Yesterday, for the kazillionth time this year, I woke to the sound of an alarm. This time it was different…
I rolled over and leaned my head 10cm over the edge of the bed and looked down. It took about 5 seconds to register, and in that time the equivalent of about 5 coffees went straight to the head and woke me up.
I was lying on a portaledge 3000 ft off the ground – that is 3x the height of the Empire State building and 6x the height of the Michaelangelo Tower in Sandton. At the time, being 29 pitches up, my climbing partner, Laura and I were higher up on El Cap than anyone else! Now that it was light, I could see the bolt ladder a mere 40 ft above us, and well, below, I could see a LONG way down. The next minute, looking down, was probably the best time for me on the whole route – time to really appreciate the exposure.
The weather in Yosemite, which has been dreadful for weeks, has finally improved and Laura and I headed up the Nose. So did everyone else who could spell “rope” in less than 3 tries. It was a cluster of note up there and it ended up taking us 5 days to top out instead of a planned 3 days.
Day 1: Things went well until Sickle Ledge at the end of pitch 4. Here we hit the first bunch of bailers ahead of us. 3 people coming down and 2 people going up at the same time, with a hanging belay at the top of it all, meant that Laura and I spent about 3 hours on Sickle, doing nothing other than scavenging some water off the team bailing. Later as we were entering the Stoveleg cracks, it started raining, and we found out the HARD way just how difficult it is to rig a portaledge on a hanging belay when you also have a rain fly to worry about.
Day 2: We met a second bunch of bailers 11 pitches up at Dolt Tower. By now, I could see the way of things and scavenged some food – we now had enough to keep us going 5 days instead of the planned 3. yum yum!
The clusters continued, and by the time I was heading up to Texas Flake, I had a plan to overtake the slow party ahead of us. Except that we then hit another team on another route who were sharing 2 pitches with us. That destroyed the plan, so we spent the night on the best ledge on the entire route, El Cap Tower – the ledge is flat and about 1x5m large.
day 3: Laura took a while to complete the King Swing, which requires you to run REALLY hard and far. At the time, a rope soloist overtook us, as did his 2 friends who were simul-climbing behind him. By now, the Japanese team was on our arses. Just when we thought it could not get worse, at Camp 4, we hit a party coming in on the Triple Direct route. Fortunately, we sneaked past them. We did the Great Roof in semi darkness, and it was so covered in wet moss that I did not even try to free 1 move. The so called piton scars that are used to free the roof itself are actually more like RURP scars, as they are so small.
We spent the night in an awesome spot, right off the roof itself and below the Pancake Flake.
Next morning, I took off up the flake, freeing most of it, but aiding the hard moves at the top of the pitch. For a while it looked like we might be able to catch up to and overtake the party ahead of us, who had been holding us up since Sickle Ledge, but somehow they stayed just ahead of us. The Changing Corners pitch took both teams ahead of us over 45 minutes to lead the 3m crux section, even on aid. I had 1 look at the wet corner, and considered aiding up a wet, mossy crack on tapered micro nuts. It took 2 seconds to change my mind and to haul my way up a bolt ladder a few meters left of the corner itself, and hence completed the pitch in about 30 minutes, only to have to wait at the next stance for the party ahead to clear off and make some space. We eventually ran out of time and had to rig the portaledge 2 pitches below the summit. We took a record low of 5 minutes to rig the portaledge, in the dark. Then, it took 2 hours to get it level, and we only managed that with a strategically placed cam, and some slings to hold the ledge in place.
On the final day, Laura led us to the top in style. Lugging the gear down the East Ledges descent route went better than expected because we ran into a rope-soloist who knew the way down. He showed us the way, and we helped carry his load (as if our gear was not heavy enough!)