The day we topped out on the Native Son, we decided to spend the night on top. It is a nice way to wind down before getting back to the tourists. I woke up early the next morning exhausted from a terrible nightmare. I dreamed I was back at home about to wake up in my own bed. Old familiar faces were about. It was terrible. What a relief to wake up and see Half Dome in the distance. I wasn’t ready to leave the Valley yet. It had been two months. I needed two more. Only a few days before on the climb, I had sworn I was going to sell all my wall gear. I had grown to hate the wall, and myself for going up there. It seemed it was for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t belong. All I wanted to do was go get a Big Mac, head for Tuolumne and climb the long, moderate alpine stuff I knew I really loved to climb. But it wasn’t that easy. There I was in the middle of hauling the load down East Ledges, and I was already getting psyched for my next wall. I wanted something harder. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to learn how to be more comfortable up there. And so the cycle had again come full circle. My preferred partner for a harder route was psyched to go, but it was just too hot for me, even in the shade at the Center of the Universe. It was time for three weeks of alpine. The first was in Tuolumne with Brandon. One of the best weeks of climbing ever. Third Pillar, SW Face Conness (12 hrs car-car), and a solo of North Peak left Col. ( Remember smoking Drum, watching the stripper in the Winnebago and the meteor shower? ) I also had a partner lined up for Canada. What an epic that turned out to be. By the time I returned to the Valley in early September I had: driven over 4000 miles, been hit by a Winnebago, broken down in the Canadian bush, my van taken away, my partner thrown in jail, and ... I had consumed over 20 Big Macs. I was now ready for another wall. All my best partners were gone. I didn’t feel like soloing anything. First order was to spread myself around. I called, e-mailed, and talked to anybody and everybody whom I thought might be interested in the Sea. Grant once called me a route slut. I didn’t think that was too accurate. Traveling alone a lot, I’ve learned that I won’t get to climb much if I put all my “faith” in only a few partners. Things come up, especially if the route in question is hard. Relationships in the Valley are temporary. People come and go. It can be nice, but it is also often lonely, even when there are a lot of people around. One day I may be having the time of my life with a great partner on a great climb, then the next they are gone. It is a welcome change from the stale and toxic climbing community from my home in Minnesota, but longer term relationships are important as well. I had just left Minnesota forever. My whole world was in the Valley. After my trip to Canada, the scene had changed. It was a bit frustrating trying to find partners again. Singer appeared. They called him Singer because he was pretty good with a sewing machine. He had recently made the second ascent of Wheel of Torture. His partner for that climb, Eric Sloan, said he was really cool except that he always woke up late. At 120 lbs, he was a natural for the hooking and #1 head pitches. Things were cool again. I had a project, something to do, a place. I was on. My lateral drift was over. The words of two well known climbers have always inspired me. Lowe, in “Cloudwalker,” said something like “it’s all about being comfortable with being up there... that’s when I know I’ve grown [as a climber].” And the seriously injured Doug Scott, while contemplating an epic descent from the Ogre said “There was only one way for me to tackle a big complex problem like that, and that was one day at a time, keeping the broad idea in my mind that I’d got to get to Base Camp, but each day thinking no further than that day’s objective, confident that if each day’s climbing was competently executed than the whole problem would eventually be solved.” I had recently taken a class that covered Self Organization. Using only a few simple rules for interaction among smaller parts, massively large and sophisticated structures can be formed out of the smaller parts drifting in Chaos. With a little vision, and persistance in always taking the next step, no matter how confusing or insignificant, large tasks will eventually come to completion or order. It is a natural law of sort, like a bear seeking food 60 miles away. You can’t do a big route thinking that you can control, make known, and plan for all the variables. On a big enough route it will simply become overwhelming, no matter what level of control you are capable of. There I was in the parking lot early one afternoon in middle September, drinking a Pepsi, sitting on my blue tarp, looking over about 300 lbs of gear, waiting for Singer to get out of bed, contemplating the enormous task ahead ... the Sea of Dreams. We made a trip to the base to haul water and scope the first few pitches. We also gathered more empty bottles and garbage. I walked off to take a dump, and stumbled across a fish hook, a RURP, a #2 LA and shattered radio fragments. Looking at the oxidation on the gear, then looking up, I realized that this was probably some gear from the epic ascent of the NA by Stephen Ross. Booty for me. Time for some recycling. The climb Note: I’ve described the pitch ratings from the Reid book, not the new wave ones. For many reasons, this simplifies things. The new wave ratings from our improved topo turned out to be a little inconsistent, but still perhaps more accurate than the Reid ratings from the Price topo. Still, it is my wish not to make the climb known too much and ruin some of the adventure for future parties. Day 1 Enough sitting around thinking, planning, fearing ... it was time to climb. We got an 8:00 or so start and humped the pigs to the base. Amber, a friend of Singer’s, helped haul loads. She was pretty psyched on the wall scene and was a great help getting off the ground. She belayed Singer as he combined the first two pitches. Meanwhile, I got the bags packed and hooked up to the haul line. I then got off my butt and up to the belay to help my 120 lb partner haul well over 120 lbs of gear and water. I then lead and hauled the next pitch. We were to spend the first night on the ground. We dropped lines and rapped. The lines hit about 30 ft from the base. The wall continued to hang and loom above. Back to the Valley to chow down. Day 2 The following morning we jugged back up to the high point. The next lead was Singer’s. We had heard that the pendulums on the Sea were pretty hard. This turned out to be the case. Singer got the first one. After several attempts and rests, he made it. This put me at the base of the next A4 “loose” pitch. I somehow ended up with all the loose and rotten pitches on the Native Son. This trend continued for me on the Sea. Singer then led the Laura Scudders flake, to another hard pendulum. Singer took his first fall here. He nonchalantly placed a head after the pendulum, and it blew. He went cartwheeling back across the swing, grinding one of his fingertips down in the process. While lowering out the bag, my munter hitch jumped the biner and I ended up burning nine fingers, with 2nd degree burns on two or three of them. We couldn’t climb like this and expect to stay alive on such a route. I was disturbed. We needed to get our act together. I told Singer this. Time to stop for the night. I sent in a bolt at the belay, the only one we placed on the climb. Early wall blues were setting in hard. I felt like shit. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t tell Singer any of this for fear that he would agree and we would bail. Either that, or he would think I was light. My mind was so focused on being blue and anxious that I wasn’t seeing things clearly. This needed to change, at least for safety reasons. Things were quiet during our first night on the wall. Just a little scuffling as we got our systems worked out. I pulled out the human repair kit and we compared injuries. Day 3 The next morning I got the first A5 pitch. The topo yet again said “loose.” My new specialty. Halfway up the pitch I was reaching far to drive in a sawed-off on a traversing section. One or two hits to set it, then I let go of the pin and gave it another hit. “Ahhhhhhhh Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” The pin fell out. I really hate dropping gear. Singer later told me that this was one of his scariest moments on the climb. He thought I was about to rip the pitch. He had pulled in all the slack and curled up waiting to get yanked. Maybe I over reacted a bit to dropping a piton. The pitch really wasn’t that hard, but it took longer to lead than any other on the route. Singer took the next long pitch, bringing us close to the Continental Shelf. The following lead had the crux free climbing on it. A pendulum to a 5.9 mantle and delicate layback, then a traverse onto the Shelf. Swing swing swing. Just when I thought I was going to swing into a full circle, I slammed my hand onto a small knob. “Slack!.. fucking slack! fuck fuck fuck ... watch me!” Pretty interesting in a pair of Chuck Taylor’s and a heavy rack. No pro. Slip slip, grope and grasp. We were soon established on the shelf. The Hook or Book pitch came into view above. Singer took the 5.9 offwidth leading to the start of the hooking pitch. Some 5.4 led to the base of the offwidth. Singer jammed a big rock between the #5 Camalot and the walls of the crack, then pulled an aid move. The rock then fell out, as did the cam. The cam was now well placed for an upward pull, low in the crack, fully preventing Singer from climbing any higher. He was too high in the crack to down climb. There was no pro yet in the pitch. Singer was basically fucked. I unclipped from the belay and hurriedly started to climb up to him. “Hurry up hurry up hurryuphurryhurryhurry ... I’m slipping ... this sucks thissucksthissucks...” I yanked out the cam and Singer sprang up to the top of the crack. The day’s difficulties were over. We had a nice ledge to eat dinner and spread out on. Hook or Book traversed above us. Originally I had wanted all odds. I didn’t notice that the 9th pitch belay was marked twice as a move-belay for hauling convenience. Singer and I talked this over. Hook or Book looked like a beautiful pitch that I would not mind leading. This gave Singer Don’t Skate Mate, which from our beta was the supposed technical aid crux. This also maintained our pitch swapping as normal. Singer also admitted that he didn’t want to set up the “Expanding Anchor”, a pretty radical feature of the route. Things were cool. Hook or Book was the first “if you fall, you die” pitch on El Cap, and has since seen no added protection. If you loose it, you will fall about 100 ft into a pendulum and slam into an open book. It had my interest. My success on the 5.9 free pitch made me feel better about things. I was back in the groove. I no longer wanted to bail. I also knew that at this point, bailing would not be an easy task. Normally I think I would not have slept well in this situation, but on this night I slept okay. Day 4 The next morning I lead the Hook or Book pitch. I was totally into the climbing. I didn’t want to be disturbed. I was very calm and involved, a trance that is one of my draws to climbing. Lots of whooping and hollering at the end of the pitch. The pitch wasn’t too bad at all. Things were under way. We were attuned. Singer took the next pitch. The only gear necessary for this pitch was hooks, #1 & #2 heads, and a #1 Camalot. Singer’s light weight, and light rack, allowed him to cruise this A5 pitch. Next, I lead up to the infamous expanding anchor. I drove in a 1 inch angle to expand the flake. McNamara had lost one of his #1 Camalots at this anchor when the flake closed up on it. I bootied the cam, then dumped half our cam rack into the flake and an adjacent crack. I then equalized every last one of them. It was pretty cool. Singer slowly and tentatively lowered the haulbags out. I watched all the cam lobes slowly move, then stop. It looked okay. The next pitch is Don’t Skate Mate, A5, and fell to Singer. This pitch is thin beaks, heads, etc. to mandatory 5.9 offwidth. All this above the expando anchor. Pretty radical. Singer made good time on this pitch, bringing us to the Big Sur ledge. Our mood was good. We had just knocked off some of the hardest pitches on the route. Three A5s and an A4+ that day. We were making good progress and having a blast. Big Sur was a comfortable place. Although, several more days of climbing loomed above us. A scream came from over in the direction of Zodiac: “Yeeee hahh! ... big wall dump!” We went to bed. Day 5 After our third bivy on the wall, I took the Peregrine Pillar pitch that morning. This pitch turned out to be one of the hardest, scariest pitches on the climb for me. Starting out with a long stretch of no pro 5.8, I arrived at the base of two loose pillars which I would have to climb up the middle of. Watching my cams expand and contract in the loose diorite, I half freeclimbed, half aided to the top of the pillar. Next was some tricky nailing, with a bad fall to the pillar if things went wrong. A few moves up I started pounding in an angle. The rock started moaning and would not stop! I tapped on all the rock around me. All loose and hollow. The moaning continued. I thought surely the entire face was about to go. Finally the moaning ceased. I decided not to take any more swings at the pin. I tied it off and continued upward. Finally some better pins, then the belay. And not a moment too soon. This was a long pitch. Singer took the To the Tooth pitch, then I got yet another rotten, loose pitch leading to the Blue Room and the RURP belay. This is a famous belay spot. There is a well published photo of Dale Bard jugging up to several RURPs equalized with clove hitches. There it was. It didn’t look too bad, really. If the crack wasn’t already full of broken off RURPs, I would not have added a bolt here. Fortunately, there were three bolts. Seconding the first traversing part of this pitch was easy, all the gear simply ripped out and Singer went swinging. More rotten rock. I loved it. Just before the belay, I had left a skyhook in behind a long protruding surfboard that needed to be hooked across. I had tried hammering it out without success. Singer ended up funking it out. Funking out a skyhook seemed pretty radical, so we got some pictures. Singer then took the next pitch, Ace in Space. It turned out that this may have been the hardest pitch on the route. Mid pitch, singer blew a #1 head and took a daisy fall onto a skyhook. Very tenuous pitch. I seconded on hooks, leaving some gear in that we could only retrieve by lowering down from the next pitch, which traversed above. Time to crash for the night. Another bolt would have been nice for the belay, but lacking a half-hour, I opted for a rivet. Out came the drill, then the rivet. After two hits on the rivet, I noticed that I had made a bad mistake. This was a low grade steel rivet. I had mindlessly bought the wrong grade. We settled in off the two old bolts and a good piton. Damaged, but not irreparable. Singer made amends in the morning. Day 6 Two more pitches the next day got us out of the diorite. Singer led Price is Light. It was only A2, but still a scary lead for Singer because we had become so unnerved by black rock, plus the pitch was very steep and exposed. The belay was called the Space Station. The bolts were situated such that everything hung below the lip of a roof. All of the North America wall was in view below. The next pitch traversed right close to the lip of this roof, then up onto some hooks. Finally, we were out of the diorite. Singer took the Peruvian Flakes pitch to finish the day. That night was likely going to be our last on the wall. It was our 5th night. I was happy. The major difficulties were past. We ate dinner and talked and laughed at things other than climbing. Singer was a good partner. I would be leaving the Valley soon after we topped out. I didn’t know if I would ever have a chance again to be in such a setting. We stayed up a little later eating, talking, and watching the commotion on the Zodiac and in the Valley far below. We were pretty much in outer space. Some of the most difficult rock on El Cap swept below us for thousands of feet in the moonlight. My anxiety level had dropped significantly since earlier in the climb. Things were good. Day 7 Four beautiful pitches the next day put us on top at about 4pm. That night on top, again I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night. For about an hour I sat awake and aware, untired, looking at Half Dome, reflecting on the over five years of people and adventures this valley had brought me. Orion quietly stood watch over my little world from his ever changing perspective. I had been watching him drift, talking to him. Half Dome and Sentinel stood undisturbed by Orion and I. The peaks of Tuolumne sat proud in the blurry distance as an audience to our little dance high over the Valley. Tonight, El Capitan was a fine stage. But tomorrow I would be back down among tourists. I knew from experience that I would miss this moment and wanted to prolong it. I was ready to leave, but sad and thankful of the passing. I knew it was necessary to move on. I sat back in my bivy and fell fast asleep. It was time to go find a new home and a job.
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