The world: vast and small

What are the chances that on your Boston to Frankfurt flight (en route to Paris to meet Person A):

  1. You decide to try checking in online for an air carrier you do not typically fly on
  2. You decide to change your seat
  3. You decide to fashion a sling and carabiner to hold your travel pillow to the exterior of your backpack
  4. Airplane neighbour (Person B) asks if you are a climber, because the coloured tape I have on my carabiner is likely indicative of someone who actually climbs
  5. Person B lives in Australia and is traveling to Frankfurt for work
  6. You tell Person B of your upcoming travel plans to climb near Marseilles with a friend who you were just ice-climbing with in Chamonix
  7. Person B asks, Wait, do you know Person A?
  8. Turns out Person B knows Person A from when they were both living in NYC and had climbed with him then

Yes, the world is both vast and small. It is quite wondrous.

Aiguille du Midi and sense of history

aiguille-de-blaitiere-to-aiguille-du-midi

Aiguille du Midi on the far right

The weather on my last morning in Chamonix was clear, so we decided to take the cable car (Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi) from Chamonix up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. Since the cable car ride is expensive (around €60!), there is no point in paying this sum of money for a day with poor visibility.

We had originally floated the idea of taking the cable car up to ice-climb a route, Chèré, and then take the last cable car back down. However, the time of year was not ideal for this; the refuge where we could have stayed overnight was closed meaning we would have to carry a lot more stuff like sleeping bags, stove etc.; so it was not certain whether I would be able to climb fast enough to make the last cable car down. Hopefully we can get on this route a little later in a future season. The concept of huts is foreign to me, as I am  used to packing everything in/out and camping when skiing/hiking in the backcountry.

The Aig. du Midi is a striking feature certainly, but like a lot of the geography of Chamonix, I was most excited about just getting to be so close to the history of it and its surrounding peaks. This sense of history was a dominant feeling I felt while in these mountains. The closest thing I have felt to this is climbing classic, hard routes that Yosemite greats first put up. Except here, I was not climbing these routes, so it was not quite the same emotion. I have never seen peaks/routes as things to be conquered; but, rather, the process being a personal test; and, hopefully, a fun and rewarding time with a partner. I used to be much more of a loner in the mountains, happy to take off into the backcountry skiing/climbing/hiking by myself. That has changed given my disability, but also as I have gotten older and soon after my accident, I realized one of the most fulfilling aspects of climbing/skiing is sharing the experience with a good friend/partner.

teleriphique-base-station

Base station of the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi

The cable car ascends from the base (1,035m) to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2,317m); then a second span up to the upper station (3,777m) vertical distance of over 2,700m! The second span is particularly cool, as the opposite side of the triangle you can imagine, is larger than the adjacent side of the triangle (remember your geometry lessons? 23+ years later, I still remember my SOH CAH TOA :))) Passengers wanting to get to the top need to disembark from the cable car at the mid-station and get on another cable car.

view-up-from-plan-de-laiguille-midstation

View from the platform of the mid-station

While the Aig. du Midi is not one of the six great north faces of the Alps, the imposing north face always elicits a slight shudder in me.

img_2779

The imposing north face

Unlike the rest of my time in Chamonix, the temperatures at the top were quite low, and the wind high, meaning not much time was spent outside taking pictures. I was able to see many storied peaks, like the Grandes Jorasses, and the Grand Capucin.

view-from-top-pano

Panoramic view from the upper station. The Grandes Jorasses are in the distance; Pyramide du Tacul, and the Grand Capucin sit behind the Glacier du Géant in the foreground. We had just been on the other side of the Grandes Jorasses ice-climbing

I hope to ski down from the Aig. du Midi in the not too distant future.

Skiers making their way down the Aig. du Midi ridge

Skiers making their way down the Aig. du Midi ridge

wendy-mt-blanc-du-tacul-mt-blanc-in-background

Grand Capucin on the far left. Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc in distance.

While we were standing comfortably warm inside the enclosed upper station walkway, we saw a helicopter rescue taking place on the Glacier du Géant.

helicopter-rescue-bassin-du-geant

Helicopter rescue on the glacier

chamonix-mont-blanc-valley-from-above

View of Chamonix-Mont Blanc on the cable car ride down

Given this sense of history I experienced, I really enjoyed visiting the Maison de la Montagne, which also houses the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix (founded in 1821), and the small Espace Tairraz museum in Chamonix.

maison-de-la-montagne

Climbers/skiers can get information on the latest conditions on route through messages left by other climbers/skiers in these message books in the office.

maison-de-la-montagne_sign-in-books

maison-de-la-montagne_3d-relief-of-chamonix-mtns_1

A to-scale 3-D model of the Mont Blanc massif inside the Maison de Montagne

While the Espace Tairraz is small, I really enjoyed our visit, specifically because of the interactive displays of the five great peaks of the Alps: Les Drus, Grandes Jorasses, Eiger, Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn.

espace-tairraz-interactive-displays-5-peaks-pano

The exhibition hall with the interactive displays

At each of these displays, you can use your fingers to rotate the displays in every direction, and reveal various routes up these peaks.

dru-directe-americaine-interactive-display

The Directe Americaine route put up by Gary Hemming and Royal Robbins

The interactive display for the Grandes Jorasses

The interactive display for the Grandes Jorasses

I am not sure if a non-climber would have been as interested as I was in this space, but I thought it was well worth the less than €5 as a rest-day diversion.

An amazing end to a rock season that should not have been

As usual, I am writing about a previous trip/experience as I am preparing for the next one…

I could not have asked for a better route or partner to put a cap on a rock season that really was not supposed to happen. To go from this summer’s near-death sepsis, stays in and out of the hospital due to SCI-related issues, and on-going health stuff all throughout the Fall, to climbing Cloud Tower (5.11d/12a) last Tuesday was truly amazing. The route is described as “[o]ne of the best long free climbs of its grade in the country…If you climb at this level, you will not have lead [sic] a full life without experiencing The Cloud Tower!” (Source: Mountain Project which, like all things on the internet, is the truth). Now Eben and I can say we have led a full life :)

The two long starting 5.8 pitches of Cloud Tower are a good way to get warmed up. They were not trivial in the cold though. I know I certainly was shivering a great deal and having difficulty feeling my fingers, due to the low temperatures and north-facing aspect of the climb.

The start of Cloud Tower.

Eben getting us off to the right start on Cloud Tower.

The third pitch consists of a perfect hand-sized crack, which I really wish was much much longer.

Eben following on pitch 3, the perfect hands pitch.

Eben following on pitch 3, the perfect hands pitch.

The crux pitch is 11d sustained tips. It was quite hard!

That manky quarter inch bolt was very reassuring...:-/

That manky quarter inch bolt was very reassuring…:-/

What makes the route great is not a single pitch, but the combination of the pitches; the route really has it all. Some nice easy pitches to wake you up, perfect hands, sustained tips, wider hands/fist/off-fist (my nemesis), a cool chimney and tunnel through into a whole other world, and then a killer final pitch. The contrast between the dark, lichen covered north facing wall to a face that looks straight out of Indian creek was very striking.

The cool tunnel through in pitch 6. People much larger than myself would have some difficulty fitting through.

The cool tunnel through in pitch 6. People much larger than myself would have some difficulty fitting through.

When you emerge from the tunnel through, you are greeted with this view and pitch. Magical.

view-from-cloud-tower-p7

View from the small ledge at the bottom of the final pitch 7.

The other side of the tunnel through. Magical.

Looking up at the final pitch.

And, of course, an obligatory selfie at the top of the route. Can you tell how stoked Eben is even after our beat down? I didn’t think so. The flash on the camera must have been on because it was close to dark by then.

cloud-tower-ebenwendy-selfie-at-top

We could have done without all the ropes getting stuck on the way down, and frigid north facing climbing. If someone could just rotate the canyon 90 degrees, and make sure the weather on all my climbing trips is warm, that would be greeeeaaat (Bill Lumbergh Office Space voice).

Sure, there have been the epics pre-accident, but the combination of the taxing approach on my post-accident body, the hard crux pitches, the rather crappy rope-eating descent and reverse approach, made it one of the most challenging and rewarding climbing experiences I have had. The approach is supposed to take a little over an hour…it took me 1 hr 40 min (there was a little bit of wandering around but not much), and the reverse approach was not much easier because of the loose, sandy shit I struggle on. I know for most people that is not a very long approach, but for me it was. Eben was a total chief for carrying the entire, sizable rack, leading the crux pitch, and navigating us back to the car in the dark.

I was able to make my flight out of Las Vegas that evening and not have to wear the same climbing clothing for the plane ride back to Boston. I was pretty wrecked from the long day but it was totally worth all the aches and pain, because doing Cloud Tower was a big deal to me. Knowing that I have it in me to get to the base of and do routes like this – decently long approach and pretty hard grade – makes me excited about the future possibilities I previously thought were now closed.

I am flying to Hong Kong tomorrow to spend about ten days with family. I always have a great deal of anxiety about the long flight (~20 hours). The long periods of sitting and confined space wreak havoc on my back and neuropathy in the left leg, so I am really hoping the pain can be managed all right in Hong Kong (and back here when I return).

A “true” RR day!

Hello Red Rocks, it has been a long time; nearly a decade. Wow, that makes me feel a bit old.

A normal, glorious sunset at Red Rocks

A normal, glorious sunset at Red Rocks

Saturday was spent cragging and sport-climbing. I am definitely not a sport-climber. Because of the fear of crowds, we started in a cold, sandy, slopy area which really did not get me excited about Red Rocks. We finished the day on more classic Red Rocks climbing, plated face, which got me more psyched about the rock here.

Sunday was my first “true” RR day. Even though we had to bail from near the top of our route, I had such a fun time. I had concerns that I might be very slow on the approach to Black Velvet Canyon, but we made good time, which surprised me. It made me feel very grateful to have a functioning, strong right leg, and motivates me to continue to keep it very strong.

Black Velvet Canyon as seen from the approach.

Black Velvet Canyon as seen from the approach.

The approach follows a wash into the canyon. The boulders are actually helpful because I can use my hands, versus just a slope or steps. The picture below gives you an idea of the approach into Black Velvet Canyon.

The wash into the canyon. You can see Las Vegas in the distance.

View from higher up on the climb. The wash into the canyon. You can see Las Vegas in the distance.

Since this was our first outing together, Eben and I decided to run up Sour Mash, which we made very short work of until p6. It had been spitting rain on and off before that, but then the real downpour started as I was about to blast off on the crux pitch of the route.

Looking up at Black Velvet Wall

Looking up at Black Velvet Wall. The blue skies did not last.

I made it about half way in the rain and hail before we decided that we needed to bail. On the one hand, climbing in rain and hail can feel pretty good in that un-fun/fun way, but the wall really became a wet sheet, and it just was really not happening.

The crux pitch was a glassy sheet. I got about halfway before the rain and hail got to be too much.

The crux pitch was a glassy sheet. I got about halfway before the rain and hail got to be too much.

You can tell how much fun we had by how much we are smiling even when we had to bail.

Selfie at the belay which I lowered down to for the bail.

Selfie at the belay which I lowered down to for the bail.

An easy route like Sour Mash reinforces what I know already, and that is often times, the most enjoyable kind of climbing for me is just being able to run up long free routes and get high up, fast, with a great, safe, competent partner. Even lazy ass, just-say-no-to-long-approaches me is willing to put the work in to get to these kinds of routes.

The plan is to get on Cloud Tower (5.11d) before I depart. The route looks like it has it all – from 11d sustained tips, perfect hands, to the wide. The hike in to Juniper Creek Canyon is significantly longer than the one into Black Velvet so I am slightly anxious about that. But to be back on hard crack is so exciting!

Final pics from City of Rocks

Well, we left the City of Rocks after climbing on Saturday, before the rain and snow arrived. I keep thinking of calling it the Shire of Rocks, or the hamlet of Rocks…but that probably does not capture people’s imaginations as much.

The forecast was for a brisk, sunny day. Instead, we got something more poetic.

The weather and sky makes the Bloody Fingers corridor formations look like guarding sentinels

The weather and sky makes the Bloody Fingers corridor formations look like guarding sentinels

It was nice to experience and see the progress I had made from my arrival to departure. My first leads of the trip were shaky and hesitant due to being out of the game for so long. By Saturday, I was feeling like my old self.

animal-cracker

Sweet off-width higher up on Animal Cracker

I miss this quality, dry rock already.

bloody-fingers-2

Sarah cleaning after my lead of Bloody Fingers

This was my first experience even setting foot in an RV, let alone living in one, and it has many advantages. I have to admit though, after ten days of RV life, I am very pleased to be back sleeping in a proper bed and having daily showers. And while there is always that dirtbag climber bit of me, I like “culture” and urban amenities too. I really do need it all, which is a really useful piece of information to have as I continue to think about next steps, but a slightly inconvenient truth as well.

City of Rocks, Idaho (mainly)

What do you two days after being discharged from the hospital, after two ER visits and admission for SCI-related problems? Why, fly to Salt Lake City to climb with a friend you have not climbed with in over six years (just before my accident), of course.

While I was eager to go to Indian Creek, my friend was eager to stay closer to Salt Lake City, and climb at the City of Rocks near Almo, Idaho, a few hours away.

Window into the City of Rocks

Window into the City of Rocks

Two climber chicks in this RV

Two climber chicks in this RV

This trip really was my first time climbing outside and leading this “season”, due to all the health setbacks I experienced this year. It took me a pitch or two to dust off my trad lead cobwebs, and I was also winded on approaches from the hospital stays and elevation change. However, I was soon back in the game.

While climbing routes that you are comfortable with is a lot of fun, it is also quite satisfying to climb routes that do not play to my strengths. For example, the route below requires stemming, which is a challenge for me as exerting outward pressure on the left leg/foot is difficult. So to climb such a route in good style feels pretty good.

Stemming action

Stemming action

Goofy selfie

Goofy selfie

Cruising up another City of Rocks classic

Cruising up another City of Rocks classic

It has been interesting, roping up with a friend I had not climbed with since a week before my big climbing accident. I wondered how she would feel; sadness for how I/we “used” to climb, or happiness that I was even climbing at all. Fortunately, it seems like my disability has not affected our climbing at all, except for Sarah carrying the heavy rope and more gear in her pack (she is an ox).

sunrise

Impending bad weather makes for cool sunrises

Happy.

Happy

We are taking a rest day in Almo, ID due to rain (and, in my case, torn up finger tips) before spending one last day at the City of Rocks tomorrow. It is always great to check out new climbing areas, and I am already looking forward to seeing where I will go for some winter rock climbing. As usual, there is a tension between rock climbing, ice-climbing, and skiing; we will have to see what Mother Nature brings us this year.

Accident Anniversary losing its significance

While the significance of my accident has not diminished with the passing years, it seems marking the day itself, October 16, becomes less and less important. What is important is acknowledging all the strangers, friends, and family who have supported me the last six years. I am filled with love and gratitude; co-existing with many many other mixed emotions.

It is good to process and re-contextualize life-altering, demarcating days. A friend put it well when she explained why she no longer marked the day her best friend died:

“When I was in 5th grade one of my best friends died. There was before April 8th, and every April 8th afterwards for a long time, until it became less important to mark that day not because I missed her less or that day didn’t wake me up to mortality or how rotten people can be around things like death, but because I remember her and think about mortality and in different ways now and I’m glad that date has shifted for me.”

In my mind, there is still a bit of a “Before Accident” and “After Accident” divide. But this divider, even barrier, has blurred and become to come down over the years. That being said, my plan of climbing that day was thwarted with two Emergency Room visits and a hospital admission (again). Even a nurse recognized me during a procedure I had to undergo, because of the renal failure/septic shock episode from the summer! It really is not good to be memorable to hospital staff in that way! I joked with the nurse that we needed to stop meeting each other in this manner.

The cause for my distress were abdominal complications due to my Spinal Cord Injury.  After an overnight stay of highly uncomfortable proportions, it was fortunate to learn that there was nothing more serious. However, I have to be more vigilant about managing another issue, which is a bit depressing. I was completely drained from this hospital experience, and unsure whether I would have recuperated enough to go on a climbing trip just a few days later. I am certainly not fully recovered but fuck it, I am going anyway!! So I am writing to you on a plane en route to Salt Lake City.

While I had really wanted to go to Indian Creek, my friend injured her finger. Thus, we will likely be climbing in Idaho and around Salt Lake City. The last time I climbed with this friend was in Yosemite, one week before my accident.

I think this trip will recharge me in a much needed way, even if we are not climbing the most difficult routes. Just being outside with good company is enough for me right now.

 

Yosemite 2015 – Part 3 (the best part!)

Five days short of five years ago, my life intersected unexpectedly with Christopher Williams. Christopher, along with his partner, were the first people to reach me when I fell (200 ft according to Chris!) and were part of the rescue effort with a handful of other climbers. No words were exchanged and Chris later said he had no idea how I was going to live beyond our first meeting.

This past weekend, we finally had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. I felt so grateful to finally be able to thank Chris in person and to give him a very long and very emotional hug. We were both crying. Not only were we able to meet officially, but we got to rope up and climb together. We decided to climb in Tuolumne to escape the heat of the Valley. As we waited for temperatures to warm up, we picked American Wet Dream as our first climb together, due to the all-day sun exposure it receives.

This was a poignant choice for a climb as this had been the last Tuolumne route I had climbed before my accident.

12108104_10153697704881602_5726730295149695080_n

Getting into the .10 tips sections

12112471_10153697704936602_771286901251633147_n

More .10 corner trickery

IMG_1305

Chris getting started on his crux pitch.

IMG_1310

Praying at the altar of Cathedral Peak in the background.

12112471_10153697704861602_4486016943351733084_n

Chris’ leash to me. I hate down-climbing 5th class terrain un-roped, so I ask to be tied in. Tenaya Lake is in the background.

I still feel a bit bad that our choice of climbs was limited by the length/kind of approaches. So what do two climbers – one who dislikes slab climbing and one who used to like slab but can’t trust one of her feet/legs now – do? Find some runout slab climbing. We headed to Pywiak Dome, where both of us (especially me) were pushed out of our comfort zone.

12115775_10153697703841602_6274902365236876511_n

Zero gear, zero bolts to the anchors, ~135 ft above. First pitch, so a fall would have been a ground fall, and Chris was not anchored. Chris’ expression says it all. I was very very glad to reach the anchors.

It was interesting to see what kinds of techniques I employed to compensate for my left foot. Aside from the usual crimping on tiny flakes and crystals (there were not many at all), I found myself palming up a lot with my hands to create space to move my right leg, and just be on my palms momentarily while I moved my right leg up. Being on just your palms on near vertical, featureless, steep slab is pretty spicy (i.e. scary). As Chris says, [my] climbing is really bold!

12108292_10153697704276602_9043633245740600912_n

On one of my .10 runout slab pitches. I would trend upwards and right because of my good right leg, only to find that the bolts were way to the left and I would need to do something desperate to get over to that left side.

I was not at all pleased when I saw how far the anchors were away from the last bolt on this pitch. They were a good 20+ ft above the bolt. Well, what could I do except keep my concentration and focus and make my slowly and deliberately to the anchors?

After a dicey first half of that section, the last ten feet or so eased up. I found myself right at the anchors, but not clipped into them yet. Suddenly my left foot blew and I found myself tumbling 40+ feet, scraping down the sharp rock, inverted and not really knowing what to do except wait for Chris’ catch. Fortunately, because it was very cold and we were climbing in the shade, my long pants, baselayers and jacket protected me a bit and prevented me from looking like an even bigger piece of scar tissue than I already do. My hands were pretty trashed though, and one week later, they are still healing. Typing and using a mouse have been a bit painful.

I was quite proud that even after such a long and disorienting fall, I decided I wanted to finish off the pitch, despite Chris’ offers to do so. I knew I would not be happy if I did not. I hung out at that bolt for a bit, gingerly tested out my feet and still not feeling like I could trust them. But I went for it anyway, and once I got within reach of the anchor chains, I grabbed them immediately! I/we were safe.

12140647_10153697704411602_6255089623510473217_n

Climbing back up to the last bolt before the anchors, after my 40 foot fall. “I’m okay” :-/

While NIAD did not happen on this trip, I think in some way, I got to do some even more rewarding things. As many climbers, especially trad climbers I believe, will tell you, one of the most valuable and rewarding things a climber gets out of climbing are the inter-personal relationships formed. Meeting and climbing with Chris was such a wonderful and unexpected gift, and I know I can always call him a friend. Life isn’t a fairy-tale, and we move in and out of different trials throughout our life. I am thankful that I was able to meet Chris on the other side of a particularly traumatic episode of my life. He insists that things will only get better. I hope so.

12140814_10153697703821602_1500235222464029440_n

This picture makes me simultaneously tear up and happy.

Yosemite 2015 – Part 2

After our Nose bail, I rested for a day or two before getting my free-climbing on. My first warm up climb was Superslide, still one of my favourite easy climbs, years after doing it as one of my first Valley leads.

photo 2

(Photo: Michael Wolf)

 

photo 3

The easiest way to look like a little kid is to do things that make you happy and fulfilled (Photo: Michael Wolf)

Later, I was pleased to lead my first Valley 10c routes since my accident. The routes/grades in themselves are not noteworthy; but what is, is the kind of climbs these were i.e. climbs that target all my physical deficits. They were super thin (could get my first finger tip of two fingers in) right leaning lie backs, left-ward climb (my left leg is the one that doesn’t cooperate); they were run-out (because I did not have the right sized gear); hanging off just two right finger tips as my left foot dangled and I cut my right foot out of the crack to inch it up. It felt like a non-trivial milestone (or at least a small road-sign).

I later partnered up with Michael, a buddy I had not climbed with in over 7 years. I wondered how he would feel climbing with me and seeing me move slowly on approaches and descents. I asked him about this; did he feel sadness in seeing me not be able to do some of the things I used to be able to do? Or was he just psyched to see me outside and climbing, especially since the last time he had seen me was when he visited me in my temporary apartment near the facility I did my acute in-patient rehab in, shuffling around slowly using crutches, when I was not using my wheelchair. He confirmed it was the latter, especially since I climb harder than him on vertical terrain and get the hard(er) pitches. It seemed like a fair enough trade, since he carried the rope and most of the rack on our approaches.

We hopped on routes I had not done in years, such as Commitment to Selaginella, and Kor-beck. I remember waltzing up Commitment in my early year climbing. The crux roof move, which I led, was a bit more daunting this time round. Liebacks just aren’t my forte any more, because I can’t exert much pressure with my leg or walk my left leg up. I led it clean, but it certainly wasn’t as easy-peasy as before.

Roofs are always a little discombobulating (Photo: Michael Wolf)

12079889_10153716795156388_2497437986273104492_o

Not a bad view from a belay spot.

We decided to head over to the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral on our last climbing day together, hoping that the shade would provide a respite from the heat. I led the 10a variation to Kor-beck, which was quite spicy! It is a left trending series of moves, and at one point, I had to commit to just one hand/pull-up to bring my right leg around the corner. Again, I was pleased to have led those harder pitches clean. Kor-beck is a fun route, in that stout, wide, kinda awkward Valley kinda way.

12112186_10153720829611388_5930204964703183478_n

Michael following the .10 variation pitch to Kor-beck.

Belaying Mike on Kor-beck (Photo: Michael Wolf)

Belaying Mike on Kor-beck. Not sure if I have enough clothing dangling off my harness or not (Photo: Michael Wolf)

It was nice to get a bit of objective feedback that I could climb some non-trivial (in terms of difficulty) classics that I had climbed before my accident. And, again, it was nice to know that I am not the weakest link in a climbing partnership. I feel like, if anything, my experience and emphasis on being a safe and competent climbing partner, makes me a better climbing partner than before.

Yosemite 2015 – Part 1

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.

IMG_1963

Since my plans were unclear, I ended up bringing a lot of my free and aid-climbing gear. It is hard to tell, but the rolling bag is twice the capacity of the gear bag on my back.

IMG_1962

I am carrying ~125 lbs worth of gear (and I weigh 105 lbs on a good day). So, yes, it was a bit of a circus lugging these bags around airports and rental car terminals.

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.

IMG_1251

An old friend.

Older than old school.

IMG_1248

Clint starting up. The weather was unseasonably cool and the sky became less blue as the day went on.

DSCF1149

Lots of lower-outs on the route.

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

DSCF1146

(Photo: Clint Cummins)

 

DSCF1164_adj

We got to Sickle just as the sun was setting (Photo: Clint Cummins)

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.

DSCF1167

Moving from one fixed line to another (Photo: Clint)

 

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.

DSCF1173

Guess which one is Clint’s (our) haul bag? This was the first time I was introduced to the concept of a haul bag condom (Photo: Clint)

DSCF1175

More lower outs (Photo: Clint)

DSCF1177

The lighting in the photo is deceptive. The fact that my headlamp is poised on my helmet, is not. (Photo: Clint)

 

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.

POV_2743R

Nose_to_Dolt_ov

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.