Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finally made it to the top...and bottom of El Cap!

Sunday afternoon we loaded up some heavy packs and made the trek from the Valley floor up the East Ledges to the top of El Capitan!  To any who know, this hike is a bit more than a hike.  You walk a steep uphill for about 45 minutes, then jumar 4 pitches, followed by just over an hour more of uphill slabs.  As we made our way up we caught awesome light shining past El Cap into the Valley as the sun went down.  We took our time taking in the sights, looking over on the Nose just totally captivated by its magnitude and beauty.  Spread across the wall were other climbers working hard, or enjoying this peaceful time on a ledge hundreds of feet in the air.  We reached camp near the lip of the top as it was getting dark where a tent was awaiting us.  We unpacked, cooked up some soup and hit the sack.  Morning light came shining in our tent door and as we pulled ourselves out of sleeping bags a view of Half Dome with snow covered mountains in the back greeted us.  Jay and Kevin were sharing some coffee on a slab in the sunlight while Tommy climbed a tree to get the bag of food down to start making up some oatmeal for breakfast.  I scurried around with my camera trying to capture the beauty that laid before me.  After scarfing some breakfast Kevin and Tommy got their haul bags all ready to lower down to Wino Tower, our next home and their base camp for the season.  Jay and I packed some empty water jugs in packs and hiked out with the mission to locate the spring to get water from.  After a couple of wrong turns, we entered a lush forest on the top of El Cap and located the babbling spring and proceeded to fill Gatorade bottles into gallon jugs.  Upon returning back to camp we loaded up and prepared to head down to the fixed lines that we would be rappelling down about 1100 feet to stay perched in the sky on a tiny granite ledge.  As we reached the edge of the lip we heard a thunderous sound and took a second to process what was going on.  It registered and we hurried faster to see the damage.  A huge rockfall had just happened on the east side of El Capitan and that side of the wall was engulfed in a big dust cloud slowly billowing.  We stood in awe watching it rise and waft, reassuring ourselves that where we were rapping into was a very unlikely place for rockfall.

Jay lowered Tommy down as I lowered hundreds of pounds of gear/food/water/etc. at Tommy's command through the radio.  When Tommy was done clipping directionals and getting the bags in place, Kevin rappelled down fixing the line to the different anchors and when he was set I headed down...a heavy haul bag hooked to my belay loop hanging between my legs.  Rapping over the edge of El Cap is quite an experience...especially the spot that we drop off of.  The lip that we go off of is overhanging so you go from ground to dangling with 3000ft of air between you and the ground.  The exposure combined with the excitement of the independence and responsibility of passing the anchors safely is quite exhilarating!!  After about an hour of lowering, etc I met Kevin and Tommy whooping and hollering at my arrival to Wino Tower.  After getting clipped in to a fixed line on the ledge I watched the guys set up the portaledge and Jay come in for his landing on the ledge.  We made some peanut butter-honey bagel sandwiches and relaxed for a bit.  Life in the sky is pretty nice.

As the wall went into the shade Tommy and Kevin prepped to rap down some more fixed lines and work on the pitches below us.  They climbed into the dark only to return for some dinner and head back down again.  I laid in the port-a-ledge staring at the stars, chatting with Jay who was tucked into his port-a-ledge, thinking about how bizarre it is that I sleep in the sky like this.

We woke up to the sound of a base-jumper zooming by us, but missed seeing it.  Since the sun was on the wall and the temps were rising we lingered in bed a while relaxing and playing on our iphones.  Thank goodness for iphone Sudoku!  After hours of hanging out and occasionally eating the shade was coming and it was time for Jay and I to rap and the guys to start climbing again.  We re-packed everything and again each dropped over the edge on their rappel devices to head down the rope to another spot on the wall.  Jay and I continued to journey down the rest of the length of El Cap.  As the sun was going down and the light was a warm red across the Valley one of the many parties on the wall let out a big hoot and for about 1 full minute there were echoes of everyone's own cry responding to each other.  I hollered a few different times and laughed as the rope fed through my ATC.

Rock fall dust cloud!! 

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