Picture four limbs flailing in the air, a tangle of ropes whizzing by, and a man screaming. Lucho called me from the hospital that evening. There had been an accident.
I arrived in Yosemite with high hopes of free climbing a new big wall route. John and I woke up early, marched up the east ledges of El Capitan, and rappelled from the summit down to the two crux pitches on the FreeRider, the easiest free route up El Capitan. After warming up by toproping the Enduro Corner (5.12b), John and I headed down to the boulder problem, a section of 5.12d and the hardest moves on the whole route. We got schooled. John really wanted to climb the Freerider this season and getting shut down on the boulder problem was demoralizing. This 20 foot section of rock would stop us from a free ascent of El Cap. 20 feet on a 3,000 foot climb. Brutal. Before we made the long rappels to the ground, I gave John a hug on the side of El Cap. Climbing is hard.
Lucho and I climbing at Killer Pillar- Ben Ditto Photo
John and Lucho climbed Demon’s Delight, a 5.11- traversing route on Schultz’s Ridge below the East Buttress of El Capitan. The initial 3 pitches traverse leftwards and then the final pitch climbs straight up through a 5.11 mantle. Lucho followed the last pitch. At the belay, Lucho asked John if the rope was middle marked. The rope’s mark was highly faded from use. Lucho didn’t have a rappel device so John lowered him to the bolted belay at the top of the third pitch, approximately 90 feet off the ground. Lucho stayed tied in. John double rope rappelled but neglected to even out the ropes. Lucho saw the uneven ropes but didn’t say anything. John descended until he was ten feet above Lucho and a hundred ten feet above the ground. Then the rope went through his belay device and John started free falling.
Tim Derohen and I went climbing for the first time 11 years ago. Vermont Academy, the boarding school I attended in southern Vermont, hired Tim on as the climbing coach, a babysitter for a group of kids who needed an after school activities to bolster their college applications.
Coach Tim at the Keene State Bridge 12 years ago
“You didn’t have to show Grayson how to back step,” Tim said. On a trip to the gnesis sport crag of Rumney New Hampshire, Grayson Holden onsighted Romancing The Stone, a 5.10d. “He was naturally talented.” I was not. After two years of toproping on the Keene State Bridge in New Hampshire and other tiny crags, I managed to send Yoda- a steep 5.9 sport climb at Rumney. I moved to Yosemite a year later and started a ten year love affair with granite. I saw Tim a few times over the years when he came out to Yosemite.
We headed out to Washington’s Column. Jake Whittaker and I had dabbled on Planck’s Constant earlier in the season, trying the pitch twice. The crux of Quantum Mechanic follows a 5.11 crack to an enormous roof, which traverses left for 40 feet. It’s not an undercling- it’s a THUNDERCLING! Tim and I climbed the middle portion of Mid-East Crisis. We aided up beautiful corner pitches, scoping them for a free line. I returned with John Schmid and we freed the pitches in sections. I fixed ropes half way up the Column and returned to drill a lead bolt connecting the top of the crack system to some face climbing on the arête.
John’s arms flailed through the air. In an attempt to slow himself down, he grabbed Lucho’s end of the rope. The rope burned through his hand and he got tangled up in the other end. John crashed into the branches of an oak tree 100 feet from where he fell. After a few moments, Lucho heard him. “I’m alive! I’m alive!” Lucho fixed the rope and rapped down to John, who was precariously balanced in the branches. He clipped him into his belay device and the two rappelled to the ground. Lucho ran to the meadow, grabbed Dave Turner and the pair carried John down to the car. They drove to the hospital in Merced, where John was treated for 3rd degree burns on his hand, other minor rope burns, two slightly sprained ankles, and a pulled tendon in his elbow.
All Phoenix pictures by Michael Pang
Climbing in Yosemite involves toiling. Hike to the base, hump a big back pack, do some sketchy approach pitches, climb one splitter, epic topping out, scramble back down to the base, hike down at dark hungry and tired to deal with whatever fucked up camping and food storage scene you have going on in the Valley floor. That’s an easy day. A day when your friend doesn’t fall a hundred feet. The day after John’s fall, I jumared up his line on Demon’s Delight, rappelled, and then went to El Cap meadow and drank. The next day, I jumared up my four fixed lines on Washinton’s Column and rappelled the route, cleaning it as I went down. I was terrified rappelling down the wall, still shaken up by John’s fall. Yosemite was crushing me. I would have to return in the fall.
Hike from the top of Cascade Falls, rappel 60 feet to a stance, then head down another 120 feet, and you’ll reach the base of the Phoenix- one of Yosemite’s famous difficult crack climbs. An ascent of this route is a nice feather in any climbers cap and I managed to toprope it from below the crux. So I tried to lead it. This did not go as planned. I climbed pinned out 5.12 stemming, and placed a crappy piece inside a pin scar that opened up in the back. The climbing felt too hard to put in a more solid piece. I wanted to send the route so I punched it into the crux.
That’s when I fell. My cam popped out of the crack. I fell on a fixed piton. When I stopped, I was right next to Ashely, my belayer.
I pulled the rope, climbed through the stemming and then hung my way through the crux. I was scared. I climbed through the thin fingers section after the crux. I tried to place a cam but my smallest piece was too big. I tried to stuff it higher, than lower, than higher. Eventually I tossed the piece over my shoulder, and kept climbing. I got massively pumped, tried to down climb, got scared, and jumped. Ashley tied me off and went searching in the poison oak for the cam I had thrown. Thankfully she found it. I climbed the rest of the route without incident. I went back a week later with Jens Holsten and tried the route again. It was offensively hot. I couldn’t stick the technical jams at the crux. I needed a hug.
The day before my failed redpoint attempt, Alex Honnold free soloed the route. Honnold's actions were part of a Vendetta. We met 5 years ago in Squamish. When I told him I'd fallen off the crux of the notorious 10d offwidth Pipeline, he went and soloed it. When I was driving to Zion to free climb Moonlight Buttress, he told me he had soloed it a few days before. Regular route on Half Dome, The Rostroman, just about any long hard free route I've tried- same thing. Since I’d been working on the Phoenix this spring- getting close- so you know what Alex did?
Llyod Christmas in Foresta
Honnold’s a nice guy- for a dick.
“Speaking of ugly,” John Long leaned against the porch wall in El Portal as Lara Logan, the voluptuous 60 Minutes correspondent walked out to the group of men.
“Speaking of washed up has been rock climbers,” Lara knew how to work the film crew, flirting coquettishly and with just the right amount of sass.
Logan, along with half a dozen of out of shape camera men, met Peter Mortimier, Rob Frost, and Sender Films intern Kyle to film Honnold soloing the Choinard Herbert on the Sentinel. Long and Logan stood at the base watching him climb while Yosemite locals Mikey Schaefer, Dave Turner, and Ben Ditto dangled from ropes filming Honnold climb the route.
“Ho man! Looks a little touch and go up there,” Long commentated when Alex climbed through a bit of wet 5.10. Alex had climbed the route twice that season and had it pretty worked out. It wasn’t very touch and go at all despite the few wet holds. Alex is a calculated soloist. Long hammed it up for Logan and the 60 Minutes crew at the base. The ascent went by smoothly. A couple of times, Alex had to sit on a ledge for half an hour while the film crew jumared higher on their fixed ropes.
“How’s the view?” Logan asked Honnold in a radio interview at the summit.
“It’s good. But if I wanted the view I would have hiked around to the top,” Honnold said.
I cackled in the background, cracking up at Honnold’s penchant honesty. Mortimier and Kyle shot me a glance to quiet down, afraid that my braying would be recorded onto the interview. The Sender Films hired porters to hike a load to the top and then carry another one day. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a bunch of money, hang out in the 60 Minutes rented house, eat tons of food and drink lots of beer. I swooped. Ca-Caw!
A hungry climber, Coach caught a snake for lunch on the hike to the top of the Sentinel
Ben Ditto suggested that we were encouraging Honnold’s soloing. We were certainly participants in the stunt and were making money off of Alex’s life threatening climbs. It’s true. We had all hopped on the 60 Minutes gravy train when it rolled through but if we hadn’t who would? Not sure what else to say but that I hoped Alex doesn't die.
Ditto in the heat of El Portal
The heat, the traffic, and mostly the amount of work that needs to get done to go climbing in Yosemite worked me. My 8a card suffered and so did my fragile fragile ego. I climbed with Jens Holsten for a few days in Tuolumne but despite the great weather and being able to climb with one of my long time friends, I needed to escape. I spent the week with Kim, climbing in the gym, and with the next member of the 100 foot club- John Schmid.
I hoped to salvage my season by becoming a bad ass gym climber and impressing Kim. I definitely didn’t do the former and the latter is still in question.
All I do is rock climb and to a great extent, my feeling of worth is directly linked to how well I climb. While it’s bad to attach myself so greatly to something as abstract as scaling a rock, I can’t help myself. I complained to Ben Ditto about not having done anything this season. “You’re putting in work for the future,” he told me.
I kept that in mind as I packed my car and made the 18 hour drive to Rifle Colorado. I was working for the future.