Friday, November 26, 2010

Southern Belle

On Nov 1, Alex Honnold and I repeated the Southern Belle on the South Face of Half Dome. It was first climbed in 1987 by Walt Shipley and Dave Schultz and freed the next year by Schultz and Scott Cosgrove. In 2006, Leo Houlding and Dean Potter made the second free ascent.

Hazel left to go back to the UK on October 8th, which left me a few weeks before I had to leave Yosemite too. Jason Kruk and I had an Arc'teryx photo gig to attend in Joshua Tree on Nov 5. Alex and I had made plans to climb together and were shooting ideas around on email. We hoped to get on a big wall but October's weather was surprisingly unstable. Storms were rolling in every week, it seemed. Perhaps a one-day mission was the go? The idea of climbing the Southern Belle had been floating around in my head for a few years. I popped the idea to Alex. He responded, "Everything I can find on the internet says that it's certain death, but I guess you never know till you try."

As soon as I figured it was game-on, I cranked up the Strokes on the I-pod and hiked the three hours to the south face in a raging rainstorm. I stashed a rope, rock shoes and water at the base.

When we arrived at our stash on try number 1, the rope and shoes, despite being wrapped in multiple plastic bags was all wet. There was verglas on the approach, and we hoping that route was icy, too. It was one of those days where we were looking for any excuse to bail.

On that first attempt we both onsighted to the crux, a 12d near vertical pitch of micro-holds. We spent a few hours try to figure this pitch out. Alex tried, I tried, then Alex tried again. A real head-scratcher. Finally, Alex saw through the sequence and we both dialed it in. The next pitch, named 'the Cuntress' by Walt Shipley, is a 150 foot left leaning micro-seam protected by very small wires. Leo told me to bring a double set of micro-wires, and that beta was critical. Its graded 12a, but the grade doesn't really do it justice. I spent about an hour trying to onsight it, and grabbed a cam a stone's throw from the top. I dropped about six of Alex's nuts in the process and arrived at the belay completely fried. Alex, terrified at the belay, stopped looking up and just payed out slack.

It was obvious the route wasn't going down that day, but we were psyched. Alex arrived at the belay bug-eyed, and said, "this route is a good adventure!" We rapped down, had pizza at Curry Village with Alex's girlfriend Stacey, and made plans for the next round.

The next round came about a week later. We blasted the first few pitches pretty quick. Alex led the fourth pitch, and I took a few falls on toprope, then sent it from a mini-ledge, no hands stance about 15 feet above the last anchor. From there we didn't fall again. The Cuntress went smoothly. Just knowing what was in store for me made all the difference.

From there we were adrift in a sea of open slabs, tick-tacking our way to the bolts, trying to make good decisions. I was concentrating really hard, and don't remember much. Dean Potter told me it was the only route that made him feel nauseous from the runouts. I can relate.

We swung leads to the top. Just as the sun started setting we pulled over the top of Half Dome. My feet hurt like hell and we were thirsty. We dunked our heads in puddles and sucked back as much H20 as possible. "Maybe there will be base-jumping chicks at the top with cookies!" said Alex. No such luck.

We loped down the tourist path, drained of adrenaline.

Ben Ditto, Brad Gobright and I snapped some shots a couple days later. The next day I drove down to Joshua Tree, met my best budJason Kruk. We drank scotch until three in the morning at the Travelodge, catching up. We spent three days in Josh filming with Brian Goldstone and Angela Pervcival. I repeated a few old Stonemaster highballs, like So High and Up 40. Everything paled in comparison to the runouts of the Southern Belle.

Jason Kruk photo.

After that, Jason and I drove up to the Bow Valley. Hazel was there for a North Face athlete summit. We tried to go climbing at Grassi Lakes. Between the driving and climbing, I was worked.