Heat, Hydration and Offset nuts on Triple Direct, El Capitan.

September in Yosemite seems to be hot, and dry. REALLY hot and dry.

Having booked into Camp 4 for just 3 nights, we had effectively forced ourselves to be on a ‘beginner wall’ such as Washington column, or at least doing something by the 4th night. A few words of advice from fellow British climbers, a chat with the Camp 4 ‘Wall Monkeys’ and an awe inspiring meadow sesh brought us a somewhat predictable decision – to get straight on it.

So come Thursday morning, we fixed the first 3 pitches of Triple Direct, a 29 pitch 5.9 C2 that runs parallel to the nose and joins it at around half height  for some classic steep features such as the great roof and the changing corners. Our reasons for choosing this over the nose as our first wall – despite the harder compulsory free-climbing and greater number of C2 pitches – were based on some recommendations from the YOSAR wall monkeys. Triple direct still scales the full height of El Cap, but misses some of the more fiddly starting pitches on the nose, avoids the queuing and traffic that can burden the lower half of the nose and provides you with a great big comfy ledge for your first night on the wall. A nice trade-off for a couple of slightly harder pitches, how hard can 5.9 really be anyways?

After a quick lift in the boot of a chevy with some friends we’d made in Camp 4, we began jugging our fixed lines on Friday morning around 7am, and proceeded to climb through C1 and C2 cracks, 5.9 face climbing, and around the awkward chimney crack of the Half Dollar, eventually arriving at the aptly named ‘Mammoth Terraces’ at pitch 10 just before dark. Cans of Stagg Chilli on the stove, music through the speakers, and a chilled out night already a 3rd of the way up El Cap. We were more than a little tired but super-psyched.

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Early on day 1

The next day was much harder. Longer, harder pitches followed straight off the mammoth terraces, the wall became more and more intimidating, climbing slowed down and hauling was difficult with muscles aching from the previous day. A lot of the free climbing was dispensed with as we were both just too tired from the previous days efforts. This was perhaps the common theme of El Cap, as it challenges you every day to keep trying hard, no matter how tired you are, and how hard you tried yesterday. Only 5 pitches higher as the sun began to sink behind the valley walls, Stefan shouted up “we’re going to have to get the ledge out at the next belay I think!” This was quickly followed by a few disheartening discoveries. – the next belay was a completely hanging stance – there was a knot in the middle of the haul line – The Portaledge hadn’t been checked before it was last packed away, and was tangled in a spectacular fashion.

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Ledge life, Mammoth Terraces

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Stefan traversing into the Nose on day three

Panic followed. But maybe this is the most important lesson you can learn from a Big Wall – panic gets you nowhere. When disaster strikes – knotted ropes, stuck haul bags, dropped gear, injured climbers etc , you have to keep calm, and recall on the skills you’ve learnt and the experiences you’ve had to overcome the problem and keep on climbing,

The Alarm went off at 5:30am and we woke up hanging in the portaledge, above pitch 15. We had 7 pitches to do that day, the first 4 traversing into the nose to join it under the great roof, and the rest leading us up to camp 5, an ‘okay bivvy for 2’. Despite feeling very tired now, the traverse pitches led smoothly and soon we’d led up under the great roof. It’s an incredible feature, and as you clip across the fixed tat under the roof and look down to see little marked out edges that some climbers use to free climb the pitch, you can’t help but think – “you f*cking heroes”.

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THE GREAT ROOF!

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Andy on The Pancake Flake

Arriving at the camp 5 ledge shortly before dark, we were relieved to have fulfilled our quota of pitches for the day, leaving us just 8 pitches from the top. We were not relieved however to see both the small size and sloping nature of the camp 5 bivvy ledge. With the sun already setting, we decided to forego the portaledge faffing and instead crack out some tinned pineapple slices and some gangster rap, and settle down for a night of continuously shuffling away from the edge that we were sliding towards. A great game indeed.

On the morning of Day 4, we could look up to see the lip of El Capitan. Spirits were pretty high, and by this point the nature of the climbing and the exposure of the wall have stopped being quite so intimidating.

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Getting stuck into changing corners, day 4

As you begin to understand El Capitan’s granite, and come to terms with the 1000 metres of air underneath you the – the climbing opens itself up a little, and we were allowed to climb quickly and steadily through the next few pitches, enjoying the steepness rather than fearing it.

Pitch 28, Nearly There

Pitch 28, Nearly There

Clipping from bolt to bolt through the roofs on the final bolt ladder certainly does feel heroic, and topping out in a perfect Yosemite Sunset was maybe the biggest treat we could have imagined. We dragged gear from the last belay to the El Cap tree, stood up on flat ground, took off our helmets and harnesses and cracked open a can of coke. Job done.

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Topout sunset

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Topout Psyche

We were covered in dirt, soaked in sweat, a fair few kilos lighter and quite badly dehydrated – but we’d done it. The Months of training and preparing had all paid off, the 100’s of pounds of big wall gear had all been invaluable in use, and the somewhat back-breaking effort we’d put into getting up the wall had indeed – gotten us up the wall.

The next day, after descending the eastern ledges with no water in the blazing sun, we burst into the El Cap picnic area, and begged a group of Russian tourists for water, they were rather intrigued and plied us with all the water melon and drinks we could get through our severely chapped lips.

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Scabbing water and food from Russian tourists

Returning to the valley, we both agreed we’d truly never been so tired. Your first big wall really breaks you down and takes all the effort you have to give, and then takes more. But through the sweat, smashed knuckles and lack of water it was worth it. We even got a high fives, bear hugs and a “Good Job!” from the YOSAR guys at El Cap bridge.

As we dumped our bags onto the El Cap Shuttle on Tuesday afternoon and stood infront of the air conditioning, the heavily moustached bus driver tipped his sunglasses and said “Did you get ‘er done?”.

It felt pretty surreal to say “Yeah, we did”. We’ve climbed El Capitan.

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Back in the Meadow

Valley Touchdown!

From Cherry’s mums house (all the greatest expeditions begin in the living room of someones mums house) to Birmingham New Street station, through to London Gatwick, flight to Dublin, transfer to San Fransisco, straight onto the Bay Area Rapid Transport system to Richmond, Amtrak train to Merced, a 3 hour nap on the living room floor of some Iranian mechanical engineers we met in a car park, and the 6am YARTS bus straight to the kiosk of the Legendary Camp 4.

It’s safe to say, we winged that one a little bit.

Walking through Yosemite valley is like walking through a Disney film, with blue skies, woodpeckers and squirrels surrounding you, and the constant reminder that if you leave a single crumb of food unattended for even a second, a Stealth-ninja-bear will swoop down and rip all your belongings to shreds.

Wired as we were, we jumped on the Yosemite Shuttle bus down to El Cap bridge, to go and have our retinas split open by the enormity of the Big Stone.

Allow me state the obvious for just a moment: It is BIG. It’s smooth, perfect granite that’s less intimidating and more majestic. Pictures of El Capitan are impressive but having it looming above you, warping perspective as you walk up to its base is totally mind blowing – and really warrants a little sit down to get over it.

Last minute cramming

If Big walling were an exam, then we’ve pretty much just sat done the equivalent of sitting up in a panic in the library the night before, downing energy drinks and writing the answers on our hands.

That’s not to say that we haven’t done plenty of practice in the last 6 months, but there’s something about the idea of your first big-wall trip looming over you as the flight dates get closer and closer – that creates a real sense of urgency.

Where else but the quarries again – this time returning to the the eerie, humming crater of Twll Mawr. It’s a big and quite intimidating place, continuously steep and littered with the noise of falling rock. Sharp, jagged slate flakes and edges, rotting slabs, and the familiar booms of Ian Lloyd Jones cleaning another new route with a sledgehammer.
We were here to do as many pitches as we could across the weekend, in true bigwall style. The main focus was on block leading and change-overs at Belay stations. Quote Leo Houlding “Avoid the clusterf*ck lads”.

I’d love to say that this ‘drill’ all went smoothly, filling us with confidence and leaving us gagging to get to Yosemite and smash out routes. But that just wouldn’t be realistic.
In the real world, you rarely ‘Smash’ things first go. Bags get stuck, people get frustrated, clusterf*cks remain unavoidable, things get dropped and ropes get cut. But amongst the many failures, lessons are learnt – lessons I’d much rather be learning now than 100 metres up El Capitan!

We’re still psyched out of our trees of course. That’s the funny thing about failure in climbing – it calls for a two-part reaction. For the first part, you can sulk as much as you like, blame the weather, or the rock, or your partner. But the latter part always follows, a renewed psyche to try harder, push further, and hold on longer. It’s a wonderful feeling, turning up for round 2, staring your nemesis in the eye and thinking ‘Not this time…’

We returned to Twll Mawr early the next morning, and continued our Big-wall drills, continued to deal with the clusterf*ck, and kept on keeping on.

Even if it takes us a week to get up anything in Yosemite, we’ll get up there in the end.

Yosemite Training – Part 3 from StefanandCherry on Vimeo.

The Summer time, when the weather is fine.

So it would seem that after being plagued through the Autumn and Winter with an atmosphere that was 90% water, the proper Summer has arrived, and its absolutely cleared the slate (no pun intended).

The days have been long, dry and warm – and so every day we’ve been out climbing, jamming, swinging and camming. It’s full  on Summer Trad season and time to spend as many hours as possible on rock getting confident, and getting psyched for Yosemite Valley.

 

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North Wales and DMM have been a central theme in all of our preparation and training. Without the places, the people, the advice, and the support we absolutely would not be able to go!

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DMM Dragon cams cams cams. This isn’t even half of them.

 

Like some sort of climbing equinox, DMM have given us a very generous amount of gear just in time with the good weather. Which means not only did we have the chance to climb and train, but we had the means aswell! Hugely psyched now, it seems like the dice are rolling in our favour in these months leading up to Yosemite.

Stefan:

Spring and early summer started really really well for me, getting out loads with Edmund in the week and once a month going to the Peak or Llanberis for six day sessions, returning ruined and with a satisfying feeling of getting loads done. We had an excellent midge infested trip to Malham, where I had a respectable tally of five 7a’s, two onsight, as well as getting agonizingly close on a 7b. Along with some great days at Millstone, the roaches and regular three star Pembroke routes everything was going great…

On Time For Tea, really fun route!

Time For Tea, really good fun!

 

That was until I wrote off my car driving home from work about a month ago. I stood in the road, dripping blood from my left hand, rang home and felt like a prize idiot. Apart from some glass in my hand and some painfully bruised ribs I was relatively unscathed.

 

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Crashed Clio

Trying very hard to take some positives from the crash I told myself, at least wouldn’t have to buy fuel anymore and I’d get fitter from having to ride everywhere.

I decided to end my  placement early and I am now spending August working for Henry Castle of Climb Pembroke, running climbing and abseiling sessions on the beach in Tenby.

In a way, its been nice to have a month off. It’s very rare I get so injured that i have to properly take time off, Which pisses off Andy (who gets injured all the time) no end!  But spending time researching other trips, reading up on the routes we’re thinking of and trawling through the new ‘Yosemite Big Walls’ guide  has got me itching to just get out there and get on it!

..and I’m a lot fitter than when I had a car, as well as getting pretty handy at baking things..

 

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Cherry:

I’ve been in a blind panic for about 3 weeks now.

Ever since Paul, my manager said “5 weeks till you go now!”, I’ve been hurling myself at every route I wanted to try and every crag I wanted to visit this year. But its just not enough time! I haven’t climbed on cloggy, I haven’t fallen off the rainbow, and I’m starting to think I’ll never actually do Spong. 

 

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Mad Dogs of the West

 

If I’m honest, I don’t think I’ll ever get through even half of my North Wales wishlist – it’s just a  by-product of living here! You go out with one route in mind, and you come home with two more.

 

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Aid climbing Somewhere between the corner of PainKiller and the newly Established ‘Black Gates’.

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Back down underneath the Painkiller after ripping a 00 cam out!

 

I’ve managed to squeeze in a fair bit: Shouting in surprise at the top of Cracked Up, shaking with nerves on the onsight of Dinorwic Unconquerable, getting well and truly stuck inside Fear of Infection, getting pumped every 10 seconds on The Strand, unloading my entire rack into Cenotaph Corner, wearing all the clothing I own on Dinas Mot, ripping ancient protection out of Weasels Rip my Flesh, sinking FAR too much time into the Cromlech Roadside boulders, and Parisellas cave, throwing myself headfirst off a whole host of the routes far too hard and scary for a punter to be throwing himself on in the first place!

As the time closes between now and Y-DAY, I’m going to keep plugging away, revelling in the unique heaven of North Wales summer, ticking off and falling off my training routes. But when the day comes, I’ll be mighty sad to lose the magic place! 

North Wales… I’ll be back for ye.

 

Bloody chilly on the mot

Bloody chilly on the Mot

Being ripped by Weasels!

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Climbing is a sport that’s incredibly mentally involved.  That’s not to say of course that other sports aren’t – but climbing can sometimes require you to make some very risky decisions, very quickly and quite often throws you towards the consequences of your actions, at an acceleration of 9.8m/s squared.

I stood sprawled across the rock, in balance but in trouble, a few metres above the last peg. I looked right and struggled to make out a sequence, I looked left and struggled the same. I’ll go left. Will I? yeah I’ll go left. I’m so close to that thread anyways.

I opened my eyes about 3 seconds later. “Yeah I’m fine – my whole body is buzzing!”.
Where am I though? I can smell grass.
“I think you snapped that peg cherry, look here it is”

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A fair example that these old rusty pegs can’t always be trusted

 

Ah yes that was it. I had been a few metres above the last peg on Weasels Rip My Flesh (E4 6a) and had opted to take the short and reasonably safe-looking fall onto it. Evidently it hadn’t gone as planned, and I’d shortly joined Darren back on the ground. I sat up and check my head, arms, legs – all fine! Just a little bit bruised.

I must admit that taking a  ground fall like that dashed my confidence a fair bit. Since taking a month break for a knee injury, I’d been really psyched to jump straight onto the many trad routes I’d been putting off this year, equipped with stronger fingers and more experience. But here I was, right at the beginning of my ‘summer tick-fest’ sat at the bottom of one of those routes with a broken peg in my hand and few holes in my jeans. It can really stifle your confidence if you’re knocked off your horse early on. It would have been nice to come back firing on all cylinders, but I seemed to have stalled at the first junction.

At times like this, it is best to exercise a little bit of perspective. This is one route, on one day, at one crag. If you let your failures chip away at you, they will steal from your future experiences. I was lucky to be able to walk away from this one unscathed, and be given the opportunity to get back on the horse. Climbers cannot always expect that their training will bring them directly to their goals. Training is just one of the cards you must hold in your hand!

 

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Cherry eyeing up the upper section of the classic slate crack – The Dinorwig Unconquerable (E3 5c)

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Thankful for the gracious overlap in the Dragons camming ranges, many cams were still ‘shuffled’ up to fill this perfect splitter!

For me, getting back on the horse was conquering The Dinorwig Unconquerable. I won’t bang on about it as much as I definitely could, but I will say that the thin jams above skiddy cams gave a memorable crack lesson. I was incredibly happy to onsight this (although I did have a little bit of an idea having belayed James on it) and tick another big name off my Big British crack list. BRING ON THE GLASSY GRANITE!

 

Team Limpy and the furious fingering

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As this questionable blog title would have you believe – I’ve been limping a little recently. No biggie, just a few stressed ligaments in one of my knees – maybe a little too much high stepping on slate recently! A quick fix – two weeks off climbing and some magic pills. So unfortunately, not many metres of rock have passed under my hands for the last few weeks. Instead I’ve just been training a little, aiding a little and reading a lot.

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Obsessive beastmaker lock-off sessions with the Dougster – who’s injured his ankle. Together we form – Team limpy!!

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The New Testament – By Chris Macnamara

 

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The Very Old and the Very New (C2+/ C3)

The real training has been the Aid Climbing. After heavy recommendation I’ve ordered Chris Macnamara’s “How to Big Wall Climb”, half instruction manual, half training regime for beginner Big Wallers.

 

Honestly its the absolute business, it covers all the basic aid climbing techniques clearly with photos and suggestions on how to practise them. Chris constantly reminds the reader how important it is to practise your big wall systems and aid techniques before you get on the wall, to avoid being one of the over 60% of teams who bail! So while studying this thing like the bible, I’ve been hitting the quarries with some newly acquired Yates’ Aid Ladders (courtesy of V12 Outdoor) and a worryingly unfamiliar array of bent metal. The objective? The Very old and the Very New, a clean aid hairline crack at the top top top of the Slate Quarries.

 

It’s evil. I’ve had a few goes on it so far, on a top rope. Man oh man. Aid climbing is whole different game. You know when you’re Trad climbing, and you’re getting a little pumped – so you stare down at your last gear and you try and remember how good it is, how far you’re going to fall, staring at that next hold and wondering how long you can hold it for and whether you’ll spin off wildly? Its like that, but for continuous hours at a time.

 

More pictures and a gear feature coming soon! That’s all from injured Cherry at the moment – thanks for playing.

Trad, Tactics…..and Trying

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Taking a year out from Uni has been really great for climbing. Especially when your work placement is in Pembrokeshire.

Last summer, after spending most of my climbing past making bad excuses about why I didn’t try very hard on Pembroke trad, I finally owned up to myself about why I didn’t. It scared me. Maybe it had something to do with it being so close to home and ending up with a, “what did you expect would happen” from the parents had I broken something. Or maybe I just thought I’d get outrageously pumped through a total lack of technique and proper tactics and fall off.

I think it was probably the latter.

But living at home, with a car, a bit of money from my placement and an endlessly keen Edmund I couldn’t really make any excuses anymore and, to be honest, I didn’t want to. If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that Pembroke is ace.

With the guidance of Edmund to point me to the best, evenings after work have been spent  at the crag on some cracking routes trying to be as efficient and tactical as possible.

Last night, as I topped out an E3 (Space Cadet) , the finishing holds were bathed in a warm golden glow. I sat on the top, savoured the sunset and thought of the ice cold can of coke I would get from Pembroke Londis on the way home.

Turns out they were out of Coke. Got an Irn Bru instead.

Here’s a few pics of recent excursions with Andy, Edmund and Hannah

 

Hannah at The Castle

Andy bust his knee so he took some cool pics instead.

Pill Box Wall – Andy bust his knee so he took some cool pics instead.

Edmund on Manzoku on a very greasy afternoon

Edmund on Manzoku on a very greasy afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ed packing up at St Govans – with a very wonky horizon.

 

More in the Mawr!

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Twll Mawr, the big ol’ black hole in the quarries. Last weekend, we headed down to join the multiple teams all keen to repeat the ‘UKs longest sport route’ – The Desolation of Smaug!

6 pitches, 140 metres and totally varied climbing throughout, a really cool feeling to topout right on the very top of Twll Mawr!

 

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Cherry on the comfortable belay of pitch 5, Desolation of Smaug! , Twll Mawr.

 

Straight after, we jumped on Super Massive Black hole – a 4 pitch 7a that I had had on the wishlist since moving to Llanberis. I have to admit I was dead nervous, the cruxes were quite distinct and balancy, with delicate trickery being the key to success. I’d been prepared to spend all day on this, trying the pitches and eventually abbing back down for a final redpoint attempt – so I was totally psyched that we were able to onsight it!

230 metres of climbing in around 3 collective hours. Now all we’d have to imagine is carrying and placing gear, hauling every pitch, and accounting for multiple rope tangles and stuck haulbags… But it’s all good training right?

More big days and long routes soon!

 

Happiness is a 59p spar juice box.

 

 

 

Cherry on the final pitch of Supermassive Black Hole

Climb Now Work Later

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Our latest news: DMM will be sponsoring us for our big wall adventures! We’re both super psyched to have some support from a truly awesome UK manufacturer. It’s a pretty big opportunity for us both – and we really couldn’t be more grateful for their help.

DMM have been making some of the best gear for over three decades and sponsor some totally inspirational climbers – click on the logo for a look at their blog or alternatively, checkout dmmclimbing.com

A night on the Skyline

The good weather has allowed us to get on with a little more big wall style training. This weekend, it was time for a full run through – We would pick a large route in the quarries, lead half of it in the evening, haul the bags up, clean the pitch, setup the portaledge at the belay and sleep for the night, to then wake up and the next morning, pack away, lead out and haul the bags to the top. Doing this, led to what must be the first two-day ascent of “Clash of the Titans” on the Skyline buttress. Perhaps even the slowest ascent of a slate route ever?

 

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Quite a stunning position to practice! Pic. Ed Morris

I think they key thing we took away from this was how much more confident we were. We have both been reading and practicing a few things and all the processes involved were much slicker than usual, way neater and more organised, and as a result much safer and easier to understand. No butchered quickdraws, no collapsing portaledge and no massively apparent ignorance of safety. We’re starting to get used to these vertical camps, and how things work.

Having said that – I still felt like absolute sh*t in the morning. Actually getting to sleep on the ledge is a skill in itself – rather than just lying still in a sleeping bag and not saying anything for 5 hours.

Thanks to Ed, for being happy to bivvy close by – in fear of a goat dislodging scree on him – to take the cool pics in this post.

Checkout the video,

 

 

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