By Alix Martin 05/23/2000
My partners were Philippe and Brian, two American guys that I had met on Camp 4 the week before. I had done the S face of Washington Column with Philippe, Brian joining us on this plan later for what would be his first big wall. Having done the Nose and the Salathe, this will be my 3rd route on El Cap.
My initial focus was on Zodiac, but we switched to Lurking Fear because it didn't require either a portaledge or pitons and hammers (Zodiac can be done clean , but it is alledgedly more dangerous)
Our plan was to fix 3 pitches, then go for the ledge on pitch 14, then top out. Not much choice since the only other ledge was not big enough for the 3 of us.
We will use 3 ropes, with the second cleaning and trailing a long static line that the 3rd will use to jug. The 3rd man will also carry a pack with the sleeping bags, as we had too much to fit in the haulbag. We took a lot of water (3 qts/day/person) which ended up being way too much for this time of the year (may). Also the route stays in the shade in the morning, so 2 qts / day / person would have been more than enough.
Day 1 :
Pitch 1 : we used the Steve Schneider variations on 1 and 3, well described on Chris Mac Namara's "SuperTopo" (from Climbing magazine, very recommended). This was mine, mostly bolt ladder with a little problem solving : a bolt was out of reach even from the top step, I had to step into a sling threaded directly through the bolt, at another point I used a nut's wire around a small rock horn. No hook move, but a bit of free climbing too.
Pitch 2 : this was Brian's, almost all bolt ladder. More likely to be A0 as in the supertopo than A3 as in the guidebook. We caught up with a soloist, who offered us to pass, but we said that as he was doing the original pitches and we were on the variations, it should be fine.
Pitch 3 : Philippe got started, only to find himself too short to do an "A0" traverse move. I took over, reached across, and clipped : ok, A0... He was talking about abandonning aid climbing, as he couldn't do the lowest grade... A few hook moves on this pitch.
We left our ropes and haulbag and went down to sleep at Camp 4.
Day 2 : we woke up at 3am, that would prove to be a good idea. We were at the base around 5.
Pitches 456 : Philippe did these, on what appeared to be steep but straightforward cracks. As Brian starts jugging pitch 6, I tell him to go back down, as it will be easier for him to do 6 and 7 in one than to follow the traverse. The bag will follow the same path.
Pitch 7 : A traverse on a lot of rivets, that I cap with nut wires. No hooks, just a little free climbing.
Pitch 8 : the wide crack ! I leave my #4 camalot too soon, planning to switch between #4.5 and #5 after, but #5 is too big and I never use it. I have to cam jug on #4.5 and #3.5, after a while I leave the #4.5 and finish the pitch alternating between #3 and #3.5. Hard to free climb as there are no good rests from which to place pro.
Pitch 9 : it gets easier, a good crack with some free climbing, then a step left to the "pillar of dispair"
Pitch 10 : a nice steep pitch, I use extensively the cam hook that I bought 2 days before, these things are great, and fast ! I alternate between the cam hook and small nuts.
Pitch 11 : a little tricky to get past the roof/corner : I start fumbling with cams that don't fit, then replace my fingers in a good pocket by the cam hook again, which works perfect and gives access to big fixed heads.
Pitch 12 : traverse back to left, some fixed stuff at the start, then some hook moves, very nice. Philippe who his following the pitch doesn't think so : one of his ascender pops (he did not put the carabiner that blocks the rope on his petzl ascenders. It scares him and he finishes the pitch very slowly, double checking everything. Brian and the bag come directly from the 10th belay to the 12th.
Pitch 13 : I have finished my 6 pitch block, and Brian takes over. The pitches were not divided in a very demacratic way, but it worked... Brian takes some time on this one, and we reach B13 at dusk.
Pitch 14 : I start again to make sure to reach our lege. I decline to take a headlamp, not a good idea. At the start of the pitch, the light is still ok, but it is not as easy as 4th class suggests, and I finish aiding in the dark (scary and not recommended). Eventually I reach the lege, but can't find anchors. I set up 5 different pieces in a crack and call it the belay. We'll discover the bolt on the next morning. We eat cold ravioli and canned fruit. The ledge is ok, with several levels. Brian opts to go down 10 feet to another one, Philippe and I sleep on the top one.
Day 2 :
Pitch 15 : We have breakfast, we get started around 9. Brian gets this one, it takes some time.
Pitch 16 : Still Brian, quicker this time
Pitch 17 : more for Brian, a wide crack on aid, then easy climbing leads to Thanksgiving ledge. We drag our stuff across to the right. Around the corner there is a great view on the left part of the wall, with a wall tent pitched somewhere near the roof of Salathe.
Pitch 18 : Philippe does this one, mixing aid and free climbing.
Pitch 19 : This should be the last one, Brian does it.
But there is some left : slabs surround us at the top, and Philippe gets started on one more pitch. I have to move up tu belay him to a tree, and we join the 2 other ropāes to belay Brian with the pack on his shoulders doing the slabs. We emptied some water before this but it was still a good effort !
It is about 4 pm, we repack our stuff, and find our way on the right to the top of El Cap. There is a traverse step on which I drop the pack, then use a rope to belay my partners and haul. After that we traverse, and join the east ledges after hacking through some manzanita in the gully. I now think the good trail must be closer to the border of El cap.
Anyway, we join it eventually and go down some fixed lines on the rappels. We reach the valley around 8pm, just in time for some pizza and beer !
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