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A trip report on Magic Mushroom. Warning: LONG trip report, f*ul language, sex, drugs, and violence, Proceed at your own risk. Flames, comments, hate and attapersons welcome, send them along to bbindner@ebmud.com.
The Team: Eric "Loose Cannon" Coomer
     Amanda "Tarr-baby" Tarr
     Bruce "Brutus of Wyde" Bindner

The Route: Magic Mushroom. El Capitan

For a week this June, climbers on Shield and
Salathe' Wall routes on El Capitan were an unwilling 
captive audience to an epic interpersonal flame-out, 
as three bumblies stumbled up the adjacent Magic 
Mushroom. The normal belay signals went something 
like this:

"You're such a f*cking LOSER! Why don't you take an

"If we ever get off this thing, I never want to SEE
you again, let alone climb with you!!!"

"F*ck you, AND the f*cking haul bag you f*cking
rode in on!!!"


"Yeah, I'm an *sshole. SO EAT ME!!!!"


[turning a page in a book] "F*ck off. Can't you see
I'm BUSY!!!???"

Yes, it was true. "Team Belligerent" was in the
Valley, and they were having themselves an unmitigated
blast. Goddess help us all.


Brutus begins the story:

Friday, June 7, 1996: El Capitan meadows basked
under clear skies as Eric Coomer and I unloaded
ropes, racks, and assorted junk for our first of
many hikes up to the Captain. After swilling the
last of the coffee, we began the short walk to the
base. I kept my eyes averted, focused on the trail
directly ahead. The wall was too big for me to look
at, this time. I could not embrace the whole of our
overwhelming project with my vision, had to
concentrate on the next few steps in front of me.
Even so, it was with a feeling of creeping far out
on a limb that I completed the walk.

The first pitch was my lead: a huge loose block
which rocked wildly at a feather's touch, perched
directly over the staging area of Salathe Wall.
people-staging-for-Salathe'-Wall DO NOT TOUCH.
VIOLATED SYSTEM INTEGRITY." flashed in red neon
flames through my consciousness. Sick and shaking
from adrenal nausea I eventually reached the belay,
pants sopping and stinking of urine. Not an
auspicious start. 

"Hurt me! Hurt me! Make me CRY! I Love it when you 
make me cry!!" We were surprised (and I pleased) 
to find awkward squeeze chimneys and flared slots 
throughout the climb. The second pitch included 
a strip tease act by the leader to negotiate a 
narrow squeeze chasm capped by a roof. Above, 
our topo showed 5.10a crack. "Uhhh, excuuuse me, 
but our topo SUCKS."

Eric powered through his appointed two leads for
the day with his usual grace and efficiency,
belying the difficulty of the thin, blown-out
flared cracks, and the endless gardening. "Dr.
Horticulture" styled his way up the wall on
copperheads, sawed-off and tied-off pins as the
afternoon drew to a close.

Four pitches fixed. Evening shadows darkened the
emerald meadows and deepened the sapphire stream.
Already filthy, hot and exhausted, we appreciated
the freezing dip in the Merced River at El Capitan 
Meadows, and icy brews, all of which became an 
evening ritual until blast-off. 

We cruised the Valley, looking for Amanda Tarr, our
third, who was working her way up Skull Queen on
Washington Column: a creature of the Walls; a tough,
fun and energetic little powerhouse we desperately
needed on our team for this project.

Saturday, June 8
Wild pendulum into a huge dihedral. More sweaty
strain found us disheartened and behind schedule
with only 8 pitches fixed by Saturday evening. Dip.
Drink. Look for Amanda.

Sunday, June 9
Mammoth Terraces finally. The first third of the
wall had taken us most of three days. Supposedly a
warm-up for the upper section, we found an
incredibly beautiful wall with difficult aid
throughout the seldom-done first 11 pitches. Some
of the wildest pendulum pitches we'd ever
encountered were found here: Eric ran madly across
a blank wall to jam an alien into a crack at his
fingertips out at the very apex of his swing, then
hung there crucified....  "slack!!!" he

Rappel our fixed lines. We're finally in a position 
to launch ourselves up the upper wall.
Dip. Drink. Finally we found Amanda. Monday was
staging day, final shopping and nervous rituals.
Did we really want to do this?

Tuesday June 11
It's 1:30 AM. Finally established with all of our
gear on Mammoth Terraces, we chomp on broiled beast
wrapped in lettuce leaves in the dark, drink some 
precious water, and drop into a deep, exhausted sleep.
Hauling up the Salathe' highway to Heart deserves 
mention: Although I remembered this section as a 
smooth easy haul, several minor roofs impaired our 
smooth operation. Our "caterpillar" plan was for 
each person to haul a bag, with the last person 
jugging up as soon as the last bag was off the 
anchor. Probably a good plan in theory, but in 
fact, Howdy IId got stuck several times enroute 
to Heart, and eventually I had to rappel down 
to free the d*mn thing, while, above, Eric and 
Amanda waited and wondered what was taking me so long. 

5:30 Tuesday Morning. Amanda and Eric grumbled at
my early rise as I noisily clanked and jangled
knick-knacks. After much pleading, I finally talked
someone into belaying me up the 5.8 pitch (One of
the few free pitches on the route.) Since it was my
lead, I tried to get us started early. Ended the
pitch at a belay on tied-off pins. Time for a bolt.
Our goal for the day was Grey Ledges, which we
reached in early afternoon after several wonderful
awkward flared corners. Above Grey Ledges "Loose 
Cannon" Coomer pushed one more pitch into the 
evening hours, a pendulum followed by terrifying 
unprotected free climbing. 

It had been a good day. We were stylin'. Eric stood
in aiders, a huge cigar clamped between his teeth,
violently drilling a 3/8" inch bolt hole three inches into
the rock to re-enforce the ancient 1/4" anchor, as
the daylight faded and the evening stars swept the
sunset from the sky. We settled down to a wall
dinner and happily nodded off with the tunes on the
boombox still rocking the bivy. Far off across the
southwest face, climbers on Salathe' Wall could hear us
wishing one another a good night: "Hurry up with
the g*dd*mn bolt, sh*t-for-brains!!!"

"F*ck OFF!!!"

Wednesday June 12
Amanda's ledge, A Gramicci "Hourglass" collapsed
during the night. 

Amanda continues the story:

I awoke at some indeterminant hour, to the sound of metal
grating on rock. A split second thereafter, I found myself
in a twisted mess of nylon and aluminum, sleeping bag and
daisy chain. 

"Ah, crap."

It took some time to relevel my bed, and I recall Eric
mumbling "Oh no..."
I thought it was uttered in sympathy, as he too has owned
one of the Gramicci wonders, when in actuality it was
uttered out of fear that I would request to join them up
on the flat Fish terrace.

Morning came, and after a few moments of delirium, I
clenched my fists to rid my fingers of the stiffness which
had become as much of a morning tradition as No-Doz.  It
was something around my 13th day without a full respite
from wall climbing; I had either been climbing,
approaching, or descending since the first day on Zodiac
with Tuan and Ken.

"You're such a b*tch."

"Hey, I didn't _try_ and get this pitch, Eric. That's just
the way it worked out."

I looked up at the beautiful golden wall, our first
excursion into the upper reaches of El Cap where the
climbing gets steep, clean, and aesthetic.  The pitch was
spectacular. I'd done a fair amount of nailing prior to
the Magic Mushroom, but never had I encountered such
amazingly clean feeling climbing.  As would be the
predominant theme for the remainder of the route, the
pitch went with mostly tied off LA's, cam hooks, a few
RP's, and many two-cam aliens.

Brutus jugged up one of the haul lines, in order to get a
jump on the next pitch while I hauled and Eric cleaned. 
The Grigri got him on belay, and we all started our
assigned tasks.

An unclear topo brought Brutus to a mid-belay, so Eric had
a short and awkward pitch to the real stopping point.  My
next pitch, the Red Bullet pitch had me complaining up a
storm.  I'd already gotten stuck with the 5.10 ow on Skull
Queen, and there I was committed to another wide crack,
yet this time I had to do it in my tennis shoes.  While it
really wasn't that difficult, I managed a great deal of
whining, an amazing utterance of  expletives, and a good
amount of proclamations on how Brutus was the designated
free climber, and a wide crack expert to boot.

Evening was rapidly approaching, but Eric was bound and
determined to get on his pitch, the first A3+ we were to
encounter.  As the golden-red line which marks the border
between day and dusk left the summit of Middle Cathedral
Rock, he began preparations.

[alright, that's the extent of my literary
abilities...Coomer? Your turn!]


Eric takes the lead:

What the hell was I thinking?  Tunnel vision is generally
a good quality on walls, but I had taken it to extremes. 
I felt that we moved too slow this second day above
mammoth and I was determined to make up some time.  When I
reached Amanda at the bivy spot, the amount of motivation
was high. Only a few minutes later, I would already be
running on empty.  The pitch was rated a stout A3+ but
started off pretty easy.  After pulling over the small
overhang I was greeted by technical climbing illuminated
by my feeble, failing headlamp.  

At one point, I made assurances that Amanda was not in
direct line of my impending fall which would surely send
me back below the anchors. Just before flight time, I was
fortunate enough to have my sickly yellow beam flicker
over a better placement- salvation was at hand.  A few
more thin dicey moves had me in the bowels of the next
flaring slot on the route.

I decided to head back to the bivy and rest for the tackle
in the morning.

Our nightly yell fest was soon replaced with deep sleep as
the morning once again raced towards us.  Back in the
saddle, I tackled the foaming slot above. Another bolt
sunk into the flesh of the Big Stone had Brutus on belay
for the next lead.  More awkward, yet somehow fun,
climbing continued upwards.  The rest of the day lumbered
along feeling as tired as we all were.  

Another stunning lead for Amanda brought here to the
logical stopping point for the day.  We were still
battling the major clusters of multiple haul lines,
tangles and endless knots at the belays.  Upon reaching
the bivy, I decided not to repeat the performance I gave
the previous night opting for an early sleep.

Morning again, the same old life, eat, drink, pee, climb,
sleep ad nauseam. Life on the wall is simple life.  I
finally had my shot at something approaching aesthetic
bliss as I launched into the first lead of the day.
Thin heads lead to a perfect lost arrow crack singular in
size for entire pitch.  It *was* bliss as I reached the
anchors, primordial screams signalled my arrival.  More
importantly, a small stance awaited me with breathless
lust. Cold, content, and still half asleep, I watched
Brutus attack the next lead.

The best part of this climb was the company.  Soon Amanda
had reached my stance and we passed the time making fun of
Brutus, of each other, of the world at large.  This was
not a team for someone with a poor self esteem to join.
We were ruthless and brutal.

My tiny, ecstatic ledge was no match for what awaited me
at the top of the next pitch.  As I pulled over the final
lip, I saw Brutus knowingly smiling, smug with the
satisfaction that his ledge was infinitely bigger than
mine.  I slumped and curled myself into a compact ball and
proceeded to sleep. As Amanda and Brutus continued with
the lead at hand, I continued to catch up on my lost
slumber.  Darkness was now rapidly approaching.  I figured
that it would end as most nights on this wall did,
cleaning in the dark.  Except for my one half pitch, all
of the climbing was done with natural light, the cleaning
on the other hand always proved epic.  The wind began to
gain life again as I huddled in the darkness waiting for
the signals.  

The pitch was almost completely horizontal.  Bags hung,
ropes tangled, sleep deprived. The two successive
pendulums proved to be a bit of a bother in the night
as I finally pulled myself on to the waiting ledge.  All
that stood between us and Chickenhead ledge was one A4
pitch, much needed sleep, and daylight.

The argument on who was to lead the next pitch had finally
been settled. I resigned myself to the fate of what was to
come as I placed my first head. Unfortunately, the pitch
turned out to be rather straight forward, easy almost, and
only A2.  An incredible amount of worry wasted on this pitch was
for nothing.  The huge expanse of Chickenhead was finally
ours.  The top was near.

Brutus picks up the thread:

     As we slowly crept up the wall, I became entranced
     with the diversity of life. The tilted forest and
     meadows in the hazy distance below, the constant
     dances of the swallows, the chirps of the bats at
     night, the tiny bugs... I spent most of a day (or so
     it seemed) admiring the brilliant hues of a red speck
     of bug.  An inquiry from Amanda, below, jarred me out
     of my reverie:

     "Are you ready for the Sex??"

     "uhhhh.... [perking up]  What???"

     "I *SAID*, are you READY TO HAUL THE SACKS!!!???"

     "Oh. uhh...  READY TO HAUL!!!"

     And back to the vertical grind I would go, hauling to
     the sound of expletives muttered from below. :)

Chickenhead Ledge:

I arrived to find Amanda already blasting up the next
pitch, belayed by Eric. A Shield team strolled onto the
ledge shortly thereafter, smirking at our vocalizations.
We smirked in return, because (1) we were in actuality
having a great time, (2) we were there first, meaning
that we would be camped on the summit that evening,
drinking gin and tonic, whereas they were in for another
night hanging on the wall, and (3) our supply of Ibuprofen
was still ample, and would last us well beyond the summit. 
Puzzled expressions followed us as maniacal laughter from 
Eric's lead echoed across the Valley.

Above Chickenhead, the route eased in difficulty, and the
pitches sped by in a blur. Unfortunately, so did the day.
In mid-afternoon, I found myself below the last pitch. Our
topo summed this pitch up perfectly: "Sucks Moose C*ck"

A 30-foot roof makes this A1 pitch highly interesting. It
is apparent that most leaders protect the entire roof, and
turn the lip to find themselves midpitch in a runout 5.6
chimney, immobilized by rope drag and forced to belay.
Rather than face this fate, and manky anchors at the end
of the roof, I backclean the entire beast. Above is the
5.6 slot, come to Papa, Brutus is Home!  Knee-jumarring up
this awkward chimney is truly a wonderful, fitting finish
to this wall-of-slots. In fading light, I clip three huge
bolts, with only 4th class climbing above, and begin the
task of hauling yet again. Our work is not done, far from
it in fact, but at long last, and forever, the wall is


After the numb fingers and itching, swollen hands have
healed, after my vision quits blurring from corneal damage
(sunburn and scratches from granite particles) after I've
lost the weight I am now gaining as I stuff everything in
sight into my gaping maw, I know there are some lasting
impressions that will remain:

o    For days, Eric and I had been climbing on the route.
     I'd literally lost count. Amanda had joined us some
     time ago, as the pitches blurred into a constant
     routine. The technical ratings no longer had any
     meaning. My lead, your lead, haul when ready had no
     meaning. There on the wall, pitch after pitch, were
     the most beautiful vivid red flowers, members of the
     stonecrop family.  Succulents growing and thriving in
     an unbelievable garden in the cracks of this vertical
     desert. We were so very lucky to do this wall when
     these wonderful, tiny, delicate, incredibly rugged
     living  things were in bloom.

o    Somewhere on the headwall, I was leading up a
     strenuous,  awkward seam in the back of a flared
     slot. We had been following this overhanging weakness
     for uncounted pitches, when the crack in the back
     opened up to 3 1/2  inches wide for the length of
     eight inches. There in the back of the crack, was the
     nest of a violet-green swallow, her tiny eggs
     clustered together amid grasses carefully coiled. She
     retreated to the back of the crack in fright at my
     passage (and my placement of a #3.5 friend in her
     doorway) but by the time we cleaned the pitch she was
     back on her eggs, keeping them warm and alive. The
     sight of her brought me such joy, that even after I
     took a fall on said friend, I still carefully checked
     on the well-being of the nesting  mother before
     moving on.

o   The constant smell of fear.

o   Staring up from the portaledge into the moonless night
    sky, seeing the Milky Way with more clarity than I can 
    remember since childhood.

o   Looking in wonder at my shattered hands, watching the
    fingers move, the mechanisms of life at work as I      
    cleaned a pitch high on the route.

o   The expressions of joy in the faces of my good friends 
    as we woke to a new day, knowing the wall at last was
    behind us, and knowing that we had just done something
    terribly important, no matter how meaningless it would
    appear to the rest of the world. Time now to dance, to 
    drink. Time now to live.

Truly a magical route. 

Brutus of Wyde
Oakland, California
August 21, 1996

Modern 3/8" bolts were placed at some of the 
belay stations on the upper pitches where
the ancient belay anchors from the original ascent were
found to be unsafe. No bolts were added on any
leads on this route.

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