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How do you escape el Cap?


Original Post
Mikeybarro · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 15

Just a mid-level sport/trad climber. So I literally know nothing about big wall climbing. But I've always been curious, especially with Adam Ondra repeating the Dawn Wall. If someone is free climbing el Cap, and say they are 20 pitches up, high enough that they can't build enough anchors to rap all the way down and there's no rap anchors on the wall, what do they do if they realize, "Oh shit, this is way harder than I can climb. I can't do this." Are they forced to aid the rest of the way? Or does this not happen because most people at thay level are too smart to get in that position?

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
Mikeybarro wrote:Just a mid-level sport/trad climber. So I literally know nothing about big wall climbing. But I've always been curious, especially with Adam Ondra repeating the Dawn Wall. If someone is free climbing el Cap, and say they are 20 pitches up, high enough that they can't build enough anchors to rap all the way down and there's no rap anchors on the wall, what do they do if they realize, "Oh shit, this is way harder than I can climb. I can't do this." Are they forced to aid the rest of the way? Or does this not happen because most people at thay level are too smart to get in that position?
Most routes on El Cap have bolted anchors. Some in better condition than others, but bolted none the less. It's possible some pitches may not be bolted, which would require leaving gear, but it's unlikely that you would climb an entire route on El Cap without any bolted anchors unless you're doing an FA. The Dawn Wall (more correctly the Wall of Early Morning Light) has bolted anchors for the most part if I recall correctly.
Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470

Well, regardless of climbing ability, weather might press anyone to have to effect an escape. As you pointed out, aiding to finish is an option. You yourself might find that useful as I have on alpine routes. With places like El Cap and just about every other popular climbing area, many, many parties have had to rappel sections of the cliff and have left old webbing and cord anchors. One can assess the condition of these anchors and use them as well, or make your own anchors. This can mean using pieces off the rack until they are all gone.

There are often bolted rappel routes on lines that see tons of traffic. El Cap has many bolted rappel lines one can make their way to and continue down. Most of this information is on topos, so some research can help in a dire situation.

USBRIT Ross · · Keswick Cumbria.UK · Joined Apr 2001 · Points: 21,358

These days just shout "help"

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470
USBRIT wrote:These days just shout "help"
That's more useful on the Eiger, where you say "Helllllp-icopter, please."
Rob Dillon · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2002 · Points: 710

I believe most people just traverse off.

Highlander · · Ouray, CO · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 255

On the steep/traversing routes, sometimes continuing upward is easier than going down.

Mydans · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 70

A lot of routes on the right side are overhanging so you can't just rappel off. On steeper terrain you need to down aid (basically place gear as you rap to keep you close to the wall and directionals so you are close to the next anchor. The person leading generally goes light and sometimes on a single rope so its easier to get to the anchor and then the other climber lowers the bag or raps with it. A lot of routes also traverse a fair bit and since you can't rap sideways these can be tough too. One good example was when my buddy and i did Mescalito. The seagull (pitch six) does 2 pendulums and then aids right so you basically go right almost horizontally for about 100 feet. This traverse takes you above the alcove and the start of the south seas which is really overhanging. I'm sure there is probably a way down but my partner and I joked that we had to summit because we had no idea how to reverse what we had just climbed. Roofs are also hard to reverse because if you try and rap off you may end up hanging in space.Like another poster said sometimes going up is easier than retreating

MacksWhineturd · · Squaw · Joined May 2016 · Points: 0

It is commonplace to just carry a couple of parachutes in the bottom of the haul bag. If you come to a move you can't do, just jump. You'll be in the meadow and someone else will deal with getting all your gear off the thing.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
MacksWhineturd wrote:It is commonplace to just carry a couple of parachutes in the bottom of the haul bag. If you come to a move you can't do, just jump. You'll be in the meadow and someone else will deal with getting all your gear off the thing.
Or a 3000' static rope so you can rap at any point.



USBRIT Ross · · Keswick Cumbria.UK · Joined Apr 2001 · Points: 21,358
20 kN wrote: Or a 3000' static rope so you can rap at any point.
El Cap ..Has now been turned into a top rope crag!
Mydans · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 70

I've been in the valley a couple of times when the cavers set up their huge fixed line on the dawn wall. From what it looks like its free hanging most if not the whole way and quite a distance from the wall in some cases. They take turns jugging it and then rapping the whole thing with a brake bar. Not really my cup of tea but it looks like good exercise.

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470

My climbing friend Sonya went with those single rope rappel guys last summer and did the El Cap rap twice. She said the first time is was scary as hell, but more enjoyable the second go around.

Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 415

I was on Tribal Rite a few years ago when the cavers had their ropes strung. We kept laughing and yelling back and forth that each other was nuts!

I asked them how much it would cost me to rap their ropes with my bags. They said I didn't have that much money, I assured them that I did but they still wouldn't let me. That would have been awesome, eh?

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,085
USBRIT wrote:These days just shout "help"


that's totally ridiculous,

just text 'help' and save your larynx.
King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420

If you are thinking about how to retreat already, you just don't have the commitment and what else it takes to do The Captain, yet.

This is also why most people do the low angle routes first that have fixed anchors top to bottom so bailing down low is easy. But once you get to 2/3's height pretty much any ordinary El Cap route is pretty committed, especially in bad weather. But people rap the Nose from top to bottom all the time. The needed anchors are there but be advised that rapping verglas is not an option.

If you choose a steep one, you have to actually:

1. Check the weather forecast.

2. Be prepared for weather not forecast.

3. Be prepared for it to take longer than you think (water and food).

4. Deal with it. Down Aid. Or summit. Or Die.

5. Or get rescued, but unfortunately in really bad conditions (wet and icy) you are kinda on your own until the situation is safe enough for rescuers. They don't like raining ice sheets which is a big problem on the lower angle walls. The steeper walls are better in this sense...they just get lowered down and then use a (literal) rope gun to fire a cord to you and you then reel them into your station. If you can't help them, they can't help you.

That's why its a Big Wall.

Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 415
King Tut wrote:If you are thinking about how to retreat already, you just don't have the commitment and what else it takes to do The Captain, yet.
No, I disagree. I think it's a good idea to go through what it would take to rap off your chosen El Cap route before you start up. Figuring something out when the shit has already hit the fan is a bad position to be in. I've done more El Cap routes than most people and my partners and I have always discussed our options before heading up.
Loganator · · blue van, on the highway to no · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 240

Once I was talking to a famous big wall speed climber, and she mocked me when I told her I was bringing a haul line for a one day ascent of Lurking Fear, with potentially bad weather:

"Why bring a second rope?" she asked.
"Well 1: for tagging up gear when I'm short fixing, and 2: in case it rains, and we need to bail"
"Bail?" she asked, as if she'd never heard the term before
"If it rains, just tape your coat sleeves to your arms so that the rainwater doesn't flow down to your armpits"
just a reminder that I'm still a mere mortal...

When we climbed Half Dome (prior to the flake collapse) the 1st 12 pitches each had a rope anchor, it seems someone was chopping there rope ~4 feet at a time as they bailed. Hence why "bailing upwards" is often the better option!

Also, Adam Ondra fixed ~1000' or so during his beta burns, and had a portaledge camp setup about halfway for a few weeks. So it's less scary when you have a crew, high camps, and lots of extra ropes, also sponsorship for said gear...

USBRIT Ross · · Keswick Cumbria.UK · Joined Apr 2001 · Points: 21,358
Mark Hudon wrote: No, I disagree. I think it's a good idea to go through what it would take to rap off your chosen El Cap route before you start up. Figuring something out when the shit has already hit the fan is a bad position to be in. I've done more El Cap routes than most people and my partners and I have always discussed our options before heading up.
Agree Mark .... you are dealing with some amateurs on this thread.!!
Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
USBRIT wrote: Agree Mark .... you are dealing with some amateurs on this thread.!!
Kingtut is hardly an amateur.
King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
Mark Hudon wrote: No, I disagree. I think it's a good idea to go through what it would take to rap off your chosen El Cap route before you start up. Figuring something out when the shit has already hit the fan is a bad position to be in. I've done more El Cap routes than most people and my partners and I have always discussed our options before heading up.
Actually I totally agree, Mark. Its a cart before the horse, though, is what I was trying to say. I guess I failed.

What I was trying to communicate is the burning passion has got to be the summit and the skills to climb your route of choice. Every single person heading up big stone should not be posting on forums on how to get down however. When you are ready, you will know. Its simply part of taking responsibility for the safety of your party.

Every competent party has their retreat plan in order from any position and knows when they are utterly committed to summitting, waiting it out, or getting down. But certainly parties have gone up there not knowing what the hell to do and woefully unprepared.

I guess I wasn't being fair and being salty. There really are no dumb questions on forums, but if you have to ask how to get down, you aren't ready to be going up I think is fair to say?
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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