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Triple Direct on El Cap by Mick Schein (mschein@mail.unm.edu)

Following is a trip report of climbing the Triple Direct on El Cap, Yosemite Valley, 5.9 A2.

This climb took place the first week of October (1994).

It had been raining for the last couple of days, but when we arrived in the valley the sun came out and all was well. We found our camp site and unloaded our pile of gear. I had two partners (Eli and Rick) so our pile of gear was rather large, and required two haul bags.

We immediately got busy packing the haul bags; 3 quarts of water per person per day, food, extra clothes, sleeping bags, bivy sacks, two full racks, 100+ biners, haul line, lead lines, what else could we possibly need? Should we bring this tarp in case it rains again? Yeah, we better. The plan was to do the Free Blast without the haul bags, then fix the pitches below the Heart.

We got up early the next morning, packed the car and left the poor excuse for a campsite. We drove to the base, El Cap looks very big at 6:00 AM. We were happy to leave the haul bags in the car, taking only some water, food, and ropes for fixing the pitches below the Heart. Eli took the first lead while I belayed.

It was a beautiful day and the climbing went smoothly, we free climbed up to 5.10, and aided the rest. The most memorable pitch was the "Half Dollar". It starts out with a traverse to a greasy 5.10 move into the chimney itself. Once in the chimney I kept feeling like I was going to fall out, but eventually thrashed my way to the top.

After this the climbing gets easy to Mammoth Terraces. We traversed over to the rap anchors to rap down to Heart Ledges. The sun was starting to go down so we started rapping off and fixing ropes for our haul session the next day. It was getting dark quickly so out came the head lamps. Rapping in the dark is so much fun. At one point I laughed at myself for yelling "ROPE". But 5 minutes later I see a woman jumaring up a fixed line towards me. "Good Evening." "What are you doing up here at this time of day" I ask. "Just out for a stroll" she replies. Five minutes later she raps on by. Strange behavior.

We were all happy to get to the ground and the car for a tasty meal of canned ravioli, our diet for the next several days. We grabbed our sleeping bags and headed for the woods to sleep.

I awoke to a jet airline like sound that turned out to be a BASE jumper. This would be a routine that would be repeated daily. It's very entertaining to watch bodies hurtling by while eating breakfast.

We walked to the car, unloaded the haul bags, and started the arduous journey to the base of the wall. It was another great day but already felt warm. We were sweating profusely by the time we reached the fixed lines. On the haul session up we saw a party retreating off of žMagic Mushroomž. They had been pinned down during the storm and had decided to bail. They looked very eager to be back on the ground. They had left some water on Mammoth Terraces, which proved to be very useful to us in the future.

We finally got all the gear and haul bags up to Heart Ledges and collapsed in the hot afternoon sun. No one felt like moving and we were getting dehydrated. We drank our quota of water, but I still felt thirsty. The sunset was awesome and we kicked back, ate dinner, and listened to the weather radio. The news on the radio was not encouraging. A storm was approaching, the forecast was for rain the day after tomorrow. What? žI donžt believe itž, I said. A discussion followed about what to do. Go up when we know a storm is coming, or go down after hauling up those damn bags? I was for going up, Rick wanted to go down, and Eli was indecisive. We finally compromised on fixing some pitches the next day, and bivying at Mammoth Terraces. We could always rap off from there if things got ugly.

The next day was clear and we immediately started hauling up to Mammoth Terraces. We snagged the water left by the Magic Mushroom climbers, left the bags, and Eli started leading the pitch above Mammoth Terraces. This a short 5.9 pitch. Pitch 12 was mine, a long A2 pitch. I heard the party in front of us doing some nailing on this one. This worried me because our pin selection was meager at best. I started up using sketchy cam and nut placements in the pin scars. There were some places where sawed off angles would have been nice, but we had none. We caught the party in front of us at the next belay. It was really hot and it seemed like too much trouble to pass them, so we fixed ropes down to Mammoth Terraces and rested. We could see storm clouds in the distance, but we were comfortable and we had storm gear.

The next morning started out cloudy, but soon it was raining. We got the tarp out, and set up a shelter. Soon after, the British team ahead of us rapped on by, saying something about pints of beer at the bar. The weather started looking a little better, and the rain stopped. We decided to make a dash for Grey Ledges, four pitches up. We hauled and jugged our fixed lines to pitch 13. This pitch was short but awkward to lead, Eli got to the belay and wasnžt pleased with the rusty quarter inch bolt and two manky pin belay. As I started jumaring, it started raining lightly. I wasnžt too worried because we had just one more pitch to the bivy at Grey Ledges. Rick took off on lead, while Eli and I hung at the uncomfortable belay. About 40 feet into the pitch, the rain started coming down hard. You could actually hear the water running down the crack systems toward us. Soon Rick was leading through a waterfall which was dumping onto Eli and I. We had our rain gear on, so we were dry, but it was getting noticeably colder. Also one of the bags had no hole in the bottom, so we were worried about it filling with water.

Rick got to the belay and Eli quickly cleaned the pitch while Rick and I hauled the bags. We were getting pretty cold by then, and quickly set up the tarp on a 6 foot by 3 foot ledge. We got into our bivy sacks and sleeping bags, at least we were warm and dry. The scenery was fantastic, mist swirling up from the valley and breaks in the clouds giving us occasional views of our surroundings.

It rained off and on all night, no one slept well. At about 5:00 AM it rained really hard for awhile and I was afraid our ledge would turn into a lake. It stopped completely after that and I actually got an hour or two of sleep. When I woke up I peered out from behind the tarp, expecting the worst and saw patches of sun. Great! We consulted the weather radio and the forecast was for clearing by noon. I was relieved that we could continue the climb, Ižd been dreading the idea of rapping all the way down with the haul bags.

We waited for the sun to come out to dry things a bit. We got a late start, this would prove to be a problem later that day. The two pitches after Grey Ledges were A1/A2. We decided to do one haul from the ledges to the start of the first pendulum pitch, because we were told we could. The haul line turned out to be too short, so we tied on the other lead line and hauled that way. We had to lower the pulley to pass the knot, now we had the second lead line as the haul line. This didnžt seem like a big deal, since we only had two pitches to the next bivy below camp 4 on the Nose.

Rick took the next lead on what was supposed to be a bolt ladder across to the first pendulum. Well the bolts looked suspiciously new, more like a sport route. This is what it turned out to be. This was the free or attempted free variation of the Muir Wall. After taking a whipper, Rick retreated and we looked up at where we should have been, an old bolt ladder about 40 feet higher. This wasted more time which would be a big problem shortly.

I led up to where we were supposed to be, and started the traverse on the bolt ladder. There were some really bad bolts, with an occasional new one to calm my nerves. I lowered out and did the first pendulum, and was up to the next belay quickly. By now the sun was starting to go down and I was standing on a small stance, realizing that this would be a very uncomfortable bivy for three. Eli came across quickly, but Rick still had to lower the bags across before he could do the next pendulum, which looked a lot bigger than the first. We hauled the bags and Eli was ready for the pendulum. Unfortunately, all we had was the static line because the other lead line was now the haul line and Rick was following on the rope I had led with. It was starting to get pretty dark and Eli said žIžm going for it on the haul line, itžs now or neverž. I didnžt like the idea, but he was determined. I lowered him out about 50 feet and he started the big swing over to a low angle ramp. After a couple of tries he managed to grab a small hold and move into the ramp. The topo indicated a bolt but he couldnžt find one. He made it to the belay just as it got completely dark.

The whole process of lowering out the bags and following the pendulum was unnerving in the dark (you need a second line to follow this one), but we finally got everyone gathered at the belay. We dragged the bags over to the bivy ledge, and sat down, totally exhausted. The combination of long days with little sleep the night before was taking its toll. I looked up and saw the Great Roof above us, the stars were out, things were looking up.

We got a good nights sleep and felt a lot better the next morning. We ate breakfast and watched the BASE jumpers go by. The climbing up to the Great Roof pitch is mostly 5.9, and went quickly. The Great Roof is a spectacular pitch with a lot of fixed pro. From the belay stance you have a great view of the upper part of the Nose and Pancake Flake. Really spectacular climbing here. After Pancake Flake is an awkward flare leading up to Camp 5. We spent the night here.

We definitely wanted to be off the next day, so we got up early and got moving. I had the upper bivy spot, so I took the lead up to the Glowering Spot, a great ledge. One advantage of riding out a storm was the lack of climbers on the route. We hadnžt seen another climber for a couple of days and there was no one in sight. Definitely unusual for a popular route like the Nose.

The next pitches were straight forward aid up to the loose block. This thing is scary, held in by some old slings. Itžs hard to climb around it without touching it. More A1 leads into the Alcove, then up to the start of the bolt ladder. It was getting dark by now, so I led the final pitch by head lamp. All the bolts are shiny new on this pitch.

We decided to take the Yosemite Falls Trail down, since it was dark. This trail is OK until the end when it gets pretty steep. Next time Ižll definitely use the East Ledges descent.

This climb is a good alternative if you want to avoid the traffic jam on the lower part of the Nose. The topo recommends some pins, but we didnžt use any. It would be useful to have some sawed off angles for pitch 12. Otherwise, two complete racks to #4 Friend

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