Saturday, November 12, 2011

Superhero Sonnie

Superhero Sonnie enjoying a gentleman's smoke on a ledge. As Mike Pennings once said, "You can't put a price on morale." If having a smoke is good for morale, then its a good idea. ;)

Sonnie and I are still fooling around on the Prophet. Trotter is leading the charge. I think it’s really interesting to look at how the very best trad climbers operate on the sharp end. I would put Sonnie in a really small group of people I’ve climbed with that are truly built for hard, scary rock climbing. Skill plays a huge part. Strength plays a huge part. But an innate positivity is the biggest factor, I think. When the house of cards begins to collapse for me, I start losing the optimistic edge, and everything seems to spiral towards negativity. If one foothold breaks, I start thinking all the footholds are going to break. It might stem from the accident this spring, feeling a little more rattled than usual. But it could also be that this route is just damn-hard and scary, standard setting in boldness. Sonnie maintains a consistent ‘Sunny-side-up’ disposition. He might back down for a day or a week, but he never gives up.

I’ve learned alot from watching him. I’d also put Alex Honnold in that small club of guys that I’m not stressed out belaying on 5.13R. I am attentive, but not worried for them. I guess it comes down to total faith that they’ll make good decisions.

Giving up is like a warm blanket. So tempting to give in, call it a day, admit defeat. Put it off for another day, another trip... Far more difficult to step into the fray again, to push a little farther. So, tomorrow I think we’ll try again from the ground. Then take a day off and try the route in a two day push. I absolutely have to fly out on Nov 17. I’ve already pushed back a trip to China by ten days.

Even if this line doesn’t go down this trip, I will certainly be back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


This spring, my good friend Jesse Huey introduced me to the 'Heisman.' The Heisman Trophy is an American College Football award for the most valuable player. The trophy has a player with an arm outstretched, basically saying, "Step back!" Jesse explained to me and my friend Charlie that lots of things in life can 'Heisman' you. Girls can Heisman you. A truck with engine trouble can Heisman you on your drive to work. A Yosemite Ranger can Heisman you for trying to smuggle a beer into the Cafeteria (that Heismanning can often come with a good-natured Tasering...) Yesterday Sonnie and I were Heismanned on pitch 5 of the Prophet, known as the Screamer Pitch.

By this point we have been in California for about a month. We've spent many days rapping into the top of the Prophet trying the A1 beauty and Devils Dyno Pitches. We've also done a few ground up pushes attempting the lower pitches. Sonnie and I had briefly considered rappelling in to attempt the Screamer Pitch on toprope. Leo makes the pitch out to be terrifying in the article he wrote about the route. But in the end we decided to give it a go from the ground, like the Brits had done in 2001. With a solid three day weather window, we packed up, and began our fourth ground up effort on the Prophet.

Sonnie polished off pitch 4, entitled 'Not Gay', easily. I nervously racked up for the Screamer, which follows a grotty corner, then hops over an arete into no-mans land. This part of El Cap is extremely loose and crumbly: its sorta like the rock is alive, with stacked blocks and sharp edges everywhere. Everything about the position is whacky, and everything was telling me that this was a sketchy place to go rock climbing.

I crept up the corner, putting in small cams, gingerly weighting the friable feet. I didn't want to weight any of the gear, even though it was probably adequate. I just didn't know- the back of the back of the crack was spitting sand and everything was creaking a bit. I eventually made it to one of Leo's old DMM nuts shoved sideways in some sandy alcove, and spied up the crux sequence. By this point my nerves were shot, and I lowered off to let Sonnie try. He backed up the wobbly nut and shoved in a few more pieces of pro. Then he crept out towards the arete, popping off three footholds in the process. He eventually clipped another one of Leo's old nuts- this time a 00 micro. He eventually lowered off. I tried again. Both of us were too wigged out to commit to the blind sequence around the arete.

In the end, we are happy we went from the ground and attempted those lower pitches in the style of the first ascentionists. But in the end, we fell short of Leo's boldness. Which is okay, I guess. A special extra-something was required- maybe a bit of calculated craziness- but we didn't have it yesterday, and I'm not sure I'll ever have it. What I do think is that those original ground up efforts in 2001 were the high-water mark of bold climbing on El Cap. I have never come across a pitch so unnerving. I think the next time we try it we will come in top down. But time has a way of pacifying nerves, and I'll have to mull it over with Mr. Trotter with some fine scotch. ;)

But for now, another storm is coming in, and it might be game over for the season. Time will tell.