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Freerider- Spring of 2019

Original Post
Tony Nichols · · Golden, CO · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

Clay and I began planning a trip to Yosemite to climb El Capitan in the summer of 2018. Neither of us had ever been to Yosemite, or been on a big wall before. We quickly chose Freerider as our route, not because of Free Solo, but because it seemed like the easiest route with the least amount of big wall antics required. Neither one of us had any clue how to aid, pendulum, haul, etc. and it seemed like the route that would provide the easiest learning curve. As our departure date approached, the weather looked worse every day, but due to other obligations, we were committed to our timeline. After a week of waiting around in the valley, ticking off smaller climbs like Super Slacker Highway and Sons of Serenity, it became apparent that the weather was not going to get any better, and we were not going to get the window that we desperately hoped for. We decided to head up the wall in spite of the weather, and at least give it a shot. After a year of practice, preparation, and spending way too much money, we wanted to at least try.

Day 1: Tuesday (May 28th)

Our initial plan was to haul to hearts first, and then climb to hearts and continue on from there. We ended up changing our plans slightly, climbing to Hearts, descending, and then hauling before we continued on. This was not the ideal style we envisioned, but it seemed like the smarter approach given the circumstances. We began up Freeblast around 8 in the morning with no other parties around. The weather forecast suggested we had until 2pm when the rain would come, so we felt a slight pressure to move as quick as possible. The plan was for us to lead and follow these pitches, not having to haul or jug. Clay cruised through the p1 finger/fist crack and I was able to follow cleanly. Clay continued leading through the roof traverse, pulling on gear and quickly rounding the corner stopping at the next set of anchors. I took the lead from there on the 10C, free climbing the easy stuff, and stepping in slings whenever the climbing looked slightly more difficult. Clay reassumed the lead for the slab pitches, attempting to onsight them, but resorting to pulling on gear as soon as he fell.

Up to this point everything had been relatively dry, and the start of the 5.9 right facing corner was no different. When I reached the short little roof pull, the pitch was absolutely soaked. After some hemming and hawing on a not so great looking alien, I stepped in a few slings and built an anchor below the Half Dollar, also soaked. Clay continued to push us upward, swearing and grunting his way up the water slide chimney. Clay and I split the 5.7's and found ourselves on top of Mammoth Terrace. After the rappel down to Hearts Ledge it was around 2 pm and it looked like the weather was going to stay away. We rapped the fixed lines back to the ground, and found our way back to camp.  
Day 2: Wednesday (May 29th)

The rain was supposed to be gone around 7 pm, but around 430 it looked like it wasn't going to come at all. Clay's brother Perry and Perry's girlfriend Camy helped us haul our massive load to the base so that we could haul it to hearts where we planned to spend the night. We approached this climb wanting a true big wall experience. We brought a ledge, 10 gallons of water, 6 days worth of food, and backup essential gear in case we dropped anything crucial.  Our train consisted of 2 haul bags, a day bag, the ledge, and the poop tube.  Looking back we brought way too much stuff, but it was all part of the experience and I'm grateful for it. We began hauling around 7 pm and got to hearts around 12. I don't know if hauling 200ish pounds to hearts in 5 hours is fast, average, or slow. It certainly felt slow and backbreaking at the time. While the weather forecast of rain everyday was a bummer, I was somewhat glad that we wouldn't have to deal with many other parties, because I didn't want to be the ones to hold someone up. We settled into our bivy sacks and spent an amazing night on Hearts watching the stars

Day 3: Thursday (May 30th)

We woke up and began making breakfast when Alex Honnold and Emily Harrington began the down climb from Mammoth Terrace. Emily was attempting to do Golden Gate in a day and Alex was supporting her in that effort. We spent a half hour or so with them and their cameraman as Emily did the 11C pitch, which was soaked at the crux. She offered me beta as it was my lead, but I let her know that my beta would likely consist of pulling on the bolt at the crux. Alex and Emily continued on their way swimming through the route at a phenomenal pace. I had difficulty even getting to the bolt at the crux, so I did a little pendulum to the crack system just below it. I then pulled on the bolt and finished the pitch up on Lung Ledge.

Clay took us to the Hollow Flake where he planned to continue on with the routes purportedly scariest pitch. Clay and I aren't particularly versed in Wide climbing, which this route has a ton of. We planned to aid a lot of the wide stuff, but the Hollow Flake is notorious for being unprotectable through a large portion of it. I bought Clay a Merlin 8 for his High school Graduation gift with this pitch and the Monster Offwidth in mind. On the Haul to Hearts Ledge one of the wires broke on the Merlin. The piece seemed to still function ok, but Clay had to use two hands to retract all 4 lobes. After a bit of playing around with the height on the pendulum to the crack, Clay was in the Hollow and fully committed. What I expected to be a rather nerve wracking pitch ended up being over fairly quickly. Clay walked up it, keeping the broken Merlin above him most of the time. Clay found himself on top of the Hollow Flake and after a quick lower out I was jugging the rope cleaning the pitch. Clay had left a 6 behind and it had walked its way back into the crack. I was able to reach the carabiner to unclip the piece, but couldn't find a way to pull the triggers to remove the piece from the rock. After a considerable amount of time trying every which way to squeeze farther in the crack, I reluctantly left the 6 behind. With a broken Merlin, a lost 6, and lots of wide climbing ahead, I was not feeling too great.

There had been a group behind us who arrived at Hearts as we were on Lung Ledge. Their plan was to try and go to the Spire and back down that day. When we arrived at the Hollow Flake Ledge we opted to eat lunch and wait on them to pass us so as to not hold them up. We checked the weather and the threat of rain appeared to be gone completely. We waited around for an hour or two, but they were struggling on the Hollow Flake pitch, so we opted to continue on the next pitch, which was a 5.7 chimney. I took the lead end and began up, facing outwards. I walked the 6 up a short ways until it was completely tipped out. I initially left the Merlin behind with Clay, but quickly wished I had brought it. I down climbed back to the belay and grabbed the Merlin. I continued back up the Chimney, but the Merlin wasn't much help because I couldn't just push it up due to the broken wire. I really wanted to come back down and have Clay do the pitch. He is the supremely stronger climber and I was scared of plummeting out of the chimney. However, I wanted to pull my weight and lead my pitches. I made the decision to push on and climb into the unknown. While the pitch scared the shit out of me, it wasn't actually that bad. I found some super positive face holds, cut feet, and got myself onto the face and out of the horrifying chimney. I thought I was going to be greeted with smooth sailing, and plentiful gear at this point, but I found the rock to be fractured and insecure. The climbing was easy, but it was hard to trust that nothing would break. As I navigated my way through the fractured rock, Alex and Emily appeared from above, and began rappelling past me. Emily had been unable to do the downclimb on Golden Gate due to the wet rock. Alex mentioned that we were moving along nicely. I don't know if he was just being nice or if we were actually doing ok speed wise (given our load,) but it was a huge confidence boost. I told Alex I thought I left the chimney too soon because of the rock quality, but he confirmed that I was on route. I confided in him how scary the chimney had been and that I was not well versed in wide climbing. He simply stated that this is how you get good at it. Point taken.


Tony Nichols · · Golden, CO · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

After reaching the anchor, I waited for Alex and Emily to pull their rope, and then I heard the sound of thunder. I looked to the sky and it didn't look too bad. A quick shower at most is what I thought it would be. Clay suggested that I fix the line and come down while we waited to see what happened. As I began rappelling it began to rain, lightly at first. And then the sky's opened up. We were greeted with a torrential downpour for what seemed like a half hour or so. During that downpour there were long period of golf ball sized hail stinging us with each strike. Clay and I attempted to hide under the chimney, and while I'm sure it did mitigate the damage, it certainly didn't seem like it. After the storm stopped, our clothes and gear were soaked. We had Bivy gear and dry clothes, but I was concerned about getting our sleeping bags and fresh clothes wet. We went over and set up our portaledge, to include the fly. After we got it all set up we looked up and saw a party above rappelling towards us. It appeared that they were going to be bailing. While waiting for them, I changed my clothes to try and get warm, adding my rain pants and jacket to what I was wearing. Shortly thereafter it began to rain and hail again and we were back under the chimney. We had the ledge set up, but were unable to actually get in it because of the party bailing. And behind them was a second party bailing. Both parties bailed past us which took a considerable amount of time. While moving about our anchor, and manipulating the ledge, they tore a few small holes in the fly and by the time we were able to get into the ledge, it was completely soaked inside.

We spent a miserable night in the ledge, wet and cold, and seriously considering if we were going to be going home with a tale of defeat.  The only good news was the party below, that had planned to go to the spire, somehow managed to free the 6 from the Hollow Flake.

Day 4: Friday (May 31st)

We spent the majority of the next day sulking about Hollow Flake Ledge, looking at the upcoming forecast. It rained periodically, but nothing major.  Everything we owned was absolutely soaked.  My chalk pouch weighed close to 10 lbs and was full of hail. We were certainly a bit rattled by the storm, and after being mislead by the forecast that said no rain, we were weary to begin again. We hemmed and hawed about what to do, not wanting to quit, but also not wanting to be foolish in going up, pushing us farther from the safety of the ground. While preparing for this climb we relied on Andy Kirkpatrick's Higher Education. In it he says a couple of things that really resonated with me that we relied on to make our decision to continue forward. First he says not to give up on a dream for a pizza and a coke. This became a saying we referenced often during our ascent. Second he says the only way to fail is to go down. The forecast was pretty consistent in that the wet weather was an afternoon thing, with the mornings and nights being clear. We had tried out some night climbing when we first arrived in the valley, and didn't find it to be too terrible. So, we made a plan to climb at night, into the morning, and sleep during the day, when the rain was around.

That evening we went up our fixed line, to the top of the chimney, and we continued onwards, with the goal of making the spire. The first pitch was a 10A right facing corner, with a little bit of face climbing, that Clay dispatched fairly quickly despite the wetness he encountered. I had a 10C double crack system that looked really fun if it had been dry. The combination of the wet rock and night time had me feeling less than confident. Up to this point I had been french freeing my pitches. However, just before we left Colorado, I bought a Fifi hook at the last possible second. I had read a small section in Andy Kirkpatricks book on how to aid climb and thought I'd give it a shot. It was a crack climb after all and wouldn't require any hook shenanigans (which is good, because we didn't bring any.) So I cranked out my first ever aid pitch and let out a wild howl when I reached my anchors.

Next up was the dreaded ear, which is supposed to be quite devious when dry. Rated only 5.7 it is widely considered one of the biggest sandbags around. Clay began up, cursing and grunting just as he had done on the Half Dollar. The Chimney gets smaller as it goes up, until eventually it pushes you out the right side of it. Clay carried on, leaving his 6 behind, and pushing the merlin forward until he left that behind as well. I saw Clay's headlamp round the corner and ontop of the ear and everything appeared to be going quite well. Then I heard Clay yell down for rope. I looked at the rope and it looked like there was a decent amount of slack out, but I gave him some more. He yelled down for rope again, and then we realized that the rope was stuck on something. Clay looked down into the Chimney and saw the rope was stuck behind the Merlin, back in the Ear itself. Clay was 5 feet away from the anchors and unable to tie the rope off or create an anchor. He had no choice but to down climb back into the ear and attempt to free the rope so that we could continue forward. Clay took one step towards the chimney and his foot slipped on the wetness. I heard Clay yell out and he sounded quite alarmed. I then saw his head lamp begin to plummet back towards me. He then yelled again. Most falls are over so quick you wouldn't have time for two separate screams, but I heard both of his quite clearly. When Clay fell, the rope was pinned behind the Merlin and the force of the fall rotated the Merlin in such a way that it popped the gear right ouf of the crack. Clay then went for the ride of his life, falling for what felt like an eternity. I remember thinking briefly that the rope was cut because he shouldn't still be falling. Then he swung back in towards the rock hard, penduluming back under the chimney and hitting the rock below. I don't know how far the fall was, but it was huge by any standard. 40 feet at the least, and probably closer to 50. He was of course banged up, and there was some concern that his thumb may be broken, but all things considered he was ok. After taking a moment to collect himself he got back on and finished the pitch for the second time. Once he fixed my line I weighted the rope with my ascenders. This immediately ripped the 6 out of the rock that had just caught his fall. With the Merlin and the 6 ripped out of the rock, the pitch was a breeze to clean.

The initial plan was for Clay to climb the Monster Offwidth as well, but given the recent events, I opted to climb the 13C (C1+) aid route just to the right of it. I had just completed my first aid climb and was feeling pretty good about myself. I would even go so far as to say it was fun. I began up in the dark, and finished in the sunrise. There were a few tricky spots, and I did rip one piece (managing to grab the piece I had just placed to arrest my fall), but all in all it went quite well. Clay cranked out the short 10A offwidth to put us in the Alcove and we were one pitch from our goal, El Cap Spire. The Topo suggests it is a 5.7 Chimney, but all I saw was a 5.hard waterfall. I wasn't too keen on chimneying the pitch, and had remembered something about a 10a hand crack behind the spire itself. I did a bit of an exploratory mission and found two cracks. Using a combination of aid and free tactics I put us on the Spire where we ended our night. Spirits were high after a night of climbing in which we reached our goal. When we left Hollow Flake Ledge I don't think either of us were convinced that it was the right decision to go up, but standing on the Spire we were now convinced that we were going to the top.

Day 5: Saturday (June 1st) 

We spent the morning trying to sleep which was difficult in the blazing sun. There were a few showers, and a pretty fierce wind storm, but we were in our bivy sacks and stayed mostly dry. We each only got a 2 hours of sleep at most, but spent a spectacular day on the Spire soaking in the position and the scenery. Watching the forecast suggested there was still a chance of storms around 7 pm, but the skys looked ok. We decided to pack the bivy's up and get moving. The goal for the night would be to reach the block, the next decent bivy spot.  

I started us off on the 11C tight hands crack right off the spire.  The crack was drenched as far as I could see, so I was going to be aiding it.  I had the option of a 10D flake to the right, but it looked much harder to protect.  At the end of the crack there was a section of squeeze chimney.  It took a 6 for a while, but then it got too big.  I didn't bring the Merlin, pretty much convinced that thing was worthless now.  I figured since the chimney was too wide for the 6 above me,  I might as well leave both below me.  That turned out to be a mistake, as the Chimney narrowed at the crux, just before pulling on top of it.  Just as I did on the 5.7 Chimney, I sucked it up and just cranked out the moves without much in the way of protection.  I realized that it would be pretty hard to actually fall in the chimney.  At most I would grind down a little bit until the friction of my knees and back stopped me.

Clay cranked out the next 3 pitches in the pitch dark, a 10D, 12a, and the 13a Boulder problem pitch, aiding and pulling on bolts liberally.  Clay went straight up the furthest right crack before the boulder problem, which we later learned might not have been the easiest way.  I was struggling to stay awake while belaying on the 12A and the Boulder Problem pitch, which he linked into one.  Clay said he had trouble finding the thumb catch hold in the darkness.  

Tony Nichols · · Golden, CO · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

It was now my turn to finish the night linking the Sewer onto the Block.  I didn't imagine the Sewer would be much different that the other wet pitches we had encountered up to this point, but I was quite mistaken.  The Sewer, at night, after weeks of rain, was beyond miserable.  Maybe its always that bad, but I'd have to say it is the least amount of fun I can remember having while climbing.  Which is too bad, because it actually had some really cool moves and holds on the pitch, and would be a fantastic climb if dry.  As I reached the end of the pitch I realized I didn't have enough gear to link it to the block.  I decided to spare Clay the misfortune of having to follow through the miserable waterfall. I fixed the rope, rappelled and cleaned the pitch, then jugged back up and continued on to the block.  Under different circumstances I would have loved to free climb to the block, but at this point I was beyond exhausted and didn't have it in me.  A final heel hook free move put me on top of it, and our night was at its end, shortly following sunrise.  

Day 6: Sunday (June 2nd)

Before going to bed we decided to take a rest day, sleeping all day and night, making a final push for the summit the following day/night.  There was a brief period of rain while we were in our bivies that afternoon, but nothing that seemed too concerning.  There was even a multi tiered roof overhead that I thought might protect us.  After all, the block appeared bone dry when we arrived on top of it.  Instead, the roof dripped and leaked on us all day and all night, creating a rainy day atmosphere when it was not actually raining.  That night we laid in our bivies as they slowly got wetter and wetter with each drip.  In hindsight, we should have done one more pitch and set up the portaledge.  Instead, we laid there complaining about how wet our sleeping bags and bivies were, and how we couldn't sleep.  Throughout the night I could hear Clay tossing and turning, occasionally spouting profanities.  At first I was quite alarmed, and was concerned enough to ask what was wrong.  Later in the night I ignored him, smirking at his outbursts and our misfortune.
Day 7: Monday (June 3rd)

We awoke to wet bivies, sleeping bags, and gear.  Packing all the wet gear up was quite the chore, and not the least bit enjoyable.  I started us off on the 10C loose flakes pitch.  I started off free climbing, and mostly free until I had to shift left from the flakes to the final crack system.  After precariously aiding that section I found the anchors, only to discover I left the haul line at the belay! DOH!  Andy Kirkpatrick said this would happen at least once, and so it did.  After sorting that hassle out, Clay took over the lead for the Enduro Corners.  Clay freed the first 30 feet or so, but like everything else, the pitch was wet and he went into full aid mode.  He climbed quickly and brilliantly, making short work of the flared corner system.  At the very top, the gear ran out and he was forced to do another short free section to find the chains.    

There had been thunderstorms predicted around 2 pm, so we got below the roof and pitched our porta ledge.  We Kept the fly close by, but left it off, thinking the roof would protect us.  We then set up and had lunch, enjoying the view.  This is what big walling was supposed to be.  Hanging out on the ledge, beautiful weather, and wonderful daytime views.  We talked about the journey that brought us here, how we were so close to the summit, and not jinxing ourselves.  We were able to briefly get service and found that the rain that had been in the forecast was gone, and that the rest of the day showed clear.  We were slightly annoyed to have pitched the ledge for nothing, wasting 3 hours of our day, but also glad for the positive experience in the ledge, hanging out and relaxing.  

After breaking down the ledge, Clay set off on the infamous traverse pitch, leaving the Salathe, and taking us to the home stretch.  Once again, Clay climbed fast and efficiently, mixing aid and free tactics, and soon I heard him say off belay.  I did a huge lower out of the bag, and then set off cleaning the pitch, having to repeatedly lower myself out as well.  

I arrived on the Round table looking up at a beautifully overhung crack system.  I got the aiders ready to go and I started up the most fun pitch of aid yet.  There was a long section of 3's where I ran it out 40 feet or so, bumping one 3 after the other.  I then aided my first roof system, and had an absolute blast doing so.  I finished the pitch dreaming about coming back and free climbing the pitch.  I can only imagine how pumpy it must be.  

Night time descended, and Clay took over for the Scotty Burke Offwidth.  This pitch looked absolutely wild and bizzare.  Clay was quickly out of sight, and I didn't hear a peep from him until he said off belay.  As I belayed I wondered how he was doing and how he was feeling about the pitch.  After what seemed like a life time Clay shouted off belay.  As I cleaned the pitch I was enamored by the pitch and even got to climb a short section where you chimney between three separate walls.  Clay did amazing, but admitted the rope drag at the end was heinous.      

Both of us were beginning to feel the combined effects of sleep deprivation, hunger, and exhaustion.  We were 3 pitches from the top, and were determined to finish, but we were having trouble keeping ourselves together mentally and physically.  Not much sleeping had been done on this wall and it was finally catching up to us.  

I began up the second to last pitch, not sure if I was going to link into the next one or not.  I started off free climbing the pitch, but after pulling on a few pieces and saying take, I figured it'd be more efficient just to aid it as I had most of the route up to this point anyhow.  When I pulled onto the final 5.6 slab I was concerned that  I was off route.  I pulled out the topo and confirmed that everything was matching up, the only issue was I didn't see an anchor where it indicated it should be.  I went to the top of the slab and saw two fixed pieces and figured that's what the anchor consisted of.  I looked up and saw a cool roof that should be easy to aid out, and so I opted to just link the pitches.  

After aiding out the roof I found myself on a small wet ledge.  I looked up and saw a sloping ramp leading back into a chimney with a crack and multiple fixed pieces.  I began up, but the gear I left behind in the roof caused some pretty nasty rope drag.  I decided to build an anchor, fix the rope, lower back down to the slab, then re-aid the roof, cleaning it along the way, creating a nice straight line of rope for clay when the jugged up.

When I arrived back on the ledge I broke down the anchor and started off into the chimney.  I remembered reading the Topo and it saying "crack in the back".  So I followed the ramp all the way to the back, where I Found a roof crack coming back out of the chimney.  I started to aid out of the roof of the chimney and started to feel the squeeze getting tighter with each move.  The gear on my harness was grinding on the back of the wall as I tried to shimmy further and further out of the chimney.  I was afraid that cams were going to start falling off of me.  I went as far as I could and my helmet got stuck.  I tried for a considerable amount of time to weasel my head out in different positions, but was simply unable to figure out how to get out.  And then the unthinkable happened, my head lamp went out!  

I knew it wasn't the battery because I changed them at the beginning of the day, and the batteries were supposed to last upwards of 70 hours.  I began to panic, trying anything and everything to get the lamp on.  I could get it to blink red but that was about it.  I sank onto my 2 daisy's, grinding down the wall, utterly defeated.  I was going to be hanging in my harness, in this god forsaken chimney for the next 2 hours while we waited for daylight.  I didn't bother to explain this to Clay at the time, I couldn't find the right words to shout across the void.  "We're fucked." was all that came to mind.  

After 10 minutes of self loathing I began to bang my head on the wall in frustration.  And then the light came back on!  I Climbed back up to my daisys, unclipped them from the two pieces of gear, clipped the rope in, and had Clay lower me back to the ledge below the chimney.  I built anchor right there and brought Clay and the haul bag up to me.  

I explained my mini epic to Clay and he let me know that his headlamp was malfunctioning as well.  He couldn't get it to go past the lowest setting.  It was enough light to clean a pitch, but not to lead one.  And then then my light went out again.   I spent 10 minutes or so working on it before me and Clay decided it would be best to just hang in our harnesses and sleep until the sun came out.  Clay said that he wasn't feeling right, and that he was speaking, but couldn't remember doing so.  While Clay dosed off I continued to mess with my headlamp, finally figuring out that that lamp itself had come unscrewed from the battery pack.  I screwed it in and it solved the issue.


Tony Nichols · · Golden, CO · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

I gave Clay my headlamp, and I took his, as he jugged up on my two pieces in the roof.  He jugged as high as he could without actually entering the inside of the chimney and he continued upwards from the outside.  he pulled onto the face and was on a fantastic ledge before much longer.  I tried to clean the pieces that I left in the chimney but couldn't get in there with the aiders.  I probably could have just climbed it again with the Gri-Gri, lowered myself, and then jugged up, but at this point I was over it and wanted nothing to do with the chimney any longer.  I had Clay lower the haul line to me, transferred to that line, pulled the lead line from the pieces, abandoning them in the chimney for the next lucky soul to find, and jugged up to the ledge below the summit.  

Day 8: Tuesday (June 4th)

We sat up there for an hour or so making breakfast and watching the sunrise before I cranked out the last tiny pitch to the summit proper.  Once Clay and the bags were up we dropped everything on and around us and flopped down right there sleeping for an hour at most before waking up to the baking sun.  We then spent an entire day hiking down, not making it down in time for pizza, but making it to the village store just before closing time, which we promptly raided for snacks and goodies.
This concludes the greatest adventure of my life thus far.

Abandoned User · · Unknown Hometown · Joined unknown · Points: 6,830


Doug Kinsman · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 0

Sounds like a great adventure and is interesting to know that it can be done soaking wet. You guys were super lucky Clay's fall wasn't any worse as it would have been a tough spot to get down from. Seems like the weather forecast was the real crux, can't imagine hauling all of that wet gear around; great job and excellent writeup.

Niki Beneria · · Spain · Joined Dec 2015 · Points: 0

Had a great time reading your story! Thanks!

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 148

Welcome to Yosemite and that brethren of men and women who have climbed El Cap. You earned it.

All in all some fine and standard newbie wall shenanigans on the big stone. ;)

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 311

A great adventure! Thx for posting. 

Mikey Schaefer · · Redmond, OR · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 246
Tony Nichols wrote: Andy Kirkpatrick's Higher Education. In it he says a couple of things that really resonated with me....   ...Second he says the only way to fail is to go down.
Well that is a fun sound bite and all but the reality is not surviving would also constitute a failure.   Unless you live by the mantra "summit or death, either way I win..."  But I generally don't subscribe to that thinking.

Regardless, nice TR and way to stick it out and stand on top!!  Sounds similar to many of my early El Cap routes!. Without a doubt those epics taught me so much about climbing.
brian burke · · santa monica, ca · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 145

nice writeup! tfpu. 

Cory F · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25

The best climber climbs tomorrow

Abandoned User · · Unknown Hometown · Joined unknown · Points: 6,830

The best climber is not from the Greater Los Angeles area 

Cory F · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25
Reformed Troll wrote: The best climber is not from the Greater Los Angeles area 


SethG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 251

I enjoyed every word of that. Really brought the experience to life. Congrats on getting up El Cap on your first try, and soaking wet to boot. I've never done a big wall but I'd say that is a real achievement. You should be proud.

Oh and that fall sounds terrifying. Lucky it wasn't a much worse situation.

Tony Nichols · · Golden, CO · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0
Mikey Schaefer wrote: Well that is a fun sound bite and all but the reality is not surviving would also constitute a failure.   Unless you live by the mantra "summit or death, either way I win..."  But I generally don't subscribe to that thinking.
 I’d certainly agree with you.  I don’t think we were ever in danger of dying, facing nothing more than severe discomfort at the worst moments.  I’d like to think if we got anywhere near a serious moment such as death we would have had the intelligence to get off the mountain.

Regardless, nice TR and way to stick it out and stand on top!!  Sounds similar to many of my early El Cap routes!. Without a doubt those epics taught me so much about climbing.

I certainly appreciate the positive feedback, particularly from staples in the community such as yourself.  Mountain Project can be brutal at times and I didn’t expect the amount of encouragement and positivity as we have received, so thank you for that.

Clint Cummins · · Palo Alto, CA · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 924

Kind of high risk going for it under such wet conditions.
I agree with Mikey - that fall in The Ear could have been fatal.
There are just some times in climbing when you are not supposed to fall, like in a poorly protected chimney,
and once it is wet, falling can happen a lot more easily.
As my old roommate used to say, "To suffer is to learn."

Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 420


You guys made it up this route by the skin on your teeth. Barely, barely, barely but still you made it up and didn’t mess up anyone else’s experience. Good on ya for that and congrats. You certainly learned a lot and I imagine your next El Cap ascent will go far smoother.

Your reason for going up Freerider rather than the Salathe is interesting to me. Obviously you were in no way capable of free climbing Freerider but felt that it would be easier than you going up the Salathe. I don’t really see the logic there. Regardless, it’s a huge learning experience for you, and given your obvious gumption, I suspect you’ll be getting up any El Cap route in any style you choose real soon.


Tony Nichols · · Golden, CO · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

Thanks Mark,

It's cool to see the positive feedback from the legends like yourself.  Clay certainly is capable of freeing every pitch on the thing in the proper conditions, me not so much.  I was a lot more keen to aid climb when things got the least bit challenging, but Clay freed as much as he could, so I think that is why we chose Freerider.  Maybe we could have audibled to Salathe once we were on the thing, but I'm not sure it would have been any easier.  I was doing the true aiding and I had never aided a pitch in my life before this thing.  Salathe had C2 pitches on it, whereas Freerider did not.  Minus me getting stuck in the chimney at the very end, we didn't really have any issues after the routes diverged.  Saw your bag at the Round Table when we were up there.  Were you able to get back on it in better conditions?

zach s · · Bend, OR · Joined Dec 2017 · Points: 35

Nice TR Tony! Cheers man 

Alexey Zelditch · · San Jose · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 975
Tony Nichols wrote: 
Next up was the dreaded ear, ...... Clay looked down into the Chimney and saw the rope was stuck behind the Merlin, back in the Ear itself. Clay was 5 feet away from the anchors and unable to tie the rope off or create an anchor. He had no choice but to down climb back into the ear and attempt to free the rope so that we could continue forward. Clay took one step towards the chimney and his foot slipped on the wetness. I heard Clay yell out and he sounded quite alarmed. I then saw his head lamp begin to plummet back towards me. He then yelled again. Most falls are over so quick you wouldn't have time for two separate screams, but I heard both of his quite clearly. When Clay fell, the rope was pinned behind the Merlin and the force of the fall rotated the Merlin in such a way that it popped the gear right ouf of the crack.

Merlin is not a stable gear. Too narrow - the the sacrifice of reliability to make it sexy . VG #9 most probably hold in the same surcumstances

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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