Saturday, October 12, 2013

Yosemite 2013, Prow

My big plan was to solo Zodiac on El Capitan (VI 5.7 A2 / C3F), but I wanted to start with something easier and shorter. Prow on Washington Column (V 5.6 C2F) looked like a perfect choice:

“Spectacularly steep and exposed, with a feel much like the Shield Headwall, the Prow offers a good introduction to moderate aid.”

Prow is usually done by fixing the first pitches and then most of the parties spend 1-2 nights on the wall with a portaledge. That is, climbing usually takes 3-4 days altogether. I thought I would be more than happy if I could solo the route in 3 days.

I decided to check out the approach and descent beforehand and to carry some water to the base of the route. I had heard that the descent is exposed and loose. With a small backpack it was exposed for sure, but not that bad. On the other hand, after three days of climbing, I'd have to carry down a big haulbag, portaledge, rack, bivigear... With that load in my back, the descent felt like a suicide. Yes, you can rappel down the steepest sections and self-belay the exposed traverse. Still, the more I thought about it, the more keen I was on doing the route in a day, or in “one-push”-style. No bivigear, portaledge or haulbags. Just the rack, food and water for 24 hours of climbing.

As the route is overhanging almost all the way and there aren't many natural ledges, this type of climbing is way more committing than the traditional “slow and heavy”-style. And of course, I had never tried a bigwall in one-push style before, not even with a partner...

Two days later I woke up at Camp 4 for the first time. It had rained a bit on previous night, but now the sky was clear. There had been a lot of smoke in the valley from the Rim fire and I had to change my campsite from Upper Pines to Camp 4 before I could start to climb. However, now I didn't have any more excuses, so I ate breakfast and took a bus to Ahwannee hotel.

I came to the base of the route about 10 AM. There were already climbers on the first pitch...damn! And this was not an ordinary team, but two teams that had combined their forces so that no one would have to climb too much. Hah, just the opposite to what I was doing: I wanted to climb every meter of the route.

Luckily they were super nice and the leader was willing to rappel down right away when they heard about my plans. We agreed they would fix the first pitch and then I could pass them when they were hauling.

I started the climb at 11:45 AM. This was ok for me, as if the route took 24 hours, I would climb through the night and top out when it's warm and sunny again and I could sleep in the summit if needed.

For those who don’t know, when you’re soloing with a rope, at first you have to climb the pitch, then rappel back to the first anchor, then release the haul bag, jumar back up to the second anchor, and haul. If you are space hauling, every 50 meters of climbing means that you actually have to climb 50 meters, jumar 100 meters and rappel 100 meters. If the pitch is traversing or a roof, you may have to aid the pitch three times, because it might not be possible to rappel down or jumar back up. A lot of work!

With Prow, my plan was to use only one rope, skip the hauling, and jumar with a 40-liter backpack instead.

When I was at the anchor of the second pitch I heard screaming from below... The four-person-combo was about to rappel down as there were some dark clouds above Half Dome.

“It's raining soon, you're not coming down?!”

“Well, no... it's not raining here.”

“Ok, we are going down... Btw, could you fix the second pitch for us?”

“WHAT?! You don't want to climb it? Never mind....I'll fix it!”

I pulled their rope up, fixed it to the anchor and continued to the third pitch. My first “check-point” was after three pitches. I did the first three pitches in four hours. However, the overhanging wall made the jumaring really hard, as I was carrying a backpack. My arms started to cramp and I had no choice but to leave the backpack hanging on the air at the end of the rope and haul it later. This was a slower way, but it felt better in my forearms.

The route is 12 pitches long, so I would have two hours per pitch. (if I could keep the same pace for 24 hours...) I did the first six pitches in eight hours, so it's about 1h 20min per pitch. Holy moly, I was climbing faster than needed! I decided to slow down a bit, eat and drink more and make sure my arms would play their part to the very end. I actually started to jumar so that I wouldn't have to bend my arms at all! Hah, it was slow and looked silly, but what the hell, it was in the middle of the night and no one was looking.

On pitch nine I skipped some awkward placements simply by freeclimbing through the section. This pitch is considered the crux of the route and I heard that some climber had been injured after taking a fall to the ledge below.

During the night I sent messages to Anu on how I was doing and she sent me some beta she found from Supertopo. This was pretty cool, as the mandatory free climbing on the pitch 11 was not obvious and not possible to protect. Well, I guess that is what “mandatory” kind of means...

Here are some pics:

 Washington Column. Prow goes on the overhanging east face (right side). Prow translates to (veneen) keula in Finnish, obviously.

Smooth and steep east face. Prow is the white stripe.

 On the approach...

 The first pitch

 ¾ of the four persons team.

 The second pitch was a bit wet at the beginning

  Advanced top roping skills

I was a bit nervous before starting the first copperhead section. Hah, later on El Cap I could only dream about such bomber copperheads.

The third pitch with a rope-cutting roof. Luckily I was soloing and didn’t need to worry about that.

 Jumaring with a backpack on pitch three.

I left the backpack hanging in to the rope and pulled it up later.

 At the anchor of pitch three. You can almost see haulbags and a climber on top of the first pitch. On the left side there are two climbers on Dinner ledge of South Face.

 Fourth pitch

 Being a badass on the fifth pitch

 Sixth pitch

And then the darkness came…

 Never too busy to take another profile picture for Facebook

 11th pitch. Six o’clock, the sun is raising

 40 minutes later on the last pitch

I reached the top after 19 h 36 min of climbing. Almost there...I still had to rappel down and get the rest of my gear…

 Half an hour later, at 20 h 03 min I finally had every piece of gear at the top! I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. At first it was too cold, then too hot...

 I decided to walk down instead of sleeping. The descent was terrible even with a 40 liter back. Maybe I was just tired, but I had to self belay and rappel down sections that I had last time easily climbed up and down without a rope.

 Afternoon art. I said hi to climbers that I passed day before. They were on pitch two. The four-man team actually split up and two of them topped out after four days of climbing, the other two got rescued by YOSAR from pitch 8.

 A swim in a river was pretty nice after a long day

Back in the tent after thirty-something hours roundtrip.

Washington Column south face, my Swedish friends said it resembles a cock. I guess it does.