Steve Shostek and I arrived in the Valley Saturday, Sept 14th, 1996. We immediately scoped out the Nose and were discouraged to count 10 climbers flailing away on the Stovelegs. It was 3PM, which meant they were slow and probably wouldn't make El Cap Tower.
The next day we started fixing lines to Sickle Ledge, carrying our fully packed haul bag with 5 gallons of water. This went smoothly and we were to Sickle Ledge by 2PM. Steve led the 4th class pitch 5 and hauled our bag up there, where it was to rest for 36 hours. There were at least 5 sets of fixed ropes down from Sickle, and 2 parties hauling their bags to Sickle, presumably to aid a quick start the next day. I was quite discouraged by these crowds. The only good thing was that nobody else was fixing the first four pitches. As we walked to the car, we noticed a party of 3 moving slowly at the Stovelegs (Japanese, we eventually learned), and a party of 2 attempting to pass them by a curious variation right of the Stoveleg pendulum (the free variation?).
The next day we decided to wait out, as we anticipated a large number of parties starting. Also, I had somehow managed to lose one of my jumars, so we had to go the the Mountain Shop to buy another. In El Cap meadows around noon, we noticed the party of 3 Japanese were still not even at Dolt Tower, apparently they had slept hanging in slings. A French team of 3 who we had talked with the day before ("we are slow") was blasting up faster than any party we had seen, and was just below the Japanese. Another party of 2 was just beyond Sickle Ledge. The ten people who had started the day we arrived were by now approaching Camp 5.
One team is sleeping at the base of the wall. I pop my head over Sickle Ledge to find 3 comatose forms. Gad, another party!! They are friendly chaps from New Zealand, Oz and one American. They say they have a fixed rope to the top of 6 that we are free to use. We do this to save time (this would turn out to be the only pitch of the entire climb we did not lead) and quickly I am leading pitch 7. This is a simple tension traverse right to easy (but somewhat loose) climbing up to the Dolt Hole. Soon I am at the hanging belay trying to avoid making a tangle of our ropes as I haul our feisty pig across.
As Steve lowers out and jumars to me a wild scene is developing below. The 3 who slept at Sickle are up and moving to Steve's belay. Meanwhile the party of 5 Spaniards who slept at the base have jugged up and are attempting to pass the 3 by tension traversing lower. The Spanish leader does so and soon sets up shop at an intermediate belay about 50' below me.
There were other problems of crowding, too...
There were other problems of crowding, too...
Steve now begins to lead the pendulum into the Stovelegs. This pitch is long and complex, and the Spaniards are hot on our trail. Steve completes the pendulum, then begins to lead the Stovelegs on the haul line as Bill had suggested. This works well but it is a long ways to the belay. By the time I leave I have 3 Spaniards for company at my belay.
George kept me posted on the progress of the Spanish team
who I gathered where moving quite fast despite their superior
numbers. Their presence felt like the lash of a whip, urging me
to climb faster. I hate that.
George kept me posted on the progress of the Spanish team who I gathered where moving quite fast despite their superior numbers. Their presence felt like the lash of a whip, urging me to climb faster. I hate that.
My next pitch, the 12th, is also short. A scary 5.9 squeeze for a few feet leads to a fist crack which I simply aid using our #4 Friend and Camalot. Soon I am atop Dolt Tower. We relax now as the Spanish team still hasn't finished the long combined pitch.
After a quick lunch and drink Steve tensions off Dolt Tower, then swings over to some awkward 5.9 cracks. I lower the pig off and by keeping tension on the lower out line keep it from getting hung up on some flakes. At this point Cesar & Co. have just arrived on Dolt Tower so it appears they won't be hounding us anymore, although we all have plenty of time to reach El Cap Tower.
There is still almost an hour of light left so I decide to lead and fix the next pitch to the top of Texas Flake. Steve says he "sucks at chimneys" so it looks like it is up to me. I have done enough 5.8 chimneys in Yosemite to be worried about them. Spectacular free moves lead off the ledge, leading to an awkward thrutch past a chockstone and the chimney itself.
This chimney is about 50' high, widening from about 2.5'. It is nice to see a shiny new bolt about 2/3 of the way up. I squeeze up the lower part of the chimney and clip the bolt. I have heard that the chimney gets easier as you go up so I am psyched. However above here I discover a critical problem. A year ago, I broke my wrist and after a medical run-a-round ended up having some wrist bones fused. The net result is I have lost half the mobility in my left wrist.
In a narrow chimney like this one, one can hold oneself by placing a hand palm out against the opposite wall and bridging between your palm and shoulder. I discovered I could not do this with my left arm anymore, because I could not bend my wrist enough to get my palm on the wall. To make matters worse, the chimney was just slightly wider than the distance between my knee and butt, an awkward intermediate size.
About 10' above the bolt I am in trouble. I can hold myself in with my right arm but not my left. I have been keeping my back to the flake as all recommend and I spot a good inch wide ledge on the main wall, but it is about 4 feet to my left. I make a long stretch to it with my left foot, but this is my big mistake as it puts me totally off balance. Suddenly my right arm collapses and I am falling.
I'm not too worried with the bolt only 10' below. Certainly it will catch me before I bottom out. But I slide down forever and crash into the bottom of the chimney on my side. God damn!! Why didn't the rope catch me?? It turns out there was a great deal of slack around a rock at the start of the pitch, plus there was almost a full ropelength out to stretch.
I get up and am amazed to find myself completely uninjured. We figured out later that the rope probably did catch me, but only at the very end. I am quite shaken up and do not what to attempt the chimney again. I lower off to the bivy ledge.
The climb has been going so well to this point I am greatly depressed by my fall. How are we going to climb this if we can't get up the chimney?? Steve tries to lift my spirits and does not seem worried about this.
As every inch of rope payed out I got happier and happier in anticipation
of the end of Texas Chimney and the end of a very full day of climbing.
Then, a strange thing happened. I felt a strong tug on the rope, the
left-most piece of protection popped out, the rope flipped off of the
rock bulge that it was running around, and then I got a hard pull on the rope,
followed by no movement. After a while, George's helmeted head poked
around Texas Flake and he said "Hey! I just fell 30 feet and hit the ledge!"
Or words to that effect.
I was stunned. My partner had fallen, and I had failed to arrest his fall.
How could that happen?! Piecing the events together later, we figured that
the amount of rope released by the piece that pulled plus the rope that
was wrapped around the bulge must have been enough to allow
George to fall to the ledge. The second hard pull on the rope must have
come just before George hit bottom, absorbing some of the energy of his
fall. Fortunately George was unhurt.
We were soooo lucky. George returned to our bivy site and I offered
consolation, gratitude, and my best show of optimism.
As every inch of rope payed out I got happier and happier in anticipation of the end of Texas Chimney and the end of a very full day of climbing. Then, a strange thing happened. I felt a strong tug on the rope, the left-most piece of protection popped out, the rope flipped off of the rock bulge that it was running around, and then I got a hard pull on the rope, followed by no movement. After a while, George's helmeted head poked around Texas Flake and he said "Hey! I just fell 30 feet and hit the ledge!" Or words to that effect.
I was stunned. My partner had fallen, and I had failed to arrest his fall. How could that happen?! Piecing the events together later, we figured that the amount of rope released by the piece that pulled plus the rope that was wrapped around the bulge must have been enough to allow George to fall to the ledge. The second hard pull on the rope must have come just before George hit bottom, absorbing some of the energy of his fall. Fortunately George was unhurt.
We were soooo lucky. George returned to our bivy site and I offered consolation, gratitude, and my best show of optimism.
As I prepare to lead the next pitch, the Spanish leader Cesar is already leading up the chimney. He does it all wrong, chimneying up the east side and with his back to the wall but rapidly moves up it with little trouble. My pitch seems to go slowly and I hear Steve being given a lesson in Spanish as I work my way up. The top of Boot Flake is a nice little ledge and I haul the pig and wait for Steve to join me.
Steve hauls the pig over and I keep the end of the haul line. Then I thread it through the anchors and Steve lowers me off. I clip my jumars into the lead line and swing over. Bill Wright's trick once again works perfectly.
Before we are ready for the next pitch Cesar is already at the belay. These Spaniards are way fast, maybe we should let them pass? I discuss the idea with Steve, and ask Cesar. But he responds that they do not want to pass, in fact they are thinking of going down! One of their party has injured his wrist in the swing into the Stovelegs.
Steve has been leading faster than me so I let Steve lead the next, long pitch while the Spaniards decide what to do. Eventually two of them decide to go down, and three continue behind us. The next pitch is very long, after 150' Steve reaches an anchor. From here he lowers off 30' and swings left to a good ledge, only possible because of our 60m lead line.
I jug the pitch and set up a rappel from the high anchor. We now have a good view of the Great Roof and a party of Japanese struggling in the wind above it (they left two days before us). We have become concerned about this party since they are moving so slowly.
I combined pitches 19 and 20 into one long slug-fest of mixed free and aid.
There was some thrilling free climbing on these pitches with good feet
and finger to thin-hands crack climbing. I was exhausted when the pitch ended
though and was quite happy to have a ledge to belay from. Meanwhile,
the Japanese were now just above us at the belay next to the Great Roof.
It was starting to look like we would catch up to them before the end
of the climb and have to pass or worse yet, wait in the slow lane.
I combined pitches 19 and 20 into one long slug-fest of mixed free and aid. There was some thrilling free climbing on these pitches with good feet and finger to thin-hands crack climbing. I was exhausted when the pitch ended though and was quite happy to have a ledge to belay from. Meanwhile, the Japanese were now just above us at the belay next to the Great Roof. It was starting to look like we would catch up to them before the end of the climb and have to pass or worse yet, wait in the slow lane.
Steve quickly re-racks and leads the pitch to Camp 4, supposedly 5.9 but it seems much harder as he moves from aid on a hangarless bolt to a blank slab. He also has a hard haul as this pitch traverses and is fairly low angle. I think it is around 4PM as we both reach Camp 4, which has some decent ledges but they are not very flat for sleeping.
It's 4 more pitches to Camp 5, too far to go today, even if the Japanese weren't blocking the way (they are still at the belay above the great roof, having slept here last night!). The 3 Spaniards arrive, and it becomes clear it will not be a comfortable night. Steve and I take the best ledge, about 5' square but sloping. By stacking ropes under us we are able to almost get comfortable, although our feet hang over the abyss. We tend to slide slowly off the ledge, and it is hard to relax the mind enough to sleep. The 3 Spaniards are cramped on an even smaller and more sloping ledge above, eventually we invite one of them to come join us.
"Non, horrible bivy esta mala tiempo bivy!"
Everyone laughed at this and we got on like good friends. Which was
good because we were crammed onto a ledge the size of a lumpy,
sloping desk for the night and I would only want to share such an
experience with friends.
We settled in for the night, sitting side by side, eventually leaning on
each other and somehow drifted off to slumber land. Yes, I did indeed
sleep and I know that George did too since I heard him snoring when I
woke to readjust positions.
"Non, horrible bivy esta mala tiempo bivy!"
Everyone laughed at this and we got on like good friends. Which was good because we were crammed onto a ledge the size of a lumpy, sloping desk for the night and I would only want to share such an experience with friends.
We settled in for the night, sitting side by side, eventually leaning on each other and somehow drifted off to slumber land. Yes, I did indeed sleep and I know that George did too since I heard him snoring when I woke to readjust positions.
The next lead goes free at 5.9, and according to Bill's trip report it really is 5.9. My fall the first day is still on my mind, though, and I pull on a couple of my pieces to get up this pitch quickly. The Spaniards are making a slow time of the Great Roof, it is because Cesar is not leading!! I have no idea why the super-fast leader is not first, but it is instead their petite woman leading. This is her first lead of the route.
I have considerable time to set up an equalized anchor. Good thing, too because it consists of a pin and 2 spinner quarter inch bolts, plus a gigantic flake which is the only thing I'd call bomber. Steve comes up and we have to wait a half hour for the Spaniards to vacate the belay.
Steve begins to lead the Great Roof pitch, this is a long pitch and there is not as much fixed gear as I had expected. Steve is about 20' up hanging off a fixed stopper and reaching for a pin when the stopper pulls. He has left nothing in below and is in for a 40' factor 2 screamer past the belay.
"Gee Whiz I'm glad my aider is clipped to my daisy chain", and
"Wow, no gear in. I've never taken a factor 2 fall before."
And I still haven't take a factor 2 fall because I hit the belay
and was stopped by a loop of rope. Much of the energy of my
fall was absorbed by the pig, and I swear I heard it squeal from
"Everything is fine captain, except for a minor twinge of pain in
the right knee."
"Resume course, warp 2. After the adrenaline rush subsides."
It was George's turn to offer consolation and optimism.
"Gee Whiz I'm glad my aider is clipped to my daisy chain", and "Wow, no gear in. I've never taken a factor 2 fall before."
And I still haven't take a factor 2 fall because I hit the belay and was stopped by a loop of rope. Much of the energy of my fall was absorbed by the pig, and I swear I heard it squeal from the impact.
"Everything is fine captain, except for a minor twinge of pain in the right knee."
"Resume course, warp 2. After the adrenaline rush subsides."
It was George's turn to offer consolation and optimism.
Soon Steve feels up to leading once more, this time much more conservatively, leaving lots of gear in. He is really running out of biners by the end of the pitch but by cannibalizing the rack he makes it. What a spectacular pitch!! I jug up the rope and then re-lead the traverse while Steve belays. The belay has got to be one of the most exposed on the climb.
Above the famous Pancake Flake pitch looms, mere 10a with 1500 feet of exposure below. With Steve's encouragement I manage to free the first 30' or so, but soon am in my aiders. The top of this pitch is very thin and is the first aid I have encountered which is a little tricky. Some exciting free moves end at a nice ledge and bolts. The Spanish have by now outpaced us and are already at the Glowering Spot. The Japanese are rumored to be just ahead of them.
Steve leads the next pitch, a horrible flared crack. When Bill did the Nose, it took the Loobster 2 hours to lead this in the dark and I can believe it. Steve takes less time in the light and eventually he runs out the upper part of the pitch past the tiers of Camp 5. It is already 3:30PM; we can likely get to Camp 6 but fear that the Spaniards and Japanese will be filling it. We decide the smart thing to do is to move on, but if Camp 6 is full we'll rap back down to Camp 5, leaving our ropes fixed.
The Japanese have been looming above us the whole day, psychologically even if we still can't see them. They started 2 days before us yet they are only just ahead. Passing another party appears very complicated, they may prevent us from getting off this climb tomorrow. Steve takes the next two leads to speed things up, also I am experiencing a lack of motivation. Below us we can hear a party of Norwegians who came from the Triple Direct, plus the mixed party of 3 we passed at Sickle Ledge. These crowds are really bumming me out. It seems wherever we spend the night it will be crowded.
Steve blasts up the Glowering spot pitch, and then leads another short aid pitch up an awkward flared slot. Here he speaks with the Spanish, who tell us Camp 6 is full. So we rap back down to Camp 5. Steve takes the uppermost spot and myself the best ledge of all, the one farthest west.
As we are eating dinner (my wife's zucchini bread) the Norwegian leader arrives, asking us if there is an anchor for their portaledge. There are 3 bolts just west of my ledge but I don't want them there as they will get all tangled in my ledge. Eventually they begin setting up their ledge hanging from a crack just east of me.
Steve jugs back up to his site after dinner and I settle down for a long night. The party of 3 soon shows up and they are none too happy. Because of ourselves and the Spaniards blocking the way they have spent their first night on Dolt Tower and their second only on El Cap Tower. Now they are stuck with the worst ledge on Camp 5. Repeatedly they ask me if there is room for another where I am. I reply that this ledge is 1 1/2 ensolite pads wide. Really there is no way for 2 people to lie down here, although it is a much better ledge than the one they have.
I feel badly for these guys but I really can't help them out. The only thing that would really help them would be to rotate sleeping on this ledge but this will involve coordinated rapping off and jugging up, and all our gear is strewn about this ledge (clipped in, of course, but still strewn). So despite my great ledge I have trouble sleeping.
Yawn. Whatta full day we had... The Great Roof, Pancake Flake, Glowering
Spot... yawn... lotta history there... Zzzzzzzz.
Yawn. Whatta full day we had... The Great Roof, Pancake Flake, Glowering Spot... yawn... lotta history there... Zzzzzzzz.
We quickly jug the lines to our high point. One more short pitch to Camp 6 remains, and I agree to lead it. It is a bizarre wandering pitch which goes free at only 5.8. First you go down and right about 30', then up and back left. When Bill led this he says he left only one piece of pro to make it easy to jumar but I wasn't able to duplicate this. I left in about 4 pieces which made it difficult for Steve to follow on jumars.
As I arrived at Camp 6 all I saw was the 3 Spaniards. "Donde esta Japan??" I asked. Turns out the Japanese had climbed all last night to get off, topping out at 4AM!! So our early start was not needed. But it did put the pressure off us from the lower parties, I'm sure as soon as they discovered how good my ledge was they would be cursing me!!
Camp 6 I think smells a lot better since the Nose clean up. They removed most of the garbage from the crack, and I was angry to see 5 new water bottles with Japanese writing stuffed into it. We were also the only party we saw with a poop tube, it seems there is no way to keep these popular climbs from getting trashed.
The pitch off Camp 6 is very long, and Steve did not need to rush it. I realized that this was the famed "Houdini" pitch, one of the two 5.13 cruxes on Lynn Hill's free ascent. We marveled at how she was able to free climb this overhanging dihedral.
The end of the pitch is a total hanging belay. We had done quite well keeping the ropes from getting snarled. The extra time taken to butterfly each rope and hang it off a runner always seemed well spent. The next pitch follows a perfect #1 Camalot crack around a corner, where it turns into a perfect 5.8 hand crack. But above here was a horrible sight - the death block was still there!!
Quang-Tuan Luong had thought that the flake was cleaned from the wall during the recent Nose cleanup, but clearly he was wrong. The next belay sits literally right under the hanging block, about the size of a piano and leaning off an old set of bleached slings. I resigned myself to my fate and took up residence under the guillotine.
Steve jugged up and then tried to figure out how to get past the block without weighting it. The geometry is such that if it goes it will fall right through the belay, with no hope for either of us. With Steve aiding the crack above the block, it was obvious the major hazard was him falling on the thing. This caused him much concern and made him climb very conservatively, an attitude I supported 200% considering my position. About 40' up there is another smaller loose block which requires further care.
It was hard for us to believe we were on the last pitch of the Nose, with all the uncertainty of the crowds and getting off in time, as well as the falls experienced by both of us. I had already agreed to let Steve lead this pitch; as he had taken the harder and scarier leads of the climb I felt he deserved it.
The last pitch is very easy, with the new 3/8" bolts on it Steve didn't even bother to leave draws on most of them. Despite what everyone says I actually heard him say off belay, and then I lowered out the sack. Then I followed the pitch on belay, hopping my aiders from bolt to bolt.
I struggled with the pig, stuck under a roof, and then we did one more short pitch to a tree where we could unrope and pack up. We felt tremendous relief, but we still needed to hurry as it was actually past 5PM and would be getting dark before too long.
Sept 21st. Steve is supposed to pick up his wife at the Oakland Airport today at 4PM so there's no time to waste. We pack up and walk down the Falls trail, which is technically closed due to a recent rockfall. But we're hoping to claim ignorance if caught. We reach the Valley bottom by 9AM but still have to hitchhike back to the car. I sort the rack while Steve hitchhikes, then we down a huge breakfast at the cafeteria, shower and then to El Cap meadows to pick up our first two fixed lines, which we left hanging off the first anchor so they wouldn't be stolen.
Another mob scene is apparent in the Stovelegs, however there are no fixed lines in place now except our own. We race out of the Valley by 1PM, certain not to make it to Oakland on time. We spent a whole week in Yosemite Valley and completed only one climb. Yes, but what a climb!
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