Hoping to Put A Question To Bed

September 23, 2013

Whenever I tell someone that I’m a rock climber, odds are that they will ask me at least one of the following questions:

  • You hammer those things into the wall right?
  • Are there ropes setup for you to use?
  • Have you climbed El Capitan?

Let me just say, I really love these questions. They remind me that most people have a pretty limited idea of how we climb these rock faces, yet so many of them seem somewhat fascinated by it. It’s fun to see the look in their face when I tell them that pitons, those things that climbers hammer into the wall, started to quickly fade from the climbing scene in the late 60’s and today the vast majority of climbers have never even driven one, including me. I then go on to describe what we use for protection today and why. Along the way, any notions of fixed ropes being used on all these routes is also dispelled. About this time it’s obvious that a lot of people have a hard time getting their mind around the notion that this is something I do for fun.

But then there is the dreaded question… “have you ever climbed El Capitan?” Sadly, this is where I feel I let them down when answering, “no”. The reason for this is somewhat nuanced and hard to describe to someone who isn’t familiar with the various styles of climbing. But the short version is that I’ve been a touch close minded towards the style of climbing that it takes to climb El Cap, that style being aid climbing.

This changed a couple weeks ago when Rob asked me if I’d like to get on the Salathé Wall, one of the most historic and classic climbing routes on El Capitan. In fact, it’s reputation extends beyond Yosemite and is generally regarded as one of the best climbs in the world. After an evening of contemplation I replied, to a bit of my surprise, with an overwhelming yes. Even though climbing on El Cap was nowhere near my tick list the day prior, in a matter of a few hours I couldn’t imagine the list without it.

This is going to be a pretty new experience for me and I’m really excited to see how it treats me. I’ve never slept on a wall. I’ve never hauled a hundred pounds of food, water and shelter up a route. I’ve never pooped into a bag and hauled it around with me for a few days. But most exciting, I’ve never fully been able to grasp just how big El Capitan is. I can imagine things going really well and completely falling in love with it. I can also imagine things being pretty miserable… and still falling in love with it. Outside of that, I’m going to keep my imagination in check.

If you’re interested in following along with our progress and maybe even seeing some pictures of us on the wall, Tom Evans posts photos and commentary on his appropriately named El Cap Reports website on a very regular basis. We’ll be a party of three on the Salathé Wall. Keep a look out for us in the commentary and if you happen to be in Yosemite Valley swing by the El Cap meadows after sunset and play a little flashlight tag with us.

Our general plan is to climb the first 11 pitches up to the Heart Ledges this Wednesday the 25th. We’ll then use some fixed ropes to head back to the ground and sleep at the base Wednesday night. Early Thursday morning we’ll ascend the fixed ropes back up to the Heart Ledges and continue on to spend our first night on top of El Cap Spire, 20 pitches off the ground (the average pitch length is 100 feet). Friday will likely be the longest and hardest part of the climb as it involves negotiating the Salathé Headwall. Given the intense climbing in this section, we’ll likely spend Friday night on the Long Ledge a handful of pitches below the summit. Wake up Saturday morning, finish the route and hike back down to the valley floor.

I’m including a stripped down topo map of the climb to follow along with if you like. Given the length of the route the topo is a little small, but clicking on it will reveal more detail.

Salathé Topo

Salathé Topo

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