Thursday, November 25, 2010

Season Closure

So far, it has been about failure. Our muscled fail from fatigue. Our skin fails from endless razor sharp holds. Usually, we fail to send the pitches, and sometimes we fail to find gear good enough to hold our falls. Kevin fails to aim correctly into the poop bag, and my urine stream fails to miss sprinkling Kevin with a few stray drops. The weather sends us running, and most of the time we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of what we are trying to do.

Eleven-thirty pm, day five: Kevin and I nervously huddle in our single portaledge. The pitch above us is a relentless hairline, fingertip seam with a few fixed peckers. To send it we must lie back up eighty feet of tendon straining pin scars, stem through a dripping wet streak of slime, attempt to dry our shoes and hands while standing on dime edges and then, after an hour of tenuous struggle burl through the bouldery crux that Kevin has named the "lift the car off the baby" move. As if that isn't enough, we are doing this in the middle of the night on our fifth straight day of climbing. As I lace up my shoes we tell jokes--- an effort to distract ourselves from the stress. Early in the season we tried climbing during the day, but the Dawn Wall bakes from sun up til sun down. So for optimal conditions we have resigned to climbing with the bats.

I go up on lead, but after seventy feet my fingers slip out of a wet pin scar. On my second try I shakily reach the anchor with numb toes, then let out a scream that could be heard from Curry Village. Kevin follows, climbing efficiently, but his foot slips ten feet from the top. On his second try he fires through the pitch with the determination of a freight train climbing a great mountain range.

For a week we battled a similar pattern. The internal struggle just as intense as the external battle. On day seven we reach the crux. Our nerves are fried but we push on. Kevin gives pitch 12 seven burns, I spend three hours trying to link the moves on pitch 13. Dark clouds roll in. The top of El Cap vanishes, and then the clouds begin to swirl around us. We check the weather forecast on our phones. It calls for five days of hard snow and high winds; four feet of accumulation on top of the wall. We were counting on sitting out some stormy weather, but this will likely put the wall out of commission for a week or more. We discuss whether to retreat for hours. Our biggest concern is ice fall after the storm. In the end, we decide sticking it out would be pointlessly reckless, so we rap with all of our gear and call it for the season.

Driving home my mind is already on logistics for next time. Maybe we build an ice deflector for the portaledge... yeah! That will help.

Leaving Yosemite for the season.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day Seven...

"We just rapped down, Baby.  We're on the ground."  Tommy informs me as I pick up his late phone call last night.

"Why are you on the ground?"  I reflexively respond, in a partially stern tone.  He laughs with surprise at my comment, and let me know they came down, were hauling loads and needed to get out of the storm.  He was going to be out of service for the night and we could chat tomorrow.

As some of you may have already heard, Tommy and Kevin had to call it last night and head off of El Cap, not completing their monster project in the "style" they had adopted (explained in Day One post).  The storm was coming in big, and there was high uncertainty of how long it would take to even be able to climb again, and other factors as well.  I have only gotten to talk to Tommy briefly about it, but he says he has peace with the decision and has not lost any psyche!  Now they have a great idea of what needs to be done for next season to ensure a send and they can take some time to enjoy life and relax a little.  It will be nice to be home for Thanksgiving and have some time to pack for Argentina...our next trip starting December 1st.

When Tommy gets home and winds down some, he will probably post something with a little more detail of the scenario and what happened.  The guys are really appreciative of the encouragement from everyone.  It was a great battle, but it's not done yet!!

A photo Tommy sent me on his iphone from this morning while packing up after the first wave of the storm.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day Six...

Tommy and Kevin actually took a proper rest day today.  Physical rest day that is...not quite a mental rest day due to the debate of what to do about the approaching storm.  Still no decision at this point that I've been informed of.  The plan for tomorrow is to wake up REALLY early and get some rock climbing in and make decisions as things happen; see how things pan out.  There has been a forum on Supertopo  with information related to their position on El Cap and the storm and what people are thinking with the weather/what they should do/experience/etc.  The guys have been checking this out to aid in making their decision.  This is getting pretty suspenseful.  Maybe there will be a miracle and the storm will completely dissipate?!  I hope so!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Night Four/Day Five...

My apologies about missing a post yesterday. Didn't get the news until after Internet hours in the Valley. So, the other night Kevin and Tommy both completed pitch 11, two tries each with I think Tommy on lead. By the time that was done it was late and they headed back to their ledge to get some rest before the sun came.

Yesterday went about the same as most of the days have been going. Hide from the sun and then around 2pm when their route starts to go in the shade they start preparing and getting into position. Waiting for them was pitch 12, which follows a left facing dihedral up until it kind of disappears and then it looks to be like traversing face climbing towards the end. Tommy commented that the first 30 feet is full of pumpy moves and the rest is very technical. He said the feet are terrible and no matter what you do they always have a high risk of slipping. By 10pm last night the boys had given the pitch 4 and 5 burns EACH before Tommy finally pulled through and got it. I believe Kevin's last burn was his fifth try with no success for that night.

So the latest news from the wall is that this storm is supposed to be a big one, and the guys are debating about whether it is going to be safe or not to stick it out. They will be on Wino Tower at that point, which is pretty exposed and were things to be bad, they risk a lot of things, including ice fall. This is a tremendously hard decision to make, especially when they've come so far, and that could mean they would be shut down from the route until next year being spring and summer conditions and not good for what they are doing. They are trying to make a decision relatively soon, but it's so hard to really decide.

I am jumping on a plane today back home to Colorado to sit out the storm there and prepare
some things for our trip to Patagonia and was planning on coming back, but now we play the wait game. The boys are smart and as important as this project is to them, they are not willing to risk their lives or putting themselves in a dangerous situation. We will see what happens.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day Four...

"Hey Carlos, come over here!  You can see the dude in the red!  That's so insane!!"

"Man, they're crazy!!"

That dude in the red would be my I know?  Because at that vantage point, Tommy and Kevin are the only visible climbers right now that you can still see shirt colors, and because for the 2+ week push Tommy has only one long sleeve shirt to climb in (his beloved R1 hoody), which happens to be red.  I walk a little further into the meadow and turn around to find that, yes, it's him they are gawking at.  "Insane"..."Crazy"...I wouldn't say quite yet.  It's only been 4 days...they're only like 1000ft up...the weather has been sun-shiny and fantastic.  Crazy will be while they are sitting out the potential storm that is supposed to be heading to the Valley this weekend with high's of 29 degrees F and dropping snow at maybe even 5000ft of elevation.  The top of El Cap is around 7000ft.  Their new camp once they get a few more pitches up (and for sure by the time of the storm) will be at Wino Tower, about 1100ft or so from the summit.  Which, if I do my math correctly will put them at probable snow levels.  BRRR!  And they are excited for the freezing temps before and after the storm, because it means GREAT conditions for pulling on those razor blade holds.  Yup...I'd say crazy is starting to sound a little more accurate.  Crazy or sane, it's pretty amazing what these guys can do.  Spending some time on the wall and witnessing them really focus and accomplish even what they've done so far is something way beyond what a lot of us would ever dream up physically, mentally, emotionally...the whole gamut.  And their lightheartedness and humbleness about it all in the between times is a wonderful thing, too!  Yes, I'm biased, but I think most would agree.  Okay, so enough of the mushy stuff...

TODAY!  We spent the morning waking up to the bright sun again and hiding behind hanging sleeping bags over our ledges to shade us from the scorching rays.  As afternoon rolled around we had all spent plenty of time surfing the web on our iphones, reorganizing the ledges and taking inventory of the food/water supplies.  Waiting for Tommy and Kevin was pitch 10 with a big water streak on it...I might be wrong, but I think this pitch is 5.14a or b regardless, and then add on the water streak.  Sounds hard.  :)  Last spring when they worked on the pitch there was so much water it was dripping down their elbows as they were pulling on the holds.  So, just "some" water is better, I suppose.  When the shade came, Tommy gave it a burn and his foot slipped at the water streak.  He worked a few more of the moves and then got lowered back to the belay.  Kevin wasn't feeling that well at this point and thought it would be best for Tommy to take the send on lead and then Kevin would be on top rope for his "go" at it.  Kevin made it through the water streak, but apparently fell towards the top.  So he was lowered down, rested a bit and on his second try he pushed through and finished!!

I rappelled down the wall today and am back to ground-living so the updates are back to phone calls and texts.  Tommy just texted me that they are about to work on pitch 11.  It's just before 10pm Cali time, and it's been dark for over 4 hours.  I'm going to be getting kicked out of Curry Lounge in a short while, so I will give the rest of the night update tomorrow.

Most of the climbing lately has been at night by headlamp!

Ledge Livin'.

Oatmeal for breakfast!

iphone party!

Kevin passed out in a sugar coma...notice the empty box of joe-joe's?!?

Light on the left is the guys on pitch 9, light on the right is the moon!

Opening the can of black beans with a pecker and a hammer...we lost the can opener.

Lower camp for the ledge is at the top of pitch 8.  Note the big black streak on the right side of the photo...that is the pitch 10 water streak.

Look at that bed head!  I love him!

And look at that gnarly hair...Tommy didn't tell me it was like that and took the picture anyways, I had to look at the picture to find out!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day Three...

The moon is shining bright, illuminating the thousands of feet of granite surrounding our little portaledge. Some headlamps just went out on or near Tangerine Trip and aside from them we might have El Cap to ourselves. Tommy, Kevin and I just got done inhaling some "tacos" and (insert Kevin's awful British accent here)sipping on some tea. Spirits are high and bellies are full as just before dinner the guys finished pitch 9 on their first burn each, Tommy on lead. Today was a "rest day", which meant lounging around in the portaledges avoiding the hot sun, and then once dusk hit and the temps cooled sending 5.13c off the couch so to say. They made it look smooth as butter from my view, though they both said it felt awkward and definitely got the heart pumping while gripping underclings with tenuous feet traversing right at the bottom. Tomorrow will be a big day with pitch 10(5.14a or b) ahead and hopes to push through pitch 11 (5.13d) as well.

Im looking forward to another morning of waking up next to my husband with the warm sun and a bird's-eye-view.

The guys say thanks for all of the encouragement!
Pictures to come when I land on the ground.

Day Two

Early morning before the sun hit the Dawn Wall the guys were roped in and Kevin was working on pitch 6. He finished it off first try and then they retreated back into the portaledge to avoid the hot sun. When the climb went into the shade around 200pm they got into position to start up pitch 7. Tommy gave it the first burn, bit fell. From there he and Kevin alternated leads until someone sent, which after 7 tries between the 2 of them they both made it up; Kevin on lead. That was a huge battle for them and the wall put up a big fight, bit they made it. After some dinner and resting they started on pitch 8, a shorter, bouldery pitch. Tommy Gage it the first burn and fell at a sideways dyno...not "the" dyno pitch, a different one. After falling he figured out that he could do the move without jumping. Kevin made it up first try and after Tommy headed up on lead very strong and confident. The guys are doing great and Kevin totally rocked it.

FYI, right before they both sent pitch 7 they watched a Rocky/Eye of the Tiger quick video...there might just be something there. Then before pitch 8, Kevin poured part of a Starbucks Via (instant coffee)packet into his mouth,took a swig of water, swooshed it around and swallowed. Might be something to that as well!

I jugged up to the portaledges today and will be staying on the wall for a couple of days! It's 2am now and I am dozing off with each letter I type. Tomorrow is a potential rest day, which might mean working through pitch 9 in the evening, but we will see how they feel. Today and yesterday were big days!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day One...

So the guys started up the wall today.  We got up super early and I cooked breakfast while last minute things were packed.  After some delicious breakfast burritos we hiked to the base to find a wet couple of first pitches and some warm sun.  The guys took their time racking up and soon they were climbing!  Thanks to the sun the pitches dried relatively well, and around 10am a breeze was present to keep them somewhat cooled.  They both fired up the first pitch with Kevin on lead.  Pitch 2 was Tommy's lead, and when he got to the crux (hardest part) of the pitch he took a big fall.  This made me nervous starting out the day like that and I felt like I was going to cry, but after that he went back to the start of the pitch, buckled down and got after it.  I think he just needed to get the nerves out, and that seemed like a big enough fall to do it!  After he got up, Kevin climbed up with no problems and got ready to lead one of the harder pitches towards the bottom of the route, pitch 3.  On his third try of the this pitch he made it.  Tommy climbed up after him and got ready for pitch 4, which was no problem for either of them.  Pitch 5 was back to Kevin's lead, and another stiff pitch.  It took Kevin 2 tries to finish the pitch, and Tommy powered through to the belay.  Then (as Tommy reported) Tommy started to lead the 6th pitch and in the middle of the pitch it got dark, and he finished the pitch in the dark successfully.  TC told me he still didn't feel very relaxed, but was happy that he was getting things done.  Last report was that Kevin was just about to finish the 6th pitch first try and just below the portaledge at the belay he fell, so he was resting and getting geared up to try again before they were calling it a day and setting up their camp for the next while of time on top of pitch 8.  It sounds like this project is seeming to be as big and as tough as they were thinking it would, and they are going to have to work really really hard to get things done!  It's going to be an intense push!

For those of you who aren't familiar with big wall lingo, I will try and describe it as best I can, and feel free to correct me if I'm off!  So this climb on El Capitan that they are trying to do is their "project", which is still nameless I believe.  The climb consists of 33 pitches, I think.  Give or take a pitch.  A pitch is the climbing from one belay to the next, which are typically around a rope's length.  The belay spots are anchors either bolted into the rock, or made with their climbing gear.

Just in...Kevin decided to wait until tomorrow to try pitch 6 again.

Okay...back to the lingo.  A belayer is someone who is feeding out rope or taking in slack for the person climbing.  The rope is going through a device that uses friction to help decrease the amount of strength needed to stop the rope from feeding through.  The guys are free climbing, so they use ropes and pieces of climbing gear that they place into cracks in the rock to clip the rope into to protect themselves as they climb.  How it works for them to successfully climb this route is that they each need to climb each pitch in order from ground to summit, completing the pitches without a fall.  So before they could move on from pitch 5 to 6, they both need to climb pitch 5 without falling.  They can fall as many times as it takes, but after each fall they need to start over from the bottom of the pitch, and then complete it without falling.  Does that make sense?  I don't think I would handle that very well.  So much pressure!!  You could have climbed the whole pitch perfectly and JUST before getting to the next set of anchors (belay spot/end of pitch) you could slip and fall and have to do it ALL OVER AGAIN!  Yikes!  

These are the guys to do it though!  Go guys!!  Tomorrow is going to be another big day!

Organizing the wall food.  That pile is not even all of the food!

Lots of wall food!!

Tommy flaking the tag line at the base.

Kevin checking out the water on pitch 1 and 2.

Kevin starting up pitch one!

On Belay!

Tommy leading up pitch 2.

My Husband....The Male Model.

So, here's my surprise!  Tommy as a male model!!  Ha!  He was recently contacted by ESPN The Magazine to be on their Body Shot (best link I could find) page, which shows parts of the body on elite athletes that they use in their sport.  A photographer and his assistant flew out from New York and set up a shoot outside of the van shooting Tommy's body parts.  We thought it was just his hands, and then the photographer wanted to take pictures of his legs and feet...GROSS!!!  Tommy's feet, for those of you who don't know, are quite unique to say the least.  :)  It's interesting what climbing shoes will do to your feet after 25+ years of wearing them.  So, we laughed about this that a) my husband is a male model and b) of all things, his hands with only 9.5 fingers and his gnarly feet are what were shot!  I love him, and his lack of part of a finger and his "unique" feet.  He wouldn't be Tommy without them!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Night Before the Big Start...

Today Josh and Brett Lowell, from Big Up productions showed up in the Valley ready to head up the wall with Tommy and Kevin and catch the excitement.  Loads were hauled up the wall today to the first camp and most of the prep work was completed.  Right now we are out in Yosemite West, feasting on pasta, salad and wine.  The guys are enjoying their last night on the ground in a warm place, and soon we are heading back to the Valley to sleep and get an alpine start up the wall for the BIG PUSH!!  Tommy and Kevin are psyched to get going and excited for what's to come!!  Kevin took some time and made this topo of the route and marked the pitch difficulties and who is supposed to be on lead!  I will be doing my best to keep daily updates for all of you following.  I will be on ground crew tomorrow and cheering from the base, and might be heading up the day after.  Send good vibes to the guys!!!

Here's the topo.  And when I find internet tomorrow, I have a fun little surprise for all of you!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

As Promised...

Well, I'm not even going to attempt the video since I'm back at Curry Lounge, but hopefully these pictures will work!  Photos taken by the wonderful Tommy Caldwell!

Getting ready to go!

Pushing hard to the finish!

Good run.

Today was rainy in the Valley with snow along the rim, so we just hung out in our jackets all day and enjoyed how beautiful everything is with the clouds looming.  Tommy and Kevin have one more day to work out pitches, followed by a rest day and then on the 13th it's go-time for the push!!!  I think I might be more nervous/excited than they are!!  Pray for the guys that they have the mental and physical strength that they will need to accomplish this feat and for safety!!  It's going to be a full-on battle up there.

Bedtime Tea to help warm up in the van.

Looming clouds over the Valley.  View from Inspiration Point.

Wonderful husband cooking a delicious breakfast for me while I freeze out in the cold  getting a time lapse thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, click...repeat.

Same view from Inspiration point after the clouds cleared a bit.

Tommy shaving his beard in the only mirror besides the rear-view mirror that we have!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Race...

I got the awesome opportunity to run a half marathon with my best friend Lyndsay on October 30th.  In my last post I was picking up Lynds in Sacramento at the airport to go to Yosemite, and after a few days we headed to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.  We woke up to overcast skies and damp weather the morning of the race, which was perfect for us.  After getting ready and going to the bathroom it was time to line up at the start.  This was a smaller trail race, I think with about 300 participants total between the marathon/half/10k.  The marathoners got going first and after about 10 minutes they started us off.  The course for our run was running a loop twice, which started off with a slow incline and turned into uphill battle after uphill battle.  Once we reached the high point of the first loop we started heading down on the muddy and rocky terrain with a few more uphills mixed in.  There were a some fallen trees to duck under and leap over and a couple stream crossings on the course, which really spiced up the run.  As we started the second loop I was beginning to feel a little tired in my legs and started worrying about the uphill battle we were about to face again.  The first hill felt like a blow, and then the positive self talk kicked in and I was bullying myself, repeating in my head that "I will not break, I can endure this, suck it up, embrace the fatigue".  I put my head down and pushed as hard as I could.  We reached the high point again and were excited to get to the downhill again.  The mud seemed thicker and the rocks slicker, but overcoming the first wall of fatigue was exhilarating.  Now the race was getting really fun and we were going for it.  As we got closer to the finish line we picked up our pace and moved our legs as fast as we could, confiding in each other that we couldn't move any faster and just hoping we would last until the finish line.  We crossed the line at 1:50 (40 minutes faster than what I thought I would run it in) and walked around until we caught our breath.  It was such a blast and I can't wait for our next run.  Maybe a marathon??  We'll see!  

(I have a video clip Lynds and I took on the run, and I have been sitting here for no joke, 3 hours trying to upload, and needless to say the internet connection can't handle it.  Better off poaching in a Starbuck's parking lot than the free wifi in Curry Lounge!  The product of being in high speed wifi.  :)  So, some day soon to come...running footage from the race.  And it will come because we carried my phone 13.1 miles just to take a video for this purpose!  Photos to come as well!)  :)