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.