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.


  1. i'll bring out a giant kevlar umbrella for the top next season.

  2. Just a phenomenal, inspiring effort that so many people in the climbing world shared with you. Well done, bad luck on the weather front, and good luck with the effort next time around. Technical question: why not do it slightly earlier in the season? Cheers!

  3. Great post, and amazing effort. Thanks for keeping us all posted on this incredible journey.

  4. really impressive, good luck guys!

  5. Amazing dream, courageous effort. Your work is very inspiring. Good luck in the spring, hope to come by and offer encouragement and some awe.

  6. What an inspiring effort. So psyched I decided to ditch Nepal this winter for Patagonia! Want that big wall buzzzzz!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. You only fail if you never try. Send or no send you guys are living the dream and inspiring climbers all over the world. Congrats on getting so far on attempt one, I've got high hopes for you guys on attempt two!