Steve Purcell and Michael A. Esparza. Written byd Michael A. Esparza
I can't believe this, am I actually drinking a tall bottle of Samuel Adams instead of Old E. in front of Pep Boys. What would my family think of me; someone's husband and father swilling beer in front of an auto parts store. What the hell, Steve and I had nothing else to do that beautiful Wednesday morning.
Steve and I planned on climbing Lurking Fear the second week of June. I was off work on Tuesday and we were to leave Wednesday morning to fix several pitches and hopefully be off Saturday night for work on Sunday. The plan sounded good, even partially realistic; however, we had to be tested by the big wall gods. For the past two hours after leaving Orange County, we had been pumping each other up, feeding off of one another's adrenaline from anticipation of the climb. Neither one of us would shut up about wall climbing, shit just flew out of our mouths like drunken high school football jocks. It was then, just as we entered Bakersfield, that my Nissan 240SX took a dump. "Hey Steve, did you feel that." "Feel what," he said. The R.P.M.'s went down to 0 as I helplessly steered to the shoulder. Suddenly, my dream of finally climbing El Capitan turned into a nightmare.
An hour later found us at Pep Boys. $45 for the towing and $62 bucks for the mechanics to diagnose my engine and find a fixable problem. We hoped it would be something easy, like an electrical thing or something. We trotted off to Vons in search of some Brew and then found ourselves sitting under a tree, swilling beers as the mechanics watched in envy. Several moments later, I noticed three guys working on my car and nothing was happening. This is when the EPIC began. I was called over to my car and presented a snapped timing chain. "God Damnit," I yelled. "I just had this engine rebuilt in February and have driven this car to the Valley twice since then." The mechanic stared at me.
I told Steve what had happened and he implied renting a car. What a brilliant idea this was. Minutes later I was on the phone with my wife who immediately thought I was nuts for the thirty thousandth time. "Hey honey, my timing chain took a shit and I am going to have the car towed back to the engine repair guy and rent a car and do the climb." "How much is this going to cost? You have to be at work Sunday morning!" "$375 for the car to get towed and $320 to rent the car, Steve will split the rental with me." Steve and I started to unload the car with all of our wall stuff. We piled it in the parking lot waiting for the rental guy to pick us up.
"You ain't gonna fit all that stuff in here," the rental guy said who looked like one of the characters from KING OF THE HILL. Little did he know how much of a mission we were on when we started squeezing our stuff in. Soon after, we were back on the road listening to some good ol' country music. It was finally over. We had just been through a near disaster. I had been anticipating this climb for weeks and was not going to turn back unless weather or injury shut us out. We originally wanted to do the Prow but I had been dogged on it three times in one month (April)! I wanted something else that the Prow would not give me - length. Steve did not care what we did, as long as we were escaping the city. So it all changed; it was either going to be Zodiac or Lurking Fear.
About five hours later found us at the base of Lurking Fear, getting gnawed on by some serious mosquitos. The approach is a bitch with the bags; we have two, one Zig and the other Zag. We have about two sets of cams to the #4 Camalot, 1 #5 Camalot which was only used once, HB offsets, hooks and some steel just in case. Food wise we had 6 gallons of water, Sardines, Ravioli, Raisins, canned fruit and power bars. It was late, probably about 8 p.m. when we arrived. We tried to sleep but the body's drugs just would not allow it.
Morning brought the wall.
Pitch 1: My lead. Easy free climbing to bolt ladder which is kind of reachy. Belay on two new bolts, stance.
Pitch 2: Steve's pitch which did not seem to hard.
Pitch 3: Aided up bolt ladder to some somewhat sketchy free climbing. Bolt ladder was reachy and used cheater stick.
Pitch 4: Steve's Pitch: Can't tell ya' much since he led it! At this point, a French team had just reached us. They were mostly free climbing and moving rather fast with their 100 meter ropes. One guy was a doctor and the other was a guide from Chamonix (spelling?) with several missing teeth. These guys climbed with beautiful style making everything seem so easy. They fixed to four and eventually passed us up on the following day.
Pitch 5: Some moderate aid, not too bad from what I remember. Two bolts, stance on a pedestal. Ran out of light and set up the port-a-ledge. Ledge was a complete gagal-fuck.
Not a good place to set the ledge up since the bolts are too close together. However, we did get a good night sleep. Dinner consisted of Generic ravioli, canned fruit and Gatorade.
We started climbing around 8:00 am after spending about two hours putting everything away. The morning was crisp and beautiful, the perfect way to wake up from the first port-a-ledge night.
Pitch 6: Steve's pitch. I remember hearing him say watch me a bunch of times so this must have been a little tough for him. Mostly cams, stoppers and some hook moves from what I remember.
Pitch 7: Cool Traverse out right for about sixty feet or so. First three moves went on hooks, used cliffhanger and sawed off Chouinard. From there, it is about 10 rivets and a couple of bolts to a 5.10 crack which I aided. Pitch was kind of exposed but not too tough.
Pitch 8: This was Steve's pitch and took some time since this is the point that the French dudes passed us. Looked rather easy as a lead.
Pitch 9: Perfect crack at about 5.8 free which was aided since I had my approach shoes on. I really regret not freeing this pitch since it seemed so perfect. Crack takes red aliens to #3 camalot. Leave your climbing shoes on for this and make sure it is your pitch. We set the ledge up here for the second night. This was much easier than the night before.
Pitch 10: This was Steve's again (He got all of the even pitches). Not much beta on my end besides an easy jug.
Pitch 11: Cool aid off of a pin to two red aliens. From here, keeps traversing right to some fixed heads which were much better than the ones on the second pitch of the Prow (yuck). The heads take you up to some yellow/green alien moves to a hanging gear belay.
Pitch 12: The Grand Traverse. I think the best lead on the route and the worst to follow. Again, do what ever you can to lead this pitch. There is fixed pins and bomber cam placements on the traverse. There is a point where mandatory hooking comes into play. You can also use a cheater to clip bolts which is what Steve did. At one point, he placed the only pin on the route. Steve said the lead was tough but I guarantee it was not as bad as following it.
Pitch 13: Thin aid (small HB's and cam hooks) up to some free climbing at 5.7 or so. I did the free climbing with my approach shoes and thought it was freaky. This takes you to a ramp which goes at about 5.2 or so. There is gnarly rope drag and finally a place to sit down.
Pitch 14: Our last pitch of the day takes you up to Ned's Ledges. This pitch is a grovelly left traversing pitch. Steve had a hard time with this pitch since it was real physical. I think the hardest moves were 5.8 according to him with some mixed easy aid off of bigger cams. Ned's ledges are not too big but a great reward after hanging belays for two days. Two people could crash out here and be quite comfortable, you will have to use the rope to stuff in some holes. I slept really good that night and was rudely woken by Steve's gnarly grunts while he was crapping. I thought he was in labor or something.
Pitch 15: Funky free climbing with some mixed aid. I recall some tricky thin HB placements near the top of the pitch. The haul is a bitch and is the point where the climbing starts to turn un-fun.
Pitch 16: This is a real funky pitch with awkward climbing near the top according to Steve. He freed the first part and started to aid. Near the top Steve committed to some free moves which he thought was hard.
Pitch 17: The gardening pitch. I did some free moves, yanking on a hold that almost dislodged a microwave size block…whoa. Be careful in this spot which is just left and above the belay. From here, the climbing is dirty up an angled dihedral. Traverse up onto
A ledge, through some bush and an easy 5.7 face to Turkey Ledge. Awesome place to bivy and maybe one of the worse hauls in the valley. Gear was mostly thin (yellow, green, red aliens and HB's). This area has been the scene for a lot of garbage; However, we saw none while up there minus a power bar wrapper and a part of a makeshift ledge.
Be prepared for a lot of rope drag after passing the lip on the angled dihedral. Steve and I were cursing back and forth to each other; our conversation sounded like the following. "slack….slack….I said slack you dick face." "You have about thirty feet you fuck face," Steve would reply. Thanksgiving ledge is also the spot where Steve's colon almost popped through his Butt hole. He had been holding his shit for the past couple of hours and finally blew up when he got on flat ground. Luckily he found the shit tube in time. It was quite a funny sight. Any ways, from the belay bolts, make a traverse to the right through some boulders and bush to the next belay which is rather obvious. It is a pain pulling the bags through this area.
Pitch 18: By this point it was baking balls! Steve led this pitch and I sat frying in the heat. This pitch looked very awkward and strenuous. The pitch consisted of mixed free and aid. The top was a weird chimney that was difficult to jug and very difficult to haul. Steve used mostly larger gear on this pitch. From this point, one can see the never ending torturous, non-relenting slabs.
Pitch 19 to Top: 5.6 slab to bolts. Easy lead, hard haul. This is the end of the route pretty much. Steve was exhausted at this point and I was getting my 19th wind. We packed the haul bags and simul-climbed the remaining 600 ft or so to the top of El Cap. At this point I was pumped to get off the Cap. It was Sunday night and I had already missed one day of work without notice. I had this false impression that I would make it back to Orange County by 5:00 a.m. which was the time I had to be at work. I looked at my watch and it was near 8:00 p.m. I started to stress until I noticed emergency vehicles rushing into the valley. Moments later brought several helicopters. It would be the following morning that brought the terrible news of a young climber who lost his life on Glacier Point Apron.
Hiking further east, I caught the alpen glow shimmering off of distant Cathedral Peak and my nerves settled. The view from up top was indescribable as so many of you know. In the distance was leaning tower, my first wall, which now seemed so dwarfed. I had finally realized that I was on the top of what I had been dreaming of accomplishing for the past five years. I let out several loud hoots and stopped dead in my tracks to absorb the past four days.
We slept up top with the many mosquitoes.
Morning brought the descent which took forever from where we were. We hit the valley floor after about four hours and Steve was worked to the point that he could not make it to the car. I was pumped and charged to the car about a mile away to come back and pick up Steve. I called my wife whom had been freaking out for the past couple of days, sounding joyful to hear my voice. Fortunately, she had called my work the night before to see if I had shown up. The answer would be no and she informed the freaks at work what had occurred in the valley. This saved my ass. I told my boss that the rockfall destroyed a road heading out of Yosemite which also cut off major communications when I returned. The line worked and I escaped the man again.
In all, the route is very fun, with excellent climbing for the first 13 pitches; technically easy but physically tough. The long approach, descent and gnarly slabs make the climb tough and unforgiving at times. In choosing between Zodiac and Lurking Fear, I am glad to have gotten this route out of the way so I don't have to deal with the slabs again. I returned home with a large Visa bill, no car for two weeks and swollen toes. What else can one expect coming home from the Valley.
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