mardi 18 février 2014

Wild West Tour 1993, Part 4

There was me moaning about the weather again. Erm, it's not been as bad as what my friends back in Britain have been putting up with, so I promise never to mention the weather down here ever again. Honest!

Still not mustered the enthusiasm for venturing outside, as most crags are still very wet. Been trying hard indoors though. Half term is fast approaching, so we'll make it outside during the next week for sure.
Hauling my ass up a tough red problem at Val de Grimpe (photo by Elaine Owen)

Back to our first US trip. Now, where were we?

After climbing at Smith, AF and Cave Rock we were pretty fit and really chomping at the bit. We were ready for plenty of upside down action at Tom Herbert's very own crag, Jailhouse Rock (he'd equipped many of the routes and lived very close by in Sonora). Jibe had already told us it was a mega crag. At first sight, it doesn't look much cop. But once you leave the ground the climbing is fantastic and really funky. The rock is basalt and very steep (after the initial vertical columns at the start of each route). It really helps if you can knee bar, if not the routes are much harder.

It was the perfect crag for me and I got most of the routes on-sight or first red point. Most memorable were: Cell Block (7c+), Soap on a Rope (7c), Alcatraz (8a), Hall of Justice (8a), Fugitive (7c+), Birdman (8a+) and Jailbait (8a+). Elaine didn't take to the style of climbing very well, as she wasn't used to using trickery with her knees.
Soap on a Rope (7c) at Jaihouse Rock

The Fugitive (7c+) at Jailhouse Rock

Whilst staying at Tom and Sondra's they convinced us to return to Yosemite for a few days. We ticked some of the 70's classics on the Cookie Cliff, such as Wheat Thin and Butterballs in the November sun. At Camp Four, there were quite a few Brits either there to boulder or to try a big wall. Despite not having any trad gear and no big wall stuff at all, I began seriously thinking about doing The Nose on El Cap. It would be too much to put Elaine through, so I asked what people were planning. It seemed that Sean Myles and I were going to go for a one day ascent. However, I backed out preferring a more leisurely multiday ascent. Dave Hassall was also looking for somebody to team up with for the same kind of deal. We'd never met each other before and had no idea whether we could depend on each other to get out of a bad situation. Still we were game on but the weather forecast was promising snow in just four days! We'd really have to get shifting....

That day I scrounged loads of nuts and cams and even swapped my sleeping bag for TM's light weight one. Dave and I decided to really cut down on weight to hopefully get us to the top before the storm arrived. We packed only 8 plastic bottles of water, lots of dried fruit, biscuits and chocolate, no water proofs or duvets. The only thing I could provide was a 70m rope from DMM, which would allow us to link 2 pitches together and move more quickly.

Very early on Sunday 7th November, Elaine dropped us off and we struggled up to the base of El Cap with all the gear. Dave set off up the first pitch. It seemed surreal to be starting a big wall after all those years of reading about the history of Yosemite. I think we were both as anxious as each other but neither of us wanted to show it. While I jugged up the rope, Dave pulled the sacks up using a pulley. We swapped leads and I set of up the second pitch. Soon enough we were sat on Sickle Ledge after dispensing with the first tricky bit. Amazingly, the pine trees looked very small from there but the top looked just as far as before.

It was my task to get established in the Stoveleg Cracks. This involved climbing about 10 metres above Dave and then descending a few metres from a bolt. Then I had to start running backwards and forwards across the rock face to try and reach the start of the crack. It provided us with loads of entertainment as the pendulums got bigger and bigger and also involved hurdling a corner too! Eventually, knackered and pretty gripped I got to the crack, stuffed a Friend in and clipped the haul rope in to avoid rope drag and then climbed on-wards and upwards, passing the occasional jammed in big cam. That pitch was so spooky and run out and I was glad to get to the safety of the next belay. The Stovelegs went on and on, Dave and I were both fading as we got to Dolt Tower and the sun was beginning to disappear, but we decided to press on to the luxurious El Cap Tower for our first bivi. It was an amazing sight to see all the lights in the Valley so far below, whilst we smoked some excellent grass that Dave had taken along specially for the occasion. We also noticed lights from a team on Salathe Wall and another on Zodiac. It was incredible to think that there were only three teams on El Cap at that time. We were amazed at our luck. The route was free and there was nobody else to slow us down; we'd climbed a long way that day and the weather was perfect, warm enough to climb in a vest during the day and ok with a sweat shirt and fleece at the bivi.

Bivi at El Cap Tower and about to set off the morning after

We were up early next morning keen to carry on with the show. I ran Texas Flake and Boot Flake out in one pitch, just getting to the belay on the rope stretch. Dave passed The King Swing over to me (perhaps because of my successful pendulum the day before). This involved being lowered from the belay down the left side of the huge Boot Flake and running backwards and forwards to eventually reach a peg. The rope was clipped in and then Dave lowered me some more and then I started running back and forth again (with the peg as the new pendulum point) until it was possible to reach a crack way left, then up to a belay. Dave had a less strenuous diagonal abseil down to my belay. After the King Swing we were totally committed, but we were happy and really focused on the climbing.

Dave got the most famous and photogenic pitch on the route: The Great Roof. He made it look so easy, he did a fantastic job without any fuss. I was surprised how dodgy the in-situ gear whilst going across to his super exposed belay on the lip of the roof. I led through up The Pancake Flake, which provided a really nice way to calm the nerves back down, whilst Dave could soak up the horrendous exposure for a while longer. We spent that night at Camp Five, which was pretty uncomfortable and there were loads of centipedes crawling everywhere.
Dave leading the Great Roof pitch

Next morning we were both stiff and tired. We were also near the end of our food and water, which meant we had to top out that day or our fun would turn into an epic! The trees looked like match sticks but the top still looked a very, very long way above us still. We were also concerned about the storm, which would arrive the next day. We really had to finish that day, as we probably wouldn't have survived a forced bivi without warm clothing or waterproofs, let alone without any food or water.

We set off, almost oblivious to the fantastic climbing, however the exposure was always there to remind us to keep concentrating. Lots of people had lost their lives on those final pitches over the years, we didn't want to join the long list of fatalities. We continued alternating leads and soaking up the exposure, encouraging each other on-wards and upwards. We made good time and the pitches passed by without incident. All too soon, Dave led the last pitch over the final overhang and I jugged up the rope (hoping it wasn't rubbing and getting frayed on the lip) to find him belayed to a pine tree at the top of an easy slab. We'd made it, at last there was no more rock above us and we could relax for a short while. The time was around 2pm.
An awesome photo of  Craig Entwistle on a recent ascent of The Nose. Lots of exposure from the Changing Corners pitch high up the climb.

We were two different blokes to the ones who set off a couple of days earlier, but we were both really very happy too. We had had a fantastic time climbing together. During the climb, we both felt confident in each other and we made a great team, determined to see the job done but also keen to have as much fun along the way as well. We finished our last bits of food and water and set off down the East Ledges descent. Tom had briefed me about an in-situ rope down the final 200 metre wall. At the end of a very spooky abseil down the stretchy rope, there was one last surprise. As I got towards the end of the rope, I could see it was too short. In fact it looked to be about five metres too short! And the landing was nasty. I thought to myself "How ironic to come to grief here, after all we've been through".  However, there was just enough stretch to get to a tiny ledge and then let the rope shoot up through the descendeur and dangle well out of reach. Dave had to do the same and then we scrambled precariously down from the ledge and then stumbled down through the forest to the road in the dark. We could barely stand up, we were so tired and we had to keep stopping for rests.

Amazingly, virtually as soon as we found the road, Elaine arrived in the car to take us back to Camp Four. She'd had a fun time watching our progress and hanging out with Sean, Ben Moon, Gary Ryan and others bouldering. But, she'd had to cope with much colder temps at night in the valley than us and was keen to get back to Tom and Sondra's in Sonora. Dave was mad for a celebratory beer but I had to leave him to go with the boss. I was sad to leave my new friend behind. Unfortunately, our paths haven't crossed since. But, we keep in touch, thanks to Facebook!

It did snow the next day in Yosemite. We spent some more days clipping bolts at Jailhouse. Then, we returned to the Valley one more time. Elaine had missed out on the big wall experience, so we did the East Buttress (an easier and shorter route on El Cap) on a very crisp day with snow on the ground and the waterfalls all frozen up. We had a fantastic day leading alternately. Again, we had to descend via the East Ledges abseil, which gave Elaine a good indication of the serious side of climbing on El Cap. It put a big smile on her face.

The happy couple after doing the East Buttress

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