So after two months of sleeping in the dust in Camp 4, Tom and I have got back to normality. Work in the trees starts again on Monday and I know Tom has lots of jobs in the diary. It got hard towards the end of the trip, I guess when you’re on the wall (El Capitan) for 45% of two months it’s going to be. There is only so much Top Ramen and tinned Tuna you can consume.
Anyway, after some resting days midway through the trip (which in the end, turned out to be not resting at all, just effectively not climbing on El Cap), we decided it was time for one last push, one last free attempt on The Captain. We had gone to The Valley with a goal of wanting to free 3-4 big walls and attempt to flash one of them. I guess quite a big undertaking for someone who hadn’t climbed a Wall and someone who hadn’t freed a Wall, but Tom and I always come up with seemingly ridiculous goals and just throw ourselves at them with full force.
The route that was going to be most realistic this late on in the trip was Golden Gate. We’d climbed the bottom section before on Freerider, a few of the top pitches as well on Corazon, so it only left the middle half of the route unseen.
The Big Wall packing and preparation actually went pretty smoothly and we seemed to have learnt a lot throughout the trip about how we were going to approach different situations. The main thing that was going to be the biggest factor was fatigue. As soon as we started on the easy approach of Freeblast I could tell I was tired. We were both tired. It wasn’t ‘oh my forearms are achey’ or ‘my shoulders are tightening up’ or even a deep tired body ache. It was just general fatigue from an accumulation of climbing and living on the wall continuously for the last (nearly) two months. Just generally feeling slugglish. I knew from the beginning, (even though we’d covered a lot of the pitches before), it was going to be very challenging.
After Freeblast, Tom decided that he wasn’t going to try and free Golden Gate. I think the trip and exposure of being on the wall for so long had built up gradually and was starting to affect his climbing a little, and so he decided to pass the free climbing baton to me and do all he could to help me get up there. It was absolutely mega that he still wanted to come up the wall with me as we could have easily called it a day there and then.
After day one to El Cap Spire, I generally just felt exhausted. The climbing seemed to actually go better up to this point then it had on Freerider, but overall everything seemed like it was taking its toll. I had deep tired aches running through my legs and all I felt like doing was lying down and falling asleep, and it was only 5 o clock! It was a little worrying that I felt that wasted as day two was where the crux lay.
Falling again, and again, and again I just couldn’t do the pitch. The sun had come round and spoilt the holds, yet I kept trying and not surprisingly, kept falling. Massive amounts of frustration kicked in as it had gone midday and I still had another 8 pitches after this (including the crux pitch) to get to our next bivvy (no portaledge). After ringing 2 Brits and texting 1 for beta, none of which were very useful on the beta front, but all very encouraging phone calls (thanks J ), I finally realised I was doing the sequence wrong, what a massive waste of time! Having very sore skin and tired legs from down pressing over 50 times previously, I somehow managed to fall my way down the two mantles and over onto the belay ledge below. I was very relieved I didn’t have to resort to tactic two which would have been, just launch myself ‘Czech Tower Jumping’ style over onto the ledge below and right.
Day 3 started 8 pitches behind schedule, but I seemed to wake a little fresher after having a half day rest the previous day. Pitches seemed to fall effortlessly today and I even managed ‘The Move’ pitch, the crux of the route, first redpoint.
I mantled out onto our bivvy ledge with 45minutes of light left and was depressingly disappointed at how it looked. Having walked across ‘Tower of the People’ on El Corazon I remembered it being a lot flatter then it currently looked.
After a lot of jigging around we finally got a system sorted that stopped us rolling off the edge of the ledge and helped us get 20 minute bursts of sleep without waking up.
Day 4, The last day, only 7 pitches to flat land, I knew I could do these pitches, it was just whether my body would let me. Only 2 13a’s were what stopped me. On Corazon these pitches had left me with no trouble whatsoever, however today was completely different. After falling off the ‘Golden Desert’ pitch I felt like a goner. Mustering up some energy for my second attempt, I scraped through the crux section by the skin of my teeth and completely boxed out my mind got every inch of rubber and skin in contact with the wall to get me to the belay. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference it was from the first time. Almost a different pitch entirely. The A5 went without any problems and I proceeded to jibber my way to the top of El Cap getting very pumped on every remaining pitch.
I finally hauled my aching body over the top, and with great relief gave myself a little smile and told myself ‘I’ve got to be happy with that’.
All free routes were great and totally different experiences, The first being a technical learning curve, with big wall systems and logistics
The second being, self pressured at not wanted to fall on a pitch and the third being massively hard work from doing the other two and having to grind it out and break it down.
Tom was an absolute hero on Golden Gate, helping me get up it, bringing out the bad jokes and supplying great big wall fancy dress. No way could I have done this one without him, so thanks very much J