Thursday, 21 January 2016

Top 10 routes of 2015!!!

These are my top 10 routes from 2015, so many awesome adventures!

10. ANCIENT ART 5.11a, Fisher Towers, Utah. Is it sandstone, or is it mud? Is the whole route actually an April Fools joke? Definitely the craziest and most unlikely rock formation I've ever climbed on

9. THE CASUAL ROUTE 5.10b, The Diamond (4,346m), Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. "It turns out climbing 5.10 is really hard when it's covered in snow and you can't breathe..."

8. Bron's house in Perth, Ontario to Yosemite, California. 5 days of driving, this one was so good we did it four times!!! There and back twice.

The glitz and glamour of life as a professional dirtbag. Making coffee in the Macdonalds carpark (free wifi) because you're too cheap to pay 1 dollar for a coffee inside...
Death Valley. Not a good day to stock up on reduced Easter eggs...
Iowa has a lot going for it as a state...
7. PEACE 5.13c, Tuolumne Meadows, California. I wore through a pair of shoes in 5 days on this route. Extreme knob-crimping at its finest...

6. A PhD in Mathematics. Approximate grade of 8c. Still can't believe I actually finished this.

Ah right then, glad we got that cleared up.
5. SALATHE in a day, El Capitan, Yosemite. SALADAY! Climbing the best cliff in the world in 17 hours of semi-rushing with mild to moderate fear, excellent.

Shayna leading out onto the headwall at sunset.
Taken by me in the exact same spot as the picture above.
4. MOUNT WATKINS SOUTH FACE 5.13c, Yosemite. Great free climbing on a remote big wall. Would have been better if we hadn't got lost on top and had to phone Bron's mum and dad for directions...

Topping out after midnight on Halloween, no need for costumes!
3. MOONLIGHT BUTTRESS 5.12d, Zion, Utah. Mind-blowing to imagine Honnold soloing this. Prestashing the portaledge made for luxury big walling at its best!

2. DISKO 2000 8a+, BlÄmman, Norway. This trip required a lot of faith in pre-placed beaks and a lot of faith that one day it might stop raining.
Base camp.
Pitch 2, 8a+ corner!

Dave showing off ;)

Summit, more rain, YESSSS!!!!
1. FREERIDER 5.13a, El Capitan, Yosemite. Blood, sweat and sharks. 6 days on the wall, I never want to look at another Ramen Noodle.
Bron having a lovely time in the Monster offwidth. I did not have a lovely time.
Bron catching up on the gun show.


Half Dome, REGULAR NORTHWEST FACE. First off we forgot a sleeping bag, then we got stuck behind some aid climbers, 19 hours of grimness ensued... Then the route fell down a month later!
I guess it wasn't so bad really...
Pure psyche on display after topping out at 11pm!
If next year holds even half as many awesome adventures I'll be happy. Roll on 2016!!!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Yosemite 3

I've realised that Yosemite is somewhere I intend on coming back to again and again. I love it! The climbing is challenging and engaging in a way that I haven't found anywhere else. To climb hard there it's not enough just to be strong, skilled, bold or tough, you have to have a bit of everything. Basically you have to be a good climber. I read an interview with Tommy Caldwell where he said it took him 4 years just to learn how to use his feet on El Cap granite, and this is what ultimately made the difference between 5.13 and 5.14 for him. I find this hugely inspiring and motivating, I've only had three trips, imagine if I learned to use my feet properly! With this in mind my goals for my third Yosemite trip were more about learning and improving than any one specific objective. This felt very different to my first two trips, both of which had been focused on the one goal of free climbing El Capitan via Freerider. It was great to arrive back in the Valley with no expectations, I felt relaxed and able to enjoy my favourite place in the world!
Crimping hard on Freerider last June.
We spent the first 3 weeks in Tuolumne; the high country above Yosemite Valley. Peace is a famously thin 5.13+ (8a+/b) slab and wall climb on the beautiful golden West face of Medicott dome. I had seen this sweet poster of Ron Kauk making the first ascent when I was a kid.

Peace is an enormous 60 meter pitch climbing a black streak on a golden wall, it varies between 85 and 95 degrees; a testpiece of techy wall climbing. The wall is covered in Tuolumne's infamous granite chickenheads or "knobs", with virtually no distinguishing features at any point. The crux seemed to be just remembering which part of the route I was on! At any one time I could reach maybe 20 knobs and 19 of them were so bad I'd fall immediately. I loved the style of climbing, and it was especially fun since my friends Alan Carne and Brette Harrington were working on the Bachar Yerian a few meters to my left. We would have leisurely chats, suspended above the floor between attempts. I had quite a strange progression on the route, it took 3 sessions just to do all the moves in isolation, and I sent the route on my first proper redpoint, completely out of the blue, on my 5th day. Such a beautiful line!

The first crux
Peace goes into the sun just after midday, making the climb about 100 times harder. In the afternoons Bron and I were loving life, charging up granite dome after granite dome. We climbed the moderate routes, and practiced moving fast. We would take one short half rope and simul-climb large sections, often putting a micro-traxion or a rope-man between us to protect the leader if the second were to fall. Climbing this way is outrageously fun, it's difficult to describe the feeling apart from by saying it makes regular pitched climbing feel like a snails-crawl.  One great day we managed to climb 3 routes on Fairview dome in an afternoon!

Sunset after our 3rd route on Tuolumne's Fairview Dome!
As the weather got colder we moved down into the Valley proper and continued running up thousands and thousands of feet of granite.


Royal Arches North Dome. We climbed what is normally 24 pitches of climbing in 4 long "simul-blocks" reaching the summit of North Dome before midday!

5000 feet of climbing and it's only midday!
The Rostrum, I was delighted for both Bron and I to get the onsight of this iconic crack climbing testpiece.

Bron cruising the Rostrum
Astroman. It only took me three trips across the Atlantic and three separate attempts to finally send this climb. Specifically the Harding slot, a pitch that is supposedly 6c! I just needed Bron to get the top rope up there for me first! The next challenge is going to be doing the Rostrum AND Astroman in a day, my hands hurt just thinking about it!

Bron getting my top-rope up for me on the Harding slot.
Mount Watkins

Much of the Valley was extremely crowded in October, I heard tales of 10 or more teams on the first half of Salathe/Freerider! I was keen for a Yosemite free climbing adventure that was a little bit more off the beaten track. The South face of Mount Watkins ticked these boxes and the crux was rumoured to be a 5.13c/8a+ dyno, I was sold! We packed for 4 days, one to hike in, two days climbing and a fourth to hike off the top. Getting to the base of the wall turned out to be quite a logistical challenge, we hiked for about 4 hours up the secluded Tenaya Canyon, taking us far from the tour buses and burger stands of the Valley proper. We filtered water from Tenaya Creek and began the epic task of getting our haulbag to the top of the "4th class" at the base of the wall. Some of the "4th class" turned out to involve soaking wet slabs up to 5.8!

Endless low angle slabs, the wall just kept getting further away!
I had just enough light left on our first day to have one attempt at the first hard pitch, a low angle blank looking 12a slab. A beautiful pitch that made all the slog of getting to the wall seem instantly worth it.
onsighting the first pitch, 12a slab!

We woke before dawn and climbed all the next day, there was not another person in sight; we had the whole of Tenaya Canyon to ourselves! At dusk we reached to an amazing bivy ledge above pitch 11, and set up camp.
Bron jugging our fixed line at dawn.
Beautiful view of Half Dome.
Bron leading the outrageously exposed pitch 10, possibly the best pitch of 5.3 in the world!
Our alarm went off at 5am the next morning, I knew that all the hardest climbing still lay above me. I felt excited to try my hardest and give it my absolute best shot!

Sunrise of day 2 on the wall.
The first crux was the "pendulum bypass pitch", a very thin 12d/7c layback with small gear, finishing with a few long slaps between crimps on the face. I was surprised and delighted to onsight it, it felt pretty touch and go on some of the sketchy, smeary footholds!
Shaking out and eyeballing the crux of the "Pendulum Bypass pitch".
The next obstacle came immediately afterwards in the form of the 13c "dyno pitch", I was looking forward to trying this one! I went up and fell many times trying the dyno, before eventually figuring out a way of doing it static! I quickly realised I wasn't going to stand a chance until it came into the shade. We waited on the ledge, huddling in the shade cast by our haulbag as the sun moved across the sky. At last light I fought my way upwards, clawing my way past the boulder crux before almost losing it on the thin slab above. I arrived at the anchors as the sun set, exhausted and shaking, in semi-disbelief that I'd actually pulled it off.

The "dyno pitch"!
The downside to waiting all day to get the pitch in the shade was that we now had to climb to the top in the dark! Bron took the lead and took us up some gnarly 10d flare pitches by headtorch. It felt spooky climbing in a little ball of light, but knowing there was 2000 feet of empty space beneath my feet that I couldn't see. It was all I could do to second the pitches clean in my exhausted state.

Bron leading off into the night.
We reached the top of the wall at 1:30am, I was really pleased to have free climbed the whole route, but more importantly to have had an epic adventure with my girlfriend on a sweet big wall!

On the summit, exhausted but happy.

On one of our last days in the Valley I got the chance to climb with Shayna Brown, a Valley local who's been climbing a bunch of big walls at blazing speeds. It was a great opportunity to practice and learn more about speed climbing techniques. We decided to climb the Salathe wall on El Capitan in a day (Saladay!), which is slightly harder than the Nose-in-a-day due to being a bit longer and having a lot more mandatory wide crack climbing.

It was another outrageously fun day, we "short-fixed" the entire wall using a "Pakistani Death Loop". The second would jumar at running pace with music blaring from the mini-speaker clipped to their harness. Speed climbing big walls is completely different to free climbing them, I enjoyed the different mindset where anything goes as long as you keep moving upwards and bolts become jugs. I can't wait to do more of this type of thing in the future! We climbed the wall in a little over 17 hours, it got dark just as we got onto the infamous headwall. Swinging about up there in the dark was atmospheric for sure.

Looking down the "enduro corner", good exposure!

Shayna's feet getting onto the headwall.

Bron and our friend Tito met us on top with a stove, sitting at the top of El Cap at midnight after climbing the whole of the Salathe and being made hot chocolate was one of the more special moments of my climbing life.