Friday, October 25, 2013

Yosemite 2013, Zodiac

Soloing a bigwall in a day, even a small one, felt pretty good. However, it wasn't what I was dreaming of. For me, the best climbing experiences are from routes that have taken days.

Watching the sunset from the portaledge, or waking up with hundreds of meters of air below you, are things that make bigwall climbing something special and something else than a just a bit longer trad route. With Prow, I felt I had missed all the best parts of bigwall climbing.

I was more eager than ever to climb Zodiac VI 5.7 C3F. Zodiac is longer and harder than Prow, and something I wouldn't be able to do in a day. I decided to climb the route as the guidebook says most people do.

Most parties spend the first day fixing to Pitch 3 and then spend three nights on the wall, ideally at 7, 10, and 13.

That's five days of climbing, sweet!! Should be enough time to enjoy the sunsets with a cold one. Well, to be honest, I didn't really have a good solution for how to keep my beers cold...maybe I should haul some ice as well? 

After few days of resting I took a bus to El Cap Meadows. I hiked to the base of the route with some water. My fingers were still infected from Prow, but I wanted to see if there was a lot of climbers on the route. There was a team on the third pitch but no-one at the base.

The following day I carried ropes and a portaledge to the base of the route. Still no one else around. Later in the afternoon I met Tom Evans with his telescopes and asked if someone had planned to start the route. The wall was almost empty, and I was the only one carrying stuff to the base... It was a perfect time to start climbing!

The next day I took the first bus and hiked up with the rest of my gear. The rack, food, bivy gear... The haulbag was not too heavy, but heavy enough!

I started to climb... The very first move is a hook move. Then two bolts and a rivet. From the rivet I made a high step to a bad offset alien. I decided to leave only a biner to the rivet hanger because I was a bit scared about taking a ground fall. I climbed up the aiders and realized that the rivet hanger had fallen off... Fuck! If the alien ripped, I'd probably fall to the ground. The placement was so bad I didn't want to climb down the aiders to fix the rivet either. I put another piece of protection and kept going.

The very last move of the C3+ -section was a small cam in a roof, which ripped off when I moved my weight to the aiders hanging on the anchor.

The next two pitches were easier, a lot of bolts and hooking on pitch three. I fixed the first three pitches with two 60 meter ropes, rappelled down and put my portaledge hanging on the first bolt of the direct variation.

I tried to sleep but the full moon was so bright I could have been climbing without a headlamp. The upcoming climbing made me nervous as well. The first pitches had been a lot harder than I expected. As I couldn't sleep, I decided to get up in the middle of the night and make some late night art. I took dozens of long exposure photos of El Capitan. Something that kept my mind off the route...

Next morning I woke up about six o'clock, when another party came to the base. "You just keep sleeping, we'll blast off in no-time." However, it was hard to sleep, as this Zodiac-in-a-day-team made a lot of noise... "UGH! UGH! FUCK YEAH!!" Nothing wrong with that, it's important to keep up the spirit.

I got up, ate breakfast and started to pack my haulbag. I thought they would be gone by now, but they were still about 7 meters from the ground. The leader ripped a piece above the rivet several times while testing... the very same rivet I had managed to unclip. And it seemed to be a pretty tricky placement for others as well.

As they were still on the first pitch I decided to start climbing. They could pass me later. I jumared up to my high point and hauled all my gear up. Luckily the wall is overhanging and hauling was super easy. Actually almost too easy, even with 24 liters of water, the haul bag was too light for space hauling... I should have taken more beer!

The next pitch was easy with some mandatory free climbing. The other team started to climb faster and soon we were close to each other again. I was on the bolt ladders on the fifth pitch when the leader below me shouted down that he had to wait as I was blocking the way. I shouted back that they could easily pass me right now. There was another bolt ladder, just a few meters to the left.

The leader asked if it's ok to unclip my first bolt and use it as a protection for the traverse for the other bolt ladder. I said that's not a problem. He tried to do the traverse, but for some reason he couldn't or didn't want to do it. After a while he was climbing the same bolt ladder I was on.

I decided to link the next pitch and when I was doing "the inverted cam hook move" I realized the leader was hanging on my "not so perfect" cam. My rope was still attached to the piece, so if the piece had ripped, he would have taken me out as well. Also, the leader didn't really pay attention to where he clipped his rope, so our ropes became a one big mess...

I understand that when you are passing someone, you should do it fast. Still, there are safer ways to do this. It also helps if you tell what you are doing... Anyway, I said they could easily pass me while I'm cleaning and hauling. There were four bolts at the anchor, so it was easy to build two independent anchors.

I rappelled, cleaned and hauled and then I had to wait as they were on the Black Tower pitch. This A3 crack is known to be the most dangerous pitch on the route as the tower is right below the hard part.

The leader hammered quite a lot, and all the "WATCH ME" shouting indicated that climbing was pretty scary. At this point my goal to do the route clean felt like a distant dream.

Finally the leader reached the anchor and it was my turn to be scared. Below the hard part you have to do a couple of moves with hand placed angles. I left one as a protection... it fell off right away.

The top of Black Tower is not very big. It's not a ledge, more like a sharp pyramid. Still not something you would like to fall into.

I free climbed a few meters to the top of the tower and hand placed a peak. The previous protection was an old rope around the tower... ripping gear here didn't feel like a good idea, and I tried to put as much gear as I could. There were two fixed rurps, but the pitch goes clean even without them. I clipped both of them for sure, but I also placed two off-set cams right next to them.

Soon I clipped a fixed angle, which was the end of the dangerous part. After that there were a few tricky placements, but also a plenty of good protection. I finally reached the anchor without a need for the hammer, pretty nice!

The other guys were climbing the next pitch, hammering their way up. Suddenly the leader dropped something that passed us and flew all the way to the ground...



At this point the belayer turned to me and said they were probably going down. Without a hammer they didn't want to continue the route, and to be honest, their goal to do Zodiac in a day felt pretty optimistic considering their speed. I mean, they didn't climb that much faster than me, and I was doing the route in five days...

The next episode was pretty funny to watch. It seemed they both wanted down, but no one wanted to be the first to say it out loud. Finally the other guy said that they should go down and the other one replied "Ok, but this was your idea!"

Then they came back to the anchor and I had to wait some more...This wasn't really a problem, the next two pitches are said to be even harder (but safer) than Black Tower, and it might be a good idea to climb them fully rested.

Before the guys rappelled down they gave me some pizza! That was pretty sweet. I put up my portaledge, opened a beer and enjoyed the sunset with a tasty pizza. This was what I had been dreaming about, and definitely much more fun than racing through the night.

The following day was mentally hard. Climbing was hard; a lot of hand placed peaks, a lot of old copperheads. Climbing was slow as I had to test almost everything. Once again, I didn't use a hammer, but I understand why people use it. Most of the tricky placements would have been so much easier and safer with a hammer.

I put up the portaledge at the top of the 10th pitch as planned, mentally very tired. This was the first time I started to wonder what I was doing. I needed to remind myself that this was fun, and I'd better enjoy! I cooked some food, and soon felt much better. Maybe I was just hungry?

The next day was very nice. Even though I did the hardest individual moves on the whole route, climbing was easier in general. I was climbing faster and now I really enjoyed being alone on the wall.

I didn't use a clock that much, not even for waking up. I woke up when I was rested, and I went to sleep when I got tired. I climbed the 3-4 pitches a day I had planned, and I always had plenty of time to enjoy the sunset. Easy living.

I reached the Peanut Ledge about 3 PM and as I wasn't really tired, I decided to climb one more pitch. It was just a C1 and soon I realized I had only 60 meters left to the top! As I was soloing, I could easily combine the next two pitches and probably reach the top before the dark.

But then what? I would be on the top, would need to rappel down and haul in the dark... and as I sleep better in a portaledge than on the flat ground, I'd probably put the portaledge hanging on the last anchor...

No way. I had the coolest bivy, the Peanut ledge, beer in the haulbag, and a sunset to watch. However, the weather had changed and the wind had pulled the rope out of my rope bag, and now it was just a one huge loop flying horizontally. I got scared that the ropes would get caught on flakes far away. I pulled the extra rope to the anchor and rappelled down to the Peanut ledge.

The wind was just getting stronger, and my haul rope was doing a big circle and banging against the edge at the end of the pitch... I pulled both ropes as tight as possible and could only hope for the best.
Soon I realized I wouldn't be able to open the portaledge. In this wind it would be like a big kite and as I was alone, it would be impossible to have weight on it all the time. I decided to play it safe and sleep on the natural ledge. It was actually pretty comfortable. It's maybe 2.5 meters long and 40-60 cm wide. Quite ok if you are not moving too much.

On the next day I woke up in a beautiful weather and started to climb. My ropes were still in perfect condition after the high wind. Climbing was nice C2 cracks and some mandatory free climbing. Topping out from the overhanging wall to a completely flat ground was very cool. "The best top out on El Cap" says the guidebook. Easy to believe.

I actually topped out at the same time with Jim Beyer, maybe the most hardcore aid climber there is. He soloed a route nearby,  Lost America (VI A4 5.10) at the age of 57! He came to say hi, and tell me about climbing history in Yosemite. He has actually done the eighth ascent of Zodiac. It was at the time Zodiac was still considered an A4/A5 route.

"Are you going to carry everything down at one go?" He only had a small backpack. "I'm just taking down my rack... the stuff that's expensive!"

"Yes, that's the plan...but we'll see how it goes."

"Ok, see you at the rappels!"

Yeah, sure... With everything on my back, I wasn't moving too fast. Then I got a message from Anu. She said the weather might get worse. Now it was ok, but it was a bit windy and a lot of dark clouds were gathering around El Capitan.

As I did the first short rappel, it started to rain. I put a rain jacket on and continued. The rain just got heavier and the path became a stream. In seconds, I was completely wet. I left the haulbag and ran further down to find some shelter. "The wild dikes"-area was a big waterfall. However, I thought there could be a shelter behind the waterfall. I run through the waterfall, and yes there was a small cave!

After a while the weather seemed to get better again and I hiked back up to get my haulbag. Of course, as I got out from the cave it started to rain again...

Now it was time for the fourth class scrambling before the rappels. It felt too steep and wet for climbing with a big haulbag so I decided to rappel down to make it safe.

When I reached "The Rappels", the weather got even worse. Water was spraying in all directions, temperature was low and continuous lightning didn't help the situation.  I couldn't help but thinking how lucky I had been. If this had happened yesterday when I was on the wall... I didn't even have a fly for my portaledge. My cotton shorts were the only pants I had with me... Damn you Yosemite, you should be always sunny!

I rappelled the wet ropes down as fast as I could. With a heavy haulbag this was a bit of a pain in the ass. The rappels turned into a waterfall and when I was on the fourth rappel, I realized there was a knot on a rope. It seemed that someone had isolated the damaged part of the rope with a knot. I know how to pass a knot, but now I was freezing and didn't want to stop. I was wearing only a t-shirt and a rain jacket, which didn't hold water.

I needed to get warm and away from the waterfall. I had a fleece and a primaloft jacket in my haulback, but I didn't want to open the bag in the middle of the waterfall. However, now I didn't have a choice.

I opened the haulbag and water run into the bag. I undressed the rain jacket, put the fleece and my primaloft jacket on. Primaloft - warm when wet.  Hah, now it should be really warm! I also took my haul line and put it around a tree that was close by. The idea was to rappel from the tree and get away from the water fall.

Good idea but my rope was too short and soon I had to change back to the original rope in order to reach the big ledge. Normally it's possible to walk down from here, but I had to rappel twice more because of the  haulbag, which got a lot heavier because of all the water...

Finally I was down and could start walking. Next I had to cross a drainage, which actually is a river in  a weather like this. My masterplan was to jump over so that I would hold the haulbag's slings in my hand, and pull it to the other size after the jump. Nice idea, but the stream took the haulbag and ripped it off my hand within a second. I ran down the stream and luckily the bag got caught between rocks so that I could pull it up. If my down sleeping bag hadn't been wet because of the waterfall, it was now.

I didn't want to look at the clock as I probably was just about to miss the last bus. I thought that knowing the time would only make me start running and break my ankles. It felt better to take it nice and slow and worry about the bus later.

I finally came to the picnic area. I had missed the last bus with a 15 minutes marginal. I didn't mind.  Soon three climbers came out from the bushes... they had been climbing Nutcracker when the bad weather came in. They were staying at Upper Pines Campground, but I got a ride all the way to the Camp 4. (Thanks!!)

It's funny, when I topped out the Zodiac, I thought now its over. When I did the last rappel of the descent I thought now its over. When I came to the picnic area, I thought now it's over. When I came to Camp 4 I thought now it's over. I guess I forgot my sleeping bag had been swimming in a river and all my warm clothes were completely wet.

It was a cold night. I'm just guessing now, but maybe +4 C. Surprisingly my sleeping bag was not that wet. It wasn't dry either, but it felt good to crawl in. I cooked some water and put it in a bottle and inside of my sleeping bag to warm me up and to dry the bag... First feet, then balls, then hands and heart. Then I cooked the water again and continued this until I slept. I woke up a few times when the water got cold, cooked it again and slept again.

On the next morning I didn't want to come out of the tent. Mostly because I didn't have any dry clothes. I got up anyway and ate some noodles for breakfast. It was still pretty cold so I used my sleeping bag as a jacket. My neighbors felt sorry for me and gave me some pancakes, sweet!

I took a bus to House Keeping Camp, sat in a hot shower for an eternity and thought if it finally was over. Sadly, it was.

El Capitan. It's hard to take a photo that would show the steepness of the South-East face (the wall on the right side). The Nose follows the silhouette.

 The Zodiac!

One of my water bottles got broken even before I got off the ground. Luckily one guy bailed from Tangerine Trip and I could take some of his water.

The first pitch was longer and harder than I expected.

The beginning of the second pitch

A lot of hooking on Zodiac

Remember, you are not allowed to sleep on the ground, but portaledge on the first bolt is ok.

My food was hanging on the fixed rope because of the bears

El Capitan in the moon light

 Zodiac-in-a-day -team on the first tricky section

Never too busy to take some cool photos... I'm on the Dead Bird Ledge, about to clean the fourth pitch.

The photo from my camera

 Todd and the last moves on the third pitch

I'm starting the fifth pitch

 Bud on his way for the other bolt ladder on the fifth pitch, this is actually the original line.

 For some reason he came back and started to climb the same ladder I was on

Bud at the end of the sixth pitch. Todd is cleaning the rope mess below.

 Bud nailing at the top of Black Tower

 Bud a few meters higher, in the "no-fall" -zone.

 Bud coming down after he dropped his hammer

Being alone in the middle of El Capitan, eating pizza, drinking beer and watching a beautiful sunset was something I'll never forget.

 For some reason I didn't take a picture of the pizza, but instead of this tasty looking dinner...

 Home sweet home

Next morning I was at El Portal. This A3 felt a bit sketchy...maybe because I had just heard that a guy took a long fall here, ripped all the heads and landed on the slab below.

The pitch from my point of view

 Flying buttress, a neverending C3 dihedral

 A lot of hand placed  peaks....

 And old copperheads

I don't usually clip the rope to copperheads, especially I there is a good falling zone. I don't think they would hold a fall, and then it would be just harder to climb up again without fixed heads. Below the heads my last protection is a hand placed peak. Above the heads there was a sketchy #000 C3 (and maybe a hook move) before I reached the anchor.

The Nipple pitch! You can see a bolt anchor in the middle of the pitch. A nice trick if you want to free aid routes... just drill an anchor in the middle of the pitch if it feels too hard.

A worried looking guy at the end of the Nipple pitch. The guidebook says the end of the Nipple is "fixed junk" but there was only one old copperhead, which I didn't use. I hand placed three peckers in a row to climb the C3F section.

At least the sunset was nice

  Gearing up on the next day

That was a nice bivy, a big roof offered some shelter 

 Mark of Zorro

Higher up on Mark of Zorro. Here I did the hardest individual move, a delicate camhook-move on a bad pin scar. The ledge below doesn't really help. 

Being alone on El Capitan, climbing doesn't get much better than this!

A tricky traverse above the Devil's Brow. I made a hook-move, and hand placed two peaks before I could place an off-set alien. The traverse is probably easier if you can free climb this section?

The Devil's Brow. There was a loose rock at the top of the "C2+ -expanding" -section. I free climbed that, it felt better than putting gear behind loose rock.

 Peanut crack

My home-made rope bag was superb for one rope, but a bit too small when using two ropes.

Peanut Ledge (next to the haulbag), I spent a night there. This picture is taken just after I coiled my ropes at the next anchor. You can see the ropes got tangled already. A good thing with leapfrogging cams is that cleaning is super easy!

Closing the top. Jim Beyer at the top of the photo

Soloing A4 at the age of 57, without a helmet and with a portaledge from the eighties... That's what I'd call a badass.

 Free climbing on the pitch 15

 Topping out!

Standing on the top after five days of climbing felt pretty damn good! You can see the bridge on the background. All the cool shots with a tele have been taken from there by Tom Evans.

 The weather got worse and I had to get going...

Back on the picnic area. I felt (and probably looked) like my haulbag

Back in my tent I faced this weird sight. And no, I don't use nail polish. I mean... really, WTF?