This year I turned up in Yosemite and for the first time I had no plans and no partner. In some ways this is nice because it means I get to try all the random routes that I want to do but aren’t big goals. Doing the PreMuir last year was one of the best climbing experiences I’ve ever had but it was also one of the hardest, and unlike Mr Caff (who rested a day and then went straight back up El Cap) I’m a mere mortal and didn’t really feel like doing anything after the 5 days we spent up on the wall. So this year I wanted to just try a few things, do some of the ‘easier’ free routes in Yosemite, that sort of thing. An obvious partner was James Lucas, who roams around the valley most of the year living in his ‘saturn’ car adorned with a lightning bolt.
James was keen to go up on Freerider and I said I could be his partner. We didn’t really feel like hauling (can you blame us) and since James has worked the route from the top a lot anyway, we spent a day abseiling down the whole of El Cap in order to stash a bag in the Alcove, which is about half way up. Hauling may be hard, but there is no easy way around the fact that you have to get all your food, water, sleeping and pooing supplies up the wall with you and abbing El Cap is no exception. It’s long, it’s scary and it’s hard work, pulling the ropes 20 plus times, terrified that it’ll get stuck and you’ll be sleeping on the Salathe headwall. But when it came to us climbing it – we didn’t do any hauling, which was really nice. The first day we woke at 4.30 and climbed the 13 pitches to the Alcove where our bags were. This meant doing 12 pitches before embarking on the Monster offwidth, which didn’t feel any easier 2 years on and left James and I feeling like we’d been chewed up and spat out the next morning.
Day two was the important day – the crux. We wanted to make sure we climbed the boulder problem in the shade, which meant waking up at 3.30. The boulder problem is an amazing piece of rock, with some funky moves. There are about 12 or so real moves and it culminates with a cool karate kick to a sidewall off a sloping pinch. I got it after a few tries and James got really close, falling at the sloper. Soon it was too hot to try any more so we escaped the death star and abbed to the shade of the Alcove.
Day three was to be a long day. We woke at 4 again and climbed from the Alcove to the top and then rapped the whole route. The thing with Freerider is that if you can do the Boulder problem the pitches aren’t that hard, not compared to The PreMuir or even the Move pitch on Golden Gate (if you’re small), but there are a lot of pitches and they’re all so burley. Perhaps I’m just weak at that type of climbing, but fist jamming, offwidths, chimneys, steep laybacking, all that stuff, it make be graded 5.10 but it’s fierce and my body still feels them 2 days on!
Having freed three lines on El Cap now, with Freerider supposedly the easiest, I have to say that there really isn’t an easy way of freeing El Cap, and it’s a real achievement to even get up it at all. I also think that after a month in South Africa climbing with Alex, I was probably in need of a rest, not three days on El Cap. But rest isn’t as fun as monkeying about on boulder problems and swinging around on ropes thousands of feet above the valley. I always love it up on the wall; for me El Cap feels like a natural phenomenon and it never gets boring being up there.
Yesterday I did the Nose in a day with none other but Hans Florine! I was worried about getting lost, but he assured me that after 97 (!!!) times up we’d be OK. We did it in 12 hours with no jumars (Han’s first no-jumar ascent), and no simul-climbing, which I don’t think is too bad, but we may have broken the record for Han’s slowest time!
This week I’ve been up and down El Cap 3 times, and I’m pretty tired. The problem with Yosemite is that it’s impossible to be down in the valley, hanging out with the other tourists who are just looking at the walls, knowing that you could be climbing up them instead. Although things are getting wintery here in the valley and I’m not sure I have another El Cap mission in me. We’ll see!