Thursday, June 09, 2016

Bouldering in Japan.(My first time there)

I was in Japan for work in May. I got to visit my old friend Yuji Hirayama! He now owns and operates a climbing and bouldering gym in Tokyo. Interestingly Tokyo hosts around 100 climbing gyms! I got to boulder with Yuji and some people at the gym before we jointly put on a show about the history of The Nose. And of course, the story of Yuji and my Nose Speed record ascent. 

Wild that I ended up hopping on problems with Akiyo who is the multi-time world bouldering champion. Of course I showed her a thing or two, but that was just in the show. She definitely walked up any problem I was able to do. Although I found one reachy slab problem that I could do and Yuji took two trys on, I trailed behind him as far as I did Akiyo in completing the harder problems. All the same it was fun to play with these world class climbers.   

For those bouldering geeks who want details about the gym ratings… They have their own color code system where they refer to the V scale on a key on the wall. Thus all green routes in the gym are about V6, all pink routes are V3, and all black routes are V9, etc..   
Other things I noticed is that at Yuji’s bouldering gym
they tended to have more volumes per square foot then we do at US gyms. Perhaps the strangest thing about Yuji’s gym is that there was a 5 by 5 ft glass room for smoking! Here we are in a healthy exercise gym and they have a smoking room! (BTW I didn’t use it.) Yuji explained that if people went outside to smoke then it would show poorly to his neighbors. There was of course the customary removal of shoes past a certain threshold upon entering the gym. All this combined to make it that “other worldly flavor.”
It always been the tradition that you bring gifts to your host and Yuji never let me down when he visited the US. I brought him a CRKT Hyphenate, because he already owned a NIAD. Of course there are other traditions about giving someone a knife... One does not give a knife with out receiving something in trade. Yuji gave me a penny for the Hyphenate. If you are ever in Tokyo look up Yuji’s gyms: Big one Small one  

Also while in Tokyo I got to go to Geosports sew shop and mess around with some of their toys. Owner of Geosports, Akira, used to be one of the best paragliding pilots in the world, pioneering much of the early designs, and was the largest supplier of paragliders to Japan a decade ago. Akira took me around to see some sights in down town.

Other interesting things about Japan: They drive on the left side of the road. There is very little trash. They do not cross the road without a green signal at the cross walk. They wear black pants and white shirts if they have an "office job." They smoke in restaurants.  The Taxi cab drivers are honest and take credit cards. 
They have a huge selection of canned ready to drink coffee, the choices are mind boggling.

Tokyo is home to a 639 meter tower! (I'd love to climb it).

Akira and I visitng temple in Tokyo.

You can put your drink on the counter in a bullet train while moving and not see a ripple on the surface of your drink. Speed be with you in all your travels.  Hans

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Milestone on The Big Stone.

--> I climbed The Nose Route of El Capitan for my 100th time September 12, 2015!  I am not hesitating to put an exclamation mark after that sentence. I've never climbed a one pitch route anywhere 50 times. 100 is a staggering number for a route that is a once-in-a-lifetime-goal for many climbers. I distinctly remember topping out in the July heat of 1989 with Mike Lopez and thinking: “Glad I knocked that out, no more big wall camping for me. Give me sport climbing!” Goes to show that people do change.

Leading up to….

When I hit 50 ascents of The Nose I thought it was odd to have 90 ascents of El Cap and more ascents of The Nose route then all my “others route ascents” combined. I called Warren Harding and knew he’d get a laugh out of me having climbed “his route” 50 times—he did. ( I also told Warren I climbed it with a blind guy, a mother/daughter team and two kids. He thought that was hilarious.)  Part of me thought that I should branch out and do some other routes. This meant that I had to do obscure or at least HARD aid routes, since I had done all the trade routes. (Salathe, Zodiac, Lurking Fear, North America Wall, West Face, and another 20 easier aid routes. Etc.) (At the writing of this post I’ve climbed El Cap 173 times, alas the climbing community does not “count” The East Buttress of El Cap as “climbing El Cap.” If you state you climbed El Cap and fail to leave off The East Butress as the route you took, then a climber would call you a liar, or a cheat. Even if this makes me an outcast in the climbing community, I am going to say it anyway: That’s confusing to non-climbers and it’s elitist. There are easier routes on El Cap and harder ones. People state they’ve climbed Half Dome, via the Cable’s Route, or Snake Dike. Note: I have climbed the East Buttress of El Cap 13 times)

My 90th climb of The Nose was with Alex Honnold for the current record of 2:23:46.  I realized around the 80th that 100 ascents of The Nose was going to happen for me. Of course that led to the question, who and how would I do the 100th? My first thoughts were with my wife, Jacki, maybe some of the first people I had done the route with; ya know, “known entities,” after all I’d want my 100th to be fun.

Along came Fiona Thornewell  whom I met 7 years ago at a Polish film festival. She is an adventurer, which includes being a climber—polar exploration being her forte. Fiona was turning 50 and contacted me about doing something challenging for her 50th birthday... and she had an idea. She asked if I thought she could climb The Nose of El Cap. I probably quipped back: “It depends who your partner is…” Fiona came out to Yosemite in the spring this year, 2015, and spent time with the YMS guides and a brief few hours with me in the climbing gym. While she was here I could see she was a great character and someone I would love to go on an adventure with. I made her the offer to go up with me and my wife in September for my 100th.

El Capitini
As September approached my wife Jacki Adams Florine was too involved with her acting work and general life obligations to join us. I figured just Fiona and I could do the route, but I looked around for a third person to add some more "flavor." In August I signed a book deal with Falcon Books to write about my first 100 ascents and they connected me with Jayme Moye to co-author the book.(BTW shooting for the book to be out for the August 2016 OR show in SLC) As the 100th ascent drew near Jayme ever so humbly suggested that we should have an embedded journalist on the ascent.  Hmm, frankly I had interviewed Jayme to see if she was the right fit for me as a co-author, but she was still unknown to me as an adventurer/climber.  After a brief review of some of her past “work” and understanding she effectively moved to Boulder for the climbing. I trusted she would be fit mentally and physically for the challenge. I also agreed the book would be better written if she could experience the route with me. If there was any doubt in her mind I figured she could have one more experience to make up her mind, so I sent her for two days training/testing with my past co-author Bill Wright! She “passed” and our team of three was set.

Yes, this was a team with two novice big wall climbers. Yes, neither Fiona nor Jayme had much experience on multi-pitch climbing, let alone ever being more than 200 ft off the ground. Why did I choose to do my 100th with beginners? They both had shown past experience of going on adventures and being out of their comfort zone. Not only surviving those experiences, but also doing them gracefully or sometimes exceptionally. Experiencing those sorts of uncomfortable situations in an adventure AND being game for doing it again with me on El Capitan—that made me have faith that they were not going to be whiners, that they were going to pull their own weight with the skills and fitness they came with. That they were going to laugh when it got really hard, desperate, scary, or miserable. There was a small chance those four things wouldn’t happen at all on The Nose, but only a small chance.

The climbing

I am a big proponent of alpine style climbing when doing big walls. Basically that means not sieging the project. Alas, I needed to get in some practice bigwall technique pitches with Jayme and Fiona, so it only made sense to me to get some of our gear up to Sickle ledge on The Nose route while doing the practice. At the base of the first pitch to The Nose we ran into locals Alexa and Jane.
They were headed up the first four pitches to practice for a future NIAD ascent. They looked at our team with the haul bag we had and figured that we would be slowing them down so they opted for coming back at another time. The three of us made it to Sickle in about 4 hours. Both Fiona and Jayme learned just about everything one might need to know to make the whole route: cleaning gear, cleaning the anchor, lowering out, wrestling a haul bag, untangling ropes, trying to keep ropes untangled, belaying a fast climber, staying calm relatively high off the ground, and numerous other tiny adjustments in their personal gear.

We stashed a good portion of our water for the trip at Sickle Ledge 4 pitches up the route. We rappelled to the ground with the ropes left fixed for us to jug up to the high point on our launch day, the for following day, Thursday September 10th.

We woke up on Thursday, 4:30am and had a civilized breakfast of eggs, hash browns, strawberries, and coffee. We walked to the base in dawn light.  It was an odd light because the smoke from the fires was floating in the air. Not thick enough to make you cough, but dense enough to ruin the view of a crisp blue sky. It also hampered our views of the surrounding valley for the whole climb. Nothing was ever quite in focus. Because our gear and large portion of our water was on Sickle we did not have to haul the first fixed lines. We just carried heavy small packs and dragged behind a moderate haul bag.

The day started with the trickiest logistical pitches. That is, the pendulum swings into the Stove Legs from Sickle. These are problematic due to the lower out of the haul bag and following the traverse for the second on jugs. Fiona and Jayme, having learned a little bit about this on the practice day to Sickle, handled this with some experience in hand and some effort. While we started jugging that day an alpine style team, Linda and Tesia, had started on pitch one. They caught us at the very top of Sickle. They were “pushing” us from behind so it was a bit stressful making sure we didn’t slow them down. Stressful for me, at least. I’m sure Fiona and Jayme had stress from their own safety and general scares from being up hundreds of feet higher then they’d ever been before.
Linda at anchor exiting Sickle.

Without too much fanfare we survived these tricky pitches and continued straight up the Stove Leg Cracks for two pitches to arrive at Dolt Tower just after 3 p.m.

We had found out the day before that John and Andrew left 10 liters of water on Dolt so we skimped a little on what we brought, hoping there would be 3 to 6 liters left by the time the other parties ahead of us going by the ledge took their share. When I arrived at the ledge I saw NO WATER at all. This was not good—the temperatures were in the mid 80s.

Dolt Tower, Nikei in green shirt.
Two climbers from Austria, Tschak and Nikei were a full pitch above Dolt Tower and looked to be resting. After 15 minutes one came rappelling down. They were bailing. Ta Da! I asked if we could kindly help them by taking some water weight from them so they didn’t have to rappel down with all that weight! They saw the logic and self serving angle in my offer, and with wide grins they generously gave us 6 liters of water! Strangely enough for the brief 20 minutes I had my phone on at Dolt Tower, Steve Schneider  called me! Kinda cool that he climbed The Nose with me in 1990 for my second ascent and we set the speed record on that go, 8 hours and 5 minutes.
By 7:30 p.m. that first evening we had climbed another two pitches above Dolt Tower to El Cap Tower. This would be our bivy spot for the night. Around 6:30 p.m. we saw Linda and Tesia arrive at Dolt Tower. They opted to share the Tower with the Austrians, who were having one more night’s stay on the wall before their return to the ground.

Fiona and Jayme on top of Texas Flake.
We ate the old classic soup from a can for dinner with a bagel for carbos and something to wipe the sauce out of the cans. Despite the smoke we could see stars from our perch. Jayme opted for the firm ground of the rock ledge, while Fiona and I stayed on the portaledge. My most memorable quote from the first day: “Who’d of thought belaying all those birthday parties at Cleveland Rock Gym would have prepared me for belaying Hans Florine on The Nose!”

Morning came with a Black Medicine Coffee and another bagel. 

The fabulous Texas Flake Chimney pitch was the morning warm up, followed by the bolt ladder to Boot Flake, then the incredible King Swing. The King Swing although famously visual to watch and horrifying to lead your first time, also leads into some hard logistical issues for the followers and the hauling of the bag.
Credit Steve Rokks!
I had thought this out a few times and opted for climbing as high as I could after the King Swing on a giant top rope then running it out as far as I dare before placing pro. This meant the followers would not have to lower DOWN over to the other cracks, but merely lower a long ways to the left.

Following this lead is the messy traverse through the Gray Bands. I opted here for building a Via Ferrata and ferrying the haul bags along the line. We took a good long lunch break here and then started up toward The Great Roof.  As is common The Roof was fixed with many nuts, pins, and fixed cams from previous parties. I even pulled out a green Camalot and carabiner that someone had left in the end of the roof. I backed cleaned the roof to make for one long lower out when Fiona cleaned it.

This put us at one of the most exposed anchors on the route. It gives you a great view down the route. We could see Tesia and Linda toiling away in the Gray Bands below,
Looking down from the end of the Great Roof. Tesia and Linda down below in the Gray Bands.
and figured they would be stopping at Camp 4 for the night while we would fairly easily would get to Camp 5. 7:30 pm seemed to be our appointed hour for arriving to our bivy ledge each night, as that is when we arrived a Camp 5, two pitches above The Great Roof.

Camp 5 is a series of ledges rather then one big one. Again Jayme opted for a small rock ledge to sleep on while Fiona and I shared the luxury of a doublewide portaledge. I really felt we needed to fix two pitches in the dark this night so we could insure our mid day predicted top out time for the photographers and friends we hoped would meet us on top. After a hearty dinner and some pre sleep conversation I did not have it in me to lead anything. It would have to wait for morning.

Since it was an early to sleep night, it was not too difficult to get rolling before 8 a.m., which we just managed. After two leads we were on Camp 6, where we ran into Hannah and Jake who had bivied there while we were on Camp 5. I had passed Jake the previous year and he was going at a pretty good pace. We joked that he was not going to let me pass this year. As it turns out Hannah and him kept a great pace and we never got close enough or in a place where we were strong enough or fast enough to pass them. We were just close enough that we could chat which made for a fun ascent of the top few pitches.

An hour before we were going to top out we saw and heard Will Masterman rappelling down from the top. We were delighted to see him. He along with Steve Rokks, Trev Lee, and Wes Lee had hiked to the top to help us with gear and take some summit and top out shots.

The final pitch is the famous overhanging bolt ladder. Of all places on the route to be dangling out in
Photo by Will Masterman. Hans on the final 5.10 crack before the final roof. Jayme and Fiona at The Wild Stance.
space away from the rock this is the most spectacular. You are 2,900 ft above the valley floor and you can view the whole sweeping line that The Nose route follows. Fiona cleaned on this pitch and Jayme went for the full air jug ascent on the free line. Neither option is more or less terrifying.

When you crest the granite and can see the manzanita bushes and top out pine tree there is a place you can still lean out and see down the route. If you are not aware of it you could have your head down and be busy with the task of getting yourself off the route. That’s OK, but it’s a perfect time to pause, reflect on what you’ve just done and the easy ground ahead that you have “earned,” by climbing the past three days. I am wanting to substitute “climbing,” with “laboring,” “fighting,” “struggling,” “investing.” Etc. It is a huge effort and the sense of accomplishment is such that I have no hesitation doing it another time. I am looking forward to the 101st.
The top out tree! Stop the time!  4 days, 5 hours, 21 mintues, 26 seconds.

Post Climb.

We descended the East Ledges and were down in time for a run by The Village Store for a food run. Serendipity! We ran into Peter Croft! Peter and I climbed The Nose in 1992 for my 7th ascent and the record at the time, 4 hours and 22 minutes. That record lasted for 9 years. A mark that is unbeaten, so far. Peter joined us at my home in Yosemite West and told stories most of the evening.
It was in the plan to post our climb on social media. We had hopes that we would get traction and have some followers. We were blown away with far more attention than we could have predicted. The Park Service was following us and invited us in to craft a press release the following Monday.
Mike, Chief of Staff Yosemite NPS and Scott Superintendent NPS Yosemite.

We didn’t get a thumbs up from Obama, but short of that, we were in USA Today, a good collection of other papers and online journals. Some of these are in the links below.

media -
Big Thank you to the people and companies that support me. Jacki Adams Florine, My kids, Touchstone Climbing, Outdoor Research, CRKT, NUUN, Honey Stinger, Field Trip Jerky, Petzl, BD, KINeSYS,  Bluewater Ropes, Smith, Extreme Pizza, DFX Sports,& Fitness, Black Medicine, ACE,(yes, we took a porta-ledge), Bandaloop, (yes, their rigging skills help me). Steve Schneider for getting me up The Nose my second time and cutting 40 hours off my PR.

Monday, August 24, 2015

This years OR Summer show was fast paced for me.

I went in the show and my first stop was the CRKT booth. 
They had only one extra sample of the NIAD knife
NIAD = Nose In A Day Knife
that I would be launching the following day. I had one person in mind that might be in the convention center who would be the most deserving of receiving that sample. Someone who did the very first NIAD. I sent out a text to John Long, and he replied with an affirmative and gave me his location.

En route to meet John I hydrated up at the NUUN booth and caught John among the various climbing vendors. He was delighted to receive the knife. John, with NIAD in hand, could not resist messing around with some wonky posses.

Next up I went down to Outdoor Research  to check in on pack and glove designs with Megan.  
Coolest thing coming out is light subtle belay gloves! -Zero breaking in time. I love em. After a getting a few updates on pack designs and some feedback from Megan on gloves, I moved on to the Access Fund Booth to chat with Tim about AF matters.

In the early afternoon I met with Everett from LaSportiva  and he walked me through the line of new shoes coming out. I’m probably a bit unexciting on this front in that I just love their existing shoes in the line. TC Pros for Yosemite climbing, Xplorers and Gandas for approaches, and Katana velcros for the gym.

I touched base with Daniel over at Tenkara USA  out in the Pavilion. They make the coolest, simplest, and most effective fishing rods you’ve ever handled. (or I’ve handled)

After the show I headed down to REI  in Mill Creek to give a show about my travels with Erik Weihenmayer and adventures in Yosemite. Wonderful little crowd that had great questions. - So cool that an REI is right next to a Momentum Climbing Gym.

After the show it was off to Steve Edward’s home for some CRKT TomaHawk throwing!

Thursday morning started off with a core and exercise class at 7:30 at Momentum in MillCreek.  Then a swing by Massif Gym to chat with an old climbing partner Nick Fowler.

1pm took me to the Blue Water Ropes  booth to sign “Speed Climb” books which Falcon had generously donated. A fun list of folks came by including but not limited to: Lynn Hill, Libby Sauter, Chantel Astorga, Konstantin who gave me this wonderful handmade knife, Mike Gauthier from Yosemite Park, John Spalding from Falcon books, Tommy Caldwell, and a host of others.

CRKT’s launch of my new knifes was to take place at 2pm at their booth. The number of people coming by was fantastic.  Sean from GearJunkie came by the booth and let me walk him through the design features of the knives. Sean said we were in the running for the “Best in Show Award!” That was cool just to be considered.

I was busy for two hours at the CRKT booth showing the knives to people coming and going. Just as I was packing up to leave Sean came back by and had a huge Best in Show Poster Board Certificate to award us for the NIAD knife! Wow what a great honor.

Thursday evening was a night out to dinner, drinking, and deserts with the CRKT team to celebrate the launch of the knives and the winning of the award. Still feeling really great that we were recognized and at the same time know that the design had many influences from others. –Notably Trango’s Piranha.

Friday morning was an 8:30 am class at Momentum in MillCreek again. I bopped around from Honey Stinger, to Petzl, to Slingfin, to the AAC, to CRKT, OBOZ, Leki, Nuun, DFX, a noon break with Yoga Slackers. I found out about the crazy samples available in the pavilion out in the lot. – Every manner of: chew, bar, cookie, gel, drink, trail mix, jerky, and shot was available for sampling! Glad I skipped lunch! A must visit area at every show.

I had to leave the show early for a 6pm show down at the Momentum gym in Sandy. I was sharing “Hans’s version of The Race For The Nose.”  The following folks gave stuff to give out at the event, which raised funds for The Access Fund: DFXsports, Nite Ize, Honey Stinger, NUUN, CRKT, Outdoor Retailer, and Falcon Books. After the show a few climbers hung out and went over the beta on The Nose in anal detail with me. Totally geeking out about how to prepare, plan, and execute it. – Loved It!  I stuck around and attempted the wicked hard cracks they have at the gym and did a little bouldering. To cap the night off I threw a token few Tomahawks back at the Edwards establishment.

 Looking forward to the next OR show.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Women in My Life...

Since it is Women's History Month I thought I'd share  some thoughts about the women in my life on International Women's Day.

Jacki on the Pancake Flake,(23rd pitch on The Nose).
First and foremost my wife of 15 years, Jacqueline Adams Florine. Our first date was a hike up to Half Dome, climbed Snake Dike, then descended the Death Slabs!  Jacki was a NY climbing guide when I met her. She quickly became proficient on big walls despite her 'short cliff up-bringing' in the Shawangunks. Within four years of climbing in the West, she soloed The Leaning Tower, Lurking Fear and was the first woman to solo The Nose. An accomplishment that waited 12 years for another woman to repeat. (She also climbed a number of walls with other women and men.) A few years later Jacki became the first woman to climb all 14 of the California 14ers continuously, in under 10 days. A feat I had done years earlier with two other male partners. Jacki did it alone, pairing up with numerous partners who had to tag team to keep up with her. I tagged along with her for the Palisades range traverse*, which bags five 14ers in one sweep. We did it car-to-car in under 20 hours, I don't know of any other woman that has done that. 

Women 'Pre-Jacki:'

Top of Wolf's Head after climbing 20 classics in 20 days.
In the 90s I tried to send The Link Up** with a male partner and failed. Then I got closer to getting it with my friend, Abby Watkins. I finally did my first Link Up successfully with Nancy Feagin. Nancy and Sue McDevitt were the first woman's team to climb NIAD (Nose in a Day) in 1992. Another incredible climbing adventure I did with Nancy in 1993 was ascending all 20 of Steck and Roper's 20 classics in 20 days. 

In 1992, the year before Lynn Hill freed The Nose, she ran up it in under 10 hours with me. Amazing in that while we did it so fast Lynn was actually scoping it for the free climbing possibilities for the following year.

Incidentally, I've climbed El Cap with over 20 different women. In the fall of 2013 I did my only jug less one-day ascent of The Nose with Hazel Findley. Her preference! I have had the pleasure of climbing with incredible climbers, Bobbi Bensmen, Alison Osius/Benge, Tori Allen, Beth Rodden, and a good number of other women. The women I didn't list, should know I appreciate being able to adventure with them.

I feel very fortunate to have adventured with the above women and others. I learned something from each of them and because of it accomplished some of my best adventures. I hope you all get to climb with an incredible woman or three in March! To learn more about women in climbing, check out this great AAC article.

L to R. My sister, Roberta, Niece, Heather, Mom, Maryann, Daughter, Marianna, and Jacki.
Currently there are three special women in my life; my wife Jacki, my daughter Marianna and my mom, Maryann. I likely wouldn't have ever had the opportunity to pursue a non-conformist lifestyle of being a full-time climber in the 90s without the incredible support of my mom. I found a great picture with all three of my special women plus two other women in my life (my sister Roberta and niece Heather). It was taken at my mom's wedding last year. She married her teenage sweetheart after not communicating for over 50 years, but that's another blog post for another time...

Until next time!

*The "Full Palisade Traverse" includes The Middle Palisade, which Jacki did with Peter Coward. I was too tired to do that with her and the rest of the traverse on a separate day.
** "The Linkup" is climbing the Regular NW face route of Half Dome and The Nose of El Capitan in 24 hours. To date I think only three women have done that.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Get out of the Ditch

Yep, it has multiple meanings. I think I first heard Yosemite referred to as "The Ditch" by the blasphemous Gregory Crouch. The second meaning of "The Ditch" is a substitution for "The Grind," "the 40 hour work week," or "The City."

Wednesday (hump day), I finished with a days' work managing Diablo Rock Gym. Headed to the high school to pick up my daughter from track and field practice then dropped her off at her Spanish evening class. I headed home to share a dinner bite with my wife, catch up with my son and throw some clothes in a bag for my Thursday climb. By 6:30pm, I head down to pick up my daughter from class, drop her off at home, give everyone hugs goodbye and start the four-hour drive to Yosemite! Perfect timing too. The commute traffic out of the city had died down and it's clear sailing.
Haven't had coffee yet.

I arrived at my home in Yosemite West just before 11pm and am asleep within minutes.

The alarm goes off at 5:40am but I heard Will Masterman brewing coffee prior to that in prep for our quick morning gear check. Will arranged the rack the day before and I gave it a quick once over. We were aiming to head up the Salathe route for our "Thursday break in the week." Hmm- one #4, one #3, doubles on #2s and #1s, and triples on everything below that, except the smallest tiny cam we had only one of. Two biners of nuts, 10 quick draws, 6 runners and a host biners. Standard personal gear, jugs, speedy stirrups, one etrier, and two small backpacks. Food: a selection of Honey Stinger products, trail mix, hard Monterrey jack cheese, Field Trip Jerky and assorted NUUN tablets. We were out the door by 6:30am and in El Cap meadow by 7am.

It was light and initially I thought we slept in too late since it had been light when we left the house, but it was an unwelcoming 34 degrees according to the dash board thermometer when we parked. It felt about that temp when we started walking to the base. 99% of the time it's been my experience that a "lake of cold air" sits in Yosemite Valley in the mornings, just the 75 to 100-foot rise in altitude from the meadow to the base of the cliff is often as much as a 15 degree temperature change. I was looking forward to that as I curved in my shoulders and shuddered at the beginning of the hike.

We arrived at the base of the Salathe and Will was leading the first pitch at 7:27am! Indeed it had warmed up since leaving the car, but it was still brisk (probably 50 degrees). I was happy to let Will take the lead. "Warming up" on a 5.10 crack in such temperatures should be left to the under 30 crowd.

Will dispatched the first four pitches in good time. I jugged all four as the needed warm up for my leads to come. The sun hit us just as Will handed off the lead to me. You'd think I was wise enough to plan that! I took the next ones to get us to Mammoth terraces by a little after 11am.

By the last three pitches before Mammoth we were down to our T-shirts! Is it really February?!

Heart Ledges, time for a snack break.
Having some salty treats like Jerky, cheese, and trail mix is a much appreciated treat along with the energy food we consumed along the way. (Honey Stinger, and NUUN). Yep, I've done this a few times.

We rapped down a nasty fix line to Heart Ledges. I told Will that he should keep our 70 meter line attached to him while I rappelled. A little curious look came on his face and I answered... Just in the off chance that this old line breaks you'll have a way to get down. Kinda doomsday thinking but never hurts to play it safe.

The rappel, although sketchy with a knot to pass, was uneventful and we started out our climb out left of the Heart Ledges after another brief snack break.

Taking a selfie "under" or inside The Ear.

I "got to" to lead the ear pitch. Lucky me. For those who don't know it, the ear is like climbing along an upside down coffee cone/filter. We refer to it as a bomb bay chimney. It gets narrow enough at the top that you can't get your head in with a helmet on, AND reach high enough to just have your #4 cam get a bite on the rock. At 6'1" I am fortunate with my long reach I was able to keep myself protected for all but two moves as I chimney-ed my way out to the lip. Jugging the ear is no less awkward and Will had his fun navigating the follow.

Enjoying time at The Alcove.
We arrived at the Alcove below El Cap Spire, part way up pitch 20 and took inventory of our situation. It was a little after 4pm, a little windy and when not moving, I had all my clothing on. We figured only a few hours of light left and by my prediction of our rate of ascent we'd be topping out around 2am, that is, if we could keep moving. In great spirits as we were climbing on granite in Yosemite, in February! Nonetheless we were content to head back down to the Valley floor. And so we did.

Will lowering off the ear with moon in sky.

As a little tip on light and fast and bringing just enough to be able to safely retreat, but not too much, we nailed it perfect by bringing a 70-meter lead line and approximately a 30-meter X 7mm tag line. This allowed us the option to do a 50-meter rappel, kind of. I've thrown this combination out to a number of people who asked me what is the minimum amount of rope you need to bring (see further notes at the bottom). I believe I've used the system for one rappel before but this retreat was going to be tricky with a sideways lowering to Heart Ledges. (I believe there is a  rap route straight down from the Hollow Flake, but I didn't know if the spacing was 50 meters or longer. I also wasn't sure that we had a 30-meter tag line, in fact it may have been 25 or less) I knew there were short pitches between us and the Hollow Flake Ledge where we'd need to lower and go sideways, but I didn't know if we'd get lucky and it would be the magical 35 meters between anchors, or less! Hey, time for a science experiment to learn something! Will (Guinea Pig) tied into the rope and I lowered him off. If he reached the next rappel anchor before I saw the bi colored halfway mark on our handy 70-meter Bluewater rope, then we were good to just have Will clip to the anchor and I could immediately rappel with the gri gri I was using to lower Will. This was the case on five of the seven rappels to the Hollow Flake Ledge. When the halfway mark was passed I knew I had to employ the 7mm on the short end of our lead line. Once Will arrived at the anchor that was farther than 35 meters, I tied an overhand knot on my side of the rope and clipped it to his side. Then I tied the 7mm to the short end of the 70 meter lead line (my side). I rappelled on the side Will was on, the knot locked into the rappel anchor and would not be pulled through. I kept a hold of the 7mm line and once arriving to Will we just pulled the 7mm rope and down came the knot and our biner! Ta da! The lower sideways over to Heart Ledges involved some sneaky stuff, but suffice it to say we made it and rappelled the fixed lines to the ground and we were back at the car before 8:30pm.

We didn't "summit" but it's all in the journey and even if we'd made "the top" we'd have only climbed out of a ditch. As it was, we had a fantastic day of climbing. As I type this I am really sore all over,  with a big smile on my face knowing I will recover from the soreness feeling stronger.

I did a little business around the Yosemite neighborhood Friday morning and headed back to the city in time for dinner with my wife, video game with son before dropping him off at friends and then catching a high school basketball game.  Hope your Thursday was fun as well. You weren't stuck in the ditch I hope.

Notes on rope choices. Certainly if you know the descent specifics you can be more exacting on what rope combinations to take. Bringing a 60-meter full-size rope and a 5 or 7 mm X 60-meter tag line is an option. I like the 70 meter lead line because it gives you better options for short fixing when leading. I'm known for being flexible so I'll defer to a partner if they are adamant about another combination.

Monday, October 13, 2014


This weekend I headed out at 5:45 am Sunday morning from the stables parking lot with the goal of climbing The South Face of Mt Watkins with Will and Naomi. Between “reading” descriptions from The Super Topo guide and Yosemite Bigwalls guide by Erik and Roger, we figured that we would be at the base of the route around 8:30 am.

I put “reading” in quotes above because I only skimmed the directions in regards to the approach, and peaked at the maps. After all it’s MT WATKINS right? – How could you walk up Tenaya canyon and miss it? – Well we did miss it, until we made 5 hours of mistakes in wrong turns and misguided steep scrambling.

Six hours and two minutes after leaving the stables parking lot we arrived at the base of the route! We decided against climbing out of the ditch given how late we arrived at the base. (translation/clarification: “topping out on Watkins, El Cap, or Leaning Tower, is just crawling out of The Ditch, so really do have to “enjoy the journey.”) So, we had a great adventure, exploring various slopes and tiny trails in Tenaya canyon, found a cool water hole, our legs are super fit -or will be when we recover, and we now have a gallon of water stashed at the base of  The South Face Route!

I just got through presenting stories to The AAC International Climbing Meet Friday evening. I was telling them how we have these incredible wild walls here in Yosemite AND they are so accessible and close to your car door. –Funny sort of “foot in mouth” adventure for Sunday. I don’t call 6 hours close to the car door.

Points to remember:
-bring people with you that like to adventure. We had an adventure, the outcome was unkown. We got to explore around a beautiful canyon, in a beautiful place. Our group was joking and laughing and having a good time.
-Read CAREFULLY a couple sentences from past travelers, guidebooks, the net, etc. and save yourself 2 hours, or 3.
-Love the journey.
-When you hike up Tenaya Canyon and you reach West Quarter Dome on your right, THEN you will be far enough up the canyon to head left up to the base of Mt Watkins. (West Quarter Dome is the smaller and on the right when looking up at the two quarter domes.
-when you find a better way don't be stubborn to make the change over to it. Just do it.

I had a great time sharing stories with the AAC group on Friday evening and a super time instructing some of them at the base of El Cap on Saturday morning. I learned a few things “teaching” these experienced climbers. How lucky am I?- Getting to teach a class at the base of El Cap?  I am fortunate that I've picked up techniques from Europeans, Puerto Ricans, South Americans, Brits and Ozzies, Russians, and Asians. I was reviewing some of the ways to use cordelettes with the AAC folks and right there in front of everyone made the decision I'll never double fisherman my cordelette ever again. It reduces the flexibility of the cords use. It deploys
quicker when left untied, derigs quicker, more flexible in application and in adjusting once applied. I'll have a video and or images to post in the future about this. Yes, yes, I'm sure many of you our there are saying DUH, why did it take you so long to figure that out? (Big Thanks to Carol Kotchek and the AAC for inviting me to participate.)

Saturday afternoon I got to go up five pitches on The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral with Diane Payes. Again, we didn’t top out or even get out of The Ditch. That was better then OK for us, we got to climb on awesome granite terrain, with a beautiful alpine glow light on El Cap across the valley, and earn our meal with The AAC group later that evening.

I hope you got to summit something this weekend, or crawl out of a ditch, or just embark on something where you didn’t know the outcome before starting.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

keep like minded people around you...

Holly Webb has been in the Yosemite climbing community for over a decade. She has an impressive
5:30 am El Cap Meadow
list of El Cap ascents. Holly asked me if I’d help her with her “40 by 40 goal.” I said “sure” and then asked just what that was. Holly wanted to climb El Cap 40 times by her 40th birthday. Both Holly and myself currently do not reside in Yosemite and both of us have spouses, work, and kids* to keep us from long protracted adventures up El Cap. I went down the list of routes she may want to do that we could knock out in a day, or that we thought we could do in a day. When it came to The West Face she admitted she had never done the route despite the fact that she had done 27 different routes on El Cap! Done!-West Face it would be.

The Plan: Meet in El Cap Meadow Saturday morning before the sun was up. check in on the gear and supplies and get the hike done by headlamp before the sun could over heat us. Climb as much as possible in the strategic west facing side of El Cap for as long and fast as possible to avoid the sun, perhaps making the summit before “The Orb” gazed on us.

Holly was to bring the complete rack. She’s got more new gear then me. I brought the 70 meter Bluewater. We weren’t planning on stretching pitches or short fixing, but it’s nice to have for emergencies if you want to bail. -And of course could be used to extend some pitches if you wanted. We both brought our favorite energy foods and I threw in a holiday beef log. It was going to be hot so we brought 3 liters of water each. (and some NUUN to flavor it)

Our plan was to free what was fun, french free tougher stuff, or outright aid anything that gave us pause. “Just climbing” the route cause we aren’t hung up on style so much as going up and covering tons of cool ground. -And, it was TONS of cool granite terrain. Despite The West Face being perhaps 2/3rds the length of the tallest El Cap routes it’s still a long route with 16 pitches, many being 50 meters long. If you super imposed it on the east wall it would be taller then the Zodiac.

About 50 meters from the base of the route we turned off our headlamps and could hike the remaining gully by dawn light. Around 7am we started the route. The first two crux 5.11 + pitches of the route are right off the ground, so it’s a tough start to your morning after the hike. We didn’t bother freeing much of those pitches. We did both completely free the 5.10a airy 4th pitch. It has an ultra classic roof move that looks way harder then it is.

The downward traversing pitch.
During the next 7 pitches we mixed and matched some free, aid, and french free to arrive at the top of pitch 11, The Grand Traverse. It was around 11:30 am and we figured we should stop for lunch and enjoy some beef log, trail mix, and other goodies in our bellies for the remaining long 4 pitches, rather then on our backs in the small packs we each were carrying. We mixed and matched again until Thanksgiving ledge then simul-climbed to the top in two long pitches. Topping out in 6 hours and 1 minute from when we started at the base.
Being “The keeper or Librarian of the Speed Records” I looked up to see what the fastest known time was previously. I was stunned that the record for a Female/Male team was 5:59. OOPs we should have taken a little shorter lunch.

ohh, and to the title of this post:  It's nice to have goal seeking friends, be they in your neighborhood or just on your phone list. If you are going to pursue challenges, invariably you are going to need the support of someone who has challenges of their own. When you find like minded folks, put em in your Rolodex for future adventures.

*Holly’s kid is a national champion show dog.
Timed a ride back on the shuttle, a rare but nice finish.