Wednesday, February 15, 2017

New Website and Blog!

Website Screenshot

Hello all!  After a  few months of working on a new WEBSITE and BLOG, it is finally complete and all in one place ready for your viewing and reading pleasure!  It has been a fun process, and I am beyond excited to have a new interface to share images and stories with. There are a lot of new images, and I have really been pursing a whole new side of my own interests in photography.  Whats new?  More CLIMBING content, NATURE, WILDLIFE, FREELANCE, and a PRINTS section, where you can purchase prints if you are interested in them. Woohoo! Thank you all who have taken the time to view my blogspot throughout the years, and I hope you may venture over to the new format with ease.  See you all on the next adventure!

Screenshot of new blog format.
Wildlife page, a whole new world of images!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Supermoon, Classic Wall Routes, and Wildlife in Zion and Red Rock.

The time has come for me to dust of the ol' blog and start sharing photos and stories again!  I hope I didn't leave too many folks scratching their heads because of such a long delay since my last post.  Luckily, my days have been filled with the same types of adventures to new places, new routes, new people, photos, and all sorts of adventure and mis-adventure.   I am making a point to update here more often again and don't worry, I'll still have the same type-o's and confusing analogies that got so many people psyched! In short I've been hoarding images and experiences inside my mind and hard drive for some reason that I no longer understand... So, hope you're all open to let the flood gates open again!

The Supermoon photographed November 13th, 2016 just outside Zion. 

The most recent and relevant trip I just took was going to see the Supermoon over Zion with my good adventure bud Andy Reger.  We had been longing for an adventure for some time now, as Andy has been out of commission due to a shoulder injury/surgery.  Originally he was going to just "tag along" as I went to attempt a solo on a wall route.  But soon after we packed our bags and got in the car, the same vibes of our many past adventures caught up with us and it became clear we would rather adventure around Zion as a team.  It certainly felt likeit would be silly for me to enter the world-of-pain that is soloing, when I could just kick it with my friend and enjoy all the beauty that is Zion.  So thats what we did!

Our first night we rushed to our camp spot just outside of the park in hopes of catching the moonrise over the horizon. Unfortunately prior to this we were also quite hungry, which caused a pitstop at Amigo's in Springdale for the "Super Burrito".  We filled our bellies but missed the true moonrise.  Either way the moon greeted us with its wonderfully bright glow as we set up out basic camp for the night.  Soon after I got the camera gear out and was able to start shooting the Supermoon and my Super burrito digested.  Since it was later and higher in the sky it was also starting to get very bright in the lens by this point.  It was a nice surprise for me because it allowed for a faster shutter speed, and lower ISO setting, which meant that there was a possibility of capturing more detail on the moon.  I clicked away, being still and limiting all movements around the camera itself to eliminate vibrations and micro-blurs.  I'm never quite sure what specific images will be the sharpest until I view them at 100% view on a computer, so I just shoot a lot, and focus on using the best practices.  I was pleased with the results! But I am always looking for more detail and clarity in the images.  Perhaps I will rent the Canon 800mm in the future...

Nic Gunter and friend on Pitch 7 of Desert Shield. 

The next day we awoke with a very open schedule.  With no longer a time crunch of having to get up so early to starting soloing a route, my mind was free to enjoy and relax in the surroundings.  We grabbed a coffee and bite to eat, and meandered into Zion and took a quick drive around to see where our energy might take us.  Immediately we had noticed most of the classic trade routes had parties on them.  Touchstone Wall, Prodigal Sun, Desert Shield, Spaceship, Moonlight Buttress all had people on them.  Made sense to us.  The weather was beautiful, the moon would be out, and these routes are mega-classic.  I took the camera out pretty excited to once again see what kind of clarity and detail I could capture, but now of the climbing teams on these routes.  I had never tried to capture climbing with the 400mm lens that I had brought, so it was all new enough and I was pretty sure that in the daylight the challenge would be a little more predictable than at night.  I first aimed my camera up on Desert Shield 5.9 C3.  

Pitch 7 complete. Nic starts to clean the pitch. Desert Shield. 

I captured a team on of two on the headwall pitches.  These are by far the most memorable pitches on the route, and I was having flashbacks of excitement. I later found out that it was a friend up on the wall, so the small world that is climbing just got a little smaller that day! Another team of 3 was starting up the route the same day, but were about a day behind the headwall team. I captured a quick shot of them on Pitch 3 that day.  It was pretty safe to assume they were planning on bivying at the "Jungle Bivy" that night, probably in hopes of watching the moon in the canyon.  The next day before leaving I got another photo of them and their portaledge nearing the top on Pitch 8.  Looked like they had a fun time!

Another team of 3 beings Pitch 3. Desert Shield. November 14, 2016
Team of 3 on the headwall Pitch 8. November 15, 2016. 

We walked around the canyons exploring all sorts of things, but not too long without looking up at the walls.  We pretty much had the best view in the canyon for observing these teams from the ground.   Another route I took a good amount of photos of was Spaceshot 5.9 C2.  This route was in the sun, and at the time I thought that made it a little more easy to photograph and capture the same vibrant red sandstone we are used to seeing.  The team was moving a little slow but this is not uncommon for the route, and this team was also linking pitches which would help the pace in the end.  We imagined they were aiming to get to the Earth Orbit Ledge and bivy there to once again watch the moonrise in the canyon. Would be a blast! 

Team on Pitch 4 or 5 of Spaceshot. November 14, 2016

Adding some color to the shot... Spaceshot. November 14, 2016

Team on Pitch 6 on Prodigal Sun. November 14, 2016.

Lastly to share is just one images of a team on Prodigal Sun 5.7 C2 up the Angles Landing Wall.  Such a fun route and iconic wall in Zion.  I remember having a blast climbing this route with Andy in the past, but unfortunately the photos didn't really reflect the beauty of the wall, or the feeling of being up there above the Big Bend parking area and Virgin River below. Either way this team in all ninja-black seemed to be plugging away and in good pace for the summit.  Nice work!

The Streaked Wall.  One of the most awe-inspiring (for me) walls in Zion.

California Condor is the largest bird in North America and is considered critically endangered. 

As we walked around starring at the walls, we couldn't help but observe the finite details of the things we encountered along the way.  Trees, dear, butterflies, bugs, plants... I guess I could just say nature, wildlife, and everything in between.  Zion has such an awesome energy and feeling, it pulls the creativity and curiosity right out of your brain and its quite painless.  There were surprises around every corner, but I think the most exciting moment was trying to photograph the 10-point buck that we had spotted briefly and earlier in the day before it ran off into the woods.  As we walked around we had done a very novice but eager job of trying to find it again.  We walked for a good couple hours and saw many awesome things, but no deer.  It wasn't until we crossed the river and began heading back to the car that the deer emerged from right behind us.  It was a pretty serendipitous moment.  Also pretty hilarious considering how close we were but had no idea...

Clueless me. Photo: Andy Reger

We stayed in the river a while, and watched the deer walk back into the brush.  We laughed at how cool it was and how amateur it made us feel. I guess that was part of the joy. The river temperature felt nice so we kept walking down it and decided to look for a nice rock to rest and put our shoes back on.  Along this saunter up stream the deer emerged once again, but this time it walked across the river in front of us.  This was when I finally had my chance to get a good photo of a pretty unique moment.  A rewarding and unexpected experience.  I am seeing this reoccur everyday I go out to shoot photos of wildlife. Always seeing something I never expected when I didn't know what I was looking for. 

The Buck crossing the Virgin River as we walked down it. 

In the week or so before this I also went out to Red Rock Canyon in my backyard and started some of my first random explorations into "wildlife photography".  I didn't really think of it with any type of category in mind really, I just wanted to shoot and wanted to be outside.  I went to a few locations over two days and few hours and found that with patience and curiosity there is truly a lot to see in the desert environment.  Things don't always jump out at you (sometimes they do though), and being still in and observant in one location will allow you to see many things you might not have been looking for. Always a nice surprise. 

Bees, water, and leaves in Red Rock Canyon, NV.

Tarantula hunting Crayfish in a desert pool. Red Rock Canyon, NV.

Oasis - Red Rock Canyon, NV. 

Hope you all enjoy!  I am looking forward to sharing much more in the future.  Please feel free to comment, critique and share this and all future posts.  I am always open to hearing more opinions and experiences. See you out there! 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Lunar Ecstasy 5.10 C2 V - A Solo Ascent

The summer in Las Vegas can be a little tricky for adventure climbing.  The temperatures at times soar in the 110 degree range and just going for a walk sometimes can be face melting. I usually take a trip in early June to beat the heat and the last two years I have gone to Yosemite Valley to explore the tall granite walls there.  After this most recent trip, having successfully climbed Zodiac (see my last post) I was pretty psyched up to keep on big-walling on the regular.  The only problem was now my trip was over and the next months seemed filled with work and sweating on my bicycle commute for entertainment.  At first the heat was too much, but I soon got over complaining and embraced the heat for what it was. After all it wasn't going to change for a while.  Friends came and left on their summer vacations and I stuck around and spent my time flipping through climbing guide books like they held the answers to all of life's unanswered questions. 

The Yosemite Bigwalls book and Zion: Free and Clean were on the top of the reading list. Of course Red Rock: A Climber's Guide was also in the rotation.  But eventually reading and day dreaming was not enough, I needed to actually climb something more than a pitch long. Mid July I went out with a friend to Black Velvet Canyon and climbed The Gobbler, Yellow Brick Road, and Triassic Sands all fun 5.10 moderate multipitches. We sweat our asses off on the hike in and out, but throughout the day it was nothing but smiles, laughter, and good climbing with absolute solitude. A well needed adventure into the canyons I moved here for.  I think we both realized despite the "free sauna" effect it was actually a pretty awesome time to be out there with such silence and isolation. Of course this solitude wasn't as welcoming when I got our rope stuck five pitches off the ground, but hey, we managed to get creative and get it unstuck, otherwise we'd probably still be up there waiting for a little less solitude.  

Lunar Ecstasy 5.10 C2 V - Zion Nation Park, Utah.

As it gets later in the summer and temps gradually become more reasonable my day dreaming has an opportunity to turn into reality.  So just a few days ago I decided I'd "start off the season" right with a solo big wall adventure.  What a better way to get the psyche going than to put in a bunch of work for one great adventure! So it was decided, I would give Lunar Ecstasy in Zion a go.  It's primarily an aid route, although Nik Berry did free climb it and I think it was somewhere in the 5.13(?) range. Way to go dude!  My plan was to only free climb the easier sections and aid all the rest, which was most of the route. The route gets the difficulty of C2 and there were really only a few "tricky" sections.  It tops out after about 1,200 feet in length and is broken down into 9 pitches.  I had debated in my head about trying to push the route in a big day effort but after seeing a photo of the sweet ledge above Pitch 4 I thought it would be more fun to do it over two days time.   I found myself starring at the photo and getting unusually excited about the little ledge.  The positioning at the bottom of the clean headwall and brilliant looking exposure just called out to me.  The next question was "Do you think I could sleep on that?"

Farewell Ledge on top of Pitch 4.  The ledge that inspired a solo.
Reference Photo: Nick Storm 

 I figured it would be conceivable that one person could lay down on it, but certainly no more.  It also looked kind of downward slopping so that was another point of concern.  Still I debated about the idea and let it brew in my head.  I asked some friends what they thought and most laughed, but not too long before saying that they thought I should go for it.  Either they were sand bagging me or they just wanted to hear the absurd story of me trying to sleep on some tiny slopping ledge 600' off the ground.  Either way seemed good enough to me.  My plan was to pack pretty minimally and skimp on as many of the niceties as I could.  Doing it solo means I have to carry all that stuff everywhere so I wanted to keep it pretty minimal so it was less fuss and hauling would be easier.  As the trip got closer I started to piece together the rack for the climb, borrowing a few stray pieces from friends.  Once I laid out the rack, rope, and all climbing gear I realized there was nothing minimal about aid soloing.  Even if I didn't bring a sleeping bag it barely made a dent in the pile of crap I would have to lug around.  Oh well,  I guess I'll just use a bigger haul bag! 

Gear prep, what happened to being minimal?

Lunar Ecstasy goes up center line "B".

After getting everything into the haul bag the night before it was starting to look like it was actually going to happen.  That night I met with another wall climber friend who was about to head to Yosemite the next morning.  It seemed like a proper send off to meet and talk walls over good food before we both headed out on our own adventures.  I left at 7:30am from Las Vegas and did the quick drive to Zion.  I probably should have left earlier but I needed some good rest before hand.  On the drive I also forgot there was an hour time change so I actually lost an hour on the way too.  I was already perfectly behind schedule.   When I got to the park is was busy as hell because it was Labor Day and there were no parking spots at the visitor center where I had to stop and get my bivy permit.  What a genius plan I had hatched!  Show up mid-day on a busy holiday and start soloing a wall with the idea of climbing 4 Pitches before dark just to sleep on a little ledge. Genius!  

At the Visiter Center I inadvertently parked my van in the "RV Only" parking lot when I ran in to get my overnight bivy permit.  Once I talked to the ranger there they told me I couldn't park there and to try to get a spot in the main parking lot because that's what I was approved for with the permit.  Good to know.  I went back to my car and there was already a blaze orange parking violation on the drivers side window from the park service. A great souvenir. I got in my car and started scouting the busy lot for any one who was going to be leaving their spot.  After about 15 minutes of waiting I finally found a couple who was leaving and I put the flashers on and waited for their spot to be free.  During this time I started finalizing the packing on the haulbag, and included my last decisions for what food to bring.  They drove out and I pulled into the spot.  I got my last things together, changed shoes and was almost ready to go!  I picked up the haul bag a few inches and dropped it once or twice on the ground to help settle the contents down to make more room to close it, a pretty standard procedure.  Moments later I noticed I was standing in a puddle and there was water pouring out of the haulbag.  NOOOO! I thought loudly to myself and frantically starting throwing the contents of the bag onto the pavement as fast as I could.   Quickly I discovered that BOTH my gallon jugs had exploded in the bag, and most of my water had leaked out! This was the first big blow to my psyche, and for a good couple moments I had some serious doubts if I was actually gonna do this.  My time window was dwindling fast, and now my water supplies were significantly diminished. Not good.  I scrounged around my van for some reserve gatorades and any extra empty water bottles to fill and bring along. I filled them up and now it seemed reasonable for me to continue.  "This may just be enough" I thought to myself, and threw the heavy pack over my shoulders and got in line for the bus into the canyon. 

Haulbag leaking most of my water moments before I was going to leave. 

I got on the bus near last and stood up by the driver like I usually do.  The Zion bus drivers are awesome because as a climber you can ask them to drop you off directly in front of your climb.  Some pretty sweet service! This time my bus driver was John and he was both curious and excited to chat about the adventure I was partaking on.  He asked me all sorts of questions about climbing, life, relationships and the whole story of living a climbing life. He also contributed some good facts about the park that were new to me. He also told me about an area where there was recent rock fall but also explained it shouldn't effect where I would be climbing.  At this point we were starting to be pretty chatty and other people started to jump in on the conversation with their own questions about what exactly it was that I was doing.  One person asked what I did for water and I told them "I like to bring as much as possible, but funny you asked because most of my water just exploded in the parking lot!"  I laughed more than they did.  The ride continued and a few people got on and off throughout.  The couple who asked me about water stood up to get off the bus and when they walked by said they'd like to make "a donation", and gave me a small water bottle full of the good filtered stuff.  "Thank you, this will be great!" I said and gave them a thankful and cheerful wave as they walked away.  The bus continued and John asked me to point out where I would be climbing.  I pointed up to the Moonlight Buttress and indicated the face I would be on and that the route was called Lunar Ecstasy.  Soon enough we were right in front of the climb and it was my time to get out and start hiking.  John stopped the bus and made a pseudo announcement "Here you go folks, one of the main Zion attractions!" and unexpectedly people on the bus started clapping in support as I grabbed my stuff and got ready for my quest.  "Wow! What a send off." I thought to myself. "...but I haven't even done anything?" As John pulled the bus away he asked one more question out the window.  "Hey Matt, what will you be wearing tomorrow on the wall?"  I smiled to myself and replied "I'll probably be wearing this same thing!" Knowing very well that I didn't bring a change of clothes.  John said "Alright, I'll look for you!" as he pulled away. I turned around to face the wall and took my first steps towards a great unknown and true adventure.  

Virgin River crossing to gain the base of the route. Always a joy.

I quickly got to the Virgin River that runs through the park and right in front of the wall.  You have to cross the river to get to the base of the climb and it's always kind of a fun experience because there is always the slight possibility that you will foolishly slip and douse all your climbing gear.  My stuff was half wet from the exploded gallon jugs so it didn't really matter if I biffed it this time around. The water was actually refreshing and felt nice (instead of freezing) and it wasn't flowing as high or fast as some previous crossings. I put my shoes back on and started the small slog up the sandy hill to the base of the buttress.  For some reason the start of the route didn't look as familiar as I remembered from a previous ascent of Moonlight Buttress and I kind of struggled to find exactly where to get set up.  I thought I spotted the first pitch but it looked more bushy than I remembered, which is a good indicator that I wasn't looking at the right pitch.  In this process I also struggled to get the haul line configured through all the bushes and cactus.  You leave your bag about 60' to the right of where you start climbing so that when you finish the pitch you can haul straight up. I had to drag the haul line through 60' of desert bush nightmare to have it with me to start the climb.  It got stuck on everything and I walked into a cactus and now had little needles all in my elbow and left pointer finger that I never could get all out.  Classic desert shenanigans. 

I set my ground anchor and decided it was time to get this show on the road.  I started up what I thought was a 5.10 variation pitch that went straight up.  It was really sandy and a bit loose like a lot of Zion first pitches and for some reason I thought it was the way.  I climbed about 15' and then half squeezed into the narrow chimney and looked up.  It now looked a lot harder than it did on the ground and I observed that I wasn't even close to having the gear to protect the gash.  I reevaluated and down climbed the sandy rock until I was back on the terraced base.  I stepped back and had a good hard look at the start of the route and referenced the topo again to get this sorted out.  I discovered I was too far to the left and I needed to scramble up and right to gain the actual first pitch. "Brilliant" I thought to myself in relief that I didn't continue climbing that other junk.  This probably would't have happened with a friend because there would have been another voice of reason and another set of eyes to spot the correct pitch but oh well!  I reconfigured the ropes and set another anchor to actually start the first pitch and took a deep breath to put the little difficulties behind me. It was probably nearing 2pm at this point but I didn't look because I didn't want to confirm I was falling behind.

I began the pitch, which is a sandy 5.7 corner than doesn't take a lot of gear and because of this is a little sparsely protected at points.  I knew this part would not be the highlight of the day and if I biffed it at some point in the first 50' I'd probably end up back on the ground in another cactus. At least it was only 5.7 and despite getting lost finding it I had actually climbed this pitch before without trouble.  It was just the mental crux of leaving the ground.  I started climbing and got my first piece in a ways up, which I tensioned the rope up with to keep my lead line and anchor correctly oriented. I climbed above the piece and hesitated when I confirmed the next gear was another 10'-15' feet further up.  I down climbed and had a thought and hesitated.  I climbed back up to the same spot and felt the same hesitation again, severely doubting myself and not wanting to slide back down this slab. I hit a real mental roadblock.  I went the full way back down to the base and questioned everything I was doing and why the hell I was doing it.  I knew I was behind schedule. I knew my plan was kind of already dumb anyway. I knew I didn't want to ground fall off a 5.7. I knew I didn't have enough water. I knew the "sweet ledge bro" was still way up there and I knew I wasn't even remotely close to being successful yet.  I also knew nobody was here to help me out and nobody cared if I did it or not.  I almost quit.  I quickly tried to shift my thoughts from the sudden negativity that overwhelmed me to more encouraging and positive thoughts from somewhere, anywhere I could find.  I thought about my friends that I got to see before I left.  More specifically their encouragement and belief in what I was doing and how they had encouraged me to really pursue it.  If they believed in me I needed to at least believe in myself from time to time.  I got my head back together and more accurately reevaluated the pitch.  I relaxed.  This would be the first of many unseen mental or psychical challenges and if I couldn't handle this I was hopeless.  I started climbing and blocked out all the noisy doubt. The pitch wasn't hard at all but I still had to do it.  Once I completed the pitch I was relieved because I had finally done the first small step in doing this thing and I was desperate for some momentum.  I got right to work, rapped back down, cleaning the pitch.  Jugged back to the anchor and then hauled the bag. I was happy and in my comfortable zone finally.  My hesitation was gone for now and I calmly and enthusiastically continued further up the route.  After all, I had 3 more pitches to climb that day and shadows on the walls were growing. 

Farewell Ledge - A wonderfully narrow and sloping bivy ledge with a great view.  

The next two pitches went pretty fast despite some minor confusion finishing the second pitch.  I guess its always an adventure and when you're alone there isn't another person to help guide you and confirm what you're doing is right or wrong.  I always looked at the topo before each Pitch but had it "memorized" enough that I didn't really look hard and just climbed what looked like the natural way to go, which usually was correct. Soon enough I had just one more Pitch to climb to gain the ledge. Pitch 4 was the base of the sheer headwall and the climbing was finally starting to look fun and more difficultly cool.  I started up at a relaxed and confident pace and just took it all in.  I was surprised I was so close and it wasn't dark yet.  I kept plugging away and awaited the right leaning bolt ladder near the top that would bring me to the ledge.  I guess I was climbing slower than I realized and soon enough it was getting hard to see in the dimming light.   I was probably about 3/4 of the way up the pitch when I realized I couldn't really see what I was doing anymore.   I didn't allow myself to stop and think about it.  I had a headlamp but of course it was in the haul bag way at the bottom of the pitch and I wasn't going down for it because it would kill whatever momentum I had.  I dreamt of reaching the bolts coming up that would take me to the ledge. 

It was now too dark to see what the next placements would be. I was climbing more or less blind, seeing only vaguely what the features were. I felt around the crack for pods, constrictions, splitter sections, anything I could fish a piece of gear into.  I got to one spot that was really tricky, mainly because I didn't seem to have any gear that would fit.  It was a real head scratcher for a moment and I mentally used whatever I had left to not let this be the next roadblock.  I felt around the blown-out pod again trying to feel any sort of variance that would allow me to place gear in it.  I thought "Hey this is probably where people said tricams were critical. Hmmm, well good thing I left those in the haulbag too!"  I swam around in my chest harness looking for anything offset that would fit the pod.  I had just one offset cam left, and it just so happened to be the smallest one.  I finagled a way for it to fit in the hole, which was significantly bigger than the cam itself.  I bounce tested it and it didn't rip out but I couldn't tell why.  So I hung off it and hoped for the best.  I gently moved up high and with a big reach was finally able to clip a bolt. Sweet! I back-cleaned the cam in case I would need it again and moved on.  It was kind of a trip because I never saw how the cam was placed, let alone how it didn't rip out in such a misshaped pod.  I climbed the remaining 15' and with great joy finally stepped onto Farewell Ledge.  I fixed the rope, rappelled back down to the last anchor and cleaned the gear.  I ascended back up the rope to the ledge and then hauled the bag up to the ledge.  Finally I was at a stopping point and was able to relax for a while.  I drank some water, took my shoes off and took in the dark mysterious view.  

Done for the day.  Relaxing on Farewell Ledge.

The ledge was the best thing that happened all day.  I reached my goal and it seemed maybe my plan wasn't as dumb as it occasionally seemed.  The ledge certainly was narrow and down slopping but I didn't care, I was just happy to be there.  I watched the last of the buses drive through the canyon and had my last moments with distant human interaction for the night.  I've shared walls with climbers in Zion before, but it seemed that nobody else was climbing in the canyon this day, and nobody else was bivying.  I was truly alone out there. I guess it was early in the season and a lot of people still thought it was too hot to be there.  I had the whole canyon to myself and it was almost overwhelmingly cool.   I felt lucky to be there and to be so engaged and present in an awesome place within my mind and nature combined.  It truly was an experience that few people get to have, especially when you add on the solo aspect and act of being alone.  It was euphoric and I kept reminding myself to do my best to take it all in and appreciate all the small parts.   I thought about my friends and family and tried to conceive a way to share this experience with them when I was done.  But I struggled and knew whatever words or photos I shared wouldn't ever come close to representing what it meant for me to sit up on that ledge. 

"I've worn yamakas bigger than this bivy ledge." - Micah Dash 

Morning came and I woke up at 7am.  I slept what seemed like a a few hours at a time and then would reposition slightly and fall back asleep.  Pretty comfy and the small hammock I brought and put my ass in kept me from sliding around too much. The ledge by my head was barely shoulder width so it was a pretty close distance to the edge.  I woke up on my side once in the night and opened my eyes directly to seeing the abyss below.  That was pretty cool thing to open your eyes to.   The temperature was pretty nice but it did get a little cold through the night and there was a slight breeze.  I was glad I brought the sleeping bag after all, even if it didn't close because the zipper was broken.  Morning duties were done and soon enough I was ready to start getting the gear organized to prepare to keep climbing.  I had the idea to do an "epic time-lapse video" in my mind and rigged up a GoPro and small tripod above me looking down onto the ledge and ground below.  I thought it'd be a pretty cool video of me getting all the stuff ready.  Well, either way that idea died quick because after I rigged it up the camera wouldn't turn on.  Dead batteries huh, well I guess it won't be such an "epic video" after all.  Oh well. 

"I just woke up like this..." Morning view looking down from where I rested my head for the night. 

The next 3 pitches all went up the shear and beautiful headwall of the route.  They were the most difficult pitches of the route but I wasn't really worried about them being too hard, mostly I knew they'd be the best pitches. They went at C2 but some people argued C2+ or C3-  I knew it would go fine, I just had to do it and hopefully it wouldn't take me forever. Ultimately I didn't think anything was harder than C2, it was just Zion C2, which is sandy and has lots of weird pods you place smallish brass nuts in. Logistically I was more concerned with managing the two ropes, and haulbag, all with the absence of a natural ledge to set them on.  The belays now transitioned into fully hanging stances, and as a soloist this is more tricky because I need to neatly organize both ropes so they will feed easily as I progress, and obviously they cannot get twisted, stuck, knotted, fall off, etc. This would cause much difficulty.  To my surprise and joy I was able to run a pretty tight ship and I didn't have any major issues with the rope or haulbag. It seemed maybe I actually knew what I was doing?  These pitches were the most fun because they were the most challenging and the terrain was so steep and engaging.  It was still a lot of work but finally the reward was a little more evident.  I eventually ripped a piece out bounce testing on Pitch 7, but as you can tell most of the gear was solid enough to climb without major complications.

View from the summit of Lunar Ecstasy. 

When I finished these couple hard Pitches and just finished ascending back up to my high point I heard a voice yell to me "Good job! You did it!"  I looked around a little perplexed and found two individuals looking down and across at me from the West Rim Trail.  I didn't know what to say really so I just dumbfoundedly said "Thanks... but I'm not done yet!" Their celebration gave me a sense of accomplishment which I found distracting and didn't want to feel yet.  I wasn't done, so I didn't want to fool myself into thinking I could relax.   I started climbing again and had two more pitches to do.   I got perplexed again by some sandy unprotected free climbing that was just kinda odd but just kept plugging away one step at a time.   I took the original last pitch because I thought it would be more full value and it was slightly harder.  It was kind of a nightmare and the rock quality was really sugary at times, the placements were weird everywhere, and there were numerous ledges to fall onto. I puked my pants. Well not really but I wanted to. It was kind of a "questing" pitch to say the least.  Next time I'd do the "Jarrett" finishing Pitch and save some stress. 

When I topped out after the lead I was pretty relieved to be done climbing.  I still had to drop back in and rappel to clean my gear, anchor, and then ascend back up to haul the bag.  But, more or less, I was feel kinda done with my goal.  I did the last remaining work and once again stood back at the summit.  I threw all the gear off me in a big pile and felt the weight of the challenge lift off my shoulders.  I sat down and starred out at Angels Land wall and beyond.  Such a beautiful place.   I drank the last remaining water I had saved for this very moment and tired to think about everything that had just happened.  This anticlimactic moment at the summit never seems to change and the accomplishment isn't at first very noticeable.  I lulled for about 2 minutes like this and then started to repack all the stuff into the haulbag.  It was a little lighter with no water, but it still felt like a chore to pick it up and hike it out... but it always is.  I made quick time on the descent trail and spent the whole time on the way down thinking about how much water I would drink when I got to the Grotto. 

Moonrise over my neighborhood back in Las Vegas. 

I filled up 3 large Nalgenes up with cold refreshing water and sat down on the bench and waited for the bus.  It was now dark. When the bus arrived I got on with a few other people and then threw my stuff down on the seat next to me.   The bus pulled away and the cool breeze from the open windows cooled my sweaty, dirty, sandy self down from the hike.  I closed my eyes and took in the relaxation and almost found a quick meditative like state.  I knew next step I'd be back at the van, which was kind of like the "home" feeling when you feel like you actually did it and you can finally relax fully.  Soon enough I was there and I stumbled off the bus and towards the van. I slowly loaded up the van with my gear and had a little snack and a canned double-shot expresso drink that I had brought along.    I changed into a clean shirt and underwear and took my shoes and socks off.  I didn't have other pants or shorts to put on so I drove home to Las Vegas in my underwear.   When I got home I cracked a cold beer and took a shower.  That night my friend Andy would be home from his summer excursions and we'd have a lot to catch up on still this evening.  We stayed up a while and watched an awesome moonrise while we chatted about numerous adventures and misadventures from the last few months.  I now got to share my solo ascent with someone, and perhaps here is when I finally got to feel that "Lunar Ecstasy" effect.  Now what next?

Ammon McNeely aid soloing in Yosemite.
Photo: Tom Evans

Friday, June 26, 2015

Climbing El Capitan: Zodiac VI 5.7 A3+

The Nose of El Capitan - Yosemite National Park, California.
Photo: Ansel Adams

There are few natural formations as massive, inspiring, and recognizable as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California.  To some, its a symbol of the impossible and to others its a mecca of climbing and seeing what's possible.  To me it was a longtime goal that took many years of climbing to even begin to understand.  Since I was a child this single piece of granite and the accomplishments of the pioneering climbers before me have been a constant unwavering inspiration.  (If you're ever wondering why I continue to do this stuff.) Bigwall climbing to me was what climbing "was" and all the rest was just practice.  Is that true? Of course not, but climbing El Capitan is no small task and it takes a large array of skills to accomplish.  I was going to write an awesome intro here but I'll save you time.  This is an inspiring rock, so lets go climbing! 

El Capitan from El Cap Meadow. Zodiac is on the right-hand (Southeast) side of El Cap. 

Our time in the Valley started off slow, and mixed with an array of difficulties.  We had a short list of routes we aspired to climb that summer, but big crowds and congestion on some of the more popular routes meant we were stuck near the ground.  Our first goal was to climb The Nose, which ascends the center prow of El Cap.  A sort of unoriginal route choice, I wasn't bent on going up this route very first push of the trip, but it seemed like a worthy goal and still a fine way to start building momentum for technically harder routes. We started early and hiked in two haul bags filled with all our gear and accommodations and started up the route.  Things early on became unnecessarily stressful when a party of 3 attempted to pass us on Pitch 1.  Wearing knee-pads with two lesser experienced climbers in tow they told us their plan was to fix ropes up to Sickle ledge (4 Pitches up) and come down, a significantly smaller day than the 12 Pitches we had planned to climb to El Cap Tower where we planned to sleep and continue the next day.  After being rubbed the wrong way we kept climbing and gradually watched them disappear underneath us.  We gained Sickle ledge, the first natural ledge big enough to stop and relax just to realize the less than ideal reality of out situation.  No less than 4 parties (climbing teams) congested in front of us, moving quite slow all well below Dolt Tower and ultimately El Cap Tower we were trying to gain that day.  It turns out while we were climbing the route up to Sickle, two other teams ascended fixed ropes (placed there days before) to the same point, effectively blocking us from continuing.  A let down at least and a lessen in patience and different strategies at best. It seems most people do not climb this in continuous push, but rather prefer to do the beginning in sections while returning to the ground leaving their ropes up to return another day.  Ethics and style aside, we can all agree this creates a royal cluster%#@% down low on the route and simply put is just a big headache.  We went down and watched their progress from El Cap Meadow.  Each team only made it a few pitches further.  Some ended on small ledges while others were left to sleep hanging in their harnesses for the night likely to just end up bailing the next day.  We came up with a new plan.

"When everything goes wrong, thats when the adventure starts."  
- Yvon Chouinard

Everything in its right place?

Gear lined up for a potential ascent attempt of Tangerine Trip.

Route line of Zodiac with arrows indicating where we bivyed. 

The route Zodiac had been on our list from the start of the trip.  If everything went as planned (impossible) we would have climbed this route 3rd, after gaining experience and momentum on a few other El Cap climbs first.  That never entirely happened and our time window for a successful ascent was becoming smaller.  I was stressed beyond belief trying to build/maintain/rebuild psych and motivation to carry on with new changed plans almost daily, but perhaps this was finally the route to take us there. I was excited but aware that this was a technically harder route to climb at A3+ when compared to The Nose at C2 .  That meant more consecutive difficult pitches that would push our mental and psychical ability and stamina even further. For the none aid-climbers reading this, the higher the rating number the harder the climbing and the likely-hood for large more dangerous falls, consecutive marginal gear placements (think body weight only, would not hold a fall) and more time required to climb.  There is also a difference between Clean-Aid (C grade) and just Aid (A grade) which may require the use of a hammer to drive pitons, beaks, copperheads, etc.  In short, its pretty damn complicated and extremely involved to fully understand the difference in ratings, equipment used, and potential hazards or potential risks. Here is a link more about the "dark art" of Aid Climbing for more info.  It is an often miss-understood part of modern climbing, but is still the most common form of climbing found in the realm of Big Wall Climbing

Zodiac Topo - The route map. 

Zodiac is 15 Pitches, about 1800' in length, and we planned to climb it over the period of 3 days, and 2 nights on the wall.  We brought a gallon of water per person per day, meals for 3.5 days, 2 large haul bags, a portaledge to sleep on, and a little bit of whiskey to sip in the evenings.  We hiked our gear up to the base in two loads the day before leaving the ground.  We had learned previously (on a failed attempt of Tangerine Trip due to you guessed it, crowds) that carrying all of your gear to the base in one fell swoop is nothing short of pure agony (although effective).  Finally now with all of our gear there, and nobody else queued up to start the climb, we were finally confident we would get out chance to head up El Cap.  The only other team on route was a large Korean team of 4, who were on Pitch 7 when we left the ground but had already been on route for maybe 3 days.  Everything looked like it was going to line up and we were very inspired to finally have an opportunity to climb and test ourselves on this iconic terrain. So after bringing our last load up to the base we used the last of the remaining sunlight to climb Pitch 1, and fix our ropes to best get moving fast in the morning.  In this case this tactic didn't actually interfere with anyone else (like we had been troubled by before), and rather provided us a little confidence that we could "blast off" full speed tomorrow.

Andy carries one, of two, "big pigs" we brought up to the base.

We awoke before sunrise and started early. We wanted to gain as much progress on day one to give us the best chance of staying on schedule, and ultimately making it to the summit before we ran out of food, water, energy, or sanity.  We put the finishing touches on organizing our gear and got it prepared to be hauled upwards.  We had ropes up to the Pitch 1 anchor, so we both started getting to work, leaving the ground at about the same time.  Andy ascended up the lead-line (used for fall arrest and attached to gear on the pitch) while I ascended the free hanging haul line (used to haul the bags) which was a straight shot to the anchor with no need to stop and fiddle with gear.  Once I got to the anchor, I reconfigured the ropes, tied in, and put myself on belay to continue climbing into Pitch 2.  This technique, called short-fixing, is when the leader continues climbing while the second (person) is still cleaning (gear used) on the pitch below.  It's a little different than the "conventional" belay system, but with experience in the aid-solo and lead-solo techniques, its really no different.  This method allowed us to charge up the first two pitches pretty fast, and soon enough I was hauling the bags to our high point.  We didn't short fix any of the other pitches on the route, but I thought about it!  It sure is an efficient technique for moving faster and it's great when the leader doesn't have to haul every pitch they lead.  I continued climbing and lead Pitch 3 and then Andy took over to lead Pitch 4 and 5. 

Andy cleaning Pitch 1 as continue short-fixing into Pitch 2. 

Wrapping up Pitch 3.  I am in blue, Andy in Red.
Photo: Tom Evans

We climbed in blocks, when one climber takes the lead role for multiple pitches.  This allows for a continuous "in the zone" effect with the leader, and they tend to make faster, better decisions in this fashion.  When alternating every-other pitch the belay exchanges seem to take longer, and the leaders usually start off slower, instead of just continuing to move fast and efficient.  By the time we switched over, and my current block was done, we were certainly starting to gain momentum. 

Andy beginning Pitch 5 as I belay and relax while everything is in order.
Photo: Tom Evans

Andy looks up at the bolt/rivet ladder on Pitch 5. 

Andy finally got his chance to get "on the sharp end" and lead some pitches now!  He took us up  Pitch 4 and 5 in fine style, negotiating through some varied terrain including a long(ish) rivet ladder (a series of small weak bolts with no hangers), some moderate free-climbing on traversing terrain, and not to mention he got to haul the bags for a little. He also got to figure out the "inverted cam hook" beta, which in this case could be avoided with the smallest 000 C3. I also had some fun on this terrain while cleaning and found the traversy free-climbing parts to be the most engaging.  Often a conventional lower-out method could be used to avoid big swings and/or large horizontal spacing between pieces of gear, but sometimes this was not probable.  Ultimately I would have to re-climb these same semi-runout traverses while self belaying with my Gri-Gri backup. Not my favorite part of what we had done so far, but hey it worked! There is certainly an art to cleaning hard aid pitches and I don't think this receives enough attention by the general climbing populace.  

Andy in the bolt/rivet ladder on Pitch 5.
Photo: Tom Evans

Matt doing a lower-out while cleaning on Pitch 5.
Photo: Andy Reger

Matt beginning the "Black Tower" Pitch 6.
Photo: Andy Reger

Now it was my turn to jump on again and I knew we should go at least one more pitch before welcoming the dark and some food from the comfort of our portaledge.  We had to wait for a few minutes at the belay to contemplate what to do when some rain and thunder started coming in from above.  The first thunder booms were a little intimidating and certainly left us both with the "So yeah now what!?" feeling.  Most people would just think to themselves that they should just stop, wait it out, or go down, but the reality is you don't really have anywhere to go or anything else to do so waiting seems a lot more like doing nothing.  Going down is only a small option as it would be very time consuming, physically demanding, and not what you came there to do.  Of course, had it been dire enough we could have, or even totally stopped for the day and set up the ledge and fly for shelter. Luckily it wasn't nearly bad enough and we were able to just keep on keepin' on.  I threw my rain jacket on as a precaution and started getting the gear ready to head up.  

The next pitch was one that I had been "warned" about as a pitch to try avoid falling off.  The "Black Tower" pitch as they call it, had some tricky aid (C3 followed by some free climbing with little gear straight to A3 beaks) all above a free standing tower with a slanting ledge below it.  It seemed like a test-pitch for me if there was going to be one that day.  Once I stepped off the belay I didn't hesitate and just kept climbing and took it one placement at a time. The exciting part really got good at the tower itself, a pinnacle of free-standing rock (with a 1"x 1.5" foot top?) that you surmount and balance on while placing your first bird-beak in the A3 terrain. The ledge below, and the tower itself will all soon become obstacles underneath you in the event of a fall from higher up, so you appreciate there coolness only momentarily. Its pretty wild for numerous reasons, but to say it simply and without adding drama, you are still climbing and the risks are at least briefly more apparent.  I kept tinkering away and delicately placed and hung off beaks, hooks, small wires, and the occasional copper-head or small cam.  This pitch I utilized the "mostly not-thinking too much" technique.  That is to say if thinking means hesitating, as there is no room for delay or haste in marginal terrain. Not hesitating is smooth and smooth is fast, or something like that. 

Andy is psyched on the ledge comfort! Our camp at "The Pearly Gates" atop Pitch 6. 

Exploding the haul bags onto the ledge. Don't drop anything!

After completing Pitch 6, it was time to relax! All this climbing stuff sure is fun but damn it's a lot of work!  We stopped at a place on the wall called the "Pearly Gates" where long lines of white bands or perhaps dikes, can be seen streaking through the wall (see the bottom of the photo two below).  We had a small natural ledge that smelt distinctly like pee to stand on while we set up our own larger portaledge. Bringing a portaledge is a dream come true in a way, its the final comfort after putting in the extra effort to bring it along.  For us, this was the only way to go and meant successful rest for a hopefully successful climb. I have been asked numerous times if its scary to sleep on the wall, but I must assure you that it is not frightening at all. Once you're plopped on the platform after 10-12 hours of hanging uncomfortably, its a big relief.  It is honestly easy to forget that it is a straight drop back to the ground from there, mostly cause you are so relieved to not be climbing anymore.  Although with that being said, in the back of my mind I was a little concerned that the party above us would accidentally drop something on us during the night. Fortunately the wall is STEEP, and although they camped directly above us by a few hundred feet, they were actually further out from the wall and their debris "should" clear us.  This was an unfortunately objective hazard up there and it was too bad that they dropped something what seemed about every hour or so.  Some of it winging near enough at a million miles an hour or so. I was perturbed by this but just hoped they might improve since we were gaining ground and would be seeing them soon enough. Smile!

Finally a little relaxation! (Notice the fog rolling in on the valley floor.)
Matt leading up on Pitch 7 at the start of day 2.
Photo: Tom Evans

We slept in a little on day 2 probably waking up around 7:30-8am.  The rest was well deserved but if you hang out too long you are just wasting time.  Even in the morning the list of tasks is constant and it's rare everything is simply "done".  Even when you get to the top you're not done! Typical morning goes something like this... wake up shortly after the sun comes up, lay there for a minute and think about kittens, put some music on, drink water, eat some food, eat something caffeinated, awkwardly poop, pack up, put at least one clean article of clothing on, organize gear, dismantle the ledge, transition into climbing, finally start climbing, never stop climbing! Honestly I think it's hard to be lazy up there because you're too engaged with what you are doing, there is no room for lolly gagging, although we have some fun along the way.

Our plan was for me (Matt) to lead up the first two pitches that day, and Andy would finish the day.  We were in the "The White Circle" section of the route, which features beautiful gray clean cut granite corners and cracks.  Each pitch on day 2 had A3, C3, or both, and it was definitely slower and more intricate climbing in general.  I was more confident with the tricky Aid stuff than Andy, so I figured I'd at least get us started that day.  What eventually happened is we both realized our strengths on the wall, and while I got in the lead groove Andy was getting into a cleaning groove and we were both feeling groovy. So I just kept leading all day and was able to knock out all 4 pitches through and out of the White Circle.  This was a big day despite only climbing 4 pitches because they were all intricate, involved, and occasionally in your face. It was a grand time! Where did the time go?  We had fun setting up the ledge in a full hanging stance as it became dark.  Nothing is brutal to a wall climber. 

Matt hauling the bags on Pitch 7, the base of the "White Circle".
Yup, thats how we get all that shit up there!
Photo: Tom Evans

Matt on the lead. Photo: Andy Reger

But about the climbing... It took me longer than usual to lead Pitch 8 which had a decent amount of cam-hooking, fixed copperheads, and to my surprise a little bit of beaking.  Near the top of the pitch there was some A2+ fixed copperheads, some of which I believe were missing.  The most difficult move mentally for me was having to delicately tap in a small beak while hanging on a bashed head that looked more like spit out gum than climbing equipment. The truth of the matter is that head would not hold a fall, and since I did some hooking to get to the head, there was not a lot of gear under me.  The fall would have been clean no doubt, but it would have be lengthy enough to get your attention. I had trouble making the beak "stick" and I could only lightly tap it in place, anything more caused it to fall out.  After I placed it satisfactory enough I hung on it and tested it gently.  Once it passed the test there was only one option, move up on it and place something better higher hopefully.  I delicately weighted the piece and started climbing up my aid-ladder, pretending I was a light and delicate flower or something cute and fluffy, anything besides a 175lb bearded man with 25lbs of climbing gear dangling off a bent piece of metal that just fell out twice.  It worked and before I knew it I was through the tough section, longing for the anchor that was still far enough away.  Are we having fun yet?

Matt leads up into the "Flying Buttress" on Pitch 8.
Photo: Tom Evans

"...Climbing [is a] useless sport. You get to be conquistadors of the useless. You climb to the summit and there is nothing there. You could hike to the top from another direction. It's how you get there that is the important part."
 - Yvon Chouinard

Matt leading the "Nipple" pitch.  The most memorable and recognizable pitch on Zodiac.
Photo: Andy Reger 

The Nipple Pitch!  Photo reference, not us climbing...
Photo: Tom Evans

I lead the "Nipple" pitch for my 3rd pitch of the day. It is such a recognizable feature and is clearly visible with the naked eye from the ground.  I was stoked to jump on! Not to mention it looks like a giant boob and that's a big bonus.  The climbing was exciting and leading A3/C3 traversing terrain is engaging because you are always faced with potential pedulum falls of uncertain length.  To make matters better you get to place numerous and consecutive inverted cam hooks, which are body weight only and you don't leave them behind for protection.  To give a representation of the strength of a cam hook just know that they visibly flex under your body weight and will bend open if overloaded.  They are great for a few moves but crap for protection, i.e. catching you in a fall.  Luckily after a few hook moves I was able to fish in small cams and small offset nuts that could inspire a little more confidence.  I tried to place as much gear as possible (sorta) to make Andy's cleaning a little more reasonable.  Cleaning traversing terrain is also notoriously difficult and it has it own inherent risks and challenges.  We found success on this pitch and there was only a little grunting and it was mostly fun!  I distinctly remember being psyched to reach the bolt after the Nipple itself, after a short struggle with a wide crack that I wanted to climb upside-down but aided. I was so relived to stop grunting I clipped into the bolt and hung from it with one hand and did the classic "Air Jordan" maneuver way off the deck. Woohoo!  After that there was one last pitch of steep climbing to get us under the "Devil's Brow" where we set up camp for the night. 

Camp 2 below the "Devil's Brow" atop Pitch 10, hanging with the birds and a little whiskey. 

Camp 2 in the morning.  Here we are getting organized to start our 3rd day and push to the summit!
Photo: Tom Evans

The last day I woke up still psyched as can be, but noticeably physically fatigued.   I dreaded tearing down the ledge because I knew it would be a five minute struggle. Boohoo right? I got my act together and was off leading again in short time. I was looking forward to a change in the terrain and  welcomed the idea of something less than vertical but that never hardly happened.  The climbing was pretty standard stuff early in the day, but then got more exciting with hooking sections.  I did 6 consecutive hook moves on one of the pitches, but they were short and the hooks were generally easily placed and good. That being said I did eventually rip a hook and fell on Pitch 12.  Being fatigued I started to overlook little details and placed a less than ideal hook and in the wrong blown out spot.  The hook I really wanted was on the other aider (I was already weighting) so I compromised and used a Talon hook that was available.  It was pretty crap but looked "good enough" and I got on it assuming I'd place something better in just a few moments anyway.  I hung on it briefly and then I heard to the distinct sound of metal violently popping off granite and remembered getting clunked in the helmet by the gear i just tried to hang on.  Then before I had to time to think I saw the wall streaking in front of me, and that's when I realized I was falling.  I probably fell maybe 15-20' feet, so generally speaking small potatoes.  Due to my slow reaction speed it was honestly the least scary fall I have ever experienced.  I suppose its hard to be afraid of something when you don't realize it's happening.  I immediately got back on and started climbing, we weren't done yet! 

When I finished Pitch 12 I had caught the Korean team of 4 in front of us.  One of them knew a little english and when I got up to the ledge now offered me some water, which was great because we were pretty much out. The team had used almost every inch of usable space on the ledge, but I was able to wiggle in and clipped one bolt and built a gear anchor off to the side.  They were nice and a unique bunch, but it was business as usual for me and I needed to haul and keep this show on the road.  Me and one of their teammates chatted, of sorts, briefly while I was setting stuff up.  They asked "How long" and I said 3 days. He responded "Us 5 day".  I got out the topo (map) of the route and we pointed at stuff generally indicating our plans.  It was an awkward moment of sorts but it became clear our team was going to press on, and we were going to have to pass them.   They had planned to hopefully make it to the top by dark, and then they were going to sleep on the top and descend in the morning.  I told them our plan was to get the top in the daylight and start descending before dark.  We were pretty much out of water and pretty determined to succeed with our schedule. The next pitch was a nightmare as Andy lead up the damn run-out wide crack and they hauled loads in a big trail of a cluster rats nest who knows what.  We ducked and dived as they continued to drop more stuff, including the bag for their portaledge that blew clear to the east ledges or beyond.  It was not an enjoyable pitch but we got to the next ledge, still being shared with some members of their team.  I took the lead and again and got the hell out of there.  There was so much confusion, yelling, and headaches it was too chaotic for my soul. Soon it would be over.  I remembered so much noise while I was leading the next pitch, but then an unusual calmness and silence as I was in the middle of a 20 foot hook section. Finally silence! Haha. Just one more pitch to the summit!

Andy Reger, psyched!

The last pitch was not very exciting, but it was the last one!  It had some odd climbing still and maybe was C2 or so with the occasional hook or rivet move.  When I finally finished and stode on top I realized the anchor was sort of awkwardly placed, or maybe I was awkwardly there.  I looked for better options and found a tree a little further back so I could finally be standing on flat ground again.  This was a fine idea, but caused additional rope drag and hauling was even more of a nightmare.  Lets just say it felt really, really, really, heavy.  Needless to say I didn't quit and hauled it up with some help from Andy getting it over the lip.

Finally we both stood at the top!  We barely looked at each other let alone celebrated how awesome we felt.  We manage a hug and a little bit of smiling as we threw all gear off our bodies into a big heap on the ground. I hadn't taken my harness off in 3 days. There was no summit photo, summit beer, or summit anything.  We'd just finished this huge objective and life changing(?) achievement right? Nope, never finished.  We still had to go down and we were losing light.  I said "Lets get the hell out of here" and we start cramming stuff back into haul bags to be packed out. Andy did less hauling so he carried the bigger bag with bulky heavy things in it (also with the poop) and I carried the slightly smaller bag with heavy smaller things in it.  Nothing was light except the empty water bottles.  Before you knew it we were staggering down.  We found the trail right away and kept following it east towards the ledges descent where we could do 4 rappels back down the ground and continue to hike out.   Not much to say about the descent besides we barely got down rappels in the daylight and we didn't do anything stupid, it was just more process in an extremely process filled process.  Once the rappels were done there was a slight sense of relief because it was pretty much the end of the technical challenges and now it was just walking with heavy stuff, still. I was starting to crash fast and I finally realized I had actually way overexerted myself. What do you do, I kept walking.  We finally made it back to the car and I just sat down and didn't say anything.  We had to completely dump the largest haul bag of it contents because naturally the keys for the van were at the very bottom of the bag. We opened the van and had some water. Andy jumped in the river.  I took my shoes off. 

Matt Kuehl, also psyched!! Photo: Andy Reger

All in all it was an amazing experience, but damn that was a lot of work! Overall I lead and hauled 12 of 15 pitches on my first El Capitan route, a statistic that sounds daunting, stupid, or awesome I'm not exactly sure.  Whatever it means, we actually did it.  I thought I would feel more in awe about the accomplishment afterwards but mostly I just felt really, really tired.  Its not until just about now (two weeks later) that I can fully comprehend and realize the scope of our efforts and begin to remember all the little details and moments.  It feels great, but I am not complete or finished with the challenge.  Let's face it this was only one route on El Cap and I'm not stopping now.  When's the next trip!? New Dawn sounds fun. 

Thank you to all the friends and family who helped support us in one way or another on the ascent. Much love and respect! 

-Matt Kuehl