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Standing on the Shoulders: A Tribute to Royal Robbins

There’s a palpable energy within Yosemite Valley. One that has inspired past and present generations alike to seek adventure, exercise curiosity, and pursue self-discovery. Like many who have come before me, I have always felt a magnetic pull to this incredible place. The landscape’s unwavering indifference to those within it is strangely comforting. Perhaps it relieves the heavy burden of expectation weighting on our shoulders. Or perhaps the smell of pine needles and the sound of the bumbling river are simply soothing to the soul.

While the granite walls are quiet and unresponsive, they are deeply saturated with the rich and ever evolving history of those drawn to this landscape. They line the Valley like a series of blank sheets, which, over time, have been etched with the artful stories of dreamers and creators. Each story builds upon the last and creates a foreword for future stories to come. Of all the personalities that have graced the walls of Yosemite, Royal Robbins left a particularly influential impact, forever changing the direction of climbing’s story.

RR QuoteRobbins came onto the Yosemite climbing scene in the 50’s, after learning to climb at Tahquitz Rock in Southern California. While the long list of first ascents and ground breaking climbs he achieved throughout the 60’s are incredibly impressive, it’s the strong sense of ethic and style he brought to those climbs that has fostered my deep sense of admiration. Robbins’ outlook that “Getting to the top is nothing. How you Royal_Robbins_2_by_Tom_Frostdo it is everything”, built a foundation for a certain consciousness within climbing that still prevails today.

Robbins’ deep respect for the natural world was a major catalyst behind the “clean climbing” ethic that he so firmly believed and practiced. Comparable to his hero, John Muir, Robbins truly believed in, not only the importance of wild spaces, but the human spirit’s necessity to interact with those wild spaces. A man who was willing to walk the walk, Robbins put great thought behind every piton or bolt placed on route. He regarded the decision to alter the rock of “enormous importance” because “like a single word in a poem, it can affect the entire composition”.

In 1967, after an inspiring visit to the UK, Robbins made the first ascent of the classic Yosemite crack, Nutcracker (5.8, 500’), using only passive, easily removable protection (rather than Nutcracker-pic-235x300pitons, which were hammered into cracks and scarred the rock). This was the first time a first ascent in Yosemite was completed using only removable nuts for protection and marked the beginning of the clean climbing revolution.

Robbins’ use of clean climbing techniques was not only stimulated by sustainability, however. He also recognized the innate need for personal challenge – a primal drive for adventure and struggle, which had been lost from everyday life. Robbins wanted to preserve the opportunity for adventure. He believed that bolting your way up a climb was not, in fact, climbing. Doing this eliminated the intrinsic challenge and was not in good style. Rather than bringing the mountain down to your level, Robbins believed the climber must rise to the occasion. “What a pleasure to climb a fine route and find no traces of those who have come before and to leave no mark of one’s passage… to use art instead of force.”

In addition to the frugal use of pitons and bolts, Robbins often attempted continuous ground up ascents and opted out of fixed lines, minimizing the opportunity for retreat and maximizing the committing nature of these walls. On the 1964 first ascent of North America Wall (originally VI 5.8 A5), Robbins, Chouinard, Frost, and Pratt pioneered what was, at the time, the hardest big wall climb in the world in this bold style. They completed the route in a tom_frost_-_namericawallten day continuous push, without the use of any fixed ropes. Robbins has attributed this style as a stepping stone from the foundation laid by those before him. He particularly respected John Salathé, who used his impressive technical skills to make progressive first ascents with minimal bolts during a time when style was not in the forefront of most climbers’ minds. Decades later, his bolts are still deemed necessary and his routes are still highly respected.

Robbins’ vocal promotion of this “clean” climbing ethic was met with some resistance. Warren Harding, in particular, seemed to approach his climbing in the opposite style as Robbins – using siege tactics and certainty not shying away from the use of bolts. Although he openly opposed Harding’s tactics and even rebelled against them by chopping bolts on his 1970 route, Wall of Early Morning Light, Robbins later admits to a certain level of respect he held for Harding. “I admire Harding because he is a great exponent of individualism, which I think is one of the most important features of climbing… Good to have a man around who doesn’t give a damn what the establishment thinks.”

Robbins himself was drawn into the world of climbing through the hopeful prospect of finding himself, just like the inspiring characters of the climbing literature he poured over. As a seemingly misplaced 15-year-old, the idea that the mountains could shape your character was a powerful draw. He came to understand that “the mountains we conquer are not those on the horizon: supreme, cold, and taunting, but rather those within us: of fear, weakness, and ignorance. These were the true high peaks. And, when we could stand on top of them we would indeed be ‘on top of the world’”.

royal-robbins-obit-4It was a lesson that served him well throughout life. In his early 40’s, Robbins developed severe psoriatic arthritis in his hands, making it difficult to continue climbing at a high level. In true Robbins style, he merely saw this as an inner mountain that needed conquering, so he turned to a new adventure – kayaking – which gave him the same sense of exploration, but was easier on his body. He chased first descents from the rivers of the Sierra to waterways around the world. He even hauled his kayak up and over the slopes of Mt. Whitney (the tallest mountain in the lower 48 – 14,495 feet) in the adventurous quest of making the first descent of the 55-mile Kern River. Although Robbins was just as successful in his kayaking pursuits, he was “first, last, and always a climber”. His stories will forever be woven into the granite walls of Yosemite Valley and the consciousness of climbing.

Robbins built off of the foundation laid by those that came before him. He drew bits and pieces of his ethic from individuals he admired, such as Muir and Salathé. In the same manner, I find myself shaping my personal ethics and standards from the groundwork placed by Robbins. In the same manner, I find myself standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. Thanks Royal Robbins, for not only giving me and my fellow climbers a lift, but for doing so with the utmost respect and style.

* * *

In memory of Royal Robbins

1935-2017

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“When I touched the rock, it had it turn touched my spirit, awakening an ineffable longing, as if I had stirred a hidden memory of a previous existence, a happier one. While I was climbing, it was glorious to be alive.”



 

References

Robbins, Royal. “Royal Robbins on the First Ascent of the North American Wall.” Rock and Ice Magazine. Ascent, 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Robbins, Royal. “Standing on the Shoulders: A Tribute to My Heroes.” 2000. Voices from the Summit: The World’s Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing. Ed. John Arnatt and Bernadette McDonald. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2000. N. pag. Print.

Robbins, Royal, and Sheridan Anderson. Advanced Rockcraft. Glendale, CA: La Siesta, 1990. Print.

Sherrill, Stephen. “Nutcracker: The Birth of Clean Climbing.” A Royal Robbins Blog. N.p., Aug. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

5 Reasons Climbers Should Eat More Kale

As the sport of climbing grows, performance related nutrition seems to be gaining momentum and interest within the community. While different bodies function best under different conditions, increasing your kale consumption might be just what you need to stay healthy and train hard for this year’s goals. After all, if Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson ate kale while climbing the Dawn Wall it can’t hurt, right?

Here are five reasons why climbers could benefit from eating more kale:

  1. It’s an anti-inflammatory food: After a hard day of contorting your digits into thin cracks or crimping micro edges, it’s not uncommon to wake up to sausage fingers. Just as you should stay away from inflammatory foods (like tomatoes) before a sending day, anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce swelling from periods of hard climbing. Kale is so effective as an anti-inflammatory it not only helps prevent but can also reverse effects of chronic inflammation (including arthritis).
  2. It’s high in manganese: Manganese is an important mineral for the formation of connective tissue. Consuming the recommended portions can aid in injury prevention as well as the body’s ability to heal connective tissue injuries. Kale is a great source of manganese, packing in 27% of the recommended daily intake in one cup (cooked).
  3. It’s high in vitamin C and A: During periods of heavy training we are processing high quantities of food and oxygen into energy, creating a byproduct known as free radicals. Consuming adequate amounts of antioxidants (such as vitamin C and A) helps to neutralize free radicals and reduce risk of damage to our cells as well as improve recovery.
  4. It’s a high fiber, low calorie food: While the importance of protein and vitamins/minerals in an athlete’s diet receives a great deal of attention, dietary fiber rarely makes headlines. Kale is a great source of fiber and only contains 0.6 grams of fat. This means you can enjoy all the health benefits of kale while achieving or maintaining a healthy sending weight.
  5. It keeps better than other greens: There’s nothing worse than a box of crisp, mixed greens gone slimy. Whether you’re on a climbing road trip, have the convenience of a refrigerator, or are trying to send the Dawn Wall, it’s undeniable that kale lasts longer than other greens.

Wondering where to start? Here’s an easy, delicious recipe to get you stoked on kale:

Lemon Kale Spaghetti

(Serves 2-4)

kale pasta 2bowls

1 lb spaghetti (Dirtbag Tip: Use thin spaghetti, as it cooks faster and thus, uses less fuel.)

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves (minced)

1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes

16 oz kale leaves (roughly chopped)

2-3 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 lemons juiced (Dirtbag Tip: Adam swears by cutting lemons the long way. He insists you get more juice per lemon.)

Black pepper

Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions:pasta

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper. After a minute or so, add the kale, lemon juice, and a pinch of pepper. Toss to wilt the greens.

In a second pot, bring water to a boil and cook the spaghetti. Drain it and mix with the kale. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.


References

Ehrlich, Steven D. “Manganese.” University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., 10 July 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/manganese&gt;.

“Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype.” The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/&gt;.

“Health Benefits of Kale: Why Kale Is Superfood No. 1.” Health Benefits of Kale: Why Kale Is Superfood No. 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/kale-superfood.php&gt;.

Chickpea Salad (aka Fake Tuna Salad)

One of my favorite, easy to make, go-to meals is this fake tuna salad recipe. I often make a big batch of this the night before, using a portion for dinner and bringing the leftovers for lunch at the crag the following day. It’s super versatile – you can eat it as a salad, make cold sandwiches with greens and tomato, or (my favorite) make a grilled “tuna” melt sandwich.


Chickpea Salad (aka Fake Tuna Salad)

15 oz. garbanzo beans (mashed)

2 tbsp. mayonnaise

2 tsp. spicy brown mustard

1 tbsp. pickles (chopped)

1/2 onion (chopped)

In a medium bowl, combine beans, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions, and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

*I make variations of this recipe depending on the ingredients I have available. I will leave out pickles and add in diced tomatoes, as I often  have a can of those on hand.


Dirtbag Tip: Save mustard and mayonnaise packets from restaurants to use in this recipe!

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Tips to Become a More Efficient Big Wall Climber


 

Big wall climbing involves a great deal of rope management, transitions, and organization in order to keep upward progress in perpetual motion. A team’s ability (or lack there of) to climb and function efficiently on a wall can be the difference between topping out and getting appointed “Bail of the Day” on ElCap Report. Whether you’re tackling your first big wall this season or simply looking to improve your systems, here are a few tips to help you become a more efficient big wall climber:

Keep the leader moving

Your team can only move as fast as your leader. If you’re currently seconding, helping the leader continue to make upward progress should be your priority. Offer to carry larger cams they won’t need for the next pitch to lighten their rack. Refill their water bottle and be ready to pass it off along with some snacks at the top of the pitch. Remember, the leader doesn’t need to climb fast; they just need to keep moving.

Don’t get stuck in aid mode

You’ve been aiding through a thin crack, only to reach a couple 5.9 moves. Instead of tucking away your aiders and busting out the free moves, you precariously attempt to fiddle in a micro nut to get past the easy slab to the next solid gear placement. We’ve all been there. It’s easy to get caught up in the comfort and security of your aiders – don’t fall into this trap! Force yourself to become comfortable with the transition from aid to free climbing and back to aid again. It’s an easy way to increase your speed and efficiency on a big wall and will help turn your three-day ascent of the Nose into a NIAD run.

Organize the rack as you’re cleaning the pitch

All to often I see the second arrive at the top of a pitch with a complete mess attached to their harness. Cams are erratically clipped around their waist, nuts are intermittently hanging from draws, and slings are haphazardly dangling between their legs. The two partners then proceed to spend the next 10 to 15 minutes reorganizing their gear at the anchor. Be organized. Take the extra couple seconds to rack cams in the proper order, transfer nuts to a single biner, and unclip slings to wear around your shoulder. Racking gear on a sling rather than on your harness will make transitions at the belay even more efficient. You’ll be able to hand over a neat, orderly sling of gear to your partner, freeing up your time to transfer to the anchor, clean the fixed rope, and put your partner on belay.

Keep eating and drinking

Climbing a big wall isn’t a sprint; it’s an ultramarathon. Most parties will spend anywhere from two to four days on a wall. And even in-a-day parties spend anywhere from 8 to 24 hours intensively working. Fueling your body as well as replacing electrolytes and fluids is vital to maintaining the energy and focus needed for success on a wall. Always have a snack in your pocket. Make eating and drinking a part of your recurring routine on every pitch. There’s nothing worse than having progress screech to a halt because you or your partner haven’t kept up with calorie or salt intake.

Make efficient belay transitions

If you spend 20 minutes at every belay, over the span of 30 pitches you’ll add 10 hours to your total climbing time. 10 hours! That’s an entire extra day on the wall, which means you’ll need to pack another days worth of food and water, which equates to heavier haul bags, which results in slower progress… you get the point. It’s a vicious cycle. Evade the time suck of belays by keeping busy and staying organized. Your priority, whether you’re the leader or follower, is to avoid making your partner wait.

As the leader: Go off belay as soon as possible to free up your belayer. Fix the rope for them and set up the hauling system before stopping to take a drink and grab a snack. Once your partner is free to begin jugging the pitch, you can then take care of your own needs. If you finish hauling and stacking ropes before your partner has finished cleaning the pitch, consider placing your first piece of protection off the belay (if you don’t have the right piece of gear, decide what piece you’ll use). Once your partner puts you back on belay, you’ll be that much quicker to clip your first piece and get started up the next pitch.

As the second: Save time by leaving your back up knots from the previous pitch tied to the biner on your belay loop. As you belay your partner, only untie the knots as you need more rope. Once your leader reaches the anchor, the remaining rope will already be neatly tied to your harness, eliminating superfluous rope management, as well as wasted energy of the leader pulling up extra rope every pitch.

juggingsalathe

The more time spent practicing these tricks, the more second nature they’ll become. At the end of the day, efficiency on the wall translates to a more enjoyable and safer experience.

 

Tea: A Mountain Athlete’s Secret Weapon

What if I told you staying properly hydrated could improve your athletic performance? You probably already knew that. Did you know exercise performance is impaired when an individual is dehydrated by as little as 2% of their body weight? Endurance athletes aren’t the only ones who should be concerned about their hydration levels either (yes, I’m talking to you, boulderers and sport climbers!). Your capacity to perform high-intensity exercise is reduced by as much as 45% by prior dehydration, meaning staying hydrated in the days leading up to your big red-point is just as important as how you’re hydrating in between burns. Now, what if I told you there is a drink that can help keep you hydrated while increasing your endurance capacity, aiding in recovery, and reducing inflammation?

I’m talking about tea!

Tea is the world’s second most widely consumed beverage (with water coming in at
number one). Legend has it the Emperor of China first discovered it in 2737 BC, while boiling water under a tree. A leaf fell from the tree, floated down into his water, and, thus, the first cup of tea was made and drank. It’s no secret that both true teas (made from a plant called Camellia sinensis) and herbal teas offer a broad spectrum of health benefits to tblur-1869594_1280hose who drink it. As rock climbers, big wall climbers, and mountain athletes we ask a great deal of our bodies. We are constantly pushing harder and longer in an effect to become stronger and more efficient at what we do. Incorporating various kinds of tea into our training and performance routine just might be the perfect way to keep our bodies healthy and injury free. Feeling skeptical? Give it a try! At the very least, you get to enjoy a delicious cup of hot tea.

Green Tea

If you could only pick one type of tea to incorporate into your athletic pursuits, this should be the one. Green tea has the ability to increase alertness, improve endurance, and aid in recovery.

Caffeine is known for its ability to increase energy levels and improve muscle contractions and reaction time. While the caffeine within green tea indeed causes heightened alertness, it won’t cause you to crash the way coffee will. Not only are there lower levels of caffeine in tea, but, there are also high levels of antioxidants as well as L-theanine, an amino acid unique to the tea plant. The antioxidants slow the rate at which our body absorbs the caffeine while the amino acids counteract the infamous jitters, resulting in a longer and steadier period of alertness without the dreaded crash.

A number of studies have been conducted, looking at the effects of green tea on endurance capacity. These studies found that green tea improved endurance during aerobic activity. Antioxidants within the tea increase levels of certain hormones, whose job are to signal fat to be broken down and released into the bloodstream. An increase in these hormone levels equates to an increase in the amount of fat being burned for energy.

Green tea not only keeps your body hydrated, alert, and maximizes your endurance, but it also helps aid in recovery prior to a hard day at the gym or in the mountains. It is packed with antioxidants, such as the polyphenol called catechin, which negates the effect of free radicals and helps to repair muscle damage caused by strenuous exercise.

Yerba Mate

Known to have the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and provide the joy of chocolate, Yerba Mate is a traditional South American tea that has gained popularity over recent years. It is best known among high altitude mountaineers for its ability to combat the negative effects of altitude sickness and aid in the body’s ability to cope with low oxygen environments. The main cause of altitude sickness is the inability to distribute enough oxygen throughout our body due to decreased oxygen content in the air (known as hypoxia). Mate contains caffeine, which, when consumed, offers positive affects on the heart. Essentially, it creates a stronger heartbeat, which allows more blood to circulate through the body, thus, distributing more oxygen with it. And when it comes to surviving at high altitudes, the more oxygen the better!

Yerba Mate also contains chemical compounds that stimulate the immune system and naturally strengthen your body’s defenses. Whether you’re in the mountains or training in the gym, it’s vital to maintain a strong immune system in order to stay healthy and injury free.

Ginger Root Teatea-599227_1920

Whether you’re training to pull hard on rock or move long distances through the mountains, stressing your body results in an increase in strength and endurance, however, this is often coupled with the onset of inflammation. While the cause of our inflammation – the breakdown and rebuilding of muscle or the swelling of joints – is a natural part of how our bodies adapt to the increasing demands of our training, it’s important to help our bodies recover from and effectively manage inflammation. We can do this through proper nutrition and with the help of anti-inflammatory foods. Ginger tea is a great choice for athletes because it does just that. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties due to compounds called gingerols. These compounds suppress pro-inflammatory molecules, which can result in relief from muscle soreness and a faster recovery in between workouts.

Chamomile Tea

Sleep is incredibly important to athletic performance – just as important as all those fingerboard sessions and hill repeats. During periods of intense training, our bodies require plenty of high quality sleep in order to rebuild muscle and restore depleted energy stores. Without adequate sleep, not only are our bodies unable to mend, but they also increase the production of cortisol. This stress hormone interferes with the body’s recovery process and can contribute to eventual overtraining and injury. Chamomile tea contains certain compounds, which work as a sedative and can assist your body in getting a good night’s sleep. Drinking this tea in the evening can act as a soothing sleep aid and ensure you catch those important Z’s so your body can make the most of those pull-ups and dead lifts.

chamomile-797087_1920


 

So now you know the benefits tea can offer you as an athlete, but how do you start incorporating it into your training? When Adam and I climbed the NIAD, we needed to stay alert, hydrated, and fueled for a long day of endurance on the wall. Below is a recipe for a homemade energy and electrolyte drink we brought with us to keep our energy levels high and our hydration on point.

Green Tea Ultra Endurance Recipe

4 cups brewed green tea

1/8 teaspoon “low sodium” or “lite” salt (as a potassium source)

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

5 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon protein powder of choice

 


References:
http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/dehydration-and-its-effects-on-performance
http://www.adagio.com/info/caffeine_and_tea.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21450118
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14872247
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050128221248.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299060/
https://thesunlightexperiment.com/blog/2016/4/16/herbs-for-altitude-sickness

 

Tumbleweed in the Wind

A great deal can change over the course of 365 days. In 2016, the biggest change of all was moving out of my van and into a house. For the past four and a half years I had lived full-time on the road. I had happily given up indoor plumbing and eight foot ceilings for the flexibility of climbing wherever I wanted. Seasonal jobs filled my pockets with enough money to satisfy my gas tank and my belly. I chased sunny weather from the mountains of Wyoming to the deserts of Nevada. I climbed in California’s golden sunshine and on the blushed sandstone walls of Utah. For so long, my life was in this crazy orbit, revolving around rock climbing; climb-eat-sleep-repeat felt so embedded in the marrow of my bones. I defined myself by this lifestyle, so, with the transition from van to house, it was hard to ignore the subtle fog of self-doubt and uncertainty that settled over me. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that a small piece of my identity had been lost in orbit.

The bitter cold of winter seemed to penetrate deeper into my body than previous years and the spark of excitement lit by the open road seemed to be burning out. Most people who have lived out of their vehicle for an extended period of time will agree that it’s challenging to sustain over the long haul. I grew tired of spending 25 minutes seeking out WiFi to send a single work email. The constant worry of where you’re going to sleep tomorrow night and the permanent kink that forms in your neck from ceilings 3 inches too short wear on you mentally and physically. It takes sacrifice to make this lifestyle work, and, at a certain point, you begin to wonder if it’s worth it.

When I first began living on the road, it was the only way to live on my own terms – to own my time. However, over the past few years I have learned to work for myself – to make my own schedule and be my own boss. This new root of independence opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. I was no longer bound to a transient life in order live passionately. I could take my job with me anywhere, whether it was living in a van or living in a little house in the foothills of the Sierra.

There’s no mistake that living on the road has taught me invaluable lessons about what’s important in life – about living simply and fully. It has taught me to appreciate the little things – hot showers, soft pillows, and quiet sunsets. It has taught me that the incredible memories I create will always be worth more than any paycheck. But perhaps it was these lessons I learned that began whispering to me, “it’s time to move on”. I found what I had been looking for on the cusp of all those endless horizons. I had become the person I needed to become. Rather than continuing to skim the surface of so many beautiful places, I felt ready to immerse myself in a single, special place. I felt ready to not merely enjoy these remarkable landscapes, but to become a part of one.

I will never regret my time spent traveling down dusty western roads. Memories of brisk desert evenings spent simmering stew over an open fire. Memories of warm summer days spent soaking sore muscles in cold snowmelt rivers. Living in a van has been my ticket to freedom. It has been a way to simplify life in order to spend more time doing what I love and less time on superfluous work. It has allowed me to live like tumbleweed in the wind, my longings and dreams blowing me from one incredible place to the next. But, emptying the bed and shelves of the van doesn’t make me any less of a climber. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up my freedom or throwing in the towel. It merely means that I’m growing and, somewhere along those winding mountain highways, I grew slightly too big for that little van.

The NIAD

I was wide awake. The bandanna I had tied around my eyes to fool myself into sleeping was a lost cause. I peered out from underneath my bandanna only to find Adam peering back at me from underneath his. We gave up and went into the kitchen. The clock on the stove read 5:00 pm. We had been strategically going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier in preparation for our climb, but I guess going to sleep at 3:00 pm was a little too extreme for our bodies to accept. What should we do? Should we drive to the Valley and start climbing? Should we try to get some work done? Read? Eat? We wanted nothing more than to be well-rested for the climb. I Googled “foods that make you fall asleep” for inspiration. We had a snack, reviewed the topo one more time, and assumed the position – lying in bed with bandannas over our eyes.

My phone whistled alive and I instantly snapped up from a light sleep and turned the alarm off. The usual morning fog that lingered over my body wasn’t there. Adam and I sprung out of bed – it’s time to climb the Nose! The clock on the stove now read 10:30 pm. We got dressed, made breakfast to go, and jumped in the van, which was already packed with all our gear.img_5301

We had climbed the Nose once before, over the course of 2 nights and 3 days, but this time we were going for the NIAD – the Nose in a day. We were indulging in a classic climbing game, where you see how much climbing you can fit into 24 hours. Logical? Probably not. Fun? Most definitely!

Consequently, I found myself racking up with Adam in El Cap Meadow just after midnight. It was the summer solstice and a full moon – I couldn’t think of a better time to give it a try. 3,000 feet of immaculate granite rose up in front of us, illuminated by the moon like a precious gem in a museum showcase. The thought of climbing up that massive formation in less than 24 hours seemed ridiculous and, quite frankly, a bit arrogant. I thought back to a quote from the climbing legend, Bev Johnson, “I kept thinking and thinking the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time”. So Adam and I hiked to the base, and at 3:00 am we took our first bite.

* * *

My back was soaking wet against my pack when I arrived at the top of the first pitch. I panicked. My water is leaking! If there was one element that could make or break our climb it would be lack of water in the summer heat. I took out Adam’s water bottles, which we had portioned out for each segment of the climb. They all appeared to be intact. I pulled out my water bladder and gave it a squeeze. A thin squirt of water shot out of the very top. I sucked down as much water as I could until the level had dropped below the tiny hole. As long as the bladder stayed upright in my backpack I shouldn’t loose any more water to the leak.

A glimmer of light flashed down on us as we made our way through the Stove Legs. It wasn’t until I was almost at the anchor that I realized it was a solo climber waking up from what looked like a very uncomfortable, unplanned bivy. As I belayed Adam upward, the climber debated whether he should push on or call it quits and bail. I wished him luck, locked my ascenders onto the rope, and hastily chased up the wall after Adam. 

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Adam leading up to Camp IV with the Great Roof to follow.

Dolt Tower gave us a quick opportunity to get reorganized and refueled before continuing up to El Cap Tower. The sun was almost ready to bounce over the horizon and we savored the cooler temperatures of pre-dawn. A party of three Argentines were brewing coffee and organizing gear on El Cap Tower as Adam and I hustled past. They had fixed ropes to the top of the Boot Flake, but kindly allowed us to pass through and continue on our way. I lowered Adam from the top of the Boot Flake until his feet were level with the second bolt of the pitch. Holding the rope in one hand, he ran his feet along the wall to the left to build momentum. He abruptly changed directions and ran to the right, building more speed, and then in a single fluid motion, Adam swung to the left, grabbed the sloping arête, and pulled his body over onto Eagle Ledge. However, a little after our smooth and efficient execution of King Swing, we hit our first snag in a very literal sense.

As Adam led up the pitch off of Eagle Ledge the tagline he was trailing pulled taught to his harness. I tugged, shook, yanked… it didn’t budge. It was caught between two rocks well below the anchor. I would have to rappel back down to free it before we could continue up. I cringed at the thought of the time we were wasting. But hardly does a big wall ever climb completely problem free. You simply have to adapt – solve the problem and continue moving.

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As the climbing took us to the start of the Great Roof, one of the most impressive and belittling features on the Nose, we welcomed the relief of its fleeting shade. The climbing from that point on was a blur of thirst and sun-baked lips. We had turned on autopilot, settling into the “get it done” routine of climb, short fix, jug, repeat. We didn’t complain about our sore hands or our dried up water bottles – instead we poured our energy into each pitch and doing so with a smile on our face to keep morale high.  It wasn’t until the last pitch, when the top was within grasping distance, that I gave in to fatigue and lost my climbing Zen state of mind. The sun had left us and I shivered as I belayed Adam. Time moved slowly. I was like an astronaut floating in space with only the bubble of my headlamp tethering me to the rock. I couldn’t wait to have solid ground under my feet again; to remove my harness from my chaffed hips and legs; to sit on flat ground instead of hanging in the tipped over world of a big wall.

Adam finally went off belay and I attached my jumars to the rope one last time. The wall was steep and I dangled in space. Although darkness concealed the exposure beneath my feet, I knew it was there. I was too tired to acknowledge it, however, so I jugged upward towards liters of water and the warm sleeping bag that was waiting for me at the top. Finally, as if tired itself, the wall eased up and leaned back into a gentle slab. There it was – the beautiful pine tree that marked the official end of the Nose. Less than 24 hours ago, Adam and I had been lying in bed with bandannas over our eyes. Now, I hugged the pine tree, and then hugged Adam.  

 


 

Adam and I savored our time on El Cap. We spent the night sleeping under star studded skies in the most spectacular bivy in the Valley. The next morning we watched from the warmth of our sleeping bag as the sun rose over Half Dome and showered us in golden light. And in that moment my best friend asked me to marry him… and of course, I said yes!