The Moanfest. My first, (mostly) solo of a bigwall. August 95
Moanfest. Yep, thats what Mr. P called it when I told him about my trip up the west face. I thought it was most deeply satisfying and utterly pointless time of my life. Up till then anyway. But, I always have been a bit strange.
A little background first might be in order. 3/89 I rolled my car and got ejected going 120+, mph. Very, very drunk.
Hurt bad. As f----ed up as a soup sandwich. Dr's tolk my folks pulling the plug would be a "kindness" as I'd be a Parapaleigic veggie for sure. Guess they were wrong. I Can step up with right leg and I Can weight left with knee locked back. I can free climb like old people f--k. slow and sloppy. Not much better on aid. But it sure is fun.
Since freeclimbing would never be the joy that it had been I figured I'd learn solo aid and maybe solo El Cap someday. Actually had promised myself I would when I first came to in the ICU after 19 days in a coma and the Dr's all told me I'd never walk again.
Couldn't talk, the bastards had slit my throat and shoved a tube into it or I'd have told them a thing or two.
But I digress. 6 years of building back what was left of my right leg , (maybe 60-65% of pre spinalcord injury) during which time I read a chapter or two on solo aid walls picked the brains of every wall climber i knew. Eventually went out on some local choss piles to practice the clove hitch method and figure out how the heck to manuver in aiders again. Then I soloed the first 3 pitches of the Zodiac few times over a few years time. Gaugeing my speed and endurance. And then I waited for a sutable hot spell in the valley.
It was my therory that the trade routes would be less crowded and I would't have to worry about my gumbeedom interfering with other parties. Plus, I wanted to be alone on the wall.
My strategy was simple. Light and slow. Travel light, freeze at night
Aug /1995. My dear frien Ellen helped me hump the gear up and across the traverse ledge, we fixed a line from the last big live tree to the start of the route. shuttled the gear and I self belayed up the first pitch. Mark Blanchard had loaned me a well tested prototype of the Silent Partner. What a great tool. So simple and easy to use. Way bomber and fast.
There was 1 3/8th's bolt about 15 feet up then an endless line of every kind of old 1/4 inch junk you can think of. Half sunk, spinners, bent, rusty. Many homemade hangers. Really Cool old stuff. Maybe a half dozen broken off here and there that I used a fish dubloon on. One bolt had honest to god 1.5 threads left. Still I couldn't help thinking of the fact that Harding, the climber I admire most had placed some of them. So cool. Eventually ran into a 3/8ths here and there and made it to the anchor. Rapped in the fading glow of the sunset and we bivied at the last big tree ledge.
So we get up, hang out make coffee, eat and nervously waste time on the ledge with ellen. Smoke a lot. Dick dance around till I see the upper wall is getting sun.
Get my very gripped butt over to the start of the route, and I'm off. Don't recall much other than very steep, had trouble getting daisy clipped in the right pockets, left leg keeps falling out of the aider. I don't notice till I try to weight it so lot's of trashing and cursing. Same story when I first start to haul. Adjust and readjust Finally get the most efficient way sorted out and hump the anchor like mad. knee pad keeps slipping up so grinding the heck out of my knee. Oh well. At least I can't feel it.
The bag flies and I wonder.
In my planning my biggest concern was would my leg stand up to all that work. So I went super light. 2.5 gallons water. a litre of cofee, bivi sack and poncho liner. Good bit of food. A pack and a half of Camel nonfilters. Medicine. That's it. So worried about weight I didn't even bring a headlamp. 3 days, low 90's. No problem.
Did the 2nd and third as one pitch. A Lot of fun. a place or 2 where jams etc made it possible to get pretty high in my aiders. I got an hb brass placed next to a old bolt avoiding the bolt near the end of 3, or was it somwhere on 4? Had a bit of difficuly just before the anchor. Ran out of free biners, consolodating and scarfing to get the last few clips. Arrive at the anchor Just about sunset. Rap down with a figure 8 so, sorta fas., Forgot to rig for extra friction. The only thing that keeps me from slammin the anchor is a big pile of twists at the end of the rope. Untwist and whinch my way into the anchor. Break it down and jam, not worrying about an orderly rack. Just clipping stuff wherever I can. Marveling at the color change of the stone as the sun kisses the horizon, killer low clouds to the west. Deeper and darker with each piece till blackness swallows everything around me. I clean the last 2 pieces by feel. Get as squared away at the stance as I could and haul. Again the bag flies and again I wonder.
Now at the anchor there is a stance/sling belay. More of a place to brace your feet than a place to stand. About a butt cheek and a half wide by a butt cheek deep.
Sloping down and slightly left as you sit on it. I get my bag situated to support my legs a bit more and keep me from sliding as much. Dig out my poncho liner and settle in. I try to relax but keep sliding off when I do so I wrap my daisys across my chest. Sorta a chest harness thing. Not much better. I experiment through the night trying to get a little more pressure off my hips. Hell I even climb into my haulbag. Definitely not. But warmer.
I nod off here and there. Wake up with my nuts crushed, hangin off my daisys, knees higher than my butt, legs run through the mail haul bag straps. Smoke nearly a half a pack. Dropping the butts into space. Watching the faint glow dissappear into the darkness. A very long night. I wake up freezing. Wrap ropes around me. It helps some.
As soon as I can tell the difference between my two ropes I start untangling and sorting out the mess. Pitch 4 is very short. Had trouble getting out of my aiders onto Guano. Darn left high step. So went for the belly flop then crawled on my hands and knees most of the way to the anchor. Got my super light bag over to Ahwanee ledge and flopped. Inspected the chafing from the night. I'd used duct tape to attach a strip of ensolite to my harness and while it did give more padding and less bruiseing the duct tape rubbed off a whole lot of skin. Eventually I had some food and water and a few sips of cold espresso and relaxed enough to sleep.
I woke when the sun hit Awahnee. Early afternoon I suppose. Had a few smokes and sips and set out across the diagonal. Cheated my way past the penji by putting a very long sling on the penji point, then my aiders and sorta hopping around the corner to the crack. I had a few sets of hb brass nuts and a couple of small tcu's so the pitch seemed pretty easy. I did place 1 lost arrow. Great exposure. Got to the anchor and pondered the 5.7 pitch. Crap. A move or two with big left high steps almost first thing. Maybe a hook will do.Too tired to think about it. Back to Guano and Ahwanee ledge.
Kickin it on Ahwanee. Alone on the Stone. Hard to described just how good it felt. Made a nest and crashed. Woke up. Way dark. I hear some guy yelling to his belayer and the light from a headlamp is bouncing around Guano. Compay. Oh well.
I try to sleep, they finally both get up onto guano. I hear them talking about the ledge, Guano that is and it's prospects as a bivi. I go across my chicken line and tell them there is tons of room on Ahwanee. Which is good as they have a ton of stuff.
We do the intro thing and discuss the next day. Turns out he was as nervous about the diagonal as I was about the 5.7 so we quickly agree to trade fixed pitches.
Awesome. Eventually things quiet down and I get back to sleep.
He starts out my gear leaving it in place mid morning. The wall is in the sun by the time he starts out on the 5.7 pitch. It must be about 5 by the time I start jugging off . I climb as fast as I can. Pitch is long. run out of free biners. Hb offsets and tcu's super helpfull again. By the time I rap, clean and haul the sun is halfway set. Oh Boy. Another swell night. I think it probably won't be near as bad, at least its a slab. Right? Another fun night of building a lazyboy out of a mostly empty haulbag and aiders. Worse than the first. Major hip bruises . Cool breezes, Shorts and a tee shirt. At least I have a hat. The moonlight slowly floods the valley walls and floor and makes its way around the roof.
Enough moonlight to sort out so I straighten out the mess and start out by moonlight. I look at the 3 or 4 rusty 1/4 inchers on the wall to the left above the slab and at the crack going out the roof. The roof crack will get me there and I'm so sick of rusty 1/4 inch junk that I go for the roof crack. As I'm about to move off the slab into dangle mode, I pause for a smoke break. F---, NO more cigarettes. Things are getting very serious now. Half a litre and no ciggs. Time to get moving. Onward through the roof, I Join up with the "right" way and up to the ledge. I get to the ledge. look at the final pitch, pulling up the slack and coiling the rope on the ledge, super psyched cause I know I'm in there. 1 more short pitch of aid. I find a half finished camel in a crumpled up pack and sit down on the coils of rope. Sure would have been a much nicer place to spend the night. I'm sore as hell but feelin pretty good about things.
I get back on the move, Double check my rig. Rap down. I Start cleaning the pitch, get to the lip of the roof and pass the piece just below the lip and double check to make sure my ascender is locked on the rope before transfering my weight. I fully weight my clog and start. Falling? Slow for a second but then speed rappell fast. Freefall fast. Oh f----. the slab rushes up. My mind races. I know I fixed the lead line? Didn't I? About the time I figure I'm a goner there is a sudden jerk. I come to a stop a few feet below and a few feet out from the slab anchor. Spinin in the air. Holy f---, holy f---.. What Just happened? I look up, The rope runs from my clog, up through the piece below the lip and back down to my other ascender, left leg still in the aider so nearly upside down. Great view all the down way to the deck. Can't reach the haul line to tie in short. Eventually I get upright. Both ascenders on the rope going up and very slowly, very, very gently jug back up to the roof, on past the lip. Shaking so bad the rack sounds like sleigh bells. This strikes me as incredibly funny and I can't stop laughing. Finally I can reach and back myself up on the haul line. I rappeled on it so I knew that was solid. I made my way up cleaning the last few pieces, Still shaking and giggling. Finally I can see the rope tied into the anchor and relax. Still way shaken. I look around the ledge and realize i'd forgotten to tie the rope off after I'd pulled up all the slack. The coils had sat on the ledge and held a bit of weight till my full weight and no rope drag allowed the rope to run through the final pieces pulling the slack off the ledge till it reached the end where it was tied in to the anchor.
Dude. That was so scary.
I collected myself. Take your time man. you'll get there.
I climb the final corner. Enjoying the flourescent yellow and green lichen on the way. Around a little roof and onto the summit ledge. Found a half a litre stashed in some blocks. Cool. Cleaned, hauled and tried to figure out the easiest way to get the bag up and over the last few feet of slab and the summit ridge. When the bag and gear were over the top, I paused and sat straddling the summit ridge. Cried like a baby for a bit. Mostly relief mixed with disbelief. Pulled it back together after a few. Rapped with the bag down the backside to the start of the chimney raps. The bag and I took turns dragging each other through the chimney. Eventually made it to the base of the rapells too spent to move. Bloody, beaten and so happy.
After a while I heard the tumbleing of blocks on the trail below, along with a femine voice occasionally cursing. I called out to Ellen. She quickly made her way up to the base of the rapells.
"I'm so glad you're ok! I was so worried. Do you need some Water? Some food?"
" Do you have any cigarettes? "