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Two (short) attempts on Mescalito

June 1995

When we got at the base of El Cap, it was rather warm, and I started to climb the first pitch of Mescalito wearing just a T-shirt. Soon, the weather changed to intermittent showers, and it sometimes SNOWED on us. I was freezing in my T-shirt, but since I was in a string of hooks and copperhead moves, I tried to finish the pitch anyway (lowering from those pieces was not an option, and I didn't feel comfortable enough to pull my jacket up). At one point, the copperhead that I just placed shifted, and I thought it would be a matter of minutes before it blew away, so I hastily used a cheat stick to reach the next fixed piece. This was a very wrong move: the cable of that piece (a small copperhead) broke a couple of minutes after I clipped it, and to my amazement, my copperhead hold the 30 foot, head first, fall. After completing the pitch and returning to the ground, I was barely able to warm up, but it seems that it was Ky-Van who catched a cold that day while belaying me. We hauled up our two haulbags filled with 200+ pounds of water and food, and got back to the valley quite discouraged.

Our plan the next day was to try to fix a couple of more pitches and see what the weather would look like. When we arrived at the base of the climb, it started again raining with intermittent snow and a lot of wind. We watched a party on South Seas. The leader had his aiders blown straight upon his head by the wind. The base of Mescalito is not very steep, and was soon soaked with water. Ky-Van was sneezing all the time, and we though that the conditions were not quite good for such a big route, especially since the weather forecast for the rest of the week was not encouraging, with more rain to come, and snow level at 5500 ft. We lowered our two haulbags, emptied our water bottles and carried back (in three trips) our gear to the car. Even though it was sometimes sunny at the base of El Cap, wearing five layers of clothing, and carrying huge loads, I didn't really feal hot.

July 1995

This time the summer was well-established. Anticipating slow progress, we decided to take enough water to last ten days. Our previous experiences, when we ran out of water the last day of a big wall climb, was not something Ky-Van wanted to repeat. Since it was so hot, we decided to take a gallon per person. This meant that we would have to haul 20 gallons of water up the climb in the beginning. The water alone was therefore already 160 pounds. We have not weighted the bags, but since in addition we had food for 10 days, plus the usual bivy gear, they were for sure heavy, more heavy than during the first attempt. Gathering all the soda bottles necessary to store all this water had not been a neglectible task, but it was when we began to ferry loads to the base of the climb that things began to look hard. This time, it was me who did not work very well because of the heat. After one trip, all I felt like was lying in the Meadows in the shade. But we eventually ferried all our stuff and began climbing.

The climbing itself went quite well. This time, I wasn't scared by the first pitch, mostly because I knew what to expect. The first time I was not too much in control for two reasons: I was freezing, and all the pitches that I had aided before were clean or pins, as opposed to hook and copperheads. So I did more hooking, and almost didn't use the cheat stick (I believe you could avoid using it by some very scaring hooking). The following pitches were somewhat easier, with more fixed gear. Although she was climbing twice as slowly as I did, Ky-Van did also a good job at leading. The aspect of the climb which didn't work so well was the hauling. Even with the loads broken in two, I has barely able to haul (I weight 135 lbs). Ky-Van, who weights 115 lbs was not able to get a bag moving, so I had to jug up and conterweight two times. Since the begining of the climb is quite traversing, this yielded sort of complicated and time consuming manoeuvers. We got ourselves the biggest pulley that one could buy. The guy at the mountain store said that it made hauling seem like a joke, but we didn't feel like laughing.

After leading and hauling the fifth pitch, Ky-Van was totally exhausted, and in low spirits. To make things worse, we set-up the portaledge quite poorly. It was not very well leved, and there was also some water dripping on us from above. We didn't spend a good night, and at this point, thought that it might be difficult for us to do that for ten more nights. We had to climb a little more than 2 pitches per day, and since leading and hauling two pitches would take us all day, we might have to spend nights like the one we just experienced, which didn't really afford us any rest. Ky-Van didn't know if she would feel strong enough to finish the climb, because she was already tired. I was not sure that I would be able to lead and haul all the pitches in case I had too. In the morning, before the thermal breeze begins, it would be too hot, and then we would be in this strong wind all afternoon. We also knew that because the next pitches are quite traversing, it would be a nightmare to retreat from them. Therefore, we decided to retreat.

The preparation of our two attempts, the carrying that we had to do to the base, and also from the base back to the Meadows, the few pitches that we had climbed each time had taken us probably a total of almost two weeks. It was not a lot of fun, but only hard work for which were rewarded only by some frustration. We both felt worn out. In addition, the attempts had created a lot of stress on our relationship. During the second attempt, I was not at my best, mostly because I was doing quite poorly in the heat. I was quite irritable and not always very energetic at the same time. But at the same time, it was important for me to sucess on something, considering the little climbing that I got done during the beginning of the year. The pressure was too high. After the second attempt, Ky-Van felt like taking a break from climbing. This was the begining of the crack which eventually would end our relationship. From time to time, I try to imagine what would have happened if we had tried a shorter route like Zodiac instead. The bags would have been manageable, and it is quite likely that we would have completed the climb. We might even have had some fun, who knows ? Working together on a succesfull big wall climb might have reinforced our ties. Ky-Van might have kept her interest in the outdoors, whereas I might have felt satisfied enough to enjoy doing other things with her. By chosing Mescalito, I had been driven by ambition, but if I knew what the price for that would be, I am sure I would have considered something else.

A few photos

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