October 1, 2015 Valley Update

Wow.  What a week it has been.  Although it is only Thursday, I feel that the amount of excitement that has taken place is worthy of documenting early.  Plus, the fact that it’s raining right now and my body feels like I just ran a marathon is good reason for me to sit in Degnan’s Deli and crank this thing out.  I hope you all enjoy reading this even 10% as much as I enjoyed doing the things I am going to write about.

The drive back to the Valley on Sunday night was rather lonely due to the fact that Lis was already in Olympia by the time I left Fresno.  Nonetheless, I returned to the Valley and found my tent at Camp 4 still in place and undisturbed.  Stoked.

Monday came with the promise of adventure and challenge with the prospect of giving the classic route Moratorium a run for our money.  Although I had yet to climb a single Valley 5.11, I was super pumped to get on the challenging route to test my meddle (and my layback technique).  After sleeping in about an hour, I was relieved to see that the crew of climbers who were interested in climbing the route were still stoked and ready.  Tallinn, Rett, And Zach were the crew to get at it this morning.  So I made some coffee and began to gather my gear.

Scrambling and gambling up the talus through sweat and mugginess toward the base of Schultz Ridge.
Scrambling and gambling up the talus through sweat and mugginess toward the base of Schultz Ridge.

By 11, we were on the approach trail to Schultz’ Ridge- a short (comparatively) slab of granite located just below the East Buttress of El Capitan.  It took us a try or two to find the proper approach trail, but before too long, we were scrambling up the talus field heading toward the huge corner indicating the presence of a challenging route.  A short but challenging scramble later, we found ourselves at the base of the first pitch, staring awe-struck at the beautiful, clean corner with a finger crack trailing up and away from the Earth toward  the golden and towering East Buttress of El Cap.  I knew right away that whoever first saw this line had some incredible vision to step forth and do battle with the small crack meandering mesmerizingly  upward.

Zach taking off toward the promise of awesome and powerful laybacks.
Zach taking off toward the promise of awesome and powerful laybacks.

My buddy Zach (whom I had only just met a few days prior), flipped a carabiner to decide who would lead the first pitch.  I lost.  So off he went for the first .10d pitch.  He cruised the first bit but had to take a hang at the crux, after pumping himself out.  After a short break, he pushed his way up and left toward the belay.  We swapped leads, and I blasted off for the second .10d pitch.  I have a tendency to climb fast at times, missing ample opportunities to make the most of rests and save my juice for trying hard.  That being said, just below one crux I found myself fumbling with an unsatisfactory orange Metolius I had placed in desperation.  It took me a moment or two to remove the piece, then gave my all to get through to the easier climbing above.  Having hesitated lower, I pumped out and took a 10-foot whipper on a piece 2 inches below where the culprit had been placed.  Some time later, I found myself walking my feet slowly up the corner with the most amazing body movement.  This continues for some 30 feet before the seam in the corner proves too small to really get my fingers into just before the ledge with the anchor.  Using a rail to my left, I found the most creative and exciting stemming to reach the slopey but descent jugs just below the belay.

Looking back at the sustained and beautiful .10d corner on Pitch 1.
Looking back at the sustained and beautiful .10d corner on Pitch 1.

The third pitch is known for being the money pitch, complete with a fifteen-foot section becoming just wide enough to cram the tips of your fingers into.  Adjacent to this thin section, the existence of two pencil eraser-sized foot holds on the blank face to the right don’t exactly instill a ton of confidence on your footwork.  Zach flew through this section, and screamed with exuberance as he claimed his first ever Yosemite Valley 5.11 onsight.  I was equally as stoked when I stood next to him having sent the pitch clean.  I cannot think of a better way to cross into this new realm of climbing.

A fine look at the thin crux on Pitch 3.
A fine look at the thin crux on Pitch 3.
Rett English looking badass as he fires through the .11b tips crux with Talleen looking stoked at the belay.
Rett English looking badass as he fires through the .11b tips crux with Talleen looking stoked at the belay.

After having tested the waters of the more challenging grades of Yosemite, it was time for me to take a rest day to allow my aching bones to cool off.  A very large portion of the day was spent in the El Cap Meadow pondering the lines of the big stone like a painting.  This was a much needed and appreciated rest day, for Jesse Ray Nichols and I were planning on giving the Rostrum a shot the next day, something which I never would have ever thought I would actually try.  I slept that night like a baby.

I woke up feeling fresh on Wednesday, and was stoked to see that Jesse was just as pumped as I was to get on the Rostrum.  We took our time that morning, drinking 2 or 3 cups of coffee and taking Cash for a walk, but soon we were on the road heading South on Highway 41, and pulling off into the pullout 1.3 miles west of the Wawona Tunnel and slipped our harness on for the approach.

Cash holding down the fort.
Cash holding down the fort.

I was surprised at how calm I felt when we reached the bottom of the tower after three rappels, staring up at the looming, glowing rock which promised to test me in an entirely new way.  I was amazed when I saw the number of parties in front of us, with one party hauling the upper pitches, a three-man team above Pitch 4, and one party one pitch above us.  Just as we arrived at the base, I whooped toward the climbers, and was shocked when five heads peeked over the first belay ledge and peered down at us like meercats on a prairie.  Nonetheless, we roped up and off I went, jamming my way up the first 5.9 warm up pitch.

The party in front of us was moving unsurprisingly slow, and we were stuck at the belay for twenty minutes as the Spaniards made their way up the second .11a pitch, shouting and blurting out remarks in Spanish that I couldn’t understand.  Jesse cruised this pitch, which comes in the form of a 5.10 traverse to a thin, 5.11a finger crack crux, then interesting and thought-provoking stemming along a steep, hollow flake, and we were both soon standing at the crowded belay.

The Spanish team demonstrating some fine belay techniques.
The Spanish team demonstrating some fine belay technique.
Jesse making casual work of the .11a thin crux on Pitch 2.
Jesse making casual work of the .11a thin crux on Pitch 2.

 Another thirty minutes crept by and we were stuck sitting in the same place, listening to the Spaniards yell back and forth in their desperation to avoid the unavoidable epic.  Finally, we were offered some relief from our waiting as they slowly began to ascend the third pitch.  Following shortly behind them, I was again foiled as one of the men fiddled with a stuck cam ten feet above the belay.  For ten minutes he hung there yelling and cursing Spanish obscenities at the stuck piece of gear.  Eventually the man accepted defeat and moved on from the torment of attempting to free the piece, and quietly made his way toward his partners waiting agitatedly above.  The climbing that ensued was some of the coolest jamming and roof-climbing I have yet to encounter in my climbing career, and I was soon in the presence of the discouraged Spanish team.

To our benefit, the Spanish team had doubts about their ability to continue the route, and soon told us in their broken English that they would be leaving the route, escaping via the 5.6 traverse to the top of the series of rappels taken on the approach.  I knew then that we were gravy and would cruise the rest of the pitch in style.  Jesse fiddled with the stuck piece below me for a bit, but soon also gave up and resumed the amazing pitch to the plush ledge.  Above me loomed the .11c finger crack that owns the title of the physical crux of the route.

When Jesse felt ready and stoked to lead the pitch, he quietly began to move up toward the thin finger-tip seam.  He placed a piece down low, then one move after another, he smoothly and easily cruised through the crux.  The precision of each move, and effort in which he moved through the section is easily one of the more inspiring things I have seen while climbing.  He let out a small yell as he clipped the intermediate anchor above the crux, and continued up the rest of the pitch in excellent style.  My turn.

Immediately below the crack, I paused to look up at where I would be required to cram the tips of my fingers with mild anxiety.  I took note of the steepness and blankness of the face around it, and immediately thought of all those who have committed to this section without a rope.  I began to move.  One move at a time, I removed gear and climbed as slowly as I could, all while placing my feet and fingers as deliberately and delicately.  I fell.  I got back up.  I fell again.  After falling two more times and letting out a few anguished shouts, I accepted defeat and resorted to pulling on a cam and climbed to the top of the crack.  It was difficult for me to accept the fact that I wasn’t strong enough at the moment to pull through, but eventually I was back on the sharp end, having been sandbagged by Jesse to lead the .10d endurance pitch which followed.

Jesse once again making the climbing look easy. I whipped twice on this .10d enduro pitch.
Jesse once again making the climbing look easy. I whipped twice on this .10d enduro pitch.
Definitely found the coolest rest I have ever felt just before the off width. Jesse looking stoked!
Definitely found the coolest rest I have ever found just before the brutal offwidth. Jesse looking stoked!

4 pitches of the most amazing and challenging climbing I have ever encountered later, I found myself pulling myself onto the top of the towering pinnacle.  I turned around and looked across the Valley below and couldn’t truly comprehend the fact that I was standing where I was- which was the top of the North Face of the Rostrum.  I screamed.  I let out a yell I have never let out before in disbelief in what we had just accomplished.  I then built a belay, and Jesse was soon standing beside me.  I felt incredibly empowered.  The North Face of the Rostrum is world-renowned for it’s difficult not in the actual technical climbing, but for the endurance required to climb the route in good style.  My body was worked, and I could not stop hooting and hollering.

The top out. It takes tremendous trust in another human to allow them to hold you this near an 800-foot drop.
The top out. It takes tremendous trust in another human to allow them to hold you this near an 800-foot drop.

All said and done, I took five whippers, had to pull on a piece of gear to get through a crux, and fell multiple times while following Jesse’s lead.  Needless to say, I was once again quite humbled by the difficulty of the climbing and endurance required to send the route.  Jesse, on the other hand, had a truly inspiring climb with no falls, and the redpoint of two pitches which previously shut him down.  Jesse has a way of not making too big of a deal about things as I do.  But he had that certain look in his eye, pride some people call it.  He was stoked.

Now I go forth to peruse another incredible adventure, which is looking to be yet another inspirational challenging climb.

Climb on.

Now, after a crazy afternoon of planning and hauling two loads to the base of Washington Column, I will attempt to go to sleep and get ready for another two nights of exciting adventures in the vertical realm.  I will quite a story after this weekend, something huge is on the way.

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