After years of hardwork climbing, learning aid, and doing prep routes - it was time to make an attempt on the big one again: EL CAPITAN!
As usual, the logistics of this big climb were crazy. My original guide canceled and it took a while to find a new one. After some time we were able to pick a date and I got all packed up, ready to go with my sites on Zodiac. I headed to the Valley a few days early to relax and hang out. I went to the meadow to check out the route with my copy of SuperTopos and a pair of binoculars. There was only 1 other party high on the route which was a good sign we wouldn't be competing for portaledge space at night, especially since we were taking 2 singles instead of a double.
I brought the old Single Speed with me and toured around the area just to keep my legs loose.
The next day we were off hauling loads to the base. 2 trips of backbreaking loads from the car to the base. We bivied at the base with light sprinkles that night. I woke up in the morning to blue skies and thousands of feet of solid granite when I looked up. Two other parties were also getting ready to hit Zodiac but we were ready to go before them so Con (my guide) took the sharp end and stringed together the first 2 pitches in no time. There was also a solo climber bailing off the route. You can see him here. Nice guy that came all the way from India and bought all new gear in the Mountain Shop. He eventully found a parter and ended up trailing us by a few days.
This is the view towards The Nose from where we were climbing.
Here are the 3 haul bags, 2 ledges, and poop tube getting ready for lift off.
And here comes my big moment, the one I had waited years for, I was finaly starting up the fist pitch of Zodiac on El Cap. The bags were flying and I was right behind them jugging and cleaning. Of course the minute I lift off I hear this high pitch whistle. Something was falling from way up. It was coming fast and I couldn't see it. I tucked in toward the wall. Thankfully Zodiac is overhanging. Someone near the top had dropped a full gallon of water. It fell over 150 MPH and exploded on impact about 50 feet from me.
Not sure what pitch this is. Con is out on lead, can you spot him?
One of the most amazing things about Zodiac is the angle. It is overhanging and as you go up you go out. This is my view from the belay at the top of pitch 2 or 3. Just a small ledge with several hundred feet of exposure. I love it!
Looking to the left I could see The Nose and the alcove. Timmy O'Neill and crew were in the alcove swinging around. I met up with Timmy later in my adventure.
Getting higher and the trees are getting smaller. This ledge actually had enough room to stand, which was a bonus. Unfortunately, this late in the season the ledges get a bit sticky, mostly from people peeing on them. Just part of the game.
Con and I were rarely in the same spot on the first day for more than a few minutes. I would get to the belay, stack the rope, he would finish hauling, we'd exchange gear, and then he would be of climbing again. I managed to get this shot of him amid the chaos. You can get a sense for the angle of the wall by looking in the background. It is tough to get the full perspective but the far edge of the rock in this picture is actually several hundred feet away. This is a massive piece of stone.
Onward and upward. We were making great progress for day #1 and the weather was perfect. Not windy, not too hot, it was great.
It was getting later in the day and you can see the shadow of The Nose creeping up on us in the background.
Finally, we had reached our high spot for the day. We parked just below the "Black Tower" which is the commit point on this route. Go past it and it is very difficult to bail. I was feeling great. I set up my ledge, took this picture (my foot is the yellow thing), and ate some cold chili out of a can I opened with a swiss army knife. If that isn't wall cuisine then I don't know what is. Once the sun went down, the headlights came on all over El Cap. I could see at least 20 other parties hanging out on the wall. It was dead calm and you could even hear them talking, or in the case of the party above us, arguing. Dangling over 500 feet off the deck with nothing but a few millimeters of nylon between me and the ground, I slept great!
Things had changed overnight. I woke up and something deep down inside said "turn back". The sky was also starting to get overcast. We ate breakfast and packed up. I mulled over if I should go up or down. I listened to my body and it said down. I took a picture of our high point at the Black Tower and we lowered off. Disappointing, but it was the right decision.
Me in the morning on the portaledge.
I got back to camp after several hours of rappelling and crawled into my tent. I was catching a cold, and I think my body knew it beore I did. I typically use an old beater of a tent when I am in and out of camp so if something happens to it I am not out much money. Unfortunately in this case, it rained HARD that night. I was sick and I woke up in the middle of the night with my feet literally in a puddle of water. I curled up at the high end of my tent til morning and quickly switched out the cheap tent for my Mountain Hardware 4 season Trango as well as my winter bag. I hit the lodge store, bought some cold medicine, and was out. I managed to get a few pics of the sorm that had rolled in. Had I continued climbing, I would have been sick, in a ice/snow storm high on El Cap, with no where to go but up. It pays to listen to your instinct. There was 6-8 inches of new snow on the summit that night.
The next day was better in lots of respects. My cell and camera batteries were dead, but the sun had finally came out. I met up with Con and we settled up. He introduced me to Ammon and Evo plus several other legendary climbers. It was cool to hear their stories. Back at camp I had some new camp mates. All were in wheelchairs and were here to cilmb, one being Sean O'Neill whose brother is Timmy O'Neill. Together they had climbed El Cap several times and were now bringing together other handicapped climbers. Truely and inspirational group, I hope to meet up with them again some day - Sean, Timmy, Vijay, and Char. My experience with them was another Camp 4 moment that is hard to put into words. I hung out with them for a few days and helped them prep for their climbs.
Eventually I had to head home. I packed up and headed out the same day Hans and Yugi were setting a new speed record on The Nose. I stopped and watched them a bit before I left and I must say that is some of the most intense physical ability I have ever seen. They were flying up that route.
Below are some pictures Tom took of Con ad I from the bridge in the meadow while we were climbing Zodiac. I think the first two are around pitch 3 or 4 and the last one is 5 or 6.
I had a fun ride on this pitch. The route followed the ridge/crack directly below us. In he corner there was no lower out and there was no way I could free it. I jugged to the piece, shifted my weight, puled the cam, and went for a swing. Fun times 500 feet up.