Me and El Cap.
It was 830am and I was totally destroyed physically and mentally. We had been climbing since 3am to beat the way too hot November sun and I just finished pitch 28 of Free Rider, a 34 pitch free route up El Capitan’s south west face. It was the last 5.12 pitch on the route, but that didn’t mean much. Up next was a steep 5.11, followed by an 11d finger crack which led into the notorious Scotty Burke off width, with another 2 5.11- pitches and a gimme 5.6 to the top. Graded 10d, the Scotty Burke might be the biggest sandbag I have ever experienced. It took me 4 tries to figure out how to climb it on toprope, and when I got it, I was really fresh and rested. When I got to it on this day it would be on my fourth day of climbing in a row, after sleeping on the wall for 3 nights. ‘Sleeping’ would be an overstatement. It was more like a few hours of napping over 4 days. Everything was taking its toll, and it all caught up right now.
|Only 31 more pitches to go!|
|Pitch twenty something, the block.|
|The Monster! Hateful 7" crack.|
All I had to do was make it through the next two pitches, and the last 3 I could do no matter what. With no excess of power and strength, it all came down to technique and mental fortitude. That is what you should be doing anyway, but I guess there are lots of times when I climb ‘dumb’; pulling my self through moves and not climbing through them intelligently and efficiently. Well, there was no choice now.
Chimneying, jamming and finding stances, I somehow rested my way up the 150’ of crack climbing to get to the steep and exposed belay for the Scotty Burke OW. I grabbed the handful of cams I thought I would use, leaving behind all excess weight. I climbed smart and fast through the steep 11d crack to the no hands rest before the 10d off width. I took a long break and slowed things down. I tried to remember all the techniques I had learned climbing the world feared/renowned Monster almost 1500’ below me. (The Monster is a 160’ 5.11 offwidth that repels/scares away a lot of climbers. I had onsighted it on the first day up the wall, after not really sleeping in anticipation of how hard it might be. Technique came through and somehow I waltzed it!). On top rope I had lay backed the hardest part of the Scotty Burke, but that was not going to happen today. I entered full grovel mode and dug in to the trench for 100 feet of full on warfare. Inch by inch I locked my heel-toe cams in, arm barred and crimped. No one could see me as you are around a roof, but everyone could hear me screaming away in the biggest battle of my climbing career. 100 feet to go to send El Cap…and on this day technique and mental fortitude prevailed. I had never dug so deep in my life.
|OW prep for the Scotty Burke...tapped ankles and hands and a long sleeved cotton shirt|
Getting up to the anchor with no more gear and slings, and sitting on the ledge in the sun, a wave of relaxation and contentment took over. Wow. Jasmin cruised the pitch behind me, and it was all but in the bag for both of us. 4 years ago we had tried to do the route and failed. We had spent 2 weeks before launching up from the ground checking out all of the pitches on rappel and top rope and we were still not sure if we could do it. But there we were, 3 pitches from the top, and we were doing it. We each made it possible for each other, coming through when the other couldn’t, and now we were enjoying success together.
|Sweet success, pitch 33.|
P.S.: Just so the truth is out there. There were 2 pitches that both of us tried to lead and failed, the Teflon Corner and the 2nd Endurance Corner. We both tried multiple times, and could not send them on lead, but both managed to top rope them clean on our ascent. I know its not a perfect ascent, but I climb for my self, and I couldn’t be happier with what we managed to do with the time and energy we had at our disposal.
Free Rider, El Capitan, Grade VI, 5.12d, 34 pitches, 3,000’+. Climbed from November 1 to 6, 2012 with Jasmin Caton.