I’ve learned in life that I do much better if I’m suffering....maybe suffering is too extreme of a word, but at least being slightly uncomfortable. When I’m pushing myself, and trying hard, digging deep inside to keep going, facing little challenges that I have to overcome; that’s when things fit together for me. I’m more pleasant to be around, I’m more motivated, I sleep easier at night, I feel more content. I’m not sure where this comes from or why. I don’t know if it clears the fog in my eyes and so I can see more clearly, or if it just makes me more grateful for where I’m at...whatever it is, it helps bring me to life. My default is to look for comfort. In Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, he talks about our brain becoming so efficient that it has turned against us. We have come up with all of these things as humans to be more efficient (cars, microwaves, etc), but it has morphed us into lazy people and ultimately become unhealthy. I probably really botched the point, but that’s what stuck. I think this is how my brain is. It tries to be really efficient and defaults to not pushing myself, but ultimately that is detrimental for me. So I find myself always trying to get over this hump and play the mind game of beating my brain. I think there’s been times in my life where I have gotten over the hump and it comes with less effort, but it’s always way easier to default back into comfort. Part of my desire for wanting to climb El Cap was to go into full on battle mode with this part of me. Try and whip it into shape. Force it out of its lazy ways.
It was raining like crazy and Tommy and I were planning on rapping into the route to mess around on a few pitches and stash some extra things for the climb, but alas the rain forced us to hang out in the van. Forecast said it was supposed to clear up that evening and then a great 4-5 day window with temps not even breaking 70. Our plan was to head up in the morning and put in a big day. The ropes up to Heart Ledges were fixed so that evening in the chilly dampness with his headlamp Tommy jugged up a small load to stash with the rest of the stuff on Hollow Flake Ledge we hauled up on our original effort.
Morning came and it was cold outside, barely breaking 40. We decided to wait a little bit for the sun to warm us and then I taped up and off we went with just a bullet pack to the base of the Free Blast. There was one team that had just gotten to the first anchors and by the time Tommy started the leader of the team was to the second anchors. These were our friends we had just met the previous day, Mauro and Bernie, 2 Italians that had come to free the Freerider. They let us pass them while they were hauling and we went around the roof and up. I was really focused on being “on it” so we could be efficient and make our goal of reaching El Cap Spire to sleep. We made it to Mammoth Terraces in a few hours, I lowered down and rapped to Heart Ledges and Tommy down climbed. As we were approaching the ledge, we saw this giant raven pecking vigorously at the mesh bag Tommy had placed there the night before with our lunch for the day. The raven hardly noticed our noisy efforts from a distance to scare him off. Eventually he must have filled up and flew away. Our peanut butter honey bagel sandwiches weren’t too destroyed, but most of one of the PowerBars were gone. We picked off the pecked parts thinking ravens probably didn’t have the cleanest beaks, and inhaled what we could to fuel our hungry bodies.
After a break in the sun we started up again. When I arrived at Hollow Flake Ledge I was feeling pretty loopy and kind of exhausted. The rest of our stuff was sitting at this ledge, which meant we had to haul it with us the rest of the way, which meant that the pitches were probably going to start taking an hour each. I learned on our first attempt up the wall that I’m not a huge fan of having to haul big loads as a part of the process in climbing. I’m very spoiled in the fact that I didn’t personally have to haul anything (although, had I tried I think I could have thrown my body down thinking really heavy thoughts and I don’t believe the bag would have flinched), Tommy took care of the hauling, but the waiting was terrible. I didn’t mind it too much, but I think I’m the type of person that if I’m going to do something, I just want to get it done - Tommy can vouch for this with our remodeling projects, me forcing us to work into the wee hours of the night. If we kept moving, my psyche stays high, and when the waiting sets in I think I relax too much and lose motivation. However, it was inevitable we had to haul because we wanted food and a sleeping bag when we finished for the day so I sucked it up. The next pitch off the ledge was a big chimney that Tommy said was 5.7 and wouldn’t be difficult. I had never chimneyed before, and in my exhaustion and not wanting to wait to haul and with nighttime not too far away I considered the jumars. I put them on, but had a mind battle whether or not to use them. I was okay with it, but then I told myself that I came to climb El Cap, not jumar it. I thought about my conversations with Jim Logan at Movement gym in Boulder, and got re-motivated and stuffed the jumars back in the bag. I knew I could do this and so I was going to suck it up, and I didn’t want to take the easy way out. After Tommy had climbed and the bags were hauled I climbed up off the ledge, put my feet against the outside wall, and my butt/hips on the inside wall and started scooting the way I saw Tommy scoot just before. I was sticking and it wasn’t bad at all! It was kind of fun actually. I was really glad I hadn’t thrown on my jumars, and I made it to Tommy reenergized and with a big smile on my face.
I think at that point we were a pitch below the ear and it was WET. Wet might actually be an understatement. For the sake of time and for the sake and the conditions, I ended up giving in and putting my jumars on. Tommy was slipping all over the place and I think it was the right decision. It looked like an awesome crack to climb had it not been soaked and it bummed me out about the conditions. He headed up and then worked his way behind the ear in all the wetness and I jugged along while he hauled. Tommy wanted to try the original 13+ crack to the right of the Monster off width so we headed up that way, and at this point it was just plain dark out. I was starting to get really tired again and it was turning into a long day. He decided to aid up and to get us up to the Alcove to sleep that night (just below El Cap Spire) and the next day he would work on the pitch. So that is what we did only to arrive at a pretty wet bivy spot. We had brought a tent with in case of rain, set it up, made dinner and by midnight we were passed out.
The next morning we woke to the patter of water dropping on our tent, which we used as an excuse to stay in the tent longer. We finally motivated later in the day, packed up and I belayed TC on toprope for a while as he worked out the pitch below. When he came up to take a break he decided he didn’t want my birthday climb to be about him freeing the Salathe since it would take a little bit of extra time, etc. and even if he wanted to try and free it, it would be really difficult because from there we could see a river coming down the route above us. We decided to head up to El Cap Spire and maybe do the next pitch and call it for the day. As I was going up James Lucas was coming down and he informed us that, yes, the above next pitches were pretty wet, which meant in the morning it was going to be even more wet. Tommy decided to head up the next pitch anyways, which was a beautiful crack. As he started climbing water was pouring down his arms and it was quite slippery so he ended up aiding the pitch. He fixed the line and we decided I would jumar the wet pitches the next morning as well. So, we set up camp on El Cap Spire and enjoyed the scenery. The position was unbelievable, and it was quite a spacious bivy, too! I thought back to the picture of Royal Robbins sitting in this same place, and about all other climbers that have made it up here and been happy to rest.
We woke up and enjoyed the morning a bit before packing up to finish the climb. Tommy, the unintentional sand bagger that he is, described the rest of the climb and my understanding was that it shouldn’t be too bad and no big problem. We should be back by dinner and might even rap to the ground that night. I was excited to finish and hoping to get my climbing shoes back on. The crack going up from El Cap spire was even more wet than the previous night, easily allowing one to fill a water jug. We left our stuff except a smaller haul bag on the Spire, started out and ended up going the aid way (I think that’s right) and made it through the water to the bottom of the Sewer pitch. Tommy and I figured by the looks of things at El Cap Spire that we might want our rain jackets, and for the Sewer pitch we wore them. By the time I jugged out and on to the ledge above the pitch my feet and hands were soaked and I was covered in green slimy stuff. The sun was just flirting with peaking through and shining on the ledge and was covering the wall above us. I couldn’t wait to move upward and warm up! Tommy climbed on and I took off all of my wet stuff and my rock shoes were back on. I climbed that pitch (and maybe there was another one after that?) and Tommy waited for me at a ledge. I pulled myself up on the ledge, clipped in, looked down and anxiety filled me. “Whewww, were we up high” I thought. My stomach started to get a little queazy and my nerves were jumping. I hammered my sandwich for lunch and Tommy started up. Once I started climbing again I calmed down. As I went up, if I remember right, the moves were getting harder, and so Tommy devised a way to take some weight while I climbed and as I did the moves I felt light as a feather...okay maybe not a feather, but it helped. :) When we got to the roof all the tat was really long and I probably would have been swinging all over the place so I kind of aided my way through the roof and finally made it to the bottom of the beautiful headwall pitch. We worked our way up, and I got some awesome hand jams up the crack, but there were also some REALLY hard moves in there. I kept thinking about how Steph Davis freed this, and what a feat that must have been.
We cruised up to Long Ledge and my belly groaned with hunger again. I ate some more food, and it was time to get moving. The sun was starting to make its way down and we needed to go if we were still going to rap back to El Cap Spire. Tommy headed over, and as I climbed up, I started to break down. My brain felt fried, and any moves that took some thought seemed impossible and I think all of the fatigue/mental stress/fear/etc. just built up and exploded out of me for about 3 minutes. I started crying, and didn’t know why I was crying. The tears were not coming from anywhere conscious, but they were there. Tommy said we could stop, but I was going to finish this thing no matter what. Especially being only one pitch away from the top. We had a bit of a moment, I apologized, tried to pull myself back together, felt really bad, and then up we went. We topped out, and I could barely remember the freak out just moments before. I was fine again. Elated actually to be on the top! We did a little victory dance, took some pictures, hooted and hollered, wished we had sleeping bags stashed at the top, and then got on the rope and started rapping down. Luckily we packed headlamps at the last minute and at Long Ledge put them on. We arrived at El Cap Spire not very long after topping out and set up shop. The moon was over half full and for some reason on El Cap, the moon seems to illuminate everything. We inhaled some macaroni and cheese with tuna and Tommy had practically a whole nalgene full of hot chocolate. Remembering parts of the day, we giggled like children in our sleeping bags zipped together and dozed off.
I slept so good that night, it seemed a pity to wake up. It was time to head to the ground though. Our haul bags weighed our harnesses down as we rappelled. Upon arriving on the ground, I was surprised that I didn’t feel more worked. I decided El Cap wasn’t so bad (mostly only because I was with the most dialed person, who makes scaling this piece of rock quite simple for anyone with him). We hiked to the van, took off our shoes, and headed to Curry to get a frozen strawberry fruit bar. As we pulled into the Curry parking lot, I was suddenly paralyzed with fatigue. I couldn’t move. But I desperately wanted a fruit bar. Tommy helped motivate me to get up, we got a fruit bar, some terrible nachos, some ice water and drove to a shady spot in the Ahwahnee parking lot, popped the top on the van and passed out hard. After our nap we cleaned up and went to El Cap meadow with a bouldering pad, some wine and cheese and crackers for the most perfect evening.
Laying on the crash pad looking up at El Cap I got adrenalized and started to wonder about the climbing on the rest of this massive wall. My eyes wandered up the line of the Nose and I asked Tommy about the climbing. As he described it to me, I got excited, only followed a few minutes later by a pit of nervousness at the thought of going up again. As the days have passed after the Salathe, El Cap seems to find its way into my head. I have an itch to see more. Tommy makes it totally possible and almost easy. Thinking about days of just climbing, following through with a commitment and accomplishing a goal, digging deep inside to keep moving up, searching for motivation to try hard and do the free moves even though I’m on toprope or I could easily throw my jumars on, working myself to fatigue, facing my fears head on, being in that indescribable position with amazing views, and best of it all time with my husband in his element...it all draws me in. It brings me to that place where I take my brain back into battle and overcome its weaknesses. I love seeing what I’m made of.
|Trying hard to stick the slab. Bernie below me!|
|Yum. PowerBar Smoothie bar.|
|Tired on Hollow Flake Ledge|
|Riding the haul bag. Awesome seat at a hanging belay.|
|On El Cap Spire!|
|Belaying TC on El Cap Spire.|
|Tom Frost's photo of Royal Robbins on El Cap Spire.|
|A lot of air between the ground and me!|
|Pretty windy at the bottom of The Headwall!|