The fall season in Yosemite Valley hadn't quite begun, but the temperatures were becoming more manageable and the summer crowds were dwindling both on the ground and up on the walls. This was part of our "grand plan". A plan that we spent months preparing for and dreaming about in an attempt to convince ourselves that everything would go perfectly as planned. There would be no need to abandon, chop apart, and resurrect the "grand plan". All that we could be certain of was that we both wanted to climb El Capitan and we knew that we could find a way to do it, again...
Linda at the belay while I lead Pitch 12 - Lurking Fear.
Linda and I had never teamed up for this large of a climbing objective before, but we had completed other long routes together including one super casual two-day big wall route. This would be both of our second times up the "big stone" best known as just El Cap. Linda had climbed The Nose (long route) in 3 days with a different partner, and I had previously climbed Zodiac (more technical) in the same time frame. It seemed like a good overall team experience. One person with an understanding of long days and another with an understanding of tricky ones. I'd like to think we came up with some creative team name to best illustrate the unique arrangement, but I think that got lost in starring at route maps and trip reports. But, eventually the time came to put the plan into action and we packed our haul bags and vehicles up for the adventure into Yosemite!
Linda making sure her new fly fits the portaledge.
An evening view of the west side of El Capitan - Yosemite Valley
(Lurking Fear Ascends the left hand side of El Cap in this photo)
Pitch 1 on Mescalito, getting warmed up!
We drove separate vehicles to the Valley, but only separated by and hour or two of time so we both arrived in Yosemite on the same day. We met in the morning for some breakfast and to get started with the fine tuning of our plan. It is worth mentioning that at this point we had planned to climb Mescalito (harder longer route) and started racking up and packing bags for this objective first. But to help make this write up more focused, I will omit most of that part of the story. Our "grand plan" was perfect as you see. Lurking Fear was an objective that seemed to call out to us more, and turned out to be a worthy switch up.
So we found an upcoming good-weather window, selected the rack of climbing gear, and packed it into as few haul bags as we could manage. Big Wall climbing is a constant battle of bringing enough stuff, but not TOO much stuff... and how much stuff really depends on who you ask and the speed at which you're able to climb. Generally climbing something "wall style" means you're hauling your equipment as you go, generally aid climbing, and planning for multiple days off the ground. A few items that you can't avoid when doings this would be water and food, all the climbing equipment, at least two ropes, personal climbing gear, sleeping accommodations, portaledge, poop storage, that sorta fun stuff. It adds up fast. We didn't allow ourselves to bring more than two haul bags, knowing that there would only ever be two of us to transport the bags on the approach and descent. The approach takes a solid hour or so with a heavy pack, and luckily we only had to do this part twice. The first time we took most all of the gear, then returned for a day of rest. The next time we went back, we would be bringing just the remaining gear (mostly food) and heading off the ground and starting up the mountain!
Feeling colorful and vibrant on the first loads we carried in.
Linda is psyched!
So soon enough the early morning start time had arrived. We woke up around 4:45am and had planned to eat some breakfast and have a coffee, with hopes of starting to hike in around 5:30am. We were pretty close on this but a little behind schedule, but without much stress we watched the near-full moon set in the morning while first light from the sun was appearing behind us. We did the hike pretty quick, and only had light packs to carry this time. Once at the base we organized everything again and this time prepared it to be hauled. This is kind of like when you're flying and they do all the pre-flight checks that seem to take forever. The only difference was this time WE were in charge of figuring out how to get the landing gear up after take-off. We made beautiful piles of heavy things and tied them all together to the happily vibrant colored haul rope. Linda lead up "Pitch Zero" which was roughly 60' of easy 5th class climbing to gain the first anchor. I quickly followed up and reached her to put her on belay for the next portion, the actual start of the route. She started up Pitch 1, but soon had her first encounter with the joy of climbing with hooks. A little caught off guard by how "fun" it was, she passed the torch to me for this pitch knowing that I should really get to experience the splendor and joy. So we changed roles and I started up the route, and before you knew it, we were making progress!
Our topo for Lurking Fear in the morning light on our last day.
We're off the ground!
I continued climbing into Pitch 2, and then into Pitch 3, which featured a pendulum swing for the leader nearing its top. This part of the pitch is right after the Window Pane Flake and the pendulum essentially went from the flake to about 20' or so feet to the left. In wall climbing, a pendulum is done when the leader reaches an impassable portion of rock, meanwhile a nearby feature is available to be climbed instead. Since the climber can't just walk over to the better feature, they have to lower a ways down with the rope, then swing in either direction to gain the feature. They are pretty fun but always surprisingly more difficult than it looks. It is also kind of wild because you're just dangling and swinging around like a mad-man (or woman) with the rope as your only active connection to the wall. It took me more tries to pull it off than I would like to admit, but after about 6-8 failed attempts I managed to find success with one final big swing aiming towards a bolt with a quickdraw hanging from it. In the end I was able to catch the quickdraw with little more than my pinky finger (now bleeding). An uncomfortable maneuver but effective none-the-less. I continued up the pitch and placed only gear for progress, not leaving anything behind for protection. Although this would have made for a terribly fall if anything blew, I knew it would make my partner's time more efficient when it came to repeating this portion of the pitch. I just relaxed and climbed and took it the good times.
Linda does the big lower-out on the Window Pane Flake (Pitch 3).
Somewhere on route, organizing gear and sweating in the sun.
Matt on Pitch 4. Some fun easy hooking on this pitch.
I had one more pitch to lead before my portion of the leading would be done for the day. But every pitch so far was really fun and ascending really beautiful portions of rock. Pitch 4 was no exception, and it followed up two cracks, with some hooking fun in between to keep you honest. Thus far many of the pitches looked to have some great free-climbing, and I could see the allure to ditching all the aid gear for climbing shoes and a chalk bag. On day two we did eventually get passed by a party who was climbing the route in a day. It was fun to watch them crank through moves and climb spritely. We shared a belay briefly and had a laugh when the second climber couldn't remember how to do a lower out and was forced to try and improvise. We gave him a few key pointers and soon enough he had it figured out and he was on his way. It was an entertaining moment and it was cool to work together in some way, the slow and fast in harmony.
The classic view of the bags slowly being dragged along. Everything in order at least.
View in the morning from our bivy atop Pitch 6.
The moon was our nightlight and this shadow was our reminder we're on El Cap!
On day two we knew we wanted to cover more ground than we had on our first day. We had made it six pitches thus far, but were hoping to be higher. Our next good bivy spot was at the top of Pitch 14, so we had 8 pitches to climb that day. If we came up short of our goal, it just meant for a less comfortable nights sleep, and more climbing the day after, just gradually delaying our return back to the ground. Either way, we were psyched to keep climbing and a little fire had been lit in us to reach our goal for the day. Most of the next few pitches were easy C1 climbing and followed striking cracks up a beautiful chunk of El Cap. I had an extra appreciation of the wide crack on Pitch 8. The day had been going smoothly, with a few unexpected snags hauling that you get accustomed to. The highlight of the day, and my favorite pitch on the route was Pitch 12 which went at C2+. The positioning on the wall overlooking the meadow, the cool traversing nature of the line and the fun spiciness of climbing on hooks all came together to make it a really memorable time. The first photo of this blog post was taken on this pitch and helps illustrate the great positioning.
Looking down on Pitch 8. Offwidth fun!