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Nose Bail & Prow Solo
Wednesday March 6, 2013
2012 was a big year for me. I climbed El Cap twice, soloed the prow and WFLT, sent SFWC and climbed half dome in a push twice. I guess you could say it all started summer of 2011 with seeing a couple guys come down off the nose into manure pile parking lot with giant haul bags and even bigger grins. I climbed the east buttress the next day and was hooked. I needed to be high off the deck.
I recruited a friend later in 2011 to climb the South Face of Washington’s Column. We did it like complete noobs and finished the route over 3 days.
I came back to the valley mid February for a birthday trip. I was going to try and solo the SFWC. I cruised the first three pitches to Dinner ledge and lounged about enjoying the solitude. I fixed the Kor Roof and settled in for the night.
I woke up around 2 am to a few inches of snow on my bivy sack. Knowing I had to wait for daylight I shiver slept for 5 minute intervals until the sun came up. I surveyed the 8 inches of snow that had fallen and promptly gathered my junk show , jugged my frozen ass rope and bailed.
Fast forward a couple months to April 2012.
I once again get time off, convince Sara I need to to climbing, pack a TON of gear and head to the valley. Driving alone for four hours before you go solo a wall gives you plenty of time to think about it. I had made my decision to try and do The Nose as my first El Cap route based on my distinct lack of iron. I chose to solo it because all of my climbing partners pooped their pants when I asked them to go up El Cap with me.
I arrive in the valley under the cover of darkness and head into camp four to sleep for a couple hours. I wake up on a cold picnic table, later than I wanted to. Oh well. I pack the haulbag one last time and drive to the bridge. I feel mightily insignificant humping my first load to the base of Pine Line. It is already 9 am by the time I hump my second load to the base.
I rest for a few minutes, then double check my systems and blastoff. I climb Pine Line quickly and find my way over to the start of The Nose.
Anchor built and haul set, I try to start hauling. I was using 1 to 1 hauling with a rock exotica wall hauler. Big noob move. I couldn’t budge the load. I rap down to see if it is stuck. Nope. They haven’t left the ground. By they, I mean my ledge, massive haul bag and 5 gallon food bucket I decide to use my third rope as a haul line too and set everything up as two loads on two lines. I jug back up and begin again.
I was able to haul it right up to the ledge above pine line and then clusterf*#k it to all hell in the tree. I rap down and fix it; jug up and finish the haul. I do this entire scenario again with the second load albeit it’s a little lighter as its just the ledge and food bucket. Yes. Pitch zero out of the way and is only…oh. It’s noon.
Finally, I get my act together for a couple pitches and am sitting at the base of the third pitch feeling pretty bad ass. I rack up for pitch 3 and cast off. Seems to be going great and I backclean every other piece or so. With about 20 feet to the anchors I stand up on an offset metolius and pop!
I guess I had back cleaned a bit before the piece I was on, as I immediately flipped upside down and did a head-first-slide-into-home-plate down 30 feet of the pitch. I rudely came to a stop and hung for a second. I righted myself and checked the sitch. I had a goose egg on my forehead that was bleeding but not bad. Worse was I had smashed the left lens of my nice Smith glasses. I drank some water and jugged to my high point and set off again. I just figured that’s what El Cap was all about. I got to the anchors, cleaned on rap and hauled my two loads. I decided to get some rest early and start early the next day.
I pulled out my ledge and set it up for the first time on a wall. Pitch 3 of The Nose is pretty slabby so my ledge was at an odd angle. I also did not know the trick of hanging weight off the inside edge on a slab. Instead I set it up and clambered below to my haulbag.
I proceeded to throw ( not clip in) my stove, my food, my sleeping bag and clothes up onto the ledge. I had my phone in my hand as I climbed up onto the ledge and as fast as you can say El Cap my ledge slid up the wall and I fell onto my daisies while watching everything plummet 300 feet to the base. I steady myself with both hands, With both hands!!!! I look down and see my phone slide off my leg and follow the rest of my gear on an express trip to the ground.
F*#k!!! I decide to bail. I guess I wasn’t ready. I rig everything together into one giant mess and begin to rap. I near the bottom and have to endure two tourons asking about big walling as I wallow in my self pity. After packing everything up it is around 10 pm. I head back to the truck with one load, my ledge and ropes stashed at the base.
At this point I was feeling pretty low. I drive to the Yosemite store and used the pay phone to call Sara. I left a message saying I had to get another load in the morning but after I was gonna cut the trip short and head home early.
I slept terribly. I couldn’t stand the thought of going home with my tail completely between legs. I felt like I was giving up too easy. I woke up the next morning to the same cold table and drove back to the bridge to get my second load down from the base of the wall. I reracked, repacked the haulbag and headed to Degnans for a deg muffin and to call Sara. Sometime in the night I had decided that I would solo the prow. I felt stupid for not having tried that first anyway.
I parked at the Awahnee; left a note that I’ll be on the wall and began the approach. I had slimmed down my gear food and water into one giant pig. I even had he ledge inside it so I could approach in one trip. All that said, the pig felt absolute enormous. I must have taken a hundred mini breaks on the way to the base. After a long two hours I found myself at the base of the 4th class that leads to the start of the climb. I muscled the bag up to the start of the climb and sat the eff down. I ate some food, drank water and started organizing for the climb. With the haul set and my anchor built I set off on the first pitch.
As I was aiding and solo I chose to forgo JoJo’s crack and head up the original first pitch. I made it to the belay with little trouble, rapped, cleaned and hauled. I was feeling good and was having fun. I proceeded to knock out the 2nd and third pitch and was sitting at anchorage ledge around 3pm. I decided to set up my ledge and fix pitch 4.
I set up my ledge much more confidently than previously. It helped that anchorage ledge is nice to stand on whilst setting up camp. I set off on lead on the 4th pitch and had a blast. I took a couple photos while on lead. I also brought a can of Sierra Nevada (11 less than I tried hauling up the nose) to take a photo with for the “where CAN you go?” Contest from Sierra Nevada brewing. With the rope fixed I descended and spent a restful and satisfying night on the ledge.
I woke up early as I knew it was gonna be a big day. Due to my time constraints I knew I had to make it to the top that day. I felt like I really had my systems working well and made good progress.
I was at tapir terrace around 1pm so I stopped for a snack. After a quick bowl, jerky, candy and water break I set off again. I was on the 2nd to last pitch by dark. I hadn’t climbed much in the dark yet so I kept my wits about me. I finished the last two pitches with the worst rope drag I’ve ever had. Must’ve messed up the system somewhere.
I set up the haul for the final pitch with a #4 in a dirty crack and a little manzanita tied off. I later learned there is a great place to haul further back and to the right. I couldn’t see much with just a headlamp so I made do. I hauled for what seemed like an eternity. I kept wondering how there was that much rope out.! After getting my pig and ledge to a safe spot I unroped and scrambled to the summit to make a plan on how to get my bag up there. I scrambled back down and climbed the scariest pitch of the route. 4th class scrambling with the pig on my back.
I made it. I was at the top. It was midnight.
I threw my junk show everywhere and promptly started the stove to cook food. There was a small fire ring and some dry wood so I treated myself to a small fire and then passed the eff out.
I was visited a few times in the night by the infamous ringtail cat that lives up there. He wanted my trash bad. I managed to get a shot of him.
I woke up early the next day and got all my gear together for the descent. I had chose to rap the South Face as I knew the rappel route we from descending the South Face the previous year. Also, I had here that North Dome gully is awful to hike down with a pig. So, I made my way over to the top of the South Face, set up the first rappel and start heading down. I think it was 9 raps from the top to the bottom, 6 raps to Dinner Ledge. When I got to Dinner Ledge I took a break and drank some water. I rapped 3 more time to the ground and gathered myself and gear one last time and began the final descent.
I was resting every 200 feet on the talks. I was beat. As I got down to the valley and the trail became flatter I got more excited. The walk along the trail back to the awahnee was painful. I didn’t stop, I knew it would be horrible to start again so I just kept walking. When I was just about to lose my sh#t…I hit the parking lot.
I had done it. I had soloed the prow. I was wrecked.
I unloaded and promptly began to cook soup and eat cheez-it’s in the parking lot of the Awahnee. I got some strange looks. After loading my gear and stuffing my face I drove to El Cap meadow to relax and gaze up at my next adventure. The Prow was sent and I was happy
Notes: this is and will remain one of my most memorable climbs as it was my first successful solo. I learned a lot about my systems but also learned a lot about myself. I have the drive. I am willing to push myself to the limit for wall climbing. I absolutely love it.
The route goes hammer less no problem.
I will be back to do it in a day.
About the Author
Justin Cory is a big wall climber and member of the crew at Mountain Recreation Grass Valley, California
I was recently presented with an excellent dirtbag opportunity to join some friends on a quick 2 day trip to the valley. All I had to do was bring my gear, my food and water and solo whatever route I intended to do as my two friends were planning on the East Buttress of El Cap. I had heard from a certain, Cheyne Lempe, that soloing the West Face of the Leaning Tower was not only doable but fun.
We arrived in the valley around 4 and after saying hi to our friends and racking up at their house, Ryan and Chris drove me to bridalveil falls parking lot. They waved goodbye as I started up the trail with my headlamp on. It was 7pm.
I hustled the approach in 50 minutes an after scrambling the exposed 4th class to the base of the route I started up the first pitch. The WFLT has LOTS of bolts. I linked the first two pitches, a long 230′, without much incident. I cleaned on rappel taking swings each time and pulling my self back into the wall to get the next piece. After cleaning the pitch and the anchor I set up my jugs and leapt off the ledge. I swung out into space and started frog jugging, a style of jumaring the rope on a totally free hanging line.
The WFLT can be linked into 5 very loooong pitches. Normally it is 11 but linking makes it go faster. I linked the first two pitches then pitches three and four to awahnee ledge. The ledge is a bit to the left of where the route goes but it looked nice. I got to this anchor around two in the morning? There were a couple dudes sleeping on the ledge that I had a pleasant one sides chat with while they snored away. “Oh yes, I am having TONS of fun!”
I linked the next two pitches, maybe the crux if the route? And then rapped and cleaned. I got quite good at deciding which pieces to leave in to make jugging easier and when to clove hitch the rope just under a sharp edge.
I was cleaning the fourth pitch after awahnee ledge (my 2nd pitch) when it got light. The dudes on awahnee were awake and yelled up to me that they were in fact awake last night when I passed them and had a good laugh and a show. They said I ran it out pretty good on the pitch right above them and they thought if I fell I’d end up on the ledge with them! Maybe….but those leapfrogged cams were bomber!
I cruised up the last couple pitches totally re-energized from the new day. I reached the top of pitch 10 and made an anchor. I rapped, cleans and jugged. Gathered my rope and rack and scrambled the last pith to the summit!!! I reached the summit at 11:30 am approximately 16.5 hours after I had been dropped off in the parking lot!
I knew I’d make it in a day now. I stood on top hollering at Chris and Ryan over on the east buttress. They said later that they could hear some distant yelling but thought I was too far away!
I racked up and made the first rappel into the notch. My 70m rope proceeded to get me from anchor to anchor in style the whole descent. Not having a pig helped tremendously. I was worried about some downclimbing I had heard about near the bottom but I must have missed it with my awesome 70m because I ended up rapping to the ground with rope to spare.
A quick trip down to the base to gather my stuff and repack it all for the hike down and I was off. I felt like I was floating down the descent, super amped on what I just did. I stumbled into the parking lot at 1:30pm. 18.5 hours car to car for a 5.8 C2+ route…not bad! I started walking back toward the bridge to meet a friend and wait for Chris and Ryan. Not many people way to stop and offer a rude to a guy with a helmet and haulbag on. Wish I had Sara with me…
The climb was a success and the trip itself was memorable and fun. I got to see great friends again and push my personal limits in climbing! Thanks to Cheyne for getting me psyched to do it. Next time it will be closer to 12 hours!
Gotta love a weekend trip to the valley! Justin Cory