Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Month: March 2014

Climbing the Nose Part Two: Cruising to Dolt

Continued from part one

(Edit April 2016: Follow along with Google’s “street view” of the Nose!)

Standing at the bottom of El Cap is pretty intimidating.  Hell, sitting in El Cap Meadow, half a mile away, and staring up at the wall is pretty intimidating.  It is an immense piece of stone.  In the Meadow, if you look straight above you, then slowly tilt your head forward until you are at the horizon line, El Cap takes up about 70% of that space.  It is the biggest piece of rock most anyone attempting to climb it has ever seen.

Lowering out in the Stovelegs

Lowering out in the Stovelegs.
Photo by Tom Evans

And there we were, on the morning of May 23rd, gazing up the wall.  We had 5 gallon jugs of water and 4 days of food in the bag (firmly secured 400′ above), along with sleeping gear, warm clothes and bare cooking supplies.  It was time to commit.  I was amped.

We quickly jugged up the multiple fixed lines, the last of which we had fixed ourselves (in case someone took it down while we were at the base), and were at a happily barren Sickle Ledge within an hour.  It was Eric’s block to lead, so I hunkered down with my GriGri and watched him take off free-climbing the gradually steepening corner above.   We linked the two pitches (5 and 6) and I started a combination of jugging and free-climbing, as the terrain was quite low-angle.   Eric hauled while I tended the pig, freeing it from the occasional constriction while he pulled from above (and to the right).  At some point I had to lower-out the bag with a 50′ thin line we had brought along for just this purpose.

Me on Dolt Tower

Me on Dolt Tower

The Nose is probably not the best wall for the aspiring Wall Climber.  It has quite a bit of traversing, which normally isn’t a big deal, but quickly becomes logistically difficult when you’re so dependent on vertically-oriented ropes.  Haul bags must be lowered out so that they don’t cut loose and swing violently, smashing your water jugs and other stuff in the pack.  When jugging (ascending the rope with mechanical devices), you have to lower yourself out for similar reasons.  I’ll leave the detailed instructions out of this post, but suffice it to say we had done substantial research and a bit of practice to figure out these techniques, and still learned the majority of it on-route.

We made pretty quick work through the Stovelegs — Eric performed the first pendulum of the climb, a fun one where you had to jump over a 2-3 foot corner in the middle of each swing.  After pitch 10 or so, he was utterly exhausted from all the hauling (the leader has to haul too) so I took over the lead.  He had just aided an amazing-looking 5.9 hand crack which seemed like a bit of a shame, so I freed about half of the next pitch before things got wide. Here I ended up bumping a #4 for probably 60 feet, then bumping a 170° tipped-out #3 the rest of the way.  (Two #4s are nice here!)  After a long pitch I emerged on top of Dolt Tower, our planned first bivy.  Hauling was extremely strenuous and I soon had much more compassion for Eric’s state — he had dragged that thing up five pitches!

Mattress pad

My “mattress pad”. Notice the orange fixed line in the foreground, for staying clipped into while sleeping

Most parties don’t bother with a portaledge on the Nose due to the quantity (and quality!) of good, natural bivy ledges on the route.  Our original plan was to sleep at El Cap Tower (p15) and Camp 5 (p25), climbing the route in three days.  It became clear pretty quickly that this was a bit ambitious.  Fortunately, we had supplies to last 4 days, and could probably stretch them to five if necessary.  

We had topped out right before dark, and were pretty psyched to have had such a great day of climbing covering so much stone.  We busted out the dried mashed potatoes, (pre-cooked) sausages and cheese and had ourselves a tasty feast while soaking in our surroundings.  We had also squeezed 4 King Cobras into the pack, one for each of us at each bivy, so we relaxed for a bit sipping suds (Worth the weight? Hell ya!)  It was pretty majestic to be hanging out in such a cool location, with great weather and relative comfort.  Our friend Joe, who we had shared a site at Camp 4 with for a couple days, was soloing Zodiac at the time, so we scanned the wall to the East to see if we could see him.  There seemed to a couple parties on the route so it was hard to pick him out, but sure enough, he ended up topping out a few days later!

I had neglected to bring a mattress pad, since I didn’t really own one that was small enough to jam into our haul bag.  So I made one from the tag line.  It wasn’t very comfortable.  Luckily, you are so exhausted it doesn’t really matter.  We slept soundly until being wakened by the sun peeking out over Half Dome in the morning.

Continued in Part Three

Climbing the Nose Part One: Casting Off on a Sea of Stone

I took a long-overdue extended trip to Yosemite Valley last summer. It was something I had been thinking about for awhile, and this time I had a partner in mind — someone who could also take the time off from work and would have ample psyche for similar (big) goals. Around early Spring I called up Eric and mentioned my plans — he was pretty excited from the get-go and we planned for four weeks in the Valley: mid-May through early June.

On May 14 we took off from Salt Lake in my car, filled to the brim, and squatted camping in Tuolumne, planning to arise early to wait in line to get into Camp 4. The plan was to stay in Camp 4 for our allotted week, then go big-walling, then find camping outside the Park. We were in line by 6am and got a spot quickly. Once we were moved in I said, hey, let’s go climb the Central Pillar of Frenzy! Eric was a bit surprised, but it was only five pitches, so we gave it a go. It was a stellar warm-up to Valley climbing — technical and a bit stout with excellent cracks the whole way up.

Eric leading the crux pitch on Middle Cathedral

Eric leading the crux pitch on Middle Cathedral

We spent the next week or so ticking off multi-pitch routes: E Buttress of Middle Cathedral, Glacier Point Apron, Reed’s Pinnacle. After a particularly strenuous day of cragging we decided to focus on what we had come here to do: El Cap!

The Nose and Half Dome’s Regular Northwest Face were the two big routes we had our eye on. At first we had planned to do Half Dome, the smaller of the two, but the weather was still quite cool, so we set off for El Cap instead. We spent a day or so packing the haul bag, shopping, and cleaning up camp on our last day at Camp 4. The next morning we packed the pig (haul bag) to the base of the route — a rather horrendous endeavor as it weighed well over 100 pounds, even though it’s only a quarter mile walk!

We were disappointed to see two parties on the first few pitches — not only that, but they were hauling and moving incredibly slow. We had heard that the fix-n-fire method was the way to go on the Nose: climb the first four pitches to Sickle Ledge, rap down some fixed lines, and haul the pig(s). The hauling was supposedly easier (hauling a heavy bag sucks no matter what, though) and cleaner directly to Sickle.

Our options seemed to be either wait a day and let them get ahead, or push forward anyway and hope to pass. The latter seemed unlikely, so we opted for the former, and hauled the bag up a pitch to avoid any bear encounters overnight. While Eric hauled, I ran into Jim Donini at the base of the route, who had just come down from a little practice session on the route with George Lowe and Hans Florine. Distinguished company! They (Jim and George) were practicing to set the record for the oldest team to climb the Nose in a day. We chatted a bit — he was pretty beat up after getting walloped by a haul bag from another party so they bailed mid-day. Soon after, we retreated back to Curry Village for pizza and beer, aiming for an early start the next day to beat any other potential parties to the route.

The Rack

The Rack

The next day dawned clear and cool, and by 8 or so we were on the first pitch. We had discussed leading in blocks for efficiency, and the first four were mine as they contained some of the more technical aiding on the route. I set off full-on aid-style, happy to have offset mastercams for the copious pin scars. The climbing was enjoyable on perfect rock, and I soaked in the sun and warm granite, very happy to finally be climbing again after so many rest days. We moved pretty quickly (well, relatively anyway) without needing to haul, and were at Sickle by 12 or 1PM. One of the parties we had seen from the day before was still on Sickle — I think they had spent the night there, and were in the midst of passing the party ahead. We talked to them for a little while before rapping straight down to our haul bag.  They were a team of three from LA, and, like us, were fairly inexperienced wall climbers. We took our time working out a haul system (1:1) and had the pig up at Sickle by 4PM or so. The two parties ahead hadn’t made much progress, and we were a bit worried about their pace. After getting (more) pizza and beer and driving back to El Cap Meadow at around dusk, they were both still around the Stovelegs! They had climbed about 3 pitches in 6 hours.  The Nose is a 31-pitch route.  At this point there was nothing we could do, so we headed back to the Sand Flats for a good night’s sleep before committing to the wall the next morning…

Part Two

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