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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First One Day Solo Ascent of The Triple Direct Route on El Capitan!

11:17pm Sunday on top of El Cap. 17 hrs 29 mins

I climbed, by myself, The Triple Direct (TD) route on El Capitan on Sunday, July 13th, 2014. Non-Climbers: The TD is a route up the middle of a 2,950-foot-cliff, El Capitan, in Yosemite Valley. A normal party would plan to take four days on the route. The route has been climbed by very high level of experience teams in under six hours. I do not know of any recorded solo speed record to date. I think this might be the first one-day ascent of the route by a soloist! We’d call that TDIAD (I climbed the route in 17 hours and 29 minutes. Car-to-car in 20 hours and 21 minutes.)

I am told it was 106 degrees in Yosemite Valley on Sunday; not ideal for climbing El Capitan. I choose The TD because I could climb for the first part of the day in the shade. Then the route goes slightly right around the corner into upper dihedrals so you get late in the day shade too. If I timed it right, I’d only be in the sun for a few hours. Predominately this worked out for me. It’s tough for me to get time to do something big and also climb the days before to get “tuned in,” so I really wanted to use this day, hot or not. Thursday and Friday I climbed with my friend Derrick Lindsey on Tuolumne granite, so that was a great time to get re-familiarized with the rock.

Climbers: (non-climbers this may be Greek, not interesting, or hard to follow.) I started off the ground at 5:48 am. I used a 70m X 9.1mm BlueWater rope. I planned to stretch the rope to full length nearly every lead unless there was some logistical advantage otherwise to do so. I planned to jug, (ascend the rope), with a 4,000-cubic-inch backpack, a bit big for these things but nice to have the room for the approach and descent. My rack was: ten quick draws, ten free biners, four long runners, doubles of everything up to #2 Camalots, one #3 and, in case Alex Honnold is reading or hearing about this, I didn’t take a #4. I took triples of the ½ cams, BD Gray. I also took four offset cams. I took about 20 nuts, mostly tiny ones. To my past partners, yes, I placed a few. I came upon five biners on the route and ended up leaving three and dropping a quick draw, so I was even on that score. However I inadvertently left a #1 camalot on the pitch off the Glowering spot. – Go get it treasure hunters! I self belayed with a Grigri, and brought one aider and one Yates speedy stirrup. I had one gallon and one liter of water, NUUN tablets, HoneyStinger Energy Chews and Protein Bars, and Field Trip Jerky. Although I had a light long sleeve shirt and wind breaker in reserve I climbed the entire route in my Outdoor Research Ferosi NIAD pants* and short sleeve Astro man shirt. (*they are lighter then Schoeller pants and have compartments at the knees which held light padding for my knees)

I climbed the first 2.5 pitches in one pitch. (I, un-roped, soloed up the first 30 ft of pitch “1”) I climbed from 2.5 to 4.5 in a pitch, which left me at the two bolts at the base of the bolted 5.11d section. From there I made it to the ledge, “Triangle Ledge,” after the last face crux. Then from that ledge I made a single long pitch to the top of the half dollar. It’s actually 74 meters from the anchor on that ledge to the anchor on top of the half dollar. I put in a natural pro anchor 4 meters down from the top anchor. From there I un-roped soloed, dragging the rope behind me on the easy terrain for two pitches up to Mammoth Terrace, to avoid jugging that section. I then un-roped soloed the first pitch off Mammoth to the base of the aid pitch that slopes up and right. I did this first aid pitch normally, then the next two I linked. I found five two-liter bottles of water left by someone on the Gray Ledges and drank about a half liter as I still had plenty in my pack to drink. I led up the next pitches, but had a rope snag so had to cut it short to an 80-foot pitch to lower down, retrieve my pack and un-snag the rope. I led the long hard arching left aid pitch just before it turns right to The Muir and combined that with the traverse over to the lower off point. I lowered my self here leaving some biners and swung the pendulum over to the big ledges under Camp 4, then pulled the rope, thus not having to backtrack that portion.

I tried to hide in a little rock corner from the sun on this ledge and stall, changing my shoes and eating. It was hot and this portion of the route was the three or so hours in total that I was in the sun. It was this section where I really was having to dig deep for motivation to continue on. – Note to self, never under estimate the sun and high temperatures power to suck the energy out of you. My consumption of NUUN in my water earlier on the route surely got me through this bit. From this ledge I led diagonally up to the base of the Great Roof. I took a fall on my GriGri within the first ten feet of leading the Great Roof when a cam popped out on me. I took another four-foot fall directly onto my daisy after that, ouch. I led the Great Roof and combined it with the Pancake Flake. From there I made it to Camp 5 with rope to spare. New discovery for me! I led from Camp 5 all the way to Camp 6, about 68 meters! From Camp 6 I found out it’s 71 meters to the block belay! I improvised a natural anchor and “tethered” it to the bolts. Although the moon was nearly full, it was on this lead that I put on my headlamp. From the Block, (that is not there anymore), I led all the way up the final bolt ladder onto the slab section just before it traverses to the right. From there it was just a short 70-foot lead up to the finishing anchors. At these anchors I “Shouldered” everything, then soloed up to the tree to stop the clock at 11:17pm. I figured basically I made 17 long pitches out of the route. There was ample moon light on top and two gallons of water sitting at the tree! I drank about two liters of it and poured a liter in my bottle to have for the descent. After 25 minutes of laying there panting, resting, eating, drinking, and packing my pack, I staggered up to an upright position and began the hike down.

The rappelling crowd was up on top with their 1,000-meter rope dangling off El Cap. A woman on top said she made the rappel in less than six minutes! That was sounding really good rather than the two-hour hike down the east ledges. Alas there were cavers coming up the lines in the middle of the night because it was too hot in the day to do so.

I made it back to my family van at 2:09 am. And back to my bed at 3am. I woke up at 4:15 am to start on Sunday so I did my “BTB” (Bed-to-Bed) time in under 23 hours! I hope your Sunday was equally adventuresome, or maybe you took a rest day since your Saturday was full of fun.

I will be sharing stories next Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 in Concord at Brenden Theaters.

#outdoorresearch #diablorockgym #touchstoneclimbing #nuunhydration #honeystinger #kinesys #fieldtripjerky #petzl #bluewaterropes #lasportiva #armaid #smithoptics

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