Sunday, August 17, 2008

El Capitan, The Shield Route, August 3-10, 2008

The Shield

Day 1: Epic
We hiked our bags to the base of the route on Sunday night. We were planning to sleep at the base until we discovered that a hungry skunk happened to be planning an evening at the base as well. So we made the executive decision to let the skunk win, and slept on a ledge about 50 feet up instead.

We officially started climbing on Monday morning. Andrew and I split off from our partner, Gregg, to climb the first 10 pitches of the route without the burden of the haul bags. The two of us took off that morning with a camelbak full of water, and a couple of energy bars. Surely enough resources to fuel our morning climb, right? We soon found out that this would have been adequate if 1) it wasn't 105 degrees that day, and 2) we were in shape. As it turned out, we had neither of these circumstances in our favor. So instead we practiced the tried and true method of suffering.

About 700 feet up with 300 more to go, Andrew took the last sips of our water, ate the last bites of our food, and fearlessly led our dehydrated, sunburned, exhausted selves onto the ledge where we were supposed to meet Gregg. To say the least we barely made it in one piece, and had started fantasizing about selling all of our gear and giving up climbing completely.

Day 2: From Heart Ledges to Gray Ledges
We woke up still wondering how much cash we could get from selling all our gear, but decided to keep going to see what would happen. This is us that morning contemplating why, exactly, we think this is fun.

We climbed a few good pitches and one slippery chimney, and in no time found ourselves on Gray Ledges. Though it was still extremely hot, we were well-hydrated and were actually beginning to feel pretty good about climbing once again. When we got to the ledge, we took inventory of our water situation. Factoring in the sweltering heat, we realized that we may not have enough water to make it all the way. It was a pivotal moment: anything above Gray Ledges would put us at the point of no return. So we had to decide: do we go for it and hope for the best? bail? go get more water?

Day 3: To Bail or Not to Bail?
Procrastination was the decision. We'd go get more water, and then decide whether or not to officially bail. So we rappelled down, jumped in the river, ate some pizza, filled up water bottles, took naps under a tree, then worked our way back up to Gray Ledges.

Here's a brief encounter we had with the "Shield Monster"

Day 4: The Shield Roof and the Headwall

We took new inventory of our water, and determined that we could easily climb for another week and still have enough to take showers with at the top. With so much water, at that point it was ridiculous to bail. So upward we went. This is me leading the first pitch off of Gray Ledges:

This is me and Andrew a couple pitches above Gray.

In no time, we found ourselves directly beneath the Shield Roof: infamous for being the "crux pitch" of the route. Here's Andrew just getting into the meat of it:

Me and Gregg at the belay

Andrew styled his way up it, and it was soon time for the second to head up. That meant it was my turn, so I lowered myself out 30 feet from the anchor until I was dangling in the middle of space.

The top of the roof brought us to the first pitch of the (extremely) overhanging headwall: 600 feet of beautiful smooth, golden, rock with one perfect seam running straight up the middle. Just how overhanging was it? Every time the second lowered out from the belay, they'd find themselves 20-30 feet away from where they started. Here's such a moment:

And just how exposed was it? Looking down from your anchor, you become vibrantly aware that the only thing between you and the ground is 2,000 or so feet of air.

We spent that night in the middle of the headwall:

Day 5: The Headwall

We woke up the next morning to the two (actual) hardest pitches on the route. Andrew took the diciest one - The Groove:

And Gregg took Triple Cracks:

This is Andrew getting aggro with his hammer cleaning a stubborn piece of gear on Triple Cracks:

Here we all are at the belay. It was a lot colder up there (who knew?) so we had to arm ourselves in all the warm gear we had.

We (Andrew) blasted up the next three pitches so we could make it to Chickenhead Ledge before dark.

Day 6: Summit

We woke up the next morning pretty worked...

...but we enjoyed every second of having our feet on solid ground at Chickenhead Ledge. After a quick breakfast, we were summit-bound.

It went something like this: I led a pitch, Gregg led a pitch, Gregg led another pitch, Andrew led the weird downsloping roof, Andrew led the crappy, grovelly squeeze chimney pitch, then I led the slabby summit pitch. All before 5p.m.!

First pitch off Chickenhead.

Practicing karate on the summit:

Summit or Die!!!