Thursday, November 10, 2005

Big. So, so big

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Big. So, so big

That's all I can think staring up at the huge face of El Capitan. It hurts your neck to look up at the summit. I've never seen anything bigger in my life. We're going to climb this thing in three days? Seems unbelievable. Those dihedrals seem to stretch on forever.

So, so big...and we're going so slow. It's almost noon on our second day of climbing, and we're not even half way up the route yet. I stare at the folded and torn topo in my already battered fingers, looking at the pitches that lay ahead. On the topo, everything looks so straightforward. A few lines and X's always lead so clearly from one anchor to another. But I try to imagine what the cracks are really going to look like when we actually get up there. This system right here, will it be steep? Crumbling? Reachy moves? Bolts missing? Home to a bee's nest? (We came across one of these high on the route.) How long will it takes us to do these pitches? Are we going fast enough? Are those storm clouds? Should we bail? You've got a long time to think when you're belaying.

Finally, late on our third day, the summit is getting close. The sun is setting, and we're gunning hard on the last pitches to top out before dark. I'm aid climbing like a madman up a deep flaring crack. The rock is a lot sharper up here; I'm shredding my hands with every cam placement, throwing in rattly jams so I can get higher in my aiders. My knuckles are oozing. Just don't drop anything. My feet are screaming from aiding in climbing shoes all day. Don't fall here, you back cleaned your last four pieces of gear above that ledge. I'll loose that toe nail later. But we're so close, and the sun is setting fast. I don't care about the pain anymore, just a little further...

It's amazing how great a level piece of ground can seem. If only life were always this simple.

We wake up in the cold morning air, psyched to be almost done with our ordeal. Two hours of suffering down the East Ledges and we're back at the car. We shower, wolf down a pizza at the Caf, and suddenly we're back on the road headed home. El Cap still looks huge in the rear view mirror. If anything, it looks even bigger now. The soreness is just starting to set in as my body tries to start repairing all the damage I've just done. We've got 11 hours cramped in the car to look forward to.

Did we finally learn our lesson this time? Will we remember the suffering we just endured? How many times did we swear off wall climbing on this ascent? Was that fun?

So many questions, but I keep coming back to just one: which route will we climb next?

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