Friday, October 29, 2010

The High Sierra, Yosemite and J Tree :)

In the middle of the year i was trying to decide where i should go next. I had Spain in mind as i have always wanted to test myself on the long pumpy limestone there. I was drifting a bit though and wanted a trip with a serious goal. As it always does the drive to test myself on a big wall and have an epic snuck up on me and took over.

Another Perthite that has moved to sydney, Owen (see europe 2008 blogs), had broken his ankle training for a trip to Alaska and decided that he would ignore his doctors il informed opinion that he would never climb again and plan a trip to Yosemite as training for Patagonia (insert hard ass comment here!).

I got super psyched for the quick 1 month trip to california to try and smash out as many classic walls as we could. We got to LA on the 17th of Sept and headed straight out to the High Sierra to jump on a formation called The Incredible Hulk, one of the cleanest chunks of alpine granite i have ever seen. The two classics we had to do were Red Dihedral (5.10-) and Positive Vibrations (5.11a) both about 8 pitches. They went pretty smoothly although we got benighted on Positive Vibrations and had a bit of trouble finding our way along the ridge at the top.

The Hulk!

High up on Positive Vibrations.

After the Hulk we headed to The Valley. Owen had some mates from sydney come across too and i had a great time hanging out with Ian, Knox and Justin while we were there. El Cap was as imposing as ever and i couldnt have been more psyched!! We started by jumping on the Rostrum (8p, 5.11c). I had done this before but Owen hadnt and i was keen to try an alternate ending. The first pitches went fine and although tired i was keen to push out the headwall at the top called the Alien finish (5.12b). I got owned :) Probably not that bad but a super hard onsight when you have just climbed 7 pitches.

Owen midway up The Rostrum.

The next big objective of the trip was Half Dome in a day via the regular northwest route (23 pitches). We did the big slog up the slabs the the base of the wall at the end of a rest day. On arrival at the base i heard my name shouted out and looked around to find Eric and Crosby some friends who i climbed in Squamish with in 2006. They then recounted the story of how i took a pitch length whipper on Alaska Hwy in Squamish to some Kiwis also camping there. Some other guys then turned up recognising Owen and saying "arent you that guy that took that huge winger in the Bugaboos and your partner had to get helicoptered out?". The Kiwis looked at Owen and I and laughed while quietly making a note to steer clear of us on the wall the next day! The route went surprisingly smoothly (except for a 5.9 sqeeze chimney!) and we were done in 9 hours. Owen led french free and aided shortfixing for the start and end hard sections while i led the large easier section in the middle during which we simul climbed.
Half Dome!

Full of confidence from our cruise up Half Dome we headed to a route called Beggars Buttress (8ish pitches, 5.11c), the scene of our first trip epic. We started on the wrong route ending up on a 5.11+sport roue instead of the 5.10b bolted start. Not phased we found the right start and started up at about 1:30pm. Everything went smoothly until we hit some fat flared climbing and then things slowed dramatically. Owen led the last pitch as it got dark and i seconded in the dark. We were both out of water and thirsty. Once at the top we realised in our over confidence we hadnt bothered to bring head torches or jackets (i was in shorts and a thin t-shirt). We scrambled around the ledge in the dark looking for the rap line but couldnt find it. I tied the rope to a tree and rapped down in the rough area the descent should be. All i could see was grey and i made the bad decision of rapping all the way down the rope into darkness. I ended up in space and had to pull my way back up 60m with just a belay plate and a sling. To make it worse i tried to pull the rope back up and it was stuck. Not finding the rap chains, being exhausted, dehydrated and not being able to see (there was no moon) we decided it was too dangerous to keep scrambling around. It was our first benighting were we had to just sit on a ledge till sunrise (a long cold night!).

Not ready for another epic just yet we then headed to Cookie Cliff to climb the classics on the Nabisco wall. This was probably my best day of freeclimbing on the trip where in one afternoon we did Waverly Wafer (5.11a), Wheat Thin (5.10b), Butterballs (5.10+), Butterfingers (5.11) and Red Zinger (5.11d).

The weather started to look shaky which i thought was a blessing in that there would be noone starting up the nose of el cap. Knox had always wanted to do it but didnt have a partner so i agreed to head up with him for a three day ascent. We packed the haul bag and carted it with a ledge and poo tube to the base of the nose planning to climb to sickle ledge, fix ropes to the ground, and haul that day. Unfortunately the bad weather forecast was actually correct and 2 pitches up it started bucketing down. Within minutes we were in a waterfall getting hit by all the grit being washed off the wall up high. We bailed into the rapids that had formed at the base and returned to camp soaked! Thanks to Justin for picking us up from the meadow!

The storm that hit was really bad and lasted for several days so we left the valley and headed to Joshua Tree 8 hours away. It is a crazy climbing destination in the middle of a desert with cacti everywhere. I found one of the best finger cracks ive ever seen there called Equinox (5.12c) but didnt have the gas to send it. Definetely have to go back for that one!
Equinox :)

Once back in the Valley with time running out only one thing was on my mind. I wanted to top out on El Cap! It seemed there was only one way it was going to happen and that was in a single commiting push. We climbed the first 9 pitches as a party of four (Owen and Peter, Ian and I) and then had a rest day before getting up at 3am and heading to the base of The Captain.

The plan was for me to lead the first 17 pitches, french free, short fixing and then for Owen to mostly aid the harder top half also short fixing. All up 31 pitches! For those who dont know short fixing is where you get to the anchor, clip in safe, pull up the excess rope, tie the rope in hard to the anchor (seconder starts jugging), and start self belaying continuing climbing. The seconder puts you on belay when they get to the anchor. It saves alot of time and allows you to continuously move rather than wait for your seconder.

On my first pitch self belaying (pitch two of the nose) in the dark i managed to pull an rp i was standing on and plummet into space with ropes everywhere. Luckily the grigri caught me after a bit and i was jolted awake. Things went smoothly after that and at pitch 16 with my shoes killing my feet and two multi day parties on the pitch 17 ledge i swapped leads with Owen. Owen led through the great roof, pancake flake, changing corners into the dark. I led the final bolt ladder pitch to the summit and we topped out with a time of 18hrs 23 mins.
Owen aiding the Great Roof.

The epic had only just begun though and once again we couldnt find the descent. After an hour or two of walking up and down the slabs at the top we returned to the top of the route (there was some water stashed here). Deciding not to spend another night sitting around like with Beggars Buttress we started down the long way, walking the rocky 10km falls trail through endless switchbacks to the valley floor. My head hit the pillow of my bed around 6am, 27 hrs after i woke up for the mission.

Totally exhausted and with only days to go on the trip we headed to San Francisco for some touristy time. We checked out Santa Cruz and Santa Monica on our way back to LA ending an awsome trip.

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