Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Virginia VI A3, El Cap

Matt and my plan was to jump on the Zodiac as soon as possible so as to get a good lap on the Captain as a warm-up for the grand plans embedded in our heads. Our grandiose plans had to be postponed by at least a day to revel in the glory of El Cap with the monkeys at the epicenter of the center, El Cap bridge. As monkeys will prove time and time again, no plan is solid enough to withstand the many variables of Yosemite. Our crews infectious enthusiasm for climbing changes a plan to quickly to keep up with; routes, partners, ascent-style, and cliff are all interchangeable as long as the stoke is there. After an invite to Dave to join the climb we began discussing route options. Both Dave and myself had climbed the Zodiac before and wanted a new tick on the captain to get the season rolling so we began tossing ideas around. The Trip is okay but I'd done it 2 years ago so Bobo offered up the idea of Virginia instead. A six pitch variation to the start of the Trip, Virginia has steep aid, thin nailing corners and a much more direct start to the upper pitches of Tangerine Trip. A plan was hatched, topos copied and gear hastily strewn about the parking area in a hurried attempt to get on the big stone. Haulbags were packed lickety-split and soon enough Stealth rubber hit the trail in our quest to get a grade VI wall in ASAP. After a sweaty hike under grueling loads we arrived at the El Cap Hilton to commence with base preparations and a tasty base BBQ. I'd love to say our party carried on late into the night but with an alpine-start planned for 5 AM our weary minds and bodies could hardly muster a word after darkness set in. As with all nights before a climb my mind couldn't still itself enough for a second and constantly ran through the variables of the next day. Did we bring enough water? Are my aid skills up to par after a winter free-climbing hiatus? Are we gonna epic massively? The alarm didn't wake me up as I was already there but merely reminded me of what had we had begun. After downing bagels and cream cheese and more water than a stomach can handle, I began the first block of three pitches. The start is a ledgey scramble leading to a tree and rivet to gain the roof and crack system higher up. After watching several parties start this pitch in the past I was able to avoid the common route finding mistakes on this pitch and quickly reached the anchor a mere 40 feet above. I backed up the one bolt anchor with a nest of expanding lost arrows and short-fixed both lead and haul lines. The next three pitches blend into a seamless blur of memories in my mind. After my block Bobo Dave took over the sharp end to push our team higher still. He advanced the rope as I furiously cleaned below him and Matt took the gnarly task of going out on the haul line with the pigs and hauling. One memory that stands out is giving Dave tension to penji over to the Trip corner system. The swing was to b executed from an original Virginia anchor comprised of three rusty 1/4 inchers which I had to talk Dave out of short-fixing from. While swinging wildly to reach the crack system Dave suddenly dropped several feet, a bolt had popped! The hanger spun down the rope and without missing a step Dave swung again and the added distance from the fall was just what he needed to reach a bomber handhold. Good thing we didn't belay there! The hanger remained clipped to its draw as a reminder for the rest of the route. After reaching the Trip proper we continued to the small ledge belay atop pitch 8 to swap leaders. Matt took over here while Dave and I had a joint chiefs of staff meeting to discuss our safety levels. While Matt did battle with the pitch Dave and I enjoyed our stoney view of the valley only to be disturbed by sounds of a rescue. We kept hearing something about a cell phone being yelled on a loud speaker and responded in confusion. Our cries were met by our friends Kate and Mike nearby on Lost in America, they were as confused as us. Eventually we decided the rescuers were yelling at someone on the Nose and we returned to the task at hand. Only after returning to the ground did we learn that a climber had taken a horrific whipper onto eagle ledge and had compound fractures on both legs. An amazing rescue effort between YOSAR and a CHP helicopter were able to save both the injured climber and his partner. Hats off to the crack SAR team here in the valley! After Matt's block I resumed the lead and climbed a few more pitches by headlamp through the many wandering bolt ladders of the Trip headwall. At daybreak Dave took over the lead for the summit pitches and soon enough we had escaped the vertical and were laying one again on flat ground! A hurried divying up of gear and a summit smoke got us on our way towards the east ledges descent. A hop, skip, and 26 hours after beginning we arrived in manure pile to be greeted by the welcome sight of the shuttle bus to carry our beaten but upbeat bodies back to the bridge and all the following glory.

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