It’s difficult to spin a particularly exciting yarn about endless cragging on perfect granite – and words do little to truly capture the essence of sinking hand jam after bomber hand jam, or the ecstasy of onsighting a climb after completely cutting loose, and being caught by a stellar finger lock.
My goal for almost three weeks in Squamish was to become mildly proficient at crack climbing. On the first day, Dan thought it would be worthwhile to push this a little further, and get me to aim for a 5.11 onsight before the end of the trip.
In some respect, both of these objectives have been achieved. While I climbed a very short, bouldery trad 5.11, Dan has retrospectively attempted to take this away; deciding that the tall person beta involving wide bridging up the corner in fact made the climb a 5.10. Nevertheless, I did also manage a stunning 5.11 sport route up at Petrifying Wall, cutting loose three times, but still managing to pull through and clip the chains for the onsight.
More notable ascents whilst in Squamish would include the two forays we made onto The Chief. The first was an early trip up The Grand Wall with Conor Smith. After nearly a month in Squamish, Conor had already done two laps on the Grand, but was keen for one more. An early start ensured we were at the start of the queue. We began with two stunning pitches up the Apron Strings before beginning the Grand Wall proper. However laybacking is certainly not my strongest suit, and so my lead of the classic split pillar pitch deteriorated into a bit of a cluster, which Conor then cleaned up, followed by an exceptional lead of both the sword pitch, and the wide Perry’s layback. Topping out on Bellygood ledge, I descended with my tail between my legs, feeling a little defeated by the route.
The second ascent of the Chief was an ANZAC affair, when Jess and I caught up with Australian-turned-Squamishite – Chris. Climbing Sunset Strip – a newish route not in the guidebook, we were surprised to have two parties in front of us at 8am. After a slightly delayed start, we began what turned out to be a leisurely climb due to traffic congestion. It was a truly stunning climb, with multiple classic pitches and very little wandering – maintaining a fairly consistent 5.10 grade for the majority of the pitches. Barring a minor freak-out when I discovered my fist jam pitch turned into an offwidth, and I’d left the No.5 Camalot at the previous belay, the climb was truly the definition of smooth and flowy.
The long and short of Squamish, is I can now climb cracks; so all in all, I think we can call that success.
Next stop – the Bugaboos!
It was a bit of a treat to be allowed to do something a bit easier like the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome after getting off Zodiac. After an all too short rest day, with wounds still sore from Zodiac, Jess and I quickly packed up our things, with a rather narrow weather window between predicted thunderstorms.
One more stuck rope, a few terse words, a lovely sunset, and finally, around 11:30pm, 17 pitches later, we made it to Big Sandy where we had a brief sleep before a 6am departure. At C1, the aid pitches weren’t a patch on Zodiac, being a simple case of plugging cams and walking up. Due to a strong dislike of traverses, the Thank God ledge pitch had been preying on my mind for much of the climb. Half way along, one is supposed to drop down, feet virtually dangling in thin air as they do a hand traverse for a few metres before pulling back onto the ledge. At this point, I had a minor freak out, face and hands plastered onto the wall in front of me, refusing to look out at the view while I informed Jess I was too tall to bend down that far and manage to get back on the ledge. Eventually, in anything but a graceful manner, I made it across, easily climbing the chimney at the end to make it one of the most memorable pitches I’ve ever climbed.
The thunder clouds started to gather at this point, interspersed with the occasional large drop of rain. Rather drained after the Thank God ledge, Jess took the last two pitches which involved a smidgen of free climbing between aid moves, and with the thunderstorm narrowly missing us, we topped out early in the afternoon. Sadly there was no waiting tourist audience to amaze, and instead we quietly descended, making it to Curry Village just in time for pizza and beer with Dan.
By this stage, I was very beaten, with an infected ingrown toe, a pus filled hip welt acquired from hanging in a harness for 16 pitches on Zodiac, and one permanently numb hand from excessive amounts of uninitiated jumaring. Having dropped Rachel off a day earlier, Dan, Jess and I decided we’d leave the thunderstorms and sweltering near 40°C temperatures of the Valley, and departed for a couple of day’s cragging at Lover’s Leap, just out of Tahoe.
Having dispatched a bunch of climbs there between showers, and having taught Pete the ways of hand cracks, the three musketeers now depart for San Francisco, and the ensuing American patriotism of 4th July, before heading north for a month in Squamish and the Bugaboos.
It was decided that Zodiac would be the route upon which Pete would learn to aid. At the same time, it was to be a new experience for both Dan and I, neither of us having climbed the route, nor an A3/C3 graded route. Determined to make it a pleasant experience, and maximise on the benefits of big wall aiding, we ended up at the bottom of the route on Thursday morning, with close to 100kgs of gear, food and water. No amount of practicing aiding on small Port Hills crags or jugging 15 metre static lines prepared me for the next four days.
The first four pitches were my first block, starting with a C3 crack, followed by a roof traverse and then a couple of bolt ladders. The day was almost over by the time I finished my four pitches, finally untying from the rope for Dan to finish the last pitch of the day. The next day, after Dan had finished his block, yours truly hit a wall. Sitting below the crux pitches, which are even more overhanging than most of the route (which virtually all excedes vertical), I came about as close to throwing in the towel as one can do when you're half-way up a 16 pitch route, and in the end, Dan fixed the next couple of pitches, on the promise I'd redeem myself the following day.
After Dan's stellar effort leading through the crux pitches the next morning, which true to the route description, involved "wild leapfrogging cam hooks", I tied in, with more than a shred of apprehension. This wasn't helped by taking a whipper straight off the belay when two pieces blew, and I went flying past Dan. About 6 hours later, after two slightly nerve-wracking pitches, and a respectable section of hooking moves, we were at our final bivvy. Nevertheless, I still had two pitches to go to complete my block. With a storm coming, that night was my last chance at redemption. On the verge of exhaustion, and with Dan soundly tucked up in his sleeping bag eating dinner, I led off on my third and final pitch. Walking the same two cams up an 80 foot crack, I was glad it was dark, so I couldn't see the length of protectionless crack I was aiding.
Two pitches, and a less than pleasant walk down, we made it back to the base. Never have I been happier to be back on solid ground, yet somewhere deep inside, there's a slight feeling of stoke that an alpine climber managed to haul themselves up the rock climber's mecca.
Pete's Arrival (When Pete takes over the blog)
Before I even stepped on the plane, I knew Dan would be planning on throwing me in the deep end the minute I made it to the valley. Surely enough, I got a message whilst on the train that we'd be climbing the Steck-Salathe the very next day. A bit of research showed this to be 5.9 (~17) and so I was fairly confident I'd survive. When Dan later told me I only had to lead one pitch - the Narrows - I even volunteered to lead more of them if it was that easy. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Neverthless, we eventually made it to the top, and so ensued a fairly uneventful walk down, followed by a rest day to nurse wounds and prepare for the next few days.
On Tuesday, Dan & Gab went off to do a day's ascent of Half-Dome, and meanwhile, Rachel, Jessica Marriott, and myself went to climb El Cap's East Buttress; another classic climb, albeit arguably not an El Cap route. Despite my attempts to avoid them, I acquired the first two pitches, a remarkably enjoyable chimney with an exciting stem and stretch at the top to catch the belay. Following this is strictly the crux, but in reality, it involves a single 5.10b move with miniscule feet into a finger crack. Getting through the crux, I got stuck in the 5.6 finger crack deep in a groove, with a complete inability to move, having no idea what to do with my feet which were hopelessly hanging out beneath me. Eventually aiding through this, I reached the top of the pitch, to encounter the biggest plight of the route: a horde of ants.
Never have I seen ants the like of this. The ground, the tree, and eventually the rope and myself were literally swarming with ants. Attempting to continue with the next pitch to get out of their vile grasp, I couldn't climb with the affliction of incessant ant bites. Belaying the others up to my point, thier derision eventually turned into disbelief at the share volume of ants. A hasty transition got us up the next pitch, to an ant-free stance, and removal of the hundreds of ant carcasses littering our bodies and clothing. Nevertheless, we were haunted by the stench of ants for the rest of the day.
Days 11 - 20
While waiting for Pete Harris to arrive I was lucky enough to make two trips up El Capitan along with several other shorter climbs in the Yosemite National Park.
First up Rachael Knott and myself headed up the Nose for four days. On Day two Rachael broke her finger while leading the Great Roof pitch. On top of the break she also dislocated it! To her credit she decided she wanted to keep on going and no doubt in quite a bit of pain still didnt complain too much as we worked our way to the top. The route was very crowded with many teams so progress was slow.
After getting down from the Nose with Rachael and taking a couple of active rest days climbing easy classics such as Royal Arches Gab Muzier and myself headed back to the Nose for the classic Yosemite Challenge "Nose in a Day" making good time we finished the route in 11 hours, 19 minutes and 57 second. I had climbed the Nose in a day once before with the previous attempt taking just under 24 hours. So it was great to see the progression that comes with a couple more years of climbing under your belt. The following day I took a well earned rest and drove down to pick up Pete Harris from Merced. The next two weeks will be spent climbing and mentoring around Yosemite before we head off to Canada for the second half of the trip.
The first ten days.
I think in the previous 16 weeks I had spent in Yosemite climbing the sum total of rain was approx 4 hours per trip. I had always justified coming to the valley in June even though it was hot by the fact the weather is near perfect and most climbers have packed up and headed home due to the heat. This means that if you are prepared to wake up early you usually have the classic climbs to yourself. However so far this year we have had a near daily afternoon thunderstorm and plenty of rain. This makes for a frustrating time especially as our portaledge and rain fly were sitting in San Fran at a friends house so nights up on El Cap were not really an option for the past 8 days.
In order to make the most of the bad weather we have been doing regular trips up to pitch 16 on the Nose. The process for this is a 4am wake up, we then drive into the Valley from our camp site at El Portal and are usually starting the first pitch around 6am. Mostly we are finishing the days climbing around lunch time or early afternoon and rapping back to the ground to beat the afternoon thunder storms. The Nose on El Capitan is one of the worlds most famous rock climbs. 31 pitches of excellent granite crack climbing. I had been lucky enough to climb this route twice before, once over three days on my first trip to Yosemite then again in a day with Steve Fortune in 2013. On both those pervious climbs I had mostly aid climbed the route. This time I was keen to see how much of the climb would go free. Quite to my surprise a good part of the lower half does. So far we have climbed 13 of the first 16 pitches free climbing. (climbing with a rope but not pulling on any gear). The goal of all this practice on the Nose is twofold. Firstly it helps get your fitness up. Many of the pitches are long and climbing with a heaving rack of cams, water and food is great for building strength and stamina. It also is good Nose in a day training. Gabrial Mazur a friend from France who I am climbing with while I wait for Pete Harris to arrive, hope to make the climb in under 12 hours. For us to do this however we need to practice the route a bit. A good part of the first two weeks of our trip will be spent on the Nose working towards this goal. For the next four days I will be back up on the Nose this time climbing with another friend from our camp. We now have the portaledge and rain fly so afternoon storms are not such an issue anymore. It will be their first time up the route so we will go slowly over several days giving me another chance to get familiar with the climb. Gab is also climbing the route again with two friends from England. Hopefully by the time we get to the top and take a couple of rest days we will be ready to make a good time on the Nose in a Day.
Whats coming up?
On the 20th of June, Pete Harris one of our team members will join me and several of our other friends in Yosemite Valley. The idea for this trip is to give Pete a good grounding in all the skills required for aid and big wall climbing. For the two weeks he is in Yosemite before we travel to Squamish we will hopefully have a run up some of the valley classics including routes on El Capitan, Half Dome and the Sentenal. We will climb in California before heading up to Squamish and then onto the Bugaboos to finish the trip. I have also been lucky enough to climb with Conor Smith for a couple of days. Conor is one of the applicants for the next round of the Team. Our Trial is in October this year and we are fortunate to have several strong canidates for the trial. We will catch up with Conor again in Squamish for a few days before he heads back to NZ to get ready for the Ice and Mixed Climbing Festival.
For a look at some photos from the trip check out the following