As I cruised the oh so familiar curves en route to the valley, I couldn't help but contemplate why this trip to the valley felt so different than the last time I came to test El Capitan. The last time I was terrified, I'd been gripped for days before I even left, this time I brimmed with confidence. Just goes to show how clueless I really am...
First light finds us racking at the base of the (not so) free blast. I give a quick glance at the roofs looming 2500 ft above, place my first nut and we're on our way, confidence intact (for now).
The first pitch goes at about 10c, or so I hear. For me, it was A1 all the way. Nice solid nuts and after about an hour I fix the rope for Steve. He's a bit rusty on the jugs, but shortly he joins me at the belay and then heads up the 5.8 2nd pitch. Like I had weeks ago, he finds the 5.8 a bit stiff and is soon aiding away. I'm still calm and relaxed, enjoying the views.
Some anorexic lycra clad sport weinies show up and declare they are going to free the first pitch. "Fine by me," I call down. I'm then dazzled as their leader floats up the pitch, gliding smoothly over non-existent holds. As he arrives at the belay, we have this conversation.
Evan: Looking pretty smooth there. alcsw: Ahhh, I cheated a bit, you see, I've done this pitch several times before. Evan: Oh, I see. You know, you look an awful lot like Hans Florine alcsw: I try to be him as much as I can. What's your name? Evan: (me, still unsure) Evan alcsw: Evan, I'm Hans, and he shakes my hand laughing.
Hans is a famous pro climber. Holder of many valley speed climbing records. He recently did leaning tower in 3 1/2 hours. It took Steve and I three days. He turns out to be a really nice guy, and we rap about all sorts of things while Steve toils above. What Hans is to fast, we are to slow.
Eventually Steve fixes the rope and I head up on jugs (managing to get my trail rope stuck exactly where Hans said I would).
The third pitch goes without too much trouble, but I manage to squash some fingers when a biner shifts. For the rest of the day, its left hand finger locks only.
I think the 4th pitch is where it started to unravel for us. I warn Steve that its a long pitch and the aid isn't easy, but he is quickly frustrated. I try to get as comfortable as possible on my 4" stance, but it takes Steve hours to lead the pitch and I'm ravenous to get on the jugs by the time he calls down that the rope is fixed. At the belay I can see that Steve is a bit weathered, but I still have high hopes as I grab the rack and head up the 5th.
For an hour I curse myself for not bringing the cam hooks as I struggle with small nuts. Midway through the pitch I need to turn a roof and have none of the right gear. Eventually it goes on a two cam alien and a dicey tri cam, but now I'm rattled too. Further up I'm stumped at a point where you are supposed to free climb between two bolts. I don't have the guts to go for it in my aid shoes, so I spend an eternity hooking some small crystal edges. The day is slipping by, but finally I end up at the next anchor. Somehow this pitch seemed a lot easier when I watched Dennis lead it!
Steve cruised (albeit slowly) the 6th, and it was my turn to do the 7th. It must have slipped my mind that I was supposed to be in wall mode, because I actually freed most of this pitch (5.9), landing me at the hanging belay below the half dollar.
I was whining about the lousy stance as Steve jugged up to the anchor. Steve offered to relieve me of my burden by letting me lead the half dollar, so off I went. I'd led this pitch before and had some trouble, but this time I find a key placement for a blue tri cam, and having good pro made the difference.
Two more easy pitches land us on Mammoth Terraces, but unfortunately its gotten to be 1am. (by comparison, Dennis and I had gotten to the same point by about 2pm). The moment of truth has come, "Ummm, Steve, how are you feeling about things?" "Well, I hate to say it, but not so good" We talk it over, the consensus is that it doesn't make too much sense to keep going up. We might be able to make it, but it would be real hard on Steve and we'd likely be climbing late each night, so we start the descent to heart ledges and the ground.
The raps are a huge pain. Tons of random fixed ropes, tangles everywhere, a huge mess. But, eventually (around 3:30am) we are back at the car munching on fruit cocktail looking up at El Cap in the star light. Someday, I'll meet those roofs face to face, but that day isn't to be this week.