Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Link Up

I awoke at 4AM last friday to attempt a link up on the Chief. 4 AM is both a wonderful and terrible time to be awake. I always get a high off early mornings: the potent mixture of grogginess and excitement. When the alarm starts beeping, its go time. No more time to dwell and worry.

Alex Honnold was frying eggs in his van. A self-confessed monk, Alex abstains from wobbly pops, coffee and tobacco. His only vice? Cookies. I pounded back an espresso and while we jabbered over what gear to bring. I was a little intimidated to be climbing with Alex. Since we first met 4 years ago, he has been on a ballistic climbing rampage... truly. 5.12 big wall solos, 5.14+ bolts, v11 highballs, insane El Cap pushes...

First up was the free Grand, a route I had just climbed with my girlfriend, Hazel Findlay. We started in the dusky half-light, but were drenched in sweat by the time we hit the Split Pillar. There are two hard pitches on this climb: the Underfling and the 5.13b slab pitch. Alex hadn't freed this line in 4 years. I climbed the slab, then explicitly explained to Alex which holds to grab. He nodded, then did exactly what I pointed out. I have never seen anything like that before. Alex is a good listener.

We were back at the van by 7 AM. Hazel was brewing up tea. She is from Britain. She loves tea very much. Below is a pic of Hazel with some tea in the High Sierra.

We picked up a few more cams and jogged towards University Wall.

Alex led the first three pitches of U-Wall together "When I encounter rope-drag, I stop placing gear," said Alex. We continued up the Roman Chimneys and were back at the car around 11 AM.

At this point, I pounded my first Red Bull of the day while Alex drove the van to the North Walls. It seems everyone is very critical of Red Bull these days, after team Red Bull/ David Lama left a junk show on Cerro Torre. I still like Red Bulls. Alex, being a monk, had some bread and cheese instead.

Northern Lights is a strenuous outing on the North Walls of the Chief. It is a meat-and-potatoes climb, much like Astroman. It has some overhanging flare climbing, some long corners, some greenery and some choss. Northern Lights is scruffy, rough around the edges- much like Squamish in years past. Less yoga-and-granola, more bar-fights-and-strippers. I like Northern Lights, and I wanted very much to include it in the link up. Honnold, more familiar with glacier-buffed Yosemite, had some words to say at the top: "These last pitches are a piece of shit." Alex does not mince his words.

The hike off Northern Lights is an overgrown death march. We arrived back at the van around 4pm. Then we charged towards Freeway without shirts, as the route was now baking in the afternoon sun. At this point, I started to get a little wobbly on my feet, a little more conservative with the runouts. Alex, unfazed by the previous three routes, was still gunning at mach-speed. "Dude, I thought you were going to take us to the top?" he said, as I cautiously fiddled in a small cam, on the long 11a corner. But we kept plugging.

We ambled back to the van at around 6:30pm, approximately 13.5 hours after starting. Hazel and Jason Kruk had taken the trouble of picking up some orange juice for Alex, and some Kokanees for me. Over the course of the evening, I downed four: one for each route.

The next day I guided two folks from Seattle up the Chief in a sedated daze, liberally slurping back Red Bull throughout the day to keep from falling asleep. Alex took one rest day, then climbed 2 5.14s and a 5.13.

Hats off my friend, and thank you for a day I won't forget.


The Free Grand (with Apron Strings start)
University Wall (with Roman Chimneys)
Northern Lights

Approximately 13.5 hours, give or take... we didn't note the exact times for starting and finishing. No falls for Alex or I.