Monday, 26 May 2014

El Nino Preliminaries

At first, we were just heading up to have a look at the first few pitches. Earlier we’d befriended the Germans Tobias and Thomas before they had set off on the route, and then caught up with them again after they got down. They made the route sound pretty good and repeated what we’d heard before; that the hardest pitches were the first three slab pitches. So, we thought that if we could get these done, we should consider having a pop at the whole thing.

El Nino has a bit of history for Brits, since Leo and Patch made their astonishing near flash ascent of the wall shortly after it was completed by the Huber brothers. It’s also one of the ‘easier’ free (if you ignore the man powered rappel) climbs on El Capitan, the hardest pitches being around the 8a+ mark. This isn’t what I’d call easy, but the free routes quickly get a lot harder on this wall. For these reasons and that it’s a route we’d known about for years, we were naturally pretty psyched to give it a look.

The legendary Germans, Tobias and Thomas
Start of El Nino topo

The first three slab pitches, called ‘The Black Dike’, ‘The Missing Link’ and ‘Galapagos’ (all the features get names on El Cap), sounded hard. All slabs, and all protected by too few and very stupidly located bolts. We heard from Tobias how the crucial bolt of the Black Dike is placed out of reach, for anyone, from the good hands off rest and committing and tricky moves have to be made so the bolt can be clipped with difficulty. At this point, one would be facing a very serious fall with the potential for injury in my opinion. Thankfully Tobias and Thomas left a long sling on this for future parties, phew!

I was up first on The Black Dyke, but didn’t get very far. I was a bit spooked by the initial chossy flakes on poor pegs and came down to hand the firing ends to McHaffie. He teetered through this section, which isn’t difficult, to reach the first bolt. This is followed by a terrifying walk up the dyke itself, without handholds and just in balance, until the long sling is reached. After this is a desperate crux that McHaffie managed to on-sight, all of the German chalk had been washed off in the rain. Finally there’re a couple more bolts and some tricky moves to a ledge, and it’s pretty much over. Caff matched the crimps before the ledge, good crimps, and in the last moment that it could have possibly happened, his feet popped. He was off, after pulling off possibly the best lead I’ve ever seen. I followed the pitch falling a few times on the crux move without finding a good sequence through it. Caff then sent the missing link, I, again, didn’t have a workable sequence on this bouldery pitch. Finally, Galapagos, I was spent and Caff wentfor a look. He was also feeling pretty beat and after splitting a tip came down and we bailed from the route feeling very worked and not knowing whether to try the climb or not. We decided to leave a rope in situ, that would be easy to retrieve, and would keep our options open.
Me, setting off to follow the Missing Link
McHaffie on the mega-flash go on the Black Dike
Big Sunday

Tobias told us, but especially me, not to worry, the first time they were on the route they didn’t think it was for them either, but that second time round it was much better. We headed back up for another look at first light on Sunday for the shade and cool temps. Using our fixed rope, I jugged up and checked the Black Dike crux moves. I worked out a weak man’s sequence and came down for a blast. The lead went really well and I really enjoyed climbing the pitch - it is an incredible pitch. Second time around I also cracked The Missing Link and managed to lead it cleanly just as the sun hit the face. As it was hotting up we decided to head back down to the valley for food, drink and a few games of shithead.

We were back at the start of Galapagos for about 3:30pm once it came into the shade. Caff set off for blast, despite the rock holding a lot of the sun’s heat. McHaffie then pulled a phenomenal lead out the bag, flashing the rest of the pitch, making use of a few tips from trusty Tobias. I flukily managed to flash the pitch on second, with Caff shouting down detailed beta, getting through each hard section by the skin of my teeth! This was a brilliant day for us. 

Freeing these pitches – the alleged cruxes - now commits us to trying the route. Today is a rest day and tomorrow we set off for 3 to 4 days, in an attempt to free climb all of the pitches. I feel as anxious as ever about setting off on a big wall, just through knowing how much hard work the next few days will be. But also because I’m not sure how it will go trying to free the upper pitches, there are a lot of tough pitches up there, and I don’t have nearly as much reserves to draw on as McHaffie. 

Psyching up for the Black Dike
Caff on Galapagos

The morning of Big Sunday
McHaffie after the Black Dike

No comments:

Post a Comment