We have spent exactly one month in the US preparing for our upcoming expedition to the Himalaya this autumn. It will be a technically demanding trip, and at high altitude, in which we will attempt one of the most difficult big walls of our career.
In order to gauge our preparedness for such a difficult expedition we wanted to return to the US to train on some complicated and difficult crack climbs.
The first phase, as you may have already read on this website, was the red rock and perfect cracks of Indian Creek in Utah’s desert.
We then went on to Yosemite, where as well as doing some classic climbs line East Butress and Espolón Frenzy as well as a few first pitches we climbed on el Capitán, something we had not done since 2004.
The best way to learn is by throwing yourself in at the deep end and on that immense wall, as well as climbing 35 pitches (and repeating some in order to free them), you have to haul, solve logistical issues and do whatever you need to do to continue climbing, which is hardly ever straightforward.
A Good attempt to free climb Freerider.
We came close, but we were unable to completely free climb Freerider (5.13a (7C+)/1,100m) on El Capitán.
We managed to free the first 26 of the route’s 35 pitches, but, at 800m from the ground, we had to abandon that idea and get up the Salathe Headwall as fast as possible to reach El Capitán’s summit. The reason was that we had run out of food and water, and could not have lasted the two more days we needed on the wall.
We had calculated three days of water and food with an extra day for luck, and after fighting our way up the first 26 pitches in three days we realised we would not reach the top with the supplies we had with us. So we ended up climbing Salathe (Freerider is a variation on this route which begins on pitch 28), and thus achieving our third ascent of El Capitán after El Niño in 2003 (we completely free climbed it 2003) and The Nose (we free climbed it all except for The Great Roof and Changing Corners. We climbed and rappelled it in 2004).
The truth is that it was tough to have to abandon our free attempt having got so far and having on-sighted the dreaded Monster Off-Width (50 metres of wriggling like a worm up one of the toughest pitches on El Cap); and the key, 7c+ pitch of the route on the second attempt (this is where most people practice for several days before climbing it).
But that’s life, and it was ambitious to climb the route on the first attempt, bearing in mind that most of these routes are worked on for a long time from above and below before the final attempt is made, especially given that Freerider is one of the most technical cracks there. Almost all the pitches are cracks- off-widths, chimneys, wide cracks, thins cracks… You name it!
The conclusion was evident- we did a great job, but we have to improve in order to be able to climb 6b-6c cracks more quickly, with less effort, and more efficiency. These lost us a lot of time and consume a lot of energy which we tried to replace with food and water that we couldn’t spare.
We will continue to work on our weak areas and will try again!
Here is a day-by-day account of the climb:
Day 1: We hauled until Heart Ledges (pitch 11) and descended again to sleep at the foot of the wall.
Day 2: We climbed until Hollow Flake Ledge (pitch 14). We spent the night on this great ledge without having to assemble the portaledge. The climbing consisted of several maintained 5.11 pitches. We couldn’t go as fast as we would have liked.
Day 3: We climbed until Cap Spire, an incredible gendarme which offers the most amazing bivouac on El Capitán (pitch 20). Before going to sleep we climbed up to pitch 22. Along the way we on-sighted and freed a number of “terrifying “ chimneys and the 50m of Monster Off-Width, one of the hardest pitches on El Capitán (many climbers have been unable to ascend this pitch graded at 6b+).
Day 4: We reached pitch 27 and slept at Sous le Toit, the small ledge on pitch 26. On the way up we really climbed hard with Iker on the hardest-graded pitch (Huber Pitch), which he scent on the second attempt (many practice this pitch for days), and Eneko on The Seller, a soaking-wet and vegetation-covered 5.10c pitch which the guide describes as the worst of the route.
Day 5: We awoke early and took stock of our supplies. Up until this point (pitch 26, and 800m from the floor) it has been tough. We would need another two days to free climb the remaining 9 pitches. We only had supplies for one. Thinking with our minds rather than our hearts, we decide to ascend however possible by Salathe, thus abandoning our free attempt. At 6 pm we reach the summit of El Capitán, very pleased with having made our third ascent of Yosemite’s giant but disappointed at having had to abandon our free attempt. It is a beautiful evening and the views from the top are amazing. We still have to descend but decide to sleep at the top, as we have fond memories from 2004 when we slept here with Ferrán Latorre and José Carlos Tamayo after climbing The Nose.
Day 6: We descend slowly towards the valley. We are tired out but contented. It has been a great month of crack climbing. From our ascents at Indian Creek through to El Capitán we have done some vary varied cracks.
We are pleased. It is what we needed to prepare for the Himalaya.
Photo of the route:
Yellow- what we free climbed on Freerider.
Red- our escape on the headwall of Salathe.
Black- the three bivouacs.