We arrived in Yosemite valley rife with stoke from our brief introduction to aid climbing in Smith Rock. The first thing we did upon our arrival was rush straight to the base of El Capitan and climb one of the valley's most famous single-pitch climbs, Sacherer Cracker.
The next three days were spent honing our big wall techniques: aid climbing, hauling, and managing logistics as a team of three. After substantial practice, and careful analysis of our timing, the decision was made to commit to our first multi-day wall ascent, the West Face of Leaning Tower.
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
Our strategy for climbing in a team of three was to bring 4 ropes: one for hauling, two lead lines, and a 7mm tag-line for the leader to haul gear and ropes to the current high-point.
In contrast to our usual style, we had finished preparing according to our schedule, and Dave and I (Nick) managed to ferry our water (22 litres total) to the base of the climb and return to the van before dark. Soon after, all three of us huffed our gear and food up to the base of the route in a sticky evening heat. We reached our bivy just as darkness was falling.
Thursday, September 29th, 2016: Our first day on the wall
I found myself working through the aid crux of the route, which slowed my lead considerably. By the time I reached Awahnee ledge, our bivy for the night, and Dave and Daniel followed with the haul bags, we had spent 5 hours on the wall.
Thanks to our early start (9 AM when Daniel began), it was 2 PM, and we had everything organized for the night. To make use of the remaining daylight, Daniel and Dave set off to fix ropes up the next two pitches while I unpacked the haul bag for supper and set up our sleeping things.
We hunkered down at 8 PM, exhausted from the day's exertions, and slightly deflated from the unanticipated long day. Our supper wraps were tart due to the raw red cabbage, but at least the doughnut holes went down easily. We did manage to refresh ourselves with plentiful water, and slept comfortably on our ledges (Awahnee + the port-a-ledge) under the stars. The sleeping arrangements were unusually plush because we had brought our port-a-ledge along for practice (which is as comfortable as a taught hammock for two), leaving Dave with a natural ledge wide enough for three people to sleep on all to himself.
Friday, September 30th, 2016
I found my efforts jugging the fixed lines were immediately rewarded by the climbing on the next pitch. The leaning tower is STEEP and my pitch was the most overhanging on the whole route. I blazed up to a large roof, and soon found myself dangling from ancient pitons and tipped-out micro cams, staring 800 feet down to the forest below. I heaved myself onto a broad sloping ledge, and just like that, we were just one pitch away from the summit!
Another three hours passed, and finally we stood atop the Leaning Tower. Dave had taken the final pitch, and gracefully free-climbed/aided past a tricky roof to the final belay.
It was now 4:18 PM, and we had to negotiate a tricky rappel route to return to Wesley.
The descent was strenuous, but the path was obvious. There were 8 rappels through a chimney system and a gully. Dave carried the 50-pound haul bag, off-centered on his back. Daniel carried the rack of gear and the awkwardly shaped portaledge. I was left with all of the extras: three bags, three ropes, and the waste case. We arrived back at the base of the tower just as evening fell.
Despite starting the day with only two pitches to lead before the summit, we didn't make it back to the van until 8:30 PM. It was a successful first big wall climbing experience for us, but perhaps, expectedly, everything took MUCH longer than we had initially thought.
The West Face was a perfect learning experience for us. The overhanging angle of the tower made for exhilarating yet safe aid climbing experiences. Next big wall, I think we'll shoot for a little more free climbing.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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