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Lurking Fear, a trip report by Eric Coomer (coomer@nuc.berkeley.edu)

Following is a somewhat exciting(for me at least) trip report of Lurking Fear(Yosemite valley, 5.10 A3). I did this climb July 8-12. I have long had a goal of doing an El Cap Big wall by age 25. I turned 24 5 days after summiting this climb. I didn't know it until half way up the climb, but my partner, who I only met days before the climb, Larry Ferber is also a fellow rec.climber lurker/sometimes contributor. That dead cat sure gets around.

Before the boring part starts I can offer up suggestions for others considering this route. The pin list in the new Big Walls guide is overkill. A selection of LA's from 1-4 with selection of angles from baby to 1.5" is plenty. It can be done hammerless but a few spots are tricky. One spot definitely requires either nailing or a tri-cam. Bring all the hooks you have including a fish hook, and two cam hooks. Also bring about 10 rivet hangers. We had a double set of cams which included a single set of aliens. These make a lot of the scary nutting and possible hammering disappear. It's a great route that turns ugly at the end. Do it when it's cool as you'll bake in the sun otherwise.

Any comments, flames, requests for more beta are welcomed.

Eric "Damn! What the HELL am I doing up here again?" This was all I could think about as I started to try and haul the pigS. Yes, this time there were two. My one pig had decided to multiply- much to my dismay. Not only that, but with 11 gallons of water, bivy gear, food, porta-ledge, extra rack, I could NOT budge the two together. Great! I was forced to do two separate hauls- at least for the first day.

The first pitch started innocuously enough. A 5.4 ramp to an A2 crack that quickly turned overhanging. No problem. Then the crack ran out and there was a nice bolt ladder- beefed up courtesy of Steve Schneider, with 3/8" metoulious bolts. Then the bolts stopped. Hmmm, there was the ledge marking the end of the first pitch of Lurking Fear(El Cap, 5.10 A3), but how was I to get over there? There were NO suitable hook placements. There was, however, a nice beefy 11 mil fixed line hanging down. YARD! I was at the last placement in no time. I set up the belay and proceeded to haul.

I wanted to go down. I wanted to go home. This was the beginning of my third wall in less than six weeks. I had had enough. I was only home for 3 days after a two week stint in the valley before packing up and heading back to do Lurking Fear. The long arduous hike up didn't help my disposition. Neither did the dead battery in the car that morning we started. That helped to really get us on a late start. So much for making this a three day ascent. It was already nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. I was glad we decided to bring that extra gallon of water.

Larry worked his way along the overhanging traverse. These are always fun to clean. I had only met Larry two days before leaving the valley. He was looking for partner for an El Cap route, and I was willing- at the time. Now things had changed. I missed my love, I missed my cats, I missed my BED. Not to mention, a good friend was having a massive bar-B-Q. I told Larry when he arrived that I was not feeling my best. He didn't buy it...

"Dude, we hiked all that shit up here. Man, that's the crux. You'll see- it'll get better. This is the fun part."

It wasn't the climbing I was having trouble with. On the contrary. The climbing was fun. I just wasn't mentally ready. I had never felt this way on a climb before. Not this bad. I had never thought about backing off a wall. I didn't want to start now. So I re-racked and headed up the second pitch.

Pitch two starts with a slimy traverse on a steep slabby section of rock. Bomber(yeah right!) dowels protect the initial free moves which feel oh so solid in five tennies. Up from here on more rivets and the occasional steve bolt. The middle of this pitch is rated A3 but feels much easier. The dowels are pretty solid for the most part and there was only one hook move right in the middle- a nice bat hook- which I almost overlooked. Once again, by the time I got to the belay, all I wanted to do was to go down.

Larry cleaned this pitch quickly but it was already pretty late. I desperately wanted to get another pitch in or to just bag the whole attempt. Larry convinced me to just set up our bivy for the night and see how I felt in the morning. We were only two pitches off the deck, but set up there instead of rapping to the ground. I think I knew if I had rapped down that there was no way I was going to head back up in the morning. So, out came the porta- ledge. I had only slept in one once before. Two weeks earlier on a solo of the Prow on Washington's Column. This time it went a little more smoothly, and Larry and I ate well sitting there watching the sun set. Unfortunately, my ledge is only a single and Larry didn't own his own. He would make do with a hammock. However, this belay only had 5 closely spaced bolts on an otherwise blank section of wall- this would turn out to be the norm as along the route 10 of the 19 belays would be hanging. To make things worse, this belay station didn't get the same Steve-a-reeno treatment of new bolts. Seems as though the free line deviates a little at this point. Oh well. This presented some problem for Larry. No way to spread out his hammock. He eventually strung it from the bottom of my ledge. It was enough that he got some sleep between random body parts losing all circulation, but every time he woke up, I woke up as the bouncing jarred me out of an otherwise peaceful sleep.

Before finally dosing off for the night, I heard yells from below- remember the fixed line? Well, turns out that at the bottom was John Dalbey(infrequent rec.climber poster). Seems as though a friend of his had fixed the lines in an abandoned solo attempt and John had come up to help him finish the route. We waved and said that we'd try to move quickly enough to stay ahead of them.

Morning came with Larry not looking all that refreshed. I wanted to bail but not as fiercely as the previous day. I'd give it another pitch. But in the back of my head, I knew that every pitch I waited was one more pitch that would have to be rapped with those blasted pigs.

Pitch 3 was Larry's. A nice A2 crack that ascends an gorgeous flake- the window pane flake. Sort of looks like a crucifix if you ask me. Nice and symmetrical- how nature does like symmetry. Up the flake he went to a big pendulum off of a manky 1/4" spinner- absolutely bomb proof I later exclaimed. After the pendulum was a supposed 5.7 crack. Larry thought differently as he aided up to the next belay. This one even had a small ledge to it! I was quite pleased with that as I tried to rest as Larry started up pitch 4. I wasn't quite as rested as I wanted to be. Thoughts of retreat again permeated my head. If it hadn't been for Larry's positive thoughts and even prodding, we would not have succeeded these first two days. He kept me going; I would later repay the debt. Pitch four, on the topo, shows following a crack up to another pendulum. All through this pitch are old 1/4" bolts mixed with new steve-O bolts. But a third of the way through the initial traversing pitch the lines deviate. Larry informed me that the steve way looked like there would be lots of hooking but that the other way didn't look much better. The old way did start in a small seem that would go pretty easily but then just ended. There wasn't a fixed pendulum from the looks of things and would be a bitch to clean. Larry decided to learn hooking- something he had never done before. I gave him the patented short course to easy hooking and he was off. Some of the moves were a little dicy but never more than 2 hook moves separated a nice shiny bolt. Larry was at the top in good fashion and at yet another hanging belay!

I left the belay atop pitch 3 with the guys in party #2 hot on our tails. John's partner was quite an efficient leader and was smoking a lot of the pitches that we were dispensing with in mere average fashion. I felt a little rushed but was slowly doing away with my feelings of imminent doom. I did want to finish this route. I did not want to back off. But the feelings remained slightly as I started to jug and clean. Pitch 5 was mine and I hoped it was short. I needed a nice straight forward short pitch. This is what I got. Not only that, but I was rewarded with yet another hanging belay! :O

Pitch 6 was Larry's. Can't really give much beta on this one except, according to Larry the top is more like A2 instead of A1. Hmmm, I wonder why this pitch is such a blank...

By the time I reached Larry at the hanging belay atop 6, the sun was heading for the west. Definitely enough time to make the top of 7 but probably not much further. Seven was, more or less, our goal for the day after our somewhat inauspicious start the day before. John and Brian were close on our tails again. I headed off. This pitch is one of the scarier pitches on the route. A dead horizontal traverse of about 30-40 feet on hooks and old dowels. I really don't know what holds those leetle tiny things in there but I don't know if I really want and explanation. Copious hooking with no good gear had me quite puckered and having muchos fun. This is aid climbing to be sure! Finally, you get to a nice bolt(1/4") and a little security after about 25 feet. Some more hooking leads to a bolt ladder which ends at a crack that starts small and ends BIG. Take the #4 on this lead for sure. The belay at the end of 7 is quite nice. Good bolts spaced out make setting up rather easy. There is also a nice 1/2-1" crack to the side that makes setting up a hammock relatively comfortable- according to Larry that is. Once again I had my trusty Porta-ledge. Hmmm, it wasn't being very trusty this evening though. Everytime I set it up it dumped me out. I thought I had properly adjusted everything but something was definitely amiss. Eventually I got things straightened out, ate dinner and settled in for bed. Originally, John and Brian had considered passing us at this point. But decided against it in view of the fact that the sun had all but disappeared. The set up about 40 feet below on a midway anchor of steve bolts.

Next morning dawned. First night ever on a wall that I didn't wake up at least once during the night. I felt refreshed. Our companions below were already stirring and half-way packed up. I think this was a not so subtle hint on their part for us to get moving. I later found out that they didn't have sleeping bags. They forwent the bulk and weight in hopes of travelling light and fast. This more than explained why they seemed to be able to get such early starts- warmth of movement!

Pitch 8 was once again Larry's and starts up an awkward 5.7 crack in a left facing corner. Up a ways to some 5.9 crack climbing to the real fun part. Half way through the pitch you end up at the bottom of the most parallel sided wide piece of off-width HELL I've ever jugged passed. This would make Dr. Bruce smile I'm sure. The perfect #4 camalot size for over 100 feet. You'll need at least 2 #4's and would be happy with extras. It's same sized the whole way so leaving pro isn't really on option if you only have two. Larry wasn't too happy looking down at the 200 foot whipper if anything went wrong while leapfrogging the cams. But soon he was at yet another hanging belay and I was on my way up.

Pitch 9 was also Larry's- we decided on a somewhat incongruous block of leads in order to give Larry the majority of free pitches and me the majority of aid. The ninth, not Beethoven's, starts with a very thin 5.8 lieback that soon turns to ultra-thin 5.10+/aid. Larry soon was pulling out the aiders and working his way up.

"HOLY FUCKING SHIT!" Was all I heard. Natural instinct took over and I looked up. After seeing the massive flake in Larry's hand- no longer attached to the rock, I quickly ducked into my belay stance- poorly shielded from certain death had that flake come down. John and Brian looked up from below and likewise started yelling. Obviously it would not be a good thing for that chopper flake to come hurling down on all of us. Larry knew this as well as anyone. But there was no other place to put the thing. It had to weigh in excess of 20 pounds and Larry was doing his best to hold on to it. Finally, everyone agreed that Larry should toss it as far to the right and out as possible. He leaned left and with a great yell, the flake was airborne. WOW! I never really knew how long it takes an object to fall this sort of distance. It felt like an eternity. Then is slowly dissappeared around a large corner of El Cap. A few seconds later I heard the tremendous impact. Absolutely amazing. No time to waste- we were trying to reach the top of 14 by the end of the day. We still had 5 1/2 pitches to go. Pitch 9 ends on top of a nicely slanted pillar. Unfortunately since my lead was next I didn't get to enjoy one of the few non-hanging belays.

While jugging this pitch I did notice one mistake that Larry made. The lieback flake eventually whithers out and the topo is marked with another pendulum. Which Larry set up off of a nut. To the left, however, is a rather indisting- uishable dowel which will make life much easier on the second by dispensing with the pendulum.

Pitch 10 was mine. Another easy A1/A2 crack- til the end. I sat at the end of the easy part just 30 or 40 feet from the belay. Now the crack thinned to almost nothing. I tried a few micro-nuts in very small Lost Arrow pin scars but to no avail. Finally, I pulled out the cam hook I recently bought. I had used this thing once on the Prow but was hesitant about it. Up to this point I didn't have much confidence in them and now was not the time to test it. But it was either that or manky nut placements or hammering pins. I elected to give it a shot. Amazingly enough these LA scars were perfect for the cam hook. It sunk it deep. Even though the crack was ever so slightly over- hanging, the hook stayed put and I gained a few feet. I only had one cam hook so I had to alternate good cam hook slots with pathetic nut placements and just hoped that nothing blew out. Soon I was at the belay and getting ready for the next pitch.

Pitch 11 starts off in the same non-existent crack that ended 10. Up a few feet to a nice overhang. It traverses out this on rusty fixed pins to a big step around and up the overhang. From the last fixed pin I could just barely reach around the corner after yarding HARD on my daisies. I felt a beaten out rounded slot that I thought would take an alien. I placed it and stood up only to have it shift out. It was then that I got my first glimpse of the blind placement as only two of the cams were making contact. A quick rush of adrenaline and I stepped back to the fixed rusty pin. A good scare for sure. I removed the alien and tried a different size. It felt solid- again it was impossible to see. I told Larry to watch me and stepped on the piece to test. POP! went the piece. Big swing went Eric. I was still holding on to the hero loop of my aider attached to the pin and tarzaned as the piece blew. Luckily I didn't dislocate my shoulder. I seriously have to work on those reflexes. I should have let go but didn't. I was left with not other options and selected a large angle piton and started hammering. This still was not the ideal placement since the pin was hanging almost straight down. I didn't like the looks of things since the hole quickly bottomed out. I didn't have any sawed off pins of this size so I sucked it up and went for it again. This time things held- at least long enough for me to clip the completely solid fixed head above. The rest of the pitch follows crappy fixed gear up to the belay below the grand traverse- pitch 12.

Rated A3 pitch 12 was mine. Though, I was assured that the vast majority was fixed. I hoped so, since we only had a meager pin selection. I started up towards the the great series of overhangs. One by one I clipped the ancient fixed gear. Nothing too sketchy. Eventually, the inevitable happened as I was faced with a very large reach of about 10 feet between non-existent placements. I decided to pull out the hammer again. This time I drove in a solid #1. Well, it did only go about half way in, and once again was pointing straight down into the vast expanse of El Cap that we had already climbed. I clipped and moved cautiously not wanting to repeat my circus act of earlier. More moves on fixed gear between decent alien placements. I haven't mentioned my absolute love of these cams. They are THE(in my opinion) piece for aid climbing on pin scarred cracks. They fit where absolutely nothing else will. Having a full set allowed me to keep my hammering to a minimum. Farther out the traverse I stretched. I was now about 50 feet straight out from Larry and still going. All through the traverse are extraneous pieces of fixed gear and misplaced bolts. The idea is to stay low and keep going. Around the corner the overhang ends but there is still an horizontal crack to follow further. Fifteen feet out from the end of the overhang was another Steve bolt way above my top reach. I couldn't decide whether to try hooking for it or continuing on the crack around the corner some more. I chose to stay in the crack. Around the corner was another fixed piece. This time it was an ancient stuck tri-cam with a decaying sling- bomb proof. I had to hammer in two more pins since I was running out of appropriate sized gear. Since the line was so traversing I didn't back clean a single piece to make it easier on Larry. This had its obvious downside as I neared the end with a dwindling rack. Two pins later I was top-stepping to reach a hangerless bolt. Above that straight to the belay on questionable hooks with nothing below save for the last pin I placed and the psychological bolt. The last 15 feet require that one leave the aiders and start to free climb. This section is probably only 5.7/8 but after the taxing traverse and having five tennies on, sweating like a pig in the mid-day sun blaring full blast- it seemed a lot harder. I was happy to be at yet another hanging belay.

Two more pitches to go for the day. I thought we might actually make it but I didn't have a watch and wasn't sure how much daylight we had left. I never was very good at judging time by the position of the sun. Larry hurried through the traverse having to basically re-aid it on the gear that I left.

Pitch 13 starts up a very awkward A1 corner. It leans right and out and Larry was moving slow on this bottom part. Above the pitch is rated "4th class." I warned Larry that of all the "4th class" I've done on walls, they usually turn out to be more like 5.6. Sure enough, I wasn't disappointed. Though not steep, it wasn't 4th class. It also was the first non-hanging belay of my day. I relished sitting down by the time I got to the top. Slowly the feeling began to return to my leg. Pitch 14 was again rated only 4th class but consisted of off-width and vegetated chimneying which Larry was quite pleased to lead. The pitch is supposed to start off with a 5.9 mantle up left from the belay. Larry tried it out and decided against it. Supposedly this mantle is more like 10c. Luckily it can be by-passed by aiding directly up from the anchors to low 5th class ramp that meets up with the mantle. From there it's gardening to the absolutely spectacular bivy/belay on top of 14. One large slanting ledge that would do in a pinch and one good size perfectly flat ledge. Spacious enough that I didn't bother pulling out the porta-ledge. Larry and I feasted on dinner and a beautiful sunset. We were psyched that the end was near. We covered 7 good pitches that day with some of the hardest aiding I had ever done. Exhausted we finally got to sleep.

"Lurking Fear would be one of the best routes in the valley if it was only 12 pitches long." That was the statement from Brian in party #2. We found out just how true this statement was on our last day. Larry awoke and started leading up pitch 15. Rated 5.10 it followed a wandering line of ledges and insipient cracks. The pro was okay but not the best. The line was less than clear. Eventually I heard the off belay command and headed up. The pigs- long since tethered together as one, needed much coaxing to get up the pitch which was not quite vertical. This belay wasn't exactly hanging but didn't offer much of a rest stance. Pitch 16 was more of the same. Not quite a route finding nightmare, but inobvious at best. Larry used a combination of free climbing and french freeing to get up this pitch. At the end of the rope, he still wasn't sure where the belay was. He decided to head for a small triangular block. This must be it. Not the soundest belay. A couple of okay cams and one tied of pin at your feet is about all you get. I'm not sure why steve-O didn't sink at least one decent bolt here. I mean, he's the one with the power drill- not me.

From the belay at the bottom of 17 there are two choices. The book lists a 10d off-width to the right which, legend has it, is more like 11+ and "totally jengis." Or one can head up a "grassy A1 corner." Since it was my lead I opted for... gardening. I think I earned my green thumb on this pitch. Awkward and dirty but straight forward, this pitch was not much fun. Every placement had to be uncovered from many inches of dirt, debris, and plant life. At first I questioned whether we were still on route or had somehow lost our way. The manky belay below didn't give me much confidence. But under the vegetation along the way were several fixed pins. I was covered in dirt by the time I reached the end of the corner. From there it was more unprotected free climbing up to Thanksgiving Ledge.

Not much to be thankful for except a good place to sit. Lot's of space but the belay anchors were absolutely frightening. Once split shaft and one 5/8" machine bolt sticking a quarter inch out. All of this on rotting rock. I set the belay and backed it up to the only other option- a relatively stout tree on the edge of the ledge. I wasn't too happy with this situation, but made do. This was by far the second worst hauling experience of my life. the first being the last pitch on the Prow. This haul had the line coming up the grassy corner and along low angle slabs to the belay ledge where it promptly made a 75 degree angle to the anchors. Friction is NOT your friend in this situation. I had both feet on the opposite wall and was completely straining my milk just to tension the haul line. With help from Larry the bags eventually made it up to the ledge. I'm not too sure why this belay wasn't beefed up as well.

Another pitiful sight on this ledge was the trash. There must have been at least 15 belay seats. Obviously with all the hanging belays a real asset but I'm not sure why people just dump these things near the top. You spend all that time lugging it up just to dump it when it gets easy... Plus the copious amounts of empty water bottles- you know I hear they get heavier as the empty. Then, of course, in the back of the cave like overhang on the ledge was a complete home-made rigid porta-ledge! I would have carried it out except it wasn't of a collapsible design and was just too damn heavy. We did leave one bottle of water and packed out a couple of empties just to do our part.

From hear one needs to traverse the ledge about 60-80 feet to belay for the next pitch. There are some loose blocks and some great exposure and the requisite manzanita to deal with, but otherwise it's straight forward. From the next belay point the climb heads up another "5.10" crack. Though, I think the start of this one really is 10a. From here one can head right- as per the guide book topo, towards some dead tree, or continue up the crack at 5.hard/A1 to a belay on the slab above. We chose the left way. Our compatriots behind, chose to head for the tree. I wasn't there to see but from the sounds of it, we definitely chose the best way. Of course this doesn't end the diffi- culties as another pitch of 5.6/5.7 face and slab climbing leads to a good shallow ledge another pitch up. More belay seats abounded at this point but the top was way off in the distance. We weren't moving very fast at this point. Hauling had continued to be problematic necessitating help from below every inch of the way. Larry headed up from the shallow ledge another full rope length and over some 5.9 friction climbing to another set of trees. Sans pro I was able to jug and help the bags along quickly up to him. It was getting dark and looked like easy 5.4/4th class friction to the top. We decided to re-pack the bags and coil the ropes and trudge to the top. This involved several hundred feet of sometimes scary frictioning to the top. More than once I wished I had a rope for me and the awkward pig. Atleast this time friction was working in our favor as the extra weight provided more normal force. Sweating profusely at the end we finally made the top.

It couldn't have been more picture perfect. My first El Cap summit, we topped out just as the sun was heading over the horizon, a clear blue sky began to turn blood red with a crescent moon following just behind the sun only now visible in the dimming light. Larry and I sat there for a long time just basking in the achievement. Only now did I realize how much I wanted to complete this climb. We bivied on top under an immense array of stars and clear dark night sky. Only the slog down the east ledges descent remained for the next day. I missed my bar-b-q but I can always fire up the coals out back and broil up some brats. Good routes with great partners don't always come as easily. Larry and I hit it off great, showing that sometimes meeting someone by happenstance can really work out.

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