trip was characterized by the highest of highs (climbing Alpamayo, opening a route on Huamashraju, Climbing a 17,500 foot big wall called La Esfinge,  Soloing Vallanaraju and topping out Ranrapalca at 20,000 feet) and the lowest of lows (The passing of Ben and Gil).  I flew back home with two months filled with life changing experiences.  I was ready to get out of the mountains and onto some rock.  I was tired of humping heavy loads to high camps, waking up nauseous from the altitude, shivering sleepless nights in my sleeping bag and 12 hour summit pushes while gasping for oxygen.  I was ready to be back in California.  I was ready to go back to Yosemite and get on the Big Stone.  I was ready for El Capitan.

The Route:
Lea and I chose to climb Lurking Fear.  It goes at 5.7 C2F.  I was expecting the route to be cruiser but ended up taking 3 lead falls (my first lead falls on aid) and wasting 5 hours off route (this can be attributed to trying to climb in the dark).  Overall it was a fun route (mostly because of the hooking – the other pitches weren’t very inspiring).  The route felt a bit committing because rappelling the route would be annoying (there is quite a bit of traversing).
Route Number 1 - Courtesy of Supertopo
Day 1:  Pitches 1-5
The first day was fun, but slow.  We experimented with the hauling ratchet ( and it seemed to be the only way to lug our heavy haul bag up the route.  It was a bit time consuming until we got the hang of it.

Day 2:  Pitches 6-11
I felt we needed to get to pitch 11, or else we would have a lot of difficulty summiting in the proper time.  The climbing went a bit quicker this day and was highlighted by some awesome bomber hook traversing.

Day 3:  Pitches 12-15 
I wanted to get to Thanksgiving Ledge this day, but we had some efficiency issues and I was also pretty tired from the previous day of leading.  I ended up attempting to lead pitch 16 in the dark and felt like I was off route.  I lowered down, set up the ledge and decided to climb it in the morning.
Day 4:  Pitches 16-19
Pitch 16: The pitch that I had climbed to in the dark did not seem conceivable.  I stopped right before a grassy gully where there was a completely detached toaster sized square block just sitting where my next move was.  I thought to myself that this could not be the route; the rock will fall at any minute and there was no cam or nut move pass this section – it would have to be freed – which means I could not down aid it if I was off route.  I decided to seek other options and I down aided from that point. I tried to go up a 3-4 inch crack right of the belay.

It started off well as I was leep frogging all of my big C4’s, I even ran into a fixed piece that reassured me.  However, eventually the rock stared getting dirty and grainy and I had a feeling in my stomach that this was not correct.  I soon ran into a mandatory free move and I saw some old webbing tied off into a bail anchor.  SHIT…I was off route again.  I made and achor with a nut and the bail cord and lowered off my haul line while back cleaning my gear (quicker than down aiding).  I was a little worried we wouldn’t get past the pitch, so I immediately went back up the gully towards the loose block.  I found a cam hook move to the right of it and aided some more until I found the bolt at the anchor – relived and exhausted, I looked at my watch – it took 4 hours.  I told Lea “you are leading the next pitch!”

Summit:  We got to the top of the route just as the sun was setting. I ran to the mantel boulder and flew up some low fifth class slabs before it was fully dark (this was a little heady with the sun setting and in approach shoes with very minimal gear possibilities – I put a Yellow or Blue C4 in a flake to give some sort of protection up high).  We fixed the 70 meter ropes at a tree right near a perfect bivy site and shuttled loads.  We had some birthday cake, some dinner, then crashed – exhausted.
Day 5: 
Descent  We finished shuttling loads (this was a pain – had to fix two more lines), had some lunch, loaded up our huge heavy packs and descended the East Ledges.  It felt good to hit the parking lot – 5 days felt like a long time.  I was ready to be back on solid ground.
Each night I would clip my hang nails, take two NSAIDS to try to reduce the swelling in my hands, baby wipe my balls/feet/hands/face (not in that order) and put lotion on my feet and fingers.  This helped minimize the discomfort in my hands after doing long walls but I still came back with swollen hands mostly at the nail beds and it was difficult to close my fist – I’m still learning, but maybe that is part of the game.  I wore gloves for most of the climb. It saved my hands!

I lead 15 of the 19 pitches and it was very fatiguing.  The hauling was the primary difficulty as the bag got caught in a tree at some point and I started to shy away from the 2:1 hauling ratchet as time went on.

I realized that I am not the most “fun” big wall partner as I rarely talk on the wall – I am all about business.  I never feel quite secure until I make it back to the ground.  Lea was a trooper and put up with this.

There was a 20 percent chance of storm on Saturday and Sunday. It never ended up raining and the storm clouds blocked the sun making it more enjoyable to climb. We brought bivy sacks just in case and did not bring the fly to the ledge.  I am not sure which would be a better idea.  If it was pouring rain, the ledge and fly would be a pain to setup – a bivy sack is quicker.  I guess if there is heavy rain forecasted the fly would be more appropriate.  Any thoughts?

We brought one extra day of food and water.  This was originally in case it rained one day but ended up being needed because we were moving slow.  I decided it is always a good idea to bring storm gear and extra food and water on grade VI walls.  Your gear is already heavy – what’s a few more pounds?

The next wall that I climb, I will make sure to take advantage of short will save a lot of time in the future

Leave No Trace: 
We experimented with this method for storing our poop from one of the guys at pullharder (  It worked out really well and allowed us to avoid using a giant poop tube which is always a pain to carry down.

We hauled up all of our urine..  On top we had 6 liters of Newcastle colored urine that we dumped in an appropriate spot on the summit.  I still like the idea of hauling the urine off the route as there were some belays that smelled like pee.  Although I was temped one of the nights to dump all the pee off the ledge to make the hauling easier – I stuck with my ethics and kept the pee in the bottle (actually, they are Jeremy’s ethics, I am just following it because it is what I am used to – and there is some additional satisfaction pouring pee out on the summit).

We packed out someone else’s poop and two water bottles that they had left at the bivy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Leaning Tower 11-11 to 11-12-2012

West Face of Leaning Tower - In a day and a half - Leave no Trace -
September 11th to September 12th 2012

"The lower part of the tower averages 110 degrees; the upper section about 95 degrees.  Without question, the tower is Americas most overhanging wall" -Steve Roper

Tara had been wanting to climb leaning tower since the spring.  She wanted to grind her teeth on some C2.  Our schedules finally lined up (we each have “climbing plans” booked until December) and we set a date.  Tara and I are like brother and sister and we can’t spend more than two days together without arguing – so we planned a two day ascent.  

The Route:
The west face of the Leaning Tower goes at 5.7 C2. We decided to link all of the pitches on the route with a 70 meter rope to speed things up.

Getting Back into it:  It had been a while since I had climbed in the valley, so we decided to spend two days free climbing before the wall.On our first day, we “warmed up” on lunatice fringe (5.10c).  and by warmup, I mean hang dogging on lead.  After a rough lead, I was able to top rope it clean.   The next day we climbed Central Pillar of Frnezie.  It was a quick route (5 pitches) and a fun day.  We came back to camp and packed up for our wall.

We took the Supertopo recommended gear rack, 16 liters of water, some snacks, pizza for dinner and the rest of our normal wall gear.

Day 1:
We woke up at 5:30am and drove out to the climb.  You cannot overnight park at the falls, so we found parking on the shoulder very close.  The boulder field was surprisingly easy to negotiate in the dark thanks to being heavily carined.  We got to the base with nobody in site and climbed up to the start of the route (a line was fixed).

I linked pitch 1 and 2: A  fixed head was missing, so a reachy cliffhanger hook move was necessary to gain the roof. 

I linked pitch 3 and 4:  There was some really cool gear on these pitches 

Tara linked pitch 5 and 6 and fixed the rope:  It was he first time leading C2 and she did an awesome job.  Although one things:  She backcleaned the entire C2 section – so I ended up taking a monster pendulum while cleaning.   

I climbed pitch 7:  I was going to link to pitch 8 but I couldn’t see the anchors, so I waited for Tara to come up.  We forgot to anchor the rap rope to the pitch 6 anchor, so I rapped down to fix it - then jugged back up to belay Tara for pitch 8. 

Tara climbed pitch 8 and fixed the rope:  This pitch was just 50 feet and takes you to the base of the roof.  Tara used her free shoes but said that although they were helpful, they weren’t mandatory.  

We were back down by nightfall for a comfortable plush bivy with sleep pad and sleep bag.  We were joined by one other party who was behind us on the wall.  I slept like a baby.

Day 2: 
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning from our bivy site and jugged the 400 feet of rope that we fixed the night before.  We hauled the bag up to pitch 8.

I linked Pitch 9-10:  The roof was super steep, but I had adjustable daisies that made life much easier.  There was a lot of fixed gear and I did a lot of backcleaning.  I made it to the ledge bivy on pitch 10 and waited for Tara to jug,  It took a while and I was wondering what went on.  Turned out that she had trouble cleaning the double runner that I left under the roof since it was so overhanging – so she left it for the next party – a single runner would have allowed her to suck in closer to the wall to clean. 

Tara lead Pitch 11:  some easy but exposed class 4 takes you to the summit.  

It took us about three hours to descend.  There were something like 8 rappels.  The ropes would get tangled (70 meter ropes tend to do that) and I would “ride the pig” down the majority of the rappels.  We made it back to the parking lot pretty happy by 3:45pm– and jetted to Oakhurst for some celebration burritos.

Poop and Pee:
We packed out our poo (courtesy of a wag bag stuffed in a gatorade bottle) and pee (1.5 liters or 3.5 pounds).  We kept the wall clean and left no trace except for a double runner that was difficult to clean on an overhanging section.

Final Thoughts:
We climbed the route in a day and a half.  The pitches went quickly as we were able to link them.  We reached the parking lot at 3pm and were off to Los Angeles shortly after.  It was a great time with a great friend.  As we wee hiking out, we were already talking of our next wall.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bloody Corner - C2C 9-4-2012

Bloody Corner - Car to Car 14 hours
September 4th 2012

It had been a while since Jeremy and I had climbed together (One year ago - El Capitan) and it had been a while since I had climbed rock in the Sierras (One year as well) - so we decided to go on a bromantic adventure and climb Bloody Corner on Mount Russell car to car in a day.

The Night Before:
It was Joven's birthday the night before the a group of us met up at the Stinky Rose for a wonderful dinner filled with laughs, stories and a lot of garlic.  Being the Psuedo homeless/dirtbag that I have become, I filled up on 7 garlic roles (they come free with dinner).  This turned out to translate into 14 hours of "garlic altitude farts" and "loose garlic stool" during the climb - leading me to carry a bag of my own fecal matter to the top of Mount Russell (you must pack out all of your waste).  It was worth it!
The Crew
Returning to where it began:
The Sierras will always have a place in my heart.  It is the mountain range that first inspired me to take up traditional climbing and mountaineering.  Three years ago, I had hiked the John Muir trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney.  I was so awestruck when I passed by all the Sierra peaks that I promised myself I would go back and climb them.  The next year I went on an inspired rampage.  I ticked off the California 14er list (15 mountains over 14,000 feet) and was beginning to lead more technical rock climbs on those mountains.  Since then, climbing has added so much fulfillment to my life.  I have been lucky to have climbed all around the world on incredible routes with amazing people.  But nowhere in the world compares to the Sierras.  All of the past memories in climbing in the Sierras flooded through my head as my car raced towards Lone Pine.  It was a crazy feeling driving along the pitch black roads seeing faint images of towering mountains.  I had been in back from Peru for over a week; but this was the first time I felt at home.
Way Back When - JMT
The Route:
Bloody Corner is a route on Mount Russell that goes at 5.10 and is super sustained.  The crux pitch is 70 feet of solid 5.9 and 110 feet of solid 5.10 - getting harder and more sustained towards the top.
Bloody Corner 5.10
The Money Pitch (Mountain project)
The Plan:
Go fast, Go light - Drive up Monday night - sleep 3 hours - wake up - blast the route car to car in a day - drive home that night!
Our packs were both under 26 pounds
The Approach:
We both felt pretty fit, so we hiked at a comfortable pace.  We arrived at the base a little after 9am, about 5 hours after our wakeup at 4:15am.  We took one stop at iceberg lake to fill up water.

The route:
Here are the pitches that I took photos of, with a separate section below for pitch 3, which was the money pitch.
Taping up
Pitch 1
Pitch 4
Pitch 5
Money Pitch:
This pitch was really hard.  It was my turn to lead - but I did something that I rarely do - I gave Jeremy the option to lead it.  I knew that I didn't have the endurance to send it clean.  In the past 5 months, I had rock climbed a total of 10 days.  I knew I could pull 5.10/5.11 moves, but I didn't have the endurance and training to pull 150 feet of sustained 5.10. In order to climb it clean, my only chance was to follow.  Jeremy took the lead and gave a nobel try - but "took" 10 feet from the end of the pitch - super sustained.  I followed and ended up having to "take" to remove a stuck piece and took again a little bit higher when I ran out of juice.  SUPER fun though!

We arrived at the summit at 2:30pm just as a storm started sending light snow and rain down to us.  We decided it was wise not to spend much time, so we quickly headed down the class 3 ridge with our climbing shoes.

The Hike Down:
We followed the ridge, skated down some scree and partially speed hiked/ran down the trail, so we could make it back in time for Burgers!