winter nose

I hadn't done one of these messages in a long time, and this one was more for nostalgia's sake than any real need. For those who haven't seen one of these messages before, they are the result of a learning experience that involved a helicopter.

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 22:54:21
To: concerned friends
From: Evan
Subject: The plan, such as it is, and such as it always will be

The plan as usual is highly subject to modification.... We might not be able to start on time due to crowds (sort of unlikely in March), we could get pinned down by a storm, we might be slow, we might be fast (not!!!), etc...

The route is The Nose, straight up the center of El Capitan.

This plan is even more speculative than usual. The record for this rout is 4 1/2 hours. We are planning on 4 or 5 days. One day fixing and then 3 or 4 days on the wall. We will bring at least one day extra food in case of storm.

		  Flights:
		  arrive SFO Frontier wed 17 mar #667 11:00 pm
		  leave SFO Frontier tue 30 mar #426  2:30 pm
		

We will putz our way the valley on thr, and weather permitting, will start to climb on Friday.

We are going with a "get to the top anyway we can mentality" Non-standard nose gear we will have along: Stove, portaledge, Peets coffee.

We are both experienced El Cap climbers. I've been up four times, once with Jim. Jim has been up twice, once alone. We know the rules and risks, and we are bringing the right gear. Well sealed portaledge fly (Dennis did it out of guilt after trundling my bag), synthetic sleeping bags, storm gear, etc...

If we start and finish on schedule Lois should hear from us by wed 24th. If for some reason you don't hear from us, there is really no reason to worry. We are either ok, or we aren't. El Capitan is not a wilderness, if something happens to us (and we're able), we can yell down to the the meadow. It's exceedingly unlikely that we would just vanish without a trace. Generally, if something goes wrong, YOSAR (the rock rescue people) get notified very quickly.

We will have one big bag, grey + duct tape, and maybe one small bag, white with duct tape, Fish double portaledge (black with duct tape trim and a purple fly). The lead and haul lines will both be orange, both our helmets are red, and neither of us has any tattoos.

If The Nose goes quickly and painless my intent is to solo The Shield. But, that is a completely different plan.

03/19/99
Fix the first four pitches in perfect weather.
Jim: Wow, you know what was great today? I felt totally confident in you and in us. When you were leading I was completely unconcerned.
Evan: Yeah, cool. I felt the same way.
03/20/99
Wake to snow. Drag.

Jim carries the bag to the base while I jug our fixed lines and then haul the bag. When I try to haul the bag past a small roof, the Wall Hauler puts a small core shot in my old Stratos, our haul line and supposedly our backup lead line. Drag, but nothing a little duct tape can't fix.
Anton (my atmospheric scientist house mate): The systems expected for the coming week should start lining up from Monday night onward. if we factor in the typically-delayed onset and you might squeak in a decent day Tuesday but please be aware that indications are for a big, nasty blow with the first storm and it may be quickly followed by something of similar magnitude. guess my advice is to do what you can tomorrow and do a monster push on Monday. of course, if you find yourself still several pitches from the top when the big storm sets in you might end up in the manner of the Japanese Popsicle model. but why should you believe me? after all, i really like your new laptop and the Acura would make a fine storm-chase vehicle.
Jim: That wasn't funny.

03/21/99
Wake at 5am. Jug the fix lines and climb to Dolt Tower.

Jim led the pitches to Dolt Hole, I took over from there.

I flailed on the Stove Legs (again), and ended up aiding 90% of it. Walking cams up the continuous sized cracks made for very slow going. In a frenzy of pitch linking I did this stretch in 3 pitches and ending up running out of rope 15 feet short of Dolt Tower. We were lost at this point and had been on Dolt Tower for about 15 minutes before we realized where we were.
Jim: Is it a liability for you to be up here with someone who desperately wants to be someplace else?
Evan: I'm used to it.

03/22/99
Dolt Tower to the ledge just below Camp 4.

Jim Led to El Cap tower, I led the Texas Flake, then Jim led Boot Flake & the King Swing, and I finished the day getting us to the tiny ledge just at dark.

Storm clouds rolled in over the course of the day, so we decided to set up the portaledge. Two people in the double ledge is really uncomfortable so I elected to start the night sleeping under the portaledge on the rock. In the middle of the night I woke to 2 inches of snow on my bivy sack and told Jim I was coming in. He pushed open the fly to make room for me and dumped a gallon of slushy water into my sleeping bag.

A cold miserable night listening to ice fall down the face and hit the portaledge fly.
Evan: Wow, this sucks.
Jim: Can we go down now?

03/23/99
A dry out day.

Sit together mashed into the portaledge until it stops raining about midday, then fix the pitch to Camp 4 and retreat back into the portaledge for another long cold night. Jim fires up the stove so we have some hot soup with our brandy, but it is still a miserable evening.
Jim: Do you think we'll ever get off this rock?
Evan: Everything is going to be fine.

03/24/99
 

Jim, we have a problem!

Below Camp 4 to Camp 5.

We set up to haul directly from the ledge below Camp 4 to the base of the Great Roof. As I'm hauling, the bag hangs up and I yard hard on the haul line. I can't get the bag unstuck, so I start down hauling. Right before my eyes the sheath on our haul line parts exposing a foot of core! I'm in shock as I envision the line breaking and all our supplies going 2,000 ft to the deck. I quickly slap a Jumar on below the blow out and with Jim's help manage to get the bag unstuck and hauled past the damaged section.

Camp 5 is a decent ledge and even though the skies threaten all day we are dry for the first time in a while.
Evan: Dude! Major problem! I just took a foot of sheath off the haul line.
Jim: Does that mean we get to jug the fixed lines to the top now?
Evan: See that ratty old 9 mil laying on the ledge next to you? Bring that up, it's our new haul line.
Jim: We need to talk.

03/25/99
Camp 5 to Camp 6 + fix 2. A short day, but some of the pitches were wet and cold.

Leading the Glowering Spot I put in a brass nut and start bouncing to test it. As I'm bouncing I hear a shreek and notice that the Lost Arrow I'd been hanging on is now dangling from my fifi hook. Time to stop testing the RP.

Camp 6, is small and slopey, but it was mostly dry when we go there so we decided not to set up the ledge. In the evening clouds rolled in and water started to drip onto the ledge. By the middle of the night the skies were clear but we might as well have been in a thunder storm as water seeping down the wall drenched the ledge. The worst night yet.
Jim (wailing): Why didn't we set up the portaledge?!?

03/26/99
Camp 6 to the ground.

The day breaks clear and cold. I rouse Jim and we escape the damp hell that Camp 6 has become. The last four pitches are straightforward but slow. On the top there is no celebration. We just repack the bags and begin out descent.

It's dark as we reach the first rappel station and I find the second anchor flooded, right next to a waterfall.
Jim: Do you know how many different ways there are for us to die right now?
Evan: Please keep that to yourself.

03/27/99
The night before we got down 1/2 hour after the bar closed, so it was a cold dinnerless night in Camp 4, followed by the obligatory tall stack of pancakes in the cafeteria and a sun-soaked, beer-enhanced gear sort in the meadow.
Evan: See, I told you everything was going to be fine.
03/28/99
The Score:
Evan: 5
El Cap: 6

What to say? I'm about to leave on an extended around-the-world trip. Jim is about to start working after 2 1/2 years off. For both of this, this was a farewell (for now) to El Capitan. It was an amazing experience. For a week, we were the only party on the wall. An intimate farewell to a monolith that constantly prowls the depths of my subconscious.

To be sure, we sucked. We were slow and climbed poorly, constantly gripped by fears. But-- we did make it to the top.

All of my accents have been rites of passage. They've illuminated my soul and given me the strength to chart new courses in my life.

I'm not sure what I learned this time though?

Perhaps that there is more to life than pushing with all your might against a giant immovable object, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or granite?

Neah, that can't be it.

   Home - Travel - Climbs - Cats - Friends - Links - Resume   
Contact: evan@WhereIsEvan.com
   Text and photographs are copyright 1994-2003 Evan Bigall, all rights reserved.