Climbing The Yosemite Classic Zodiac, El Capitan 5.8 A3
Climbing The Yosemite Classic Zodiac, El Capitan 5.8 A3
Zodiac, El Capitan, 5.8 A3
An awesome feeling overcomes me whenever I stand at the base of a big wall. All at once, I will feel excitement, nervousness, fear, and giddiness as I mentally prepare myself for a long climb. Maybe it is because the next 2,000 feet or so is a mystery. Recently, I found myself feeling all of those emotions again, and boy what a feeling it was!
On Sunday May 21, my partner Greg Miller and I tossed on our haul bags and started heading up the Zodiac approach on the east face of El Capitan. At about 8 a.m., we were staring up at 16 beautiful pitches. We climbed 4 pitches that first day and fixed ropes to the top of the fourth pitch. All went super smooth until we lowered down. Taking the advice of our guide book, we had only two sixty-meter ropes with us. We ran out of rope thirty feet short of the ground with not much daylight left. This dilemma was short-lived, however, thanks to a gentleman who tossed us an extra rope. We were able to fix an anchor and rap the rest of the way down. As the sun was setting, we were both happy to have our feet on the ground and were satisfied with our progress for the day.
On Monday morning, we slept in a little too late and did not get out of the valley floor until noon. Our plan was to jug up the three ropes about 400 feet. Then we would climb to the start of the seventh pitch where we would set up the portaledge. I would start out leading the fifth pitch and then we would would alternate from there. The 90 degree heat made the 400 foot haul all the more grueling. The fifth pitch turned out to be pretty straight forward and I felt good to be on route and heading up. After I finished, Greg was lined up to climb pitch 6. Soon after he started up though, he realized he was not mentally prepared for it. The pitch, which was a little out of his comfort zone (A-3), combined with the effects of climbing in the hot sun, led him to climb back down.
We decided I would lead it the following morning as night was rapidly approaching. We set upthe ledge there and I crawled into my Lafuma Warm'N Light 30 degree bag, the perfect bag for those warm summer nights on a big wall. Next up was my favorite part . . . DINNER! Using our Jet Boil Flash, we sauteed onions and green peppers. Then we added beans and pre-cooked chicken. We devoured several well deserved burritos and washed them down with a much appreciated beer. The Black Diamond Orbit provided the perfect light for the small area we were in, but the day soon caught up with us. We turned out the lights so we would be rested for another long day.
Tuesday Morning came too fast for us, but there is nothing better than waking up to the exposure of sleeping on a ledge. Looking over a ledge to a 1200 foot drop makes everything start to look pretty small. The towering trees we walked by the previous day looked like little twigs and the people on the valley floor were like crawling ants. There was a slight chill in the morning air, which made me glad I brought my Marmot Variant Jacket. Since Greg was not feeling comfortable on the A3 pitch the day before, I had to take a stab at it. Turning the corner and looking up at this thin seam, I questioned myself also. But after placing my first RURP (which I purchased at Next Adventure months
before and could not wait to use), all went well and everything felt solid. I kept my head clean and got through the pitch successfully and in decent time too.
The bonus was ending on a great ledge that provided a good sitting area in which to belay Greg. As Greg headed up the 8th pitch, the sun turned the corner and started cooking us. The exposure was greater here, but Greg was feeling good. He flew up the next two pitches in style and in good time, setting me up for the Nipple Pitch and the Mark of Zorrow Pitch. I had asked Greg if I could take these two pitches because they looked exciting to climb and were very exposed too. By the time I was getting going, the wind picked up and it was time to throw on my Montbell UL Down Jacket. I headed through the Nipple Pitch and up through the Mark of Zorro. A few pitches later, it was getting late and time to set the ledge and make some dinner. After a long day, it's so nice to just fire up the Jet Boil Flash, add water to a Backpacker's Pantry meal, relax and eat. With energy from who knows where, we stayed up until midnight. We had a few beers and talked about the day. The excitement of knowing that we would top out on El Cap the next day made it hard to wind down, but eventually we slept.
Wednesday morning we woke up to chillier weather so my Marmot Variant Jacket was a must for the whole day. Greg led the eleventh pitch in style after having to do six hook moves in a row. Pitch 12 was mine and all straight forward to the finish. It took me about an hour, which is good timing. Greg and I may not have read the guide book right because on pitch 13, we definitely did not have the right gear.
Greg pushed through, running out the pitch by a good 60 feet. If he would have fallen, he would have taken a 120 foot whipper! I took pitch 14, which was one hundred feet long and quite mellow, and gave Greg the honors of topping out his first El Cap route. While taking the last move to summit the Zodiac, I heard a hoot and holler from across El Capitan from two guys finishing Mescalito. We exchanged hollers, yelling congrats to each other. There is something about hearing someone yell, “YEAH! ZODIAC, YEAH!” as you summit a big wall that makes you feel like you're standing on top of the world. All the hard work, sunburns, dehydration, aches and pains just melt away.
Since we summited at 6 p.m. Wednesday night, we decided to just sleep up top. We could sort gear the next morning before heading down to the valley floor. We slept in until 7:30 and woke up to a beautiful morning. After the two hour descent, we went straight to thestore for pizza and beer. We spent the next eight hours just relaxing next to the Merced