Well, there is quite a bit of catching up to do. I am back facing the daily grind of life, but will be posting about my time in the Valley. I was not sure what to expect, given all the uncertainty around my original objectives. There was disappointment and surprises (good and bad); but, overall, the trip was a wonderful and healing experience. Apologies in advance if the tenses are bit weird here and in the next few posts.
So, what do you do when your original NIAD partner backs out one week before your scheduled departure? You get back on the big stone anyway, the leisurely, older than old-school way. My friend, Clint, threw out Lurking Fear and Zodiac as alternatives to The Nose, in case it was too busy. The less slabby hauling on Zodiac sounded much more appealing; but the short approach to The Nose won out, and we at least went out to see if there was a line and see if we could fix lines to Sickle Ledge.
I find that even on slabby terrain, keeping just my right (good) foot in an aider works the best for me. My left foot/leg can be utilized more when it is allowed to stick out straight, and it is hard to keep that foot in step-aiders anyway. I do keep a ladder aider attached to me though, just in case
We decided not to pack the haul bag and haul to Sickle that evening, deciding to just crash and sleep on the ground instead and deal with things in the morning. This was a decision I would later regret.
The next morning started off, as usual, very leisurely. We took our time waking up and then dealing with packing the haul bag. Then we began the jug up the fixed lines to Sickle. I was curious to see how my stamina would be for non-stop jugging for quite a ways, as this would give me a better idea of how I might do jugging as fast as possible, continuously, in a NIAD attempt. To my pleasant surprise, I was not moving slowly or getting too tired too quickly.
And what does one do when they are done with their extra fixed line, which is not required for the rest of the route? Why, this of course.
The combination of our very leisurely start and some hauling misadventures (it took a very very long time to get our haul bag up to Sickle and beyond) led to an all night epic. Clearly, I am built for fast and light, not frigid multiple-hour, uncomfortable belays. I was struggling to keep it together in the dark and cold. Turning off my headlamp to conserve battery life just made me feel even more alone and cold. I was shivering uncontrollably at points and at one point teared up, as I do when I am very very cold. I knew I had to keep composed though and get myself, our bag and our gear to Dolt. Clint was a total chief, doing some long pitches in the dark and hauling.
As I was waiting at the hanging belays, I heard from faster parties that there was rain/thunderstorms in the forecast, which was why so many parties were trying to do their NIAD run that night/day. After napping on Dolt for a few hours, we made the decision to go down. It was not a difficult decision to make, given we had little in the way of rain gear, and climbing the route in wet, cold conditions, with lightning and thunder would have been ridiculous. The forecast did materialize and we did well to get off the route. Of course there was quite a bit of disappointment not being able to finish the route due to factors out of our control. But what can you do about weather? What would have been worse would have been to bail and then see sunny skies the rest of the time. Most importantly, we both got back to the ground safely.
Clint put the following two images together to show where along the route we reached and descended from.
I guess there were a lot of positives to this experience. It felt good to know that I am back in the big-wall game; that my modified jumaring technique works even on vertical non-overhanging terrain; my jumaring stamina and speed are good; confident/comfortable on lower outs (found that the Deucy worked fine); and I was not the limiting factor (well, I was pretty useless for the hauling – which was a bitch. Clint and I need to find a fat person as our counterweight or at least find someone a lot heavier than the two of us to do the hauling).
I extended by trip by two days in the hopes of a possible NIAD attempt the next weekend – partner and weather-dependent. I couldn’t believe there was so much wet and cold weather in the forecast. What the hell!
Getting back on El Cap has rekindled the flame and given me perspective for future trips; if NIAD does not work out this trip, I will try to come back in the Spring when there is more daylight. I would love to solo a big wall route, but think the hauling thing will be a deal-breaker for me.