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Leaning Tower, West Face

 27-28 April 2001

Henry Wurzer (the old one) - Germany

Ian Hetingbothan (the young one) - England

I was working on a new DP-project and suddenly there occured a deferral and I decided to use the now available 2 weeks of spare time to go for a climb. Staying in Munich, Germany, I had to made a selection between Verdon, France, and Yosemite, my 2 most favorite climbing areas. I made it for Yosemite, since I shall have no partner for that time. Usually I climb with my wife.

So I arrived on monday, 23rd of Apri, in the valley. There was a snow storm 3 days ago, the snow itself has gone on the valley floor, but water was pouring down from El Cap east faces like one of the big falls. I put a note on the camp4 board looking for a partner for a L.T. or W.C. climbing. I just set up my tent, there appeared a young guy with keen and eager eyes searching for adventures. It was Ian from Manchester. We quickly got the odds and decided to do a climb to get familiar with each other. We headed therefore the next day to El Cap to do the freeblast in conventional climbing method (aid climbing) in order to get back to aid mode and equipment handling, hauling and anchor setups.

We used the little red A5 haulpack. Everything worked well, we refreshed our training in placing nuts, cams and struggling to get our shoes into the aiders constantliy swinging away due to the strong winds on El Cap's corner. We rappelled off below Half Dollar pitch. Everything was fine, the weather, the harmony, the equipment the climbing targets etc.

Neyt days we spent to arrange and refill our supplies for the wall. We counted for 3 days of water and food. I had 2 haulbags (6400 cft), which I also use to pack all my big wall stuff for travelling. Hell, this equipment is heavy and expensive. Sport climbing is like running thru the woods, big walling is like playing golf with expensive clubs. I recently bought 20 aliens of different sizes and some are hybrid. Geeehh - they worked well on the routes to come and I was glad to have spent that money. The portaledge was almost new. So all preliminiaries were OK to start a wall. On the late afternoon we hugged up our pigs to the base of the wall of L.T. westface, which is a tree after the leftgoing traverse into the wall. Here starts a fixed line to the base of pitch#1. Getting the loads from the shoulders I felt like one of the birds flying around us. The view from this ledge is grand. First the feeling to be on the wall already with a good view down to the bridavail parking lot and second the have the overwhelming view up the steep, steep wall going to nowhere. We left our pigs there and went back to car. We had 2 haulbags and this strategy was perfect, because everyone could have his own organization in his bag and everyone could pack in what he wanted without disturbing each other. And for the descent ist is also very fine to have 2 big packs to redistribute the loads equally. Our plan was to do the wall in 2 days including the descent, however our supplies would give as a stay for 3-4 days - just in case.

picture 1: traversing with the packs to start of pitch#1

Back to the car we went straight to the mountain buffet and ate what we could and drank the Coke pipe up. Back to the tent, I fell asleep soon but woke up many times. Anyway at 5 in the morning I called Ian the prepare to leave. After a coffee we went by car to the parking lot and hiked the trailed up to our bags, carrying the rest of climbing equipment which was not heavy. So quite rested we arrived at this tree. Behind us came a party, which had fixed the day before.

We brought the content of the haulbags in parts to the start of the bold ladder leading up into the sky. The fixed rope of the party in front of us was hanging down far outside in the air showing a gread circle back to the belay. I repacked the haulbags and Ian got ready for the assault. Busy with this we did not watch the first guy jugging up, but when Ian started to clip in the first bolts the second of the other party prepared to lift off. I lowered him out on our zip-line

And now I registered the reality of the realm of overhangs. When he jugged up about 100 feet I made the following picture - you can turn it in either way - it is amazing. Ian hanging out on the "nose" (50 feet above belay), higher up the haulbag, beeing hauled by in invisible person dwelling in the clouds and the Canadian guy, jugging up and trying to keep pace with the haulbag uplift speed.

picture 2: the view up watching Ian and the others hauling and jugging

picture 3: Henry on belay after pitch#2

The right pictures shows the belay from where the ropes are hanging down far out and far away from the wall. Very low down the ascent along the wall is clearly visible. Ian clipped in every fourths bolt and so I had a lot of troubles to reach from far out the bolt and to unclip. On the first bolt clipped in I had this big trouble. I solved it by the way I took my fiffi-hook off the harness and attached it to a sling, this sling I clipped into my harness. The top of the fiffi-hook has a little hole, in this hole I inserted a small loop of a very thin cordelette which I alway have in my pocket. I took the rope above the biner, pulled myself in, clipped the fiffi-hook in the bolt, lowered my ascenders (USHBA-ascender where you can move up and down) and then I hang on this bolt in my fiffi-hook. I unclipped the rope and the biner easily, then I grabbed the little loop attached on top of the fiffi-hook, pulled and - whhusshhhh - I was out in the air again. On the next clipped-in bolt I enjoyed this game bouncing off the wall. And it worked quite fast. Meanwhile Ian was on the belay in the shade, the haulbags already up. Waiting there he became cold and was eager to lead off again, to rewarm the muscles and the body. I agreed and off he was. After another 75 minutes he reached ahwanee ledge. The sun now came out and threw her first warming strokes on the wall. When I reached ahwanee ledge it was about 2:00 p.m. The sun was now hot and the leader of the party in front of us worked on pitch #5. We set up the portaledge meanwhile, enjoyed the luxurious ledge, drank water and sunk back into the beach-relax-mode.

picture 4: Ian and the portaledge on ahwanee-ledge after fixing up to pitch#6

picture 5: starting off pitch#5 from Guano ledge

At 5:00 p.m. we could start with pitch#5 and pitch#6 which we combined as well. From the belay of after pitch#6 we rapelled since the other party was now preparing pitch#7. Beeing back at 7:00 p.m at the ledge, we enjoyed the time we had and set up the gaz for some nice instant soups (noodles and won-ton) and ate and drank almost to much. At 8:30 p.m. the other party rapelled and joined us on the ledge. One slept under our portaledge, the other on the far left end (where wet denim day dream starts off) on the blank rock. We had pads in the haulbags, but they did not want them. Tough guys.

picture 6: in the center, just right above the roof, you see 2 guys hanging on the belay starting for pitch#7.

After a beautiful sunset and a good night we woke up at 6.00 a.m., set up the fire for a good coffee and bagels, we also had instant muesli which tasted deli. The sky was not blue and clear anymore, clouds moved in and sat on the rim of the mountains. It was a bit chilly and hostile. Anyway climbing in cold weather takes less water and the working takes less sweat. Meanwhile the other party got their bags ready for hauling and started off for jumaring. We had still plenty time to wait, set up for another coffee and organized our stuff, haulbags and portaledge ready for todays go. Unfortunately the pitch#7 was not finished yet by the others, so we had to wait until 9:00 a.m. until we could start jumaring and hauling. At 10:30 a.m. I started off for pitch#7, which is quite long, 165 feet. Ahhhh - this pitch loved our aliens (green, yellow and orange). There is a free move (5.6) at the end towards the belay bolts, which was bad for me since I had already some rope drag. The belay is nice and the rock features completely changes. This is really a great route.

picture 7: Henry on belay after pitch#7

the belay after pitch#7 is grand and opens a beautiful view up and out of the wall. The belay is fine but soon after the wall gets very steep again. We loved the pitch#8 which we combined with pitch#9, leading up to a ledge, where one can sit and relax. The haulbags again swung far out in the air, it is amazing how steep this wall is. Getting used to this on the 2nd day you realize the overhangs in fact by releasing the haulbags.

picture 8: Ian on pitch#8 (intermediate belay just below the roof)

picture 9: Ian on pitch#9

Good climbing possible on pitch#8 and #9 due to the fixed gear. We finished pitch#10 at about 5.30 and enjoyed the roomy ledge (see picture below).

picture 10: Ian in the morning of the 3rd day, 15 m below the summit

We did not know the descent, we were told it is not nice, rockfall to be watched etc. etc. So we did not know exacly the time we would need to touch ground. We estimated about 3-4 hours. Repacking and organizing all the gear takes about 30-45 minutes. The weather became worse, clouds intensified and fog desending from the mountain rim. We decided to put up the portaledge with the rain fly on this great ledge, just where the route "wet denim day dreams" tops out, using their belay bolts. Once we started setting up the portaledge, the sky became clearer and the sun looked thru and it made by the time more progress. I said, we do not need the rainfly - let's put it back in the bag again. We did so and the sun at 7:00 p.m. hit us now and we stood like birds on the ledge, bellies directed to the sun and wondered what happened to the weather. It felt in fairy tale. We put out our stove and started to prepare our delis. Man - this tasted fine and good - mmmhhh. Tee and smarties gave us good transition to the sleep mode.

The morning was a beautiful. We prepared the day before a fixed line to the summit, which was 15m far away, 4th class up. After that 5* breaktfast we set up our stuff and hauled it over the rim, where the rappel anchors waited. 2 rappels down lead you to the descent-chimney. Here was a fixed rope, which we used. After that some downclimbing on 3rd class with the pigs is necessary - beware of loose rock and where your feet go. 2 more short rappels and we reached a tree where a final rappel of 55 m got us to ground. It was 10:00 a.m. Coiling up the ropes and in another 40 minutes we arrived at the bridevail fall parking lot. A great adventures has come to end, but it is still present in our minds. Geehhh- guys I think I got big-wall addicted.

Summary: great climb, very impressive, lot of fixed gear, grand rock features - a good preparation for steep El Cap routes. It took us 2 3/4 days. If we had not to wait for the party in front of us, we would be down the late afternoon of day 2.

Note: you can use shit-bags, they land direct on the trail along the wall, where you can recollect them after the descent. Anything you lose on the wall you will be able to pick up again.



Best strategy (my recommendation):

Bring all the loads up late afternoon up the ledge to the point where the fixed traverse rope starts, unpack the bags and bring portion by portion to the belay, repack the haulbags again. Prepare rack and ropes ready to climb. If nobody is in front, it should go like this:

Day 1, start as early as possible, rope in, take your rack and start aiding up the bolt ladder. Reaching ahwanee ledge, set up portaledge and prepare next pitches (combine pitch 5+6, if possible fix up pitch 7 full). Rappel and relax on ahwanee.

Day 2, get up early as possible, you should top out at noon or 2:00 p.m., repack your stuff and calculate for the descent up to 3 hours to the trail and 45 min. back to the parking lot. You should be in time for diner in the mountain buffet.

Rack (what we had):

1 lead line, 60m

1 static line, 60 m, + swivel

1 zip line, 60m 6mm

2 haulbags

1 gas stove for coffee, tea & instant soups (deli)

1 double portaledge (luxury, ahwanee ledge good with sleeping pad)

20 aliens (2 blue, 4 green, 4 yellow, 3 red, 3 orange, 2 violet, 2 black)

3 TCUs, 2 #1, 1 #0,5

5 camelots: 2 #2.5, 2 #3, 1 #3,5 (#4 not necessary)

2 nutsets (more small + medium)

copperheads (not used), 2 ea #1, #2, #3, #4



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