WARNING: Long posting...
I start I would start off this climbing news group with a post of
my last weekends misadventures. First, a little background. My
partner, Lou, and I climbed the Northwest Face of Half Dome last
summer and we were hoping to do the Nose of El Capitan this Spring.
Lou hasn't led any aid and I just broke my ankle, so we thought we'd
practice by climbing the first four pitches of the Nose (all aid
for us) to Sickle Ledge and then descend.
Well, Lou and I sure got our butts kicked by the Captain this weekend.
It was a very humbling experience that has us rethinking our plans
for the Nose. We still want to do it, but need more experience and
Since we only planned to go up to Sickle Ledge and descend, we got
a lackadasical start at 11 a.m. Our primary goal was for Lou to
practice leading and try out our new wall hauler. Our haul bag didn't
contain that much: food, water, clothes, extra hardware, the guidebook,
and, on a whim, I threw in another rope.
Lou was slow. He didn't find placements very quickly and didn't gain
much altitude with each placement. His technique needs some refinement
and some more practice. Aid climbing is not natural and takes practice to
get a good system. In his defense, the climbing was difficult A2 and
climbing on El Cap is quite intimidating.
It took us about two hours to get everything to the top of pitch one. I
lead the next pitch which started with some 5.9 free climbing and then
a pendulum to an A2 crack which ended in a*** belay. My ankle held
up fine by ached later that night. I was at that*** belay for two
hours and fif*** minutes while Lou followed and then led the third pitch.
When Lou arrived at the top of the third pitch he yelled down that the climb
was probably over because the next crack had water running down it. By
the time I got up there the water flow had increased. It ran right down and
through our belay. Our feet were getting soaked. The pitch above was the
A3 crux of the day and it was soaked. It involved a couple of pendulums
across a slab that had running water all over it. It didn't look possible
and after some debate we decided retreat was in order. It was now past
Since the route ascended on a strong slant it wasn't possible to descend
the route without down aiding a good bit of it. Lou thought that because
this was such a popular route that there must be descent anchors and a way
to retreat from the top of every pitch. I had some doubts, but I was now
cold and it was getting late, so I rappeled down 150 feet looking for some
anchors. Nothing!! Just more water pouring on me. No fixed anchors,
hardly any cracks and those there were rotten! It would take at least
three or four friends to make me feel comfortable...with no chance of
retrieving them. I jumared back up the ropes to the belay. Jumared
through the waterfall. Now I was wetter, colder, and still 450 feet off
The water was now gushing strongly over our belay soaking our legs. It
was getting dark and things were starting to get pretty serious. We
had to get out of here fast. We didn't have any headlamps with us and
couldn't spend the night up here without any ledge at all! Both Lou and
I came to the same conclusion...We had three ropes and if we tied them
all together we could get the hell out of here. We couldn't retrieve
the ropes of course, but we would worry about that tomorrow. So out
came the ropes and we tied them all together. We tied the haul bag to
the end of the third rope and lowered to the ground. Then I started
Just pulling up the rope was a chore as the combined weight of the soaked
ropes had to be more than 30 pounds. Initially the friction was so great
that you had to force the rope through the rappel device. When I got
down to the first knot I started to think how we were going to get by
the knots. I concluded that it was impossible to do without the benefit
of two jumars (and retrieve the jumars) and since Lou only had one I had
to leave mine here. I hooked on the jumar right above the knot and sat
down on it. With my weight off the rappel device I removed it and replaced
it on the rope after the knot. Then I pulled up on the jumar with one hand
and unclipped it from my harness, then I fell three feet down to where my
rappel device caught me. Now the jumar was out of reach above me.
I continued on down to the second knot. About thirty feet above the knot
I noticed a small ledge. I thought that if I stopped there I wouldn't need
to deal with the jumar at all. I stepped onto the ledge and when I took
my weight off the rope, twenty feet of rope passed through my rappel
device up towards the belay. I pulled up the third rope and anchored it
to the second rope at this point so that I could put my rappel device onto
the third rope. With that done I now had to step off the ledge and continue
down. I knew when I did this that I would fall a long way for there was
300 feet of rope above me that would stretch. I stepped off and zinged
maybe thirty feet down. I clutched the rope tightly and closed my eyes
in fear. I came to a bouncing stop and then continued rappeling to the
ground. With 450 feet of rope above me the rope is so bouncy! Your position
dramatically changes even if you slightly unweight the rope by stepping on
Lou followed and laboriously down jumared around the knots. When he hit
the ground it was pretty dark and we were soaked. We packed up the gear
and left the ropes***. We headed to a warm fire to dry out and
The next morning we were back. The Captain frowned down upon us. I
couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking...
"What the....!!! It's those two idiots again!! Didn't I teach
them a lesson yesterday? I kicked their butts around, drenched
them, frightened them, but let them escape. It was just a
little message telling them that up here is a bad place. Down
there on the ground - Good. Up here - Bad. You can look at
me, but don't try to climb me. Now I am going to really have
to trash them..."
Lou started jumaring at 8:30 (really 9:30...we forgot about the time
change.) He made it up there in only 30 minutes. Now it was my turn.
I jumared for twenty feet but was still on the ground due to rope
stretch. Finally I broke the bond with terra firma and started up.
Things went smoothly until I got to a forty foot free*** section
which was a son-of-a-*** because, with nothing to brace your feet
against, you had to use your arms to gain altitude. I just about died
on this section, making progress at a snail's pace. I had to rest
after reach movement of the jumar. I eventually made the belay stance
and clipped into everything in sight. It was pretty scary being dependent
on the jumars for so long.
Another pair of climbers were cruising up the Nose. They were freeing
each pitch and would soon be upon us. We decided to wait for them
because we would be slow leading the A3 pitch above us. The pitch was
still a bit wet, but was getting drier every minute. When the climbers
arrived, we asked them to haul our rope up the pitch for us -- our
pride and dignity, whatever was left after the fiasco the day before,
had completely vanished as we begged for help. They graciously complied
with our request and we were soon on Sickle Ledge. From here we were
able to make four double rope rappels to the ground. Each of the rappel
stations had four or five bolts, but none of them had even a nubbin to
stand on. It was quite painful*** in my harness, so I hooked up
a sling to stand it. The descent went smoothly and we drove out of the
valley with our tails between our legs.
We will be back, but with a lot more respect and a couple more practice
sessions before we try the complete ascent. We were way to slow with
the aid climbing. I know realize how much harder this climb is than
Half Dome. It is MUCH harder. Half Dome is 2200 feet. El Cap is 3100.
Half Dome has seven aid pitches, El Cap has twenty. We feel that we
need to complete Free Blast first and do another reconnaissance on the
Nose itself. The party that past us was headed up to Dolt tower that
day and then rappeling off. We need to do something like that also.
If we did at least eight pitches we could descend the Dolt Tower rappel
route. The top of Dolt tower is twelve pitches up. That would be
a great day, but I don't think we are fast enough. The most time
consuming part is the first four pitches.
Anyone have any special information on climbing the Nose?
We plan to do it in four days by fixing to Sickle and
then sleeping at El Cap Tower and Camp 5. And if we are
slower, than sleeping at Dolt Tower, Camp 4, and Camp 6.