Another mauzy evening in St. John's. It's only 6:30pm, but the sun has already set. I (Nick) am sitting in front of my laptop at our kitchen table, hunched over a sprawling pile of notes, staring through glazed eyes at slide 44/112 in a lecture titled "Nineteenth Century Foundations of Experimental Psychology." After 45 minutes of studying, my pace has ground to a halt. I absentmindedly open a new tab in my browser and type "yosemite mountain project" into google.
Daniel, Erik, and I have been planning a climbing road trip for over two months now. The three of us have a spreadsheet titled "Big Trip 2016: Finances," and Erik started a slideshow where we can lay out a vague plan for the route, and the places we will visit. I open this slideshow in another new tab. There are 7 slides, but only 4 of them have content; its just a skeleton. Slide 3/7, "Yosemite," is the only one with an image.
Back on mountainproject.com, I search for "El Capitan," and immediately start browsing through world-famous routes. Although all are renowned in their own right, two climbs in particular stand out: "The Nose," and "The Salathe Wall." I open the page for The Salathe Wall, and feel my vitality returning immediately.
Not being one to follow hype, my interest naturally gravitated towards the longer, more challenging, and naturally protected Salathe Wall.
Within a month, Daniel, Erik, and I placed an order for a haul bag and a port-a-ledge.
Christmas Break, 2015
Erik is back in NL, visiting from Texas. He has once again brought along his infectious hype, and gathered Daniel and I around the soft glow of a TV in Daniel's basement. A movie title appears on the screen "Meru." Over the next 90 minutes, we stare in awe of Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin, watching them pull off the most badass big wall climbing ascent of all time. That weekend, Daniel and I headed off on a frigid winter evening for a camping trip/rope training mission, our heads filled with images of suffering and triumph in the unforgiving Himilaya.
For almost 6 months Daniel and I have been implementing big wall training sessions such as the one described above into our regular schedule. I had my first introduction to hauling heavy bags at Wallnuts with Terry, where he used himself as a counter-weight, and taught me how to hoist him up the 23 foot high walls.
Daniel and I regularly crowd out the lead walls in the gym by doing laps of tediously slow aid climbing on the fixed quickdraws. This week, Daniel and I have plans to hike along the East Coast Trail with weighted down packs (stuffed with my lead diving weights) to prepare ourselves for long approaches. I send Daniel a text suggesting that we pack some ropes and our harnesses to practice rope ascending after the hike.
"Of course" he replies.
Mid September, 2016
September 25th, 2016
September through October, 2016
Initially, we had planned to climb The Salathe Wall just four days after finishing the tower, but luckily we had the sense to postpone... We definitely weren't ready for success on El Capitan.
The rest of October provided many distractions from our training. My girlfriend Megan and our friend Axel came to visit us for a week, and afterwards we traveled South to Monterey for a few days to visit my undergraduate supervisor, Dr. Gagnon.
The Salathe Wall is somewhat unusual logistically compared to other El Cap routes. The first 1/3 of the climb, "The Free Blast" is a popular slab multi-pitch and a terrible scenario for hauling. As such, the recommended procedure is to climb the Free Blast on day one, then start off on the rest of the route from the Heart Ledges on day two.
As beginners, it is not ideal to tackle big walls in a team of three. It presents many logistical challenges, and is immensely frustrating when all three team members are lined up like Newton's cradle at a hanging belay. Nevertheless, we are three Choss Boys, and we had to accept the challenge of finding a system for a party of three. We will publish a separate technical article on this system, but in a nutshell, it opened up the opportunity to always have one person leading, while the two other team members haul and clean the previous pitch.
This "block system" meant that one of us would tackle several pitches in a row, leading the party for up to 400 feet at a time.
October 29th, 2016
The steady drumming of rain on the van creates a tense atmosphere within. Daniel, David, and I sit around our little table laden with supper scraps, discussing who will lead which pitches. Our most experienced wide crack climber, Dave, is to champion the Hollow Flake, the first intimidating pitch on the route. His 400-foot block will bring us to the base of The Ear. The Ear is as notorious as the Hollow Flake, known for being a heinous overhanging squeeze chimney. I can't resist the allure of such a pitch, and pipe in expressing my desire to lead the next block. Daniel doesn't seem to have any preference because he knows that every pitch on The Salathe is iconic and memorable. We continue on in this way until we arrive at the plan depicted in the topo above.
Talk then turns to the bivies. We will sleep on the iconic El Cap Spire on the first night without question, but after that we don't know. Long Ledge is the next obvious bivy, but the climbing between El Cap Spire and Long Ledge might be too much for us to finish in a day. An alternative strategy is to only go as far as The Block (just three pitches above the spire), but then we may not be able to reach the top the day after. We would need to spend another day on the wall, which means more food and water, heavier haul bags, and the added weight will slow us down... bleh. We finally resolve that we will try to push it from El Cap Spire to Long Ledge. Even if we can't make it, we can stop wherever we are, put three people on our two-person port-a-ledge, and then gun it for the top the next day.
The plan is set, the weather window has presented itself, and now we are just as nervous as we are excited. As we calmly prepare food and water, clothing, and our climbing gear for the Free Blast, each of us is double and triple checking the gear and the plan. Tonight, the Choss Boys fall asleep dreaming about the El Capitan pitches they each will lead.
Stay tuned for our recap of the ascent.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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