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NA Wall: trip report from late Stephen Ross

In the Valley, May 26, 1996, there were two climbers doing Bev's Tower on the Cookie Cliff. The leader went up about 30 feet, placed a cam and continued on. After heading up a ways, he started to sketch and began down climbing to his one and only piece. When he got to the piece he reached for it to hang on. The piece pulled and the leader fell 30 feet directly on his belay, landing on his head. He was airlifted to Modesto, but died. The climber was Stephen Ross, known to several people in rec.climbing, and at Berkeley, where he got a PhD in Physics. I didn't meet him, but had a short email exchange with him to compliment him about this very trip report that you are about to read, which is still the most compelling I have ever read about a big-wall climb. Circumstances didn't allow us to meet up, which I regret since he seemed to be a nice person. Tuan

This is the chronicle of an attempt on the El Cap route, North American Wall.

The first chunk is a blow-by-blow description of the climb. It is long, and likely in more detail than most of you will want to read. I wanted to write a thorough climb account for myself, so you all get to share. At the end of all this, there's a brief pitch-by-pitch summary and also a complete hardware list.

Stewart and I started climbing together in mid-summer. We were about equally testosteroned, enjoyed each others rude sense of humor, and basically got along. I also liked how much gear he had, and his cute Beatles hair cut. When we climbed together, we always managed to get up it; we didn't give up. On a day when we were both feeling particularly awful, we tried Book of Revelations (Valley 10d). Stewart climbed 1/8 of the first pitch and bailed, I climbed the next half and bailed, and then he finished it. For reasons I don't understand, we felt good about this climb. We are competitive with each other, but it has always been constructive. So we became interested in something big. We did the column in a day, and it was a cruise. No problems. We spent the next day lying around in El Cap meadow and looking at the Big Stone. We'd both been on it before, but neither of us had made it. We liked the right side more than the left side (testosterone), but neither of us could climb for-real A4. That pared down the options to the N.A., Zodiac, the Trip, or Mescalito (easy A4). We liked the A3 rating - stiff enough to keep the crowds down, but still within our abilities. I'd seen pictures of the N.A.'s first ascent and I thought I'd be neat to do it for historical reason. Besides, I decided that Zodiac and the Trip looked a bit, well, short and uncommitting - sissified N.A.'s. At the time, Mescalito and Zodiac were crowded. Without losing face, Stewart couldn't disagree with my attitudes, and we had chosen our route.

The N.A. wall had been climbed once this year by a SAR team, and at least once the previous year. The SAR team took 8 days (one day baking out in the Cyclops eye). We found one of that team, Pat Sullivan, and he gave us some good beta. He told us to saw off a whole lot of pins, and bring copperheads. O.K. He also mentioned that we might want to bring a bolt kit - the belays were ``totally jengis,'' he warned. We brought two complete kits. We got some pitch by pitch beta, but it was clear that the route was reasonably straight forward. He strongly suggested that we have 60 m ropes and haul lines. The first four pitches are the aid cruxes, which was nice. We could fix through them and sleep on the ground. There was one pitch that concerned me, the 25 th. It ends in an A3 section; the topo indicates a bolt, but Pat said that there was no bolt there anymore. He said,``You've just got to go for it there. And if you fall, push off - there's a ledge under you and it will be a bad fall.'' Both Stewart's and my reaction was to bring a bolt kit on that lead. Pat said,``The Igloo (a bivy at the 27 th belay) fills with water in a rain storm. But there's tons of water (i.e. bottled) left in it.''

Stewart and I spent the usual amount of time and money preparing over the next weeks. Maybe 200 bucks each and a few nights work. The first day he could climb was Monday, October 4. I had time before this, so I planned to fix (and haul?) the first four pitches on Saturday and Sunday (October 2 and 3), he would join me on the night of the third, and we'd blast the fourth.

I prepared for the climb by spending a week sport climbing in Red Rocks and Owens, with Stewart's girl friend, Noreen. I had one rest day the entire week. What the hell.

Saturday came, and I got help from Pete and Paul with hiking water up to the base. Paul belayed me, while Pete spent the rest of the day sleeping in the meadow. We got to the base found a party of Spaniards on pitch 5 and a soloist (David) midway through the second pitch. So much for an uncrowded route; this was worse than the Nose! But my task was to fix, so I led the first pitch, and got to a belay that was terrible - two o.k. cams and one pin. I immediately sank a 3/8 and 1/4 bolt to back up a cam and angle. This action impressed the soloist, who now wanted us to go ahead of him to redo all the belays. He, too, had heard of the problems. At this point I noticed that two of his ropes had a lot of duct tape on them. I decided not to ask.

David told me that the second pitch took him NINE hours (yikes); I led it starting at about three in the afternoon. It was my hardest aid lead ever. I placed two pin stacks, one of back-to-back sawed off lost arrows and one of two bugaboos spacing out a sawed off 5/8 angle. There were multiple fixed 0 copperheads, hook moves in there, and lots of dicey nut and cam placements. Probably about 1 in 3 pieces would hold a good fall. My belayer claims that half were body weight only, though there were not long string of these. We fixed the two pitches with one 60m rope and rapped at dark. I was completely gripped when I got down. Noreen met me at the Loft for dinner and I decided that I'd better not talk with her about the day's climbing, I was too scared, and she does worry. So I called Stewart and left three hyper, neurotic messages of fear, exhilaration and panic on his machine. After this, I was able to relax enough to drink and then proceeded to tell Noreen just how scared I really was. This second pitch is full value A3. If you want to find out if you can lead A3, try it.

David took the next day off, so we could jump ahead of him. A very kind thing to do. As we walked up to the base, we noticed that the Spaniards had bailed; our route was clear. I led the feared third pitch, which tossed Chouinard and Frost before it was cleaned up and copperheaded. This pitch was technically harder than the second; there are strings of copperheads, but nothing blew, and I was not nearly so tweaked on it as I had been on the second pitch. Each time things got out of hand (too many hook moves or copperheads in a row) there was a sinker cam placement or bolt. Whew. I sank another 3/8 and 1/4 bolt at the third belay. Not surprisingly, jumaring, setting up the belays, getting the stuff together took forever! I finished the pitch with a couple hours of sunlight left, and decided to just organize the rack, and come down. I was disappointed in not getting more done.

Stewart arrived that night and was outwardly unconcerned about my progress. Dave seemed like a mellow nice guy, so we invited him to join us at our campsite. He was clearly happy to have us ahead of him, redoing the belays. I asked him about the Spaniards, and he said that they didn't speak much English and moved slowly. The only information he got from them was they apparently both had the same name, ``Nacho.'' He kept asking himself what the odds of meeting two people named ``Nacho'' at the base of EL Cap was. From a later conversation with them, he determined that that did not in fact have the same name.

The next day was an epic sort of my gear and Stewarts, a trudge to the base, and a long jumar. We expected to fix the next pitch and haul almost all the gear to four, come down, and blast the next day. Again, all the bullshit took forever, and Stewart started leading the the fourth around noon. It, too, was way hard. Hooks, knifeblades, rurps, and a lot of creativity. We then tried to haul. The bag was ferociously heavy, and the two of us managed to get it up half way, passing two knots, before it became completely stuck. Wedged tight. After a lot of fumbling, we were forced to lower it back down. We had one head torch between us, and it was dark. In a true hard man act, Stewart rappeled in the dark, passing two knots. I used the torch. We were both bummed and feeling beaten. Four pitches in three days and no hauling!

We decided the next morning to dump some of our water (three liters per person per day instead of four) and have Noreen tie a tag line to the bottom of each of the two bags so she could swing it when it got stuck. Noreen and Stewart said goodbye while I jugged the two 60 m lines to the top of the fourth pitch. He joined me, we hauled both bags, and suddenly noticed that the sun was fading fast. We weren't going too much farther up that day. We organized our belay, set the bags in order, and decided to come down for one more night on the ground - it wasn't going to cost us any additional time on the wall, just a day later in summiting.

The next morning, Stewart and Noreen said goodbye again while I jugged the lines again. Stewart came up, and we were off! I led pitch 5, a 5.8 squeeze chimney, a grade that all Yosemite climbers know can mean just about anything. This started off-width and went to leg stem; I suppose that ``squeeze'' was the average width. This was the first time I placed a Big Bro. They make great hand and foot holds. I then traversed out a roof and then up an A1 crack to a stance. Of course, at the junction of the roof and A1 crack, the rope jammed. To fill the v-wedge, I hammered in two nuts. Now the rope ran smoothly. The belay took another 1/4 bolt, and I hauled the bags. Stewart began to follow the pitch, and I spaced out after organizing the ropes and rack. I noticed that he was taking a long time. He finally rounded the roof, and looked terrible. He was very scared and was moving awkwardly on his jugs. He arrived at the belay looking desperate. He explained that he had spent about 15 minutes under the roof staring at the notch where the rope turned the edge, and became convinced that the rope would cut as he cleaned the roof. He did not know that I had made the edge smooth the nuts. He was also very worried about the swing out from the roof. He was badly gripped and did not want to lead the next pitch. I led on; the sixth is not hard if you ignore the quality of the ``bolts.'' Sporty pendulum at the top. I added a 1/4 bolt to the belay.

Stewart arrived at that belay still very scared. We talked a lot. He was afraid of the exposure and had started to think of the climb not as a day-to-day series of pitches, but as one giant overwhelming effort. This is a big mistake on any wall climb. He rationally understood that: 1) he'd been more exposed in the past and 2) he'd been on walls for many consecutive days in the past. But it didn't matter, the problem was emotional, not logical. I did not really know how to handle the situation. I pointed out the obvious to him - he'd already led one of the hardest pitches on the climb, all the hard aid was behind us, we had plenty of food and water, and I was feeling so good that I was happy to lead for however long it took him to get his head back together. He tried to lead the next pitch, but simply couldn't do it. He was too scared. I lead it, and couldn't find the belay. It was getting dark and Stewart's voice was getting sharp, so I lowered off an angle and a blade.

Stewart had decided to bail. I had a lot to say, not that it mattered. We sank another two bolts for the portaledge and spent the night. That night was not very pleasant. I spent about an hour of it in tears. I had not understood how important this climb was to me until then. At this point I would have led the entire climb. I am leaving the U.S. for two years in a week (at this writing) and one doesn't get a lot of consecutive weeks off in Yosemite Valley even living in California. I realized that this climb was psychologically part of leaving much more than I had previously thought. None of this made Stewart feel any better or changed his emotions. He suggested that I team up with David and finish the climb. I didn't like the idea. I'd never climbed with the man, and the idea of spending a week climbing with someone that I'd never really met was not appealing. I've been on walls before with people that I did not know well, and have sworn to never make that mistake again. I also didn't know if he wanted a partner. I was also so terribly dispirited that I just wanted to go down and go home.

We started down in the morning. We left some water for David. He was coming up to the base, and was ready to launch from the top of pitch four, to where he had fixed. We met him there, and he suggested that he and I team up. My initial reaction was negative. I told him that I'd have to think about it far a day, and couldn't promise that my answer would be yes. He decided to continue. Stewart and I began to get ready to do the next rap. Then I blurted out that I would do it with him, under the condition that we used my ropes. Stewart stared at me, I couldn't believe that I had just said that, and David was thrilled.

The three of us stood at the fourth belay and sorted gear. This again took forever. There were about four racks, three haul bags, eight ropes, two intermingled belays, and three persons worth of random stuff - food, water, clothing etc. ``The ultimate squid,'' was David's comment. I was dazed through most of the sort, but I did learn that David could be very funny. I was getting confused about whose was what and what went where, and he looked at me and reminded me that ``anyone could do this in a parking lot...but up here?'' The sort took a few hours. Before Stewart rapped, I told him to call my girl friend, Fiona, and to let her know that I would be later than I had thought.

Stewart rapped, and I was left with my new partner.

We jugged back up to the fifth belay, and David led to the sixth. We spent the night where I had the night before. I was terrible confused at this point, and spent the night thinking hard. I realized that one important reason that I wanted to do this climb was to get to know Stewart better. I'd only known him for a few months and was leaving for a long long time soon, so this was an uncommon opportunity. I also thought a lot about my girl friend and bits of our relationship that I wanted to fix up. I regretted over and over not telling Stewart to add that I loved her and was thinking more about her than I had in months. I was also becoming more and more nervous about spending the entire next week with someone I'd never met. We had no common friends or work. Just a desire to do the same climb.

I was depressed about losing a partner; he was happy about gaining a partner. Our attitudes were a bit different. A typical conversation went like this:

David: ``Steve, what do you do?''
Stephen: ``I'm in grad school.''
David:``Doing what?''
Stephen:``Physics PhD. at Berkeley.''
David:``Wow. And then what?''
Stephen:``I'm graduating in a month. I've taken a two year job in Munich. I'm worried that when I return I'll have no job because there are no jobs in physics, no place to live because I won't have a job, and no girl friend because our relationship has been so messed up by how much I climb and how much she works. So at age 31 I'll have nothing that I want.''
David:``Well, that's about as grim a view as you could have. How 'bout some tunes?''

He whipped out a large boom-box and put in James Taylor. Perfect, relaxing music. I had gotten some plastic shot sized bottles of Jack Daniels and a bottle of Baileys for the climb, and I unhappily passed off into a alcohol slumber.

I reled the next pitch in the morning, again missing the belay. I finally figured out where it was supposed to be - there was a broken bolt marking the spot. It was a two cam belay, so I sank two 1/4 bolts. He led then next pitch, and got lost also. In the final light of the day, I led the ninth pitch. I sank a 3/8 and 1/4 bolt, and we spent the second night after a nasty haul. I was still in a severe funk, but some things were beginning to perk me up. First, I could look over into the heart of the black diorite that makes up North America, and was relieved that we hadn't chosen the Wyoming Sheep Ranch for our climb. Also, El Cap was a decided bit smaller - we were a bit south of L.A. at this point.

David like Tom Petty a lot. His favorite song was ``Free Falling.'' Appropriate? In moments of tension, he would say, ``Yee - Hah,'' if things were still in control, and ``killer'' if things were maybe not so in control. He also had a stock phrase, ``High <blank> factor.'' So, while looking at the ``Welcome to Wyoming'' pitch (A5+) on the Sheep Ranch, his comment was, ``High party factor, Steve-o.'' I was getting to know my partner.

The next day, he led the 10 th pitch (A3) uneventfully, and I led the 5.6 chimney up to the Big Sur bivouac. (There is a giant 3/8 bolt placed on the side flake here, in a very dumb place. I didn't do it.) The hauling was a nightmare here, too. Pitch 12 was a sporty lead for David; it's almost completely traversing and the follow has a couple wild pendulums across El Cap with 1000 feet below you. At this belay, we met our first bolt that had the initials Y.C. stamped on it. This was typical. David hauled off it. In a spasm of energy, I led the next three pitches as one, using every cam we had except for two 0.75 camalots and one 1 camalot; back cleaning was key. I had to stretch the 60 m rope to make the 15 th belay, which is three terrible bolts and three terrible pins. The 14 th belay would be where ever you wanted to stop - there isn't an obvious place. I was wired and decided to forgo sinking a real bolt and start hauling. David pointed out that it was basically dark, we had done five pitches that day, and hauling could well be epic in the dark. We talked for a bit, and he did have a point. The bags would need to be lowered out about 40 feet, and we had only one 60 m haul line - it would be messy. I came down on the haul line, and we spent the night at 12. We had made it halfway through the climb.

I jugged and hauled the next morning - it took a couple of hours. Pitch 16 was mine; it was a bit loose and awkward, but not serious. There's a fixed bugaboo at the end, for you gear hounds! I was comfortably in the bossum's seat staring at the tourists in El Cap meadow when I heard David say, ``Dude - a rock.'' I looked down and saw David leaning back on his jugs holding a child sized chunk of diorite across both arms, weaving back and forth trying to keep it from pitching. He tucked it gently back into El Cap. ``Yee-ha, Steve-o.'' I was beginning to have some fun. I'd wait to pee until a tour bus pulled into Zodiac turn-out and the contents was staring up at this figure in red on El Cap. The next lead is labeled ``loose'' A3. It is, but it's avoidable, and David led it with a minimum of concern. As I began to lead the next pitch, I lifted the rack off of the belay and David's hammer fell from it. We now had only one hammer and would have to pass it back and forth from leader to follower. If we dropped it, the climb would be over. With the sun dipping behind the Nose, I began the next pitch which took us out of the Black Dihedral and out of North America up towards the Cyclops Eye.

The pitch is the wildest aid lead that I've ever done. It first traverses ten feet on fixed gear and then goes up another ten on cams. The next fifteen feet is completely overhung. Midway through it, I was trying to equally weight a copperhead and a circle head, while lunging for a fixed pin. This didn't work, I couldn't reach the piton. Above the heads was a very thin hollow flake that had blown off in multiple places. I knocked on it, and I could have taken it off with my hand. But I was feeling sporty, so I placed a #2 micro nut behind it, guessing that it would neither blow the flake off nor hold my weight. I was hoping to stand on it quickly, and, as it rattled down behind the flake, I would lunge and grab the top of the flake, begin careful to pull {\em down} not {\em out}, and clip the pin which I assumed would hold my short fall. I didn't really think about the consequences of a failure here - I only had two copperheads, a fixed pin, and a (good) cam between me and the belay. Below me was a clear 2000 feet of air. I told David what I was doing - ``Killer, Dude - I'm with ya.'' I tied into the haul line, and lunged. It worked perfectly.

Immediately after this sequence, David noted that maybe we were pushing things a bit late into the day, and perhaps I should come down and finish the lead in the morning - there wasn't that much rope out, and it was getting dark fast. I was having too much fun to stop now, and I thought that whoever first led this pitch would have stopped as soon as possible over the roof. I turned the roof on some aliens in scars, and, after a couple two cam alien placements landed a spectacular belay. This was the first time on the climb that I began screaming in pleasure. The belay was well bolted, for a change, and looked straight down all the way to the base. I hauled, set up the portaledge, and waited for David to follow in the dark. I tried talking to him as he jugged (really, relead) the pitch, but he didn't reply. He got to the belay angry. ``I'm really pissed. This is the most exciting lead on this climb and I got to jug it in the dark.'' I was worried, but fed him some Jack Daniel's, Bailey's, and Chef Boy-ardee Beef-a-roni. And he was happy. This was the only time in the climb he got angry.

That night, it rained. We awoke with a small puddle in the portaledge and surrounded by mist. The mist came and went through the morning. It shot upwards from the valley floor, which appeared and disappeared 2000 clear feet below us. I have never had such a view in my life. El Cap changed colors as the sun came and went, and the normally noisy valley floor was quiet as the tourists stayed home. It was too wet to climb, and we were tired, so we nearly finished the Bailey's by lunch. By mid afternoon, we were sober and dry enough for David to tick off one pitch. We sank another bolt for the ledge and settled in for another wet night.

I was getting worried at our progress. This was going to be my sixth night on the wall, and I didn't see how we were getting off in less than three more days - assuming the weather didn't worsen. I would slip into depression thinking about Stewart and Fiona periodically through each day. I remembered the places where I had last seen Stewart and Noreen, and try not to look at them - but I always did. David and I talked about this every so often. At this bivy, it occurred to me that over the days since Stewart bailed, I had never thought about going down. It simply never occurred to me. I also never believed that we would summit. I had a job, climbing, and it seemed terribly remote from EL Cap or the N. A. Wall. As I led the out of the Black Cave, I realized that retreat back from this would be terribly difficult, but I didn't care; it didn't matter. I was not going down, but there was still no happiness in going up. Just fatigue and loneliness. Later, David told me that he thought a lot about going down, in particular after the severely traversing twelfth pitch. The only time he mentioned retreat to me was somewhere in the Black Dihedral when I was depressed. I remember saying that I didn't want to go down, but I also was surprised that he asked. I also realized that all may sexual fantasies had been replaced by food fantasies, and that I had absent mindedly spent the past few days creating a Thanksgiving menu.

We were beginning to notice that out hands weren't working very well in the morning. We'd get terrific spasms of electrical pain when we first tried to move them. With ibuprofen, this would fade into severe muscle pain about 15 minutes after waking. Perhaps half an hour later we could begin to eat breakfast. By the end of the climb, we were waking early, eating four ibuprofen and going back to bed until it unseized our hands. We had arguments over who opened the bottle and swore that the next time we climbed a wall we'd take the ibu out of a child-proof container. David took to hitting the back of his hands against the rock to loosen them up.

The next day I was determined to get in four pitches. We started early, with the sun. The lead took far longer than I expected, and I arrived at the Cyclops Eye belay irritated. The Cyclops Eyes is basically a terraced talus and scree field. Charming. There is a single 5/16 bolt up in it, which I backed up with two blue and one yellow alien behind a thick, but hollow, flake. I was too anxious to sink another bolt. I placed only one pin, so we decided not to pass the hammer. The hauling was awful. Both bags got stuck. Even David was worried about our pace. He looked at the next lead, a traversing A3 crack. At the start of the lead there was a good bolt, and the A3 pitch looked thin, so he took all three aliens out of my belay and I sank a poor baby angle to back up the bolt. He led out to the bolt, only to find that it was a terribly placed spinor. ``Yee-ha.'' Two hook moves took him to a blue alien placement behind an expanding flake. ``Killer. Well Steve-o, this looks bad.'' He reached up to a fixed pin; it moved in his hand. I began to consider untying from the belay. He clipped the pin with his daisy and pounded it in. It expanded the flake, the alien poped, and the pin held. ``Wow, Steve-o. This is bad.'' I asked what the next piece looked like. He said, ``uhhhh...it looks o.k. A fixed circlehead. Some real pro, I guess.'' I crouched behind the largest boulder my leash would let me get to. He clipped the 'head and moved on to some bright webbing. ``Huh - I'm not sure what this is - or used to be.'' Bounce, bounce, bounce. ``Yee-hah.'' The entire pitch was like that. ``Steve-o, I've put in some pins that I didn't like, but wait 'till you see this one.'' Bounce, bounce, bounce. A few hook moves to add a bit of sport to the pitch landed him at the belay. ``Steve, you're not going to like this one.'' ``What is it?'' ``Never mind.'' ``Huh?'' ``You'll see.''

Lowering our the bags tossed more rocks than I care to admit. It was unavoidable. One was the size of a basketball. I followed, penduluming through the pitch, relieved that I didn't lead it. What he called expanding, I called loose. What he called protection was a joke. The bad piton came out in my hand. The belay was three medieval pins and a small alien, but we were in a hurry. I lead the next pitch (A1, 5.7) in a hurry, and he launched into the twenty third pitch, A2. He got to the bolt marked on the topo, and it spun off in his hand. His only comment as he tightened the nut back on was, ``Dude - I really hate these body weight only bolts.'' We got to the belay just at dark, and finished our Bailey's. We were well above the far end of El Cap, and the trees at the top were getting larger. The sky was murky, but I felt good.

The next morning, we decided to take inventory of food and water, and go from double to single hauls. We discovered we had food only through the that evening, but a lot of water. We weren't to concerned, hunger wasn't that important. We put the food in one bad and the water in the other. We had carried a five gallon plastic bucket under one of the haul bags; we were done this, so we tossed it. To our horror, it sailed left towards the Footstool and came somewhat close to a party just starting the New Jersey Turnpike. They looked up as it came towards them.

A couple minutes later, as Dave was getting ready to lead and I was standing on one of the haul bags, I noticed that I was dropping. Down. Dave's eyes were large. I looked down; the stitching on the haul bag's daisy had torn, and we had inadvertently not backed it up to the handles. The bag tore away from the belay, and I hung in my harness, watching the bag slowly get smaller and smaller, tumbling gently over and over. It hit somewhere near Calaveras ledge at pitch 8, detonating the our gear over a few hundred horizontal feet. The person on the Turnpike visibly flattened against the wall as its contents showered around him. The bag took fifteen seconds to hit; the noise was terrific, like thunder.

David looked down at me and asked, ``Do you think the radio made it?'' All I could do was repeat over and over, ``That was bad.'' The Turnpike party was rapping. I was beginning to feel like a member of `Beavis and Butthead climb the Big Stone.'

We lost all David's warm clothing, his shell and fuzzy jacket, sleeping bag, bivy bag, my fuzzy jacket, hat, and gloves, about thirty biners and twelve cams (accidentally left over from the gear sort at the fourth belay), and half our pins, and one of our bolt kits. Both our head lamps were in the bag. David's wallet and keys also went. We also lost two gallons of water, leaving us with a bit more than a swallow each from some we had clipped to the belay. From now on, hauling was very light. I remembered that Pat Sullivan had told us that the Igloo had lots of water in it. David decided Pat was right; I wasn't so sure. He was worried about staying warm. It was time to move.

David led the next pitch in style, doing his first hook toss. The next pitch was my lead. It was the one that Pat had warned us was missing a bolt on the A3 section. I brought the kit. The lower A2 section was quite sporty, a creepy talon placement followed by a two cam alien finally got me to some good pro. I aided the 5.7 section. It's probably a 5.1 sidewalk if you can get up on it. I got over to the A3 and started to free climb it. It got hard. There was not bolt, nor was there any evidence of any chopped bolt. I backed down, tried hooking it, and got gripped. I placed a 5/16 bolt off hooks at the start of the A3, a poor place. I then hooked straight through the section to the belay, about 5 consecutive hook moves. I was concerned about placing the bolt and thrilled to get through the pitch. I now knew that we would make it, but my conscience wasn't doing too well.

We led quickly up to the Igloo, were we found two - two liter bottles of urine and a bit over two liters of water. It would do.

We weren't sure that we could lead the next pitch with the amount of sunlight left, so we set up the portaledge above the Igloo while we still had light (we had no head lamps). After this, neither of us wanted to lead the next pitch, so we ate all the rest of our food, 1.5 cans of tuna fish, and drank some water. The climbers on Zodiac were screaming ``pizza,'' I replied ``turkey,'' they yelled ``beer.'' My mind was still with the fantasy menu. Through out the climb, Perigrine falcons had been flying past us. They now looked pretty tasty. David told me about a wedding he had to get to; he was the best man and it was midday Saturday. It was now Wednesday. The rehearsal was tomorrow; it was unlikely he would be there for that, and even Saturday was pushing it a bit.

We made a nest with the ropes and the contents of our one haul bag and stayed quite warm through the night. It rained hard that night. We wanted off badly; this was my seventh night on the wall. We were hungry and thirsty and tired. The trees at the top were getting life sized. When the rain got particularly bad, David would roll back and forth in the ledge saying, ``Ohh....mayday, mayday, Steve-o.''

At sunrise, the clouds were thick and low over the valley. We drank the rest of our water, about a cup each. David was looking at the empty tuna tins left out on the rock, hoping they had collected some water. I was eating more ibuprofen hoping to take enough so that my mind would alter and I would not notice the weather. By early morning, the sky had cleared enough to convince us to move. I led the next pitch half free. David had summited El Cap twice before (Triple Direct and the Nose) and suggested that I should lead the last pitch. Off I went, into a full on nail fest. Midway through the pitch, David reminded me that the weather was worsening; gray clouds were thickening. I came over the top and found the tree I had spotted from the valley floor months ago. I tied off without enthusiasm, just fatigue. I knew we weren't down yet.

As we sorted divied gear at the top, it began to rain and then hail. We huddled under the portaledge rain fly. I found some mayonaise and mustard condiment packages I stole from some convenience store in Nevada and ate them, hoping David didn't want any.

During a pause in the weather a Welsh couple came by, having just got off the Nose. We joined them for a bit as we walked toward east ledges. They immediately asked:``You the blokes who trundled the haul bag?'' We hung our heads. A pair that had finished Lost World met us before the rappels. ``You drop the bag? Boy that was loud.'' We made it to the car at dark, found David's stashed key, and headed for the Loft. We had to wait a half hour for a table. We drank water and ate cookies from the deli. I was thinking hard about the warm rolls with butter they give you as an appetizer. Just after we were seated, a woman came up to us who we didn't know and asked if we had just gotten of the N.A. and had dropped a bag. David and I looked at each other. She handed him his dropped keys. She had been on Zodiac and was at the base picking up garbage. As she past the footstool she found his keys. We asked eagerly about any other gear, but the only other stuff was, ``lots of radio bits scattered around.'' Then, shaking her finger at us, she added, ``And you guys bolted.'' Evidently, SAR decided that we were candidates for a rescue after we dropped the bag, and had been watching us through that day. We were famous.

We ate like horses, our bill came forty three dollars at a hamburger restaurant. We drank some beer and headed to bed, but neither of us could sleep. In the middle of the night, I was starving and found more food in the back of David's car. They had given us a carton of butter packets at the Loft; I ate them all.

We headed to the cafeteria early the next morning, and I ran into Joel and Jennifer, two bay area climbers, who told met that, ``Some blond guy has a lot of your dropped gear - he says it looks like a `science experiment.' '' I also discovered that Paul (my original belayer) was in the valley and might be heading back that day, so I had a ride home. I found Pat Sullivan in the cafeteria, and he immediately reminded me that I had bolted. I was not feeling very good about this. He was very friendly, happy that I had had an experience of my life, but firm that the bolt was a bad idea. I asked about our gear, and he said - ``Man that stuff's gone. Booty.'' I was bumming. We ran into the Welsh climbers and ate pancakes and drank beer while we waited for the rain to pass.

Around noon, we gave up waiting and headed to the base. There we found David's climbing shoes and very small bits of the radio. He soloed wet 5.4 to get to the top of the Footstool, where he found both our fuzzy tops. Nothing else. We were heading down, when we ran into some people walking along the base who told us there was a haul bag stashed a few hundred feet further along the base. It was his. Someone had put his spare rope, sleeping bag, and bivy bag in it and tucked it behind a flake. This was an enormous relief. We were now missing his shell, a lot of pins, cams, and biners, and some odds and ends. We picked up a lot of garbage and returned to the car. A friend of the mysterious blond who had our gear told us that he had headed to Fresno for the day, so we went off to take a shower. I felt much better. We ate some more lunch and drank a few more beers.

As the afternoon progressed and our blond had not shown, David became concerned about returning to Salt Lake City in time for the wedding. He had told them he would be there in time and was looking at driving all night, something I certainly felt quite incapable of. I was becoming aware of just how tired I was. I tried jogging across the Camp 4 parking lot, but failed. I was constantly hungry for fatty, buttery food. I also was getting desperate to see Fiona and Stewart.

Our mysterious blond showed late in the day; it was a SAR guy, Chris, who I had met at the base as I was fixing almost two weeks ago. His ropes had been stolen off the Trip, and we had talked for a bit. He was at the base when our bag dropped and he grabbed as much of it as he could. He had stashed the bag and taken what bit of the hardware he could before the other gear hounds came in. Our gear was hammered; the biners had spiraled and snapped. On the few camming units that still had triggers, the individual cams twisted and rocked as you closed them. I got my leeper Z's back and a gear sling. I'm not sure what David salvaged.

David left for Salt Lake, and I headed back to the Bay Area with Paul. We stopped for food repeatedly. I spent the next day cooking turkey.

Gear Summary. I mention everything that comes to mind, not just hardware.

We had five ropes:

  1. 60m 11 mm new lead line
  2. 55m 7/16'' static (haul)
  3. 60m 11 mm old lead line (hauling, and emergency lead line)
  4. ~200 ft. 5.5 mm Gemini
  5. ~200 ft. 6.0 mm Accessory

The small lines were lower and lead - out lines.


We brought leeper Z's, but did not use them. If you don't have a lot of sawed off pins, they may be necessary.


Two sets of nuts and one set of micro nuts

5-10 assorted copperheads. Include a few medium circle heads.

5 rivet hangers, and two RP hangers



We brought about 120 regular 'biners. This was enough. We also had about 20 lockers - about right.

Bolt kit:

I should add that at the end of this climb, the aliens were hammered. The spring on them are small and thin and the heads tended to jam up and rotate as a unit on the axle. They certainly still functioned, but they are not sturdy. Some acetone and graphite would restore most of them, though.

Pitch by Pitch gear summary (I mention big stuff when I remember using it.)

Again, if you don't have a lot of aliens, you will nail a lot more than we did.

1 - Clean

2,3,4 - All Gear (4 Camalot on the third pitch only. Save a red alien for a placement 2/3 to 3/4 up the third pitch.) High party factor on these pitches. Two 60 m ropes to the ground.

5 - Clean. 4 Camalot and Big Bro are needed. Some free climbing, you might want your shoes.

6 - Clean, rivet hangers and/or RP hangers are useful.

7 - Small pin rack.

8 - All gear.

9 - All gear, no hooks.

10 - All gear, tame A3.

11 - Clean - but watch rope drag and think about hauling as you go.

12 - All gear, include some hooks for the end.

13,14,15 - Clean, alien fest. Used a #4 Camalot.

16 - Thin nailing at end only.

17 - A bit of nailing.

18 - Clean, but need aliens (only cam that will do) at end. Most totally awesome pitch. Fixed circle heads with 2000 feet of air straight below you.

19 - All gear, no hooks.

20 - Small bit of thin nailing. Be cool and place a bolt at this belay.

21 - All gear. If it's weird and small, bring it. Wild.

22 - Clean, goes real fast. Belay low. Bring a #4 Camalot

23 - Almost clean, medium arrow at very end.

24 - Interesting. Hooks and pins here. Must have rivet hangers.

25 - Almost clean. I hooked, you may not have to. A couple sawed off small angles. Bring climbing shoes.

26 - Bring climbing shoes and #4 Camalot.

27 - Enjoy the hauling.

28 - Bring climbing shoes. Move very far right, and then back left. The belay is in the obvious spot. I placed a #4 Camalot, but it's not necessary.

29 - Nail fest. Bring them ALL. Watch rope drag. You might want a Talon.

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