by: Paul A. Brunner (email@example.com)
Editor's note: The information provided is to supplement other reports/beta for The Prow
Times were tough. The Tricks and I broke up and the E-Man took sides with her. I was now girl friend less, and big wall partner abandoned. And, to make matters worse, there was no swell for the past 2 months - the ocean resembled the Great Lakes. Kelp took over Pleasure Point and was rotting. Sea Gulls crapped on your head and picked at the rotting lot. Everyone was getting restless. Santa Cruz County was on alert for surfers attempting double shotgun murders and hanging themselves (or tourists) by their surf leashes. At work, even tolerating the "Neuveux Riche" in Silicon Valley was grating. The Rat was getting very hungry...
When I originally studied big wall technique, there was a chapter on soloing. Of course it was one of the last chapters and just reading the section made you rush to the bath room. "Twice as scary and three times the work" the book said. Hmmm, maybe later. Well, later was now. After 10 cups of coffee I blew out of work and went over to Western Mountaineering and plunked down cash for a Solo Aid. "What? You want the SOLO AID?" I thought that they were going to slap a 14 day waiting period until they checked out my checkered past or to let me cool down. Instead, Chuck blew the dust off, handed it to me, shaking. Final preparations were made, but this time would be different. No pre-wall fan-fare or Zamboni to scrape me up if things went awry. But, the Tricks knew something was going down when I was more subdued than normal and wasn't going to be around for the Santa Cruz Memorial Day bash. She knew the deep, dark look E-Man and I always had before doing a project and warned me about not leaving bread crumbs.
Ah, hell, it didn't matter. I was so full of piss and vinegar and deep thoughts that the only thing I remember about the drive to the valley was a huge hail storm in Crane Flat. Every car was pulled over, waiting the thing out, but I (foolishly) kept plowing ahead. While packing Mr. Piggy in the Ahwahnee lot, I thought "this is stupid" as clouds swirled overhead. The forecast was for afternoon clouds, possible rain. The adventure began when I shouldered the bag and teetered around the lot, bumping into a Lexus and Jaguar. "Oooof, man this thing is heavy." Three gallons of water, the rack, and a double portaledge combined with other condiments made me cross-eyed, but I was able to make ok time up to the base. I originally planned on only doing the approach and bivying on the big rock below the start of the route, but there was enough day light left, so I decided to fix the first pitch. It's only 5.10a for the first part, but a good way to ease into the solo process. I anchored the bottom to a zillion pieces and also a root, covering every whipper directional. I made it up in no time and thought, "this is cake, hell, the only thing extra ya have to do is suck rope through the Solo Aid device." While I was smirking, a team that was working pitch 3 yelled down, "Hey, Mr. Solo, what should we do since our haul line is beginning to fray?" My cool smirk turned to "man, you're toast" as I looked up and saw the fat pig twirling over my head, 150' up. "Uhhhh, how about you guys either duct taping the bad section, or re-tying the line?" "Well, we're already down to a 150' haul line, so we really don't want to splice it, and we don't have any duct tape." Hmmmmm. Without resolving the mystery-plunge-death-bag, I fixed my line and rapped/cleaned the pitch.
Back at the base, I organized everything for the next day launch. I was probably too anal/hyper about my preparation, studying every detail about The Prow, and adopting different tricks for soloing. One of my tricks was taking two fifi hooks, duct taping them together, attaching it to the upper straps on the pig and running a prusik cord from the top holes on the fifi to the haul line. Therefore, after I led a pitch, I could set up my wall hauler and then rap/clean/haul at the same time. The bag would only be anchored via fifi hook and as I rapped with the haul line running through the wall hauler, the prusik cord running to the fifi would lift the bag off the anchor. Voila! Major minimal ditch digging effort. That night I felt like the last person on earth and laid wide awake on the big slab staring at the route and stars above.
I woke up at about 4:30, probably due to an intermission in my dreams when the reality of my project flashed by. Wide awake, I choked down some fig newtons and fruit cups and began jugging my lines at 6:00 AM. The second pitch was short and had lots of fixed gear in it, so I was at the belay in no time, except my wonderful hauling technique got hung up on the lower blocks. After faffing around releasing the bag and cleaning the pitch, I launched on pitch 3 with vigor. The boys sleeping at the top of pitch 3 were still in their bags, but peered out while I was half way up the pitch. I wondered why they were still sacking-out, I mean, it was only 7:30 and I thought I would be the slow-poke, not the other way around. "Hey, guys, what gives?" "Errr, well, we thought we would let you pass us since we are debating on going ahead or not." Hmmm, first timers. Yeah, I should talk, my knees were still shaking while I coiled the ropes for pitch 4. But, everything was going smoothly, I was feeling extra efficient, and (heck) I just passed a team of two! Hell, then why do I still feel like puking?
The middle of pitch 4 was thiiiiinnnnn. Three RP moves in a row with a hook move for extra confidence (!) before I sank something bomber which finally made me quit rattling in my aiders. I was trying to look like Mr. Smooth since the rookies were watching my moves and also I was trying to move as fast as possible to get some distance between us. I felt a lot better when I reached the A2 plus bolt ladder for the beginning of pitch 5. It was pure pleasure to rap down and "pat" the oinker as it went by from my counter-weight hauling method. Back at the beginning, the boyz were still thinking about going on/bailing and didn't want me to fix the pitch for them. I spent some time hanging around yakking to them, slacking-off from my project, but then reality hit. Jug-jug-jug, pack the ropes, arrange the gear, another pitch - more ditch digging...
What I thought would be a snoozing bolt ladder ended up being super reachy. Man, did Kor do this pitch, or what?! Oh, but the true fun was at the top of the pitch which involved a hook move followed by #1 RP - mommy! It was about this time that the winds from Nevada raced up the Sierra's, did a dog-leg left down Tenaya Canyon and then a quick right at....The Column. Yeah! Wait, no yeah - I looked down and saw Mr. Piggy leaning 30 degrees towards Royal Arches. My fifi hook trick wasn't beginning to seem like a good idea after all. My engineering degree went to quick work - "Hmmm, (1) wind blows bag greater than 45 degrees, (2) bag unhooks from slings, (3) only thing between bag and climber is 180' of static: F=M x A, (4) bag heinously whips scruffy climber to talus." Yikes! But, it wasn't meant to be. I made it to the top of five shredding another one of my nine lives.
An interesting thing happened while I was packing the ropes for pitch 6. I caught myself slowwwwly packing the ropes and staring off to nowhere. Hey, snap out of it! I was startled at my zoning-out, and quickly regained my concentration for the next pitch. By this time I was gaining altitude, and getting more confident in my ability - but still MAJOR scared. I perked up in the middle of the pitch when I recovered 3 equalized nuts with a biner left by a team that bailed - BOOTY! The pitch was pretty straight forward using nuts and cams, with only a couple awkward moves. The winds were beginning to settle down and the 'ol counter hauling method worked again like a charm - a major time saver. Man, by this time I was soloing about the same speed as with a partner - well, almost. I missed having the company of E-man and his slimy sardines and corny jokes. I also missed having the Tricks as my Zamboni-security-blanket. I wonder what those guys were up to...
It was 5 PM by the time I finished cleaning the pitch and returned to the start of pitch seven. I had enough for the day, so I set up the portaledge. Oh-ya! the DOUBLE ledge. Man, it felt like the Taj Mahal with plenty of room. I folded down the "shark-fin" divider and stretched out - big time! Whooaa, what's this? A oil can size Fosters! Yup, things are lookin' up already. The afternoon clouds disappeared and I kicked back on the ledge with my ravioli watching the valley take on the evening glow. Whispy clouds gave way to a glowing moon which made Half Dome shine all night. For three hours I watched the evening transformation, removing the ditch-digging thoughts, and soaking up the surroundings. I was still extra hyped-up and didn't fall asleep until 11 PM.
Wink! Wide awake, again, at 4:30 AM. Mmmmm, pop tarts, yum-yum. Pitch 7, The Strange Dihedral couldn't have been that bad (actually, I don't remember it, maybe I was still zoning). The anchors at the top of 7 consisted of a couple of pins which I backed up with a Camalot (NOTE: a 3/8" anchor bolt was added in July, 1995 by a team merging from Ten Days After). Pitch 8 was super-duper easy since there was a huge sling for the traverse which I did on tension. This took me right of the belay, and then a thin arch (90% fixed) took me up and back left. The fixed pieces were your typical blob's and gob's of mystery metal: RURP's, Beak's, and aluminum/copper heads. A couple of free moves and mantles got me up on the Tapir Terraces, then a bit wandering around to find the start of the next pitch (on the left side of the ledges). The ledges didn't look like such a great bivy spot, but then again, I'm a bivy snob and like my areas more comfy. Now, if I would have gotten killer beta, I would have run pitch 8 and 9 together since both pitches are short. But, they do wander so back cleaning while soloing would increase the "spook" factor.
At this point in the episode, the daily ritual of cloud build-up and winds began once again. However, I was a bit sheltered in the dihedral so I didn't worry too much about the fifi popping pig. It was somewhere around 1 PM when I was leading pitch 10 and was psyched at the idea of topping out: only 2 days on the wall, not bad. But, pitch 10 was long and beginning to eat all my gear. Even before I got to the bottom of the chimney, I was back cleaning pieces and getting nervous about the darkening clouds. Finally, the chimney, but oh no! The haul line got snagged way below and no matter what I did, I could not release it. Damn! Welcome to "Solo Hell." It was pay-back time, probably for all the easier times I had on other walls. I set up a quick belay, rapped down and released the bag and had to maneuver it up the pitch to keep it away from other bag-eating cracks - a major ditch-digging effort. This delay did not hinder my determination to get off the wall today, so with renewed interest I began free-climbing the chimney to reach the true belay at the top. Uh-oh. About two moves up the chimney, the clouds began to nuke. Arrrrhhhh! Why me?! Ha! Regardless, I was prepared for such an instance. I gathered up all my toys and whipped the portaledge fly from the top of the pig and covered everything up. Luckily I was on a ledge and there was a gully which carried away the wash from the chimney.
It was 2 PM and raining HARD. I used a tent pole to prop up the fly, leaned back on the oinker, and went into a deep sleep. I woke up at 5 PM with such a jolt, I thought my contact's would pop out. It was still raining, but all my stuff was completely dry. At 6 PM the rain stopped, the clouds parted and temperature dropped. I fixed the rest of pitch 10, but it was too late to go on. The top of 10 did not look conducive for hanging a ledge and (amazingly) there was a bolt at the base of the chimney in a perfect spot to hang the ledge - probably some poor sap got stuck in the same circumstance. Mmmm, more ravioli, mmmmm.
Wink! Damn, it's 4:30 AM again. God, I gotta get off this thing... Pitch 11, land of the "belly crawl." Ha! I knew better and besides, the crawl looked super heinous. But, this pitch would prove to be the true moaner of the climb. After clipping a bolt, I had an awkward time free climbing and aiding the manky right facing, crumbly crack. Just when I thought I would launch into a couple free moves, boing!, the lead-line would come tight which meant I had to hand-feed some rope through the Solo-Aid. Man, it was bad enough with a huge rack, hanging on with two hands, let alone trying to feed more line through. Whimper, whimper but all good things ended when I reached the water-seeping, super slick belay ledge. Rapping back down I thought for sure some crack-from-hell would eat my bag, but the counter-hauling method worked like a charm.
One more pitch! Woah! I was drooling. My Five Tennies did a stellar job on the slick slab traverse to the right and after two aid moves clipping heads, I was on 4th class territory. I kept going until I reached the pine trees at the tippy-top. It was 10:30 AM. My first solo and did it clean - Yeee-hawww! I yelped so loud that the cooks in the Mountain Broiler Room slapped a T-bone on the briquettes and iced up some brewski's. Hmmmm, but I still had that damn North Dome Gully Descent - yuk! I pondered for an hour on the merits of knocking down rocks on other climbers if I rapped the South Face Route or taking the big ride down the "death slabs." "Well, third time down the gully descent is always a 'charm' so here I go." Okay, okay, so what if I fixed a rope across that sketchy slab traverse section, at least I made it safely to the mosquito infested, manzanita forest...
The trail spit me out at the Indian Caves. After the dust and flies cleared, I staggered over to a rotten log, dumped the pig and sat down for a good look at The Prow. Wow! It was my first time getting a good look at the thing and I was truly impressed by the look of this classic line. A bunch of kids came over and asked me who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. I liked their innocence, they could still ask any questions without being 'politically correct' or worrying abut offending me. But, their scrubby-clean parents came over and whisked them away, probably worrying about my appearance and the thought of me passing them some strange disease.
The death march to the Ahwahnee continued, taking multiple breaks and finally bouncing off a Mercedes and Porsche in the lot. Nut tools do an amazing job on the locked showers and in no time, the drains were clogged with 3 days of silt from my adventure. Woaaa! Not over just yet. I had a major feed over at the Mountain Broiler Room with a big steak and all the fixin's. I was fed, the rat was fed, all was well.
That night, I made the traditional pilgrimage to the Ahwahnee Bar to sip coffee and gawk at the climbing display. Stove legs, Royal Robbin's tennis shoes, hemp rope, and other gear (that probably weighs a ton) always amazes me. Later, I didn't know where I was going to crash, so I wandered out to El Cap meadow. Another beautiful night, and there were a dozen headlamps across El Cap. I could see a team of three moving up The Nose, some more on Zodiac, and Salathe. I was so enchanted by the fact there was others on the wall and that I had just soloed what I felt was one of the best Grade V in the valley, that I ended up snoozing in the meadow. However, before dropping off to the land of nod, the moon shone on one main feature on El Cap: The Shield....