ROAD TO FREERIDER
I was back in the valley for now my 4th trip and again with a different style of climbing on the agenda. This time the goal was to push our skill and strength to the limit and try to free climb as much as we could on a variety of routes. The end goal was to have a look at Freerider on El Cap which deviates from Salathe’s head wall for 3 pitches.
It is one of the easiest routes on El Cap but it is still hard. The Huber pitch used to go at 12d (about E7) which after hauling and climbing 20 pitches is HARD, but 3 years ago an Australian friend of mine broke off a jug and it is supposedly harder now… I had to go and have a look for myself. I had been dreaming about doing the line every since my first trip. It is only now 6 years on, that I have the skills to even be looking at it.
With my good friend Nathan Murphy, we managed to swindle flights so that we went for 4 weeks. This should have left enough time to get back in shape for hard climbing again, as I had just finished a ski season. Doing ski seasons, I eat and drink too much, gain a lot of strength in the legs and lose the upper body. But that’s just me; my nick name of “the Fat man or Fat Oli” is not without reason.
THE TRIP started with some classics like Serenity and Sons about E3. Super classic but I hate the first pitch as it absolutely boxes you feet. Still, what a great climb it is. I remember the first time I did it 6 years ago, and thought it was one of the best climbs in the valley.
We then got on some harder sport climbs which I can’t remember the names of, and the Great Escape which also had some great climbing on it.
COMING BACK…The granite was hard and it was definitely pushing me off it rather than me crushing it…I needed to toughen up and get use to it again. So we decided on a super chilled fun ascent of the Nose. We took supplies for 6 days and it was brilliant. The goal was to free as much as we could, and ‘French Free’ if not, but the idea was not to take the aiders with us, and never use the fefe. I managed to do this, and only used them on the last pitch. I didn’t care about the style of how we did the route or the time (obviously), as I had done the route before, so we climbed to the sickle, fixing lines on the first day before retreating to the Awahney for the evening…
The next day we hauled and climbed up to the first pitch of the stove legs. This was a brilliant section, with fun pendulums and great easy climbing. The stove legs is only 5.8 if you are Alex Huber, but it goes on forever, and if you are an unfit fat man like me, then you are so boxed at the top. I wanted to vomit. It is dream climbing Camelot 2′s, but I was definitely not wall fit and I was dead after a long day. However, after all that, we got what we wanted from this wall, so it was perfect. We took the portaledge that now had a definite sag to it, but it was great we had no pressure, and could bivi anywhere we wanted.
EL CAP TOWER. We then went to El Cap tower the next day and it was Nathan’s turn to lead, as I had lead all the day before. It was nice, only about 5 pitches and we chilled for the afternoon to the tower, which is a fantastic bivi. From there you have the King Swing which is nuts - I gave Nathan the classic pitches like this, and he loved it. You can link the swing and everything with a 60 meter but it is tight. The pendulum is about a 50 meter horizontal run across the wall and is really tiring as you time your jumps and run alongside the features on the wall.
I then really enjoyed the climbing in the Gray Band. It is amazing how much loose stuff there is on such a well-travelled route but it is really fun climbing. I was then overtaken by Stanley who impressively linked all 3 pitches of the Gray Band with no gear so his belayer could jug straight to the Great Roof. Very impressive and definitely I was definitely inspired.
Pancake Flake and The Alcove were the real highlights for me. After topping out we had a fire in traditional style. It was a great wall and surely one of the best climbs in the world. If you go for it I would say try and free as much as you can, and if you climb E3 crack you will have a great time on it, just take your time and have fun.
We were pretty spent, as you would be from pulling up a 60kg haul bag 1000m up a wall. But it was not over… The east ledges decent is never as easy as you think, and I would go as far as to say it is harder than climbing up some routes on El Cap. It is definitely a pain in the ass!
VEGAS & DEATH VALLEY REST DAYS. With a few days to rest, we headed west to Vegas and Death Valley. Vegas is pretty bonkers, but it is good to go once. Death Valley on the other hand, and the desert around there, was awesome. It was so hot, you felt like you were in the sauna world championships. I loved just going on random walks, and if you walked in any direction you would find something. It is so dry that things don’t really degrade, or do so very slowly. We found lots of artifacts from the 20’s and a few rattle snakes too.
It was time to head back to the valley and we got straight on Astroman and Separate Reality, getting horribly lost trying to find them both. We were lucky enough to run into Tommy and Becka Caldwell who led us to Astroman, and we climbed behind. It was incredible to watch Tommy lead the Enduro Corner ahead of me, his technique was incredible, making it look like you could stem and scissor on god knows what, the whole way up on good holds. This was not the case as I was boxed out of my head trying to find the footholds and found nothing most of the time.
The Enduro Corner is one of the best pitches I have been on, and I was not able to onsite it even with Nathan’s promise to buy me a pizza if I did. Next time it is going down, and I can’t wait. I learnt so much about climbing crack from that pitch - I was truly enlightened by it and feel like I figured out a big part of the puzzle.
The weather then came in for 2 days, which was not bad considering we had been incredibly lucky so far, it was May after all. We decided to go to Santa Cruz to get away from the Memorial Day crowds in the valley and see some friends.
We now only had 3 days left with the weather so we decided to have a look at Freerider. It is only a climb but it takes a lot to even try something like Freerider - it is a monster! We did the Free Blast (the first 10 pitches of the route) the day we got back which was fun. I had managed to fall out of the half dollar twice… but I think I was just being stupid, and it was actually really easy and an awesome pitch.
RAPPEL TIME. With only 2 days left, we decided to walk up the East Ledges and rappel the route, inspecting it as we go, climbing the hard pitches to see if it would go. I made a route finding error and went down the Salathe headwall instead. It is an insane pitch. It has the most exposure you have ever seen and requires some devious down aiding to get down it. It is a beast of a pitch, I can only dream of being strong enough one day to try it.
So we abseiled down to El Cap Spire, and left fixed lines to the top of the Teflon Corner to try the next day. El Cap Spire is a very cool bivi but you wonder how long it is going to be before it falls off like many features on El Cap. It is hard to work out what is actually holding the whole thing up.
The next morning we were up at the Teflon Corner, which was not what I expected at all. I was expecting a long soaring overhanging pitch like the Enduro Corner but with no holds. In fact it is quite ledgey, and when inspecting it on my way up all the holds were there. The Huber pitch is only about 10m long and only 5m of that is hard, the rest of it is jugs and the hard bit is protected by 3 bolts. I could not believe it. On my first go, I did all the moves individually. I was so psyched as it only took 20 minutes to work out, and wasit was a real goer. I know I can do the pitch.
This was all due to the lucky spray down I received off Tommy a few day before. Instead of a crazy looking hands and a foot loose dyno, you can do it statically with an unbelievable left leg on the wall ‘Karate Chop’ and, boom, it is easy. Thank god for all my training at Rex Quon Do…
Then it was down on to the Monster Off Width. We did it on top rope and when I was being lowered into it. Unbelievably, it just keeps going down (like 60m). I knew I was about to get worked as I am not a good off width climber. And man did I get worked. I felt like the left side of my body was paralysed and it was a mad battle till the end, but I eventually figured it out and got up it. The key was just keeping low feet and let the feet do all the work - pretty simple but sometimes easy to forget.
It was a great pitch to finish on and the next day we were back off home at the end of a greatly satisfying trip. I am so pumped to go back, and Chris and I are planning a 3-month trip to the states next year. I can’t wait!
Yosemite National Park
Length of time: 4 weeks
The Goal: Freeclimb Freerider & get climbing strong again.