My phone buzzed with a text message, it roused me out of my slumber and I reached for the device. Typically I would ignore a midnight message but this being Yosemite I was surprised by the sudden onset of service. It read, “I can borrow a homemade #8. What do you think?” It was from Christina, in two days we would be heading up Freerider and the idea of a cam that size seemed…heavy. We would already be carrying a #6, #5 and #4 plus the standard rack. But, she would be leading the Monster Offwidth and word was that it fit like a charm, better than the #6. Maybe she wanted it. I wondered if it fit in the Hollow Flake, if so maybe I wanted it.
The first time I climbed the Hollow Flake was in 2010 with Hayden Kennedy and Ben Ditto. We were trying for a spring ascent of Golden Gate and had a limited amount of time to go for it. The weather prediction didn’t look promising, predicting 40% chance of severe thunderstorms but we decided to go for it anyway. On the morning of day 2 our reality was quickly brought into focus as Hollow Flake ledge flooded within minutes and quarter size hail ricocheted off of us. We bailed in one of the worst storms to hit the Valley that year. The second and third time I climbed the Hollow Flake was earlier this spring with Christina in a couple of our “training runs,” up Freeblast and parts of the Salathe in preparation for an idea I hatched earlier in the winter.
James Lucas and I had been emailing about this and that and the other but mostly his bid for Freerider. He was hoping that his upcoming sport climbing trip to Europe would get him really strong for Valley season so that he could put to rest his long-time dream of free climbing El Cap. I was on a sport climbing trip myself and was feeling strong, motivated and also dreaming of Yosemite. Each year we go to Europe to get our steep endurance and power going with hopes of returning to Yosemite and having things feel like the true slabs they are. This year would be no different and I, too, wanted to climb El Cap. Aside from the debacle of Golden Gate in 2010 I had only climbed one true wall route on the huge monolith. In 2013 Ben and I climbed the Triple Direct and this was the first time I learned, first hand, of the horrors of hauling.
Free climbing El Cap is one of the reasons I have come to Yosemite but I’m a slow learner and like to proceed with caution, so even though this is my 10th year here it is only now that I feel confident enough to go up on the Big Stone on my own accord, with everything I have learned and am capable of and give it a go. So, I hatched the idea of climbing Freerider with Christina Freschl. I came to this choice in partner because she’s tough, positive, a strong climber and loves offwidths. If she would be keen to lead the wide cruxes I would take the other cruxes. I sent her an email late one night from our rental apartment in Chulilla. In the message I said I wanted to go ground up on Freerider, trying our best and hauling everything over 4 days, would she be into it? To my delight she responded the next day with a YES! That was in December, we wouldn’t be climbing together again until April. It could be a pipe dream but I was willing to take the chance.
We returned to the States in February and I spent the end of winter and early spring around Bishop ticking some sport projects and boulder problems in anticipation of our summer plans.
In March Christina and I met in the El Cap parking, it was 6am and we were heading up the Freeblast with a lofty goal of making it to the Alcove. I hadn’t done any multi pitch since the Verdon in November and she and I hadn’t tied in together in several months. We had caffeine jitters and jamming cold toes into the cracks hurt more than I remembered. Pitch after pitch passed by and the sun rounded the Nose, lighting our path with an intensity we planned to avoid in the future. I sorted out the 5.12 down climb into Hollow Flake and she followed with great style and confidence as we employed some rope tricks to ensure a safe belay for her. We found ourselves in a good rhythm with each other by the days end and for a first run up the route our high point was just past the 5.7 Chimney pitch.
We rapped the route, resorted our gear and made plans to meet again soon. But, life gets in the way sometimes and one or the other of us had obligations and it wasn’t until late May that we were able to meet up again. This time our plan was to jug to the Heart and climb to the Alcove and if we were feeling good we would go further. Through the years many of my friends have freed the Freerider and a common thing I have heard from the shorter ones is that getting into the Monster from the Ear is one of the cruxes for them. I had also heard that there is a lower traverse which takes you direct into the Monster via a route called the Bermuda Dunes. There are no reachy moves here but does involve climbing the entire crack which is the Monster Offwidth, thus adding about 60 more feet of wide to the already 200 feet of wide. With Christina being the offwidth wiz she is it didn’t take much convincing from me for us to take this route. Our rack that day included 1 #6 and 1 old #5. We jugged to Heart, climbed the 5.11c slab pitch, the Hollow Flake, the 5.7 chimney pitch and the other 3 nondescript pitches to bring us to the Bermuda Dunes below the Monster.
She led up the Bermuda Dunes into the Monster with fierce determination and skill like I have seen in very few others. The gapping maw greeted us with overhanging steepness before delivering us into it’s more vertical 8″. It become evident pretty early on the the old 5 was too small for the Monster and was nothing more than dead weight. I wish I had video of her as she struggled with our one 6 as it became stuck in the crack. Holding herself in with sheer power she tagged up the nut tool so she could fiddle the #6 out of the crack. After about 15 minuets of this she freed it from it’s confines and continued to press her way up the monster. About 40 minutes later she was at the Alcove belaying me up. The first 60 feet of the Bermuda Dunes into the Monster were steep and hard and passed over bushes and loose blocks. I was tired before I even got into the real meat of the Monster but I kept thinking about Christina powering her way inch by inch and it gave me the mental fortitude to keep going. About an hour later I joined her in the Alcove.
Once again we rapped the route and made a plan for our next meeting. Christina is a 5th grade school teacher and May and June had her quite busy. I’m a full-time climber and found myself with plenty of time to spare. I went out with other female partners in preparation for our big outing. I climbed long moderates and slowly ramped up to long harder routes. I also did two trips up to Lung Ledge with 7 gallons of water to stage for our pre-hauling day. I jugged with the water in a bag hanging below me on my harness, and while this tactic is a bit faster than hauling it is hideous and painful. On June 18th we met once again and packed our haul bags for the 4 day event. Sleeping bags, food, rain jackets, extra chalk, jetboil, rain fly for shade, etc. We hauled this to Lung Ledge where we rendezvoused with the water I had stashed. This was the first time either of us had hauled in a couple of years and the process was slow and laborious. Neither of us are very big people and our combined weight is no more than 230. For either of us to haul alone we needed to employ a 3:1 and big wall maestro Mark Hudon has an improved and nifty jigger system that we adopted for the task. From Lung Ledge I once again led off on the Hollow Flake, climbing it this time in the blazing sun – confronting my worst nightmare and fearing the loathsome heat of the midday sun of June. We left a bivy kit there and then we climbed two more pitches and hauled the rest to there then we rapped the route once again.
On June 23rd at 5am we left the ground and headed up the Freeblast. With us we had the homemade #8. We free climbed to Hollow Flake ledge that day and arrived at our first nights bivy in the early afternoon. The sun was hideous and we quickly set to work on setting up our rain fly to shade us from the heat. We took naps, ate food, drank water. We rose early the next day, broke down camp and headed up towards the Alcove. This was to be a fairly “easy” day but it would involve 4 hauls. This took time and we got caught in the sun. Wanting to save time and make up for a blunder I had gotten us into a bit lower we decided to take the Ear and do the normal traverse into the Monster. The Ear was quite adventurous and I was met with a really reach 5.10 move getting out of the initial crack and into the Ear. Mark Hudon had actually told me about this and had mentioned that he couldn’t make the move. I tried with the obvious beta and I was met with a weird press into a corner with a hold that was 8 inches out of reach. I climbed back down and tried again, I still couldn’t make it. I tried using a very small crimp next to a pin but from here couldn’t use the big left foot ledge and still came up short of the next hold. I fell, then used the pin to gain the next hold and finally made my way into the Ear. I hauled the bags and belayed Christina up. She had an interesting time traversing into the Monster but eventually managed to get herself into it. The homemade #8 was used for the second time that day and proved to be a valuable and useful addition.
Once we were both in the Alcove we unpacked our bags discovered that mice had gotten into out prehauled bag and eaten an entire days worth of food from our oatmeal to our candy bars. What ensued was a re-rationing of days and the best we came up with was about 1200 calories each per day. If we weren’t suffering yet we surely would be soon. That evening we climbed the next pitch and fixed our line. Day 3 we jugged to our high point, hauled our bags and climbed to our next nights bivy on the Block. Between where we were and the Block involved the first real crux of the route, the Teflon Corner or the Boulder Problem. I had been urged to take the Corner. So I did and I got pretty properly shut down. My 5 foot frame could span to the chalked up features but I was too spread out to make use of them. I literally could not move upwards. There is a nice right hand chalked sloper and big foot just to the right of this. Both things were useless to me. On the left wall were palm prints and tiny ticked feet, these were also useless to me. Unable to use the obvious I resorted to my usual tactic of making my own way and this worked for about four moves as I pressed my hands closer into the corner and smeared my feet on nothing at all. Then the tension in my body would give and my shoulders would fail I was back where I started. I attempted this a few times before giving up and pulling through on the hanging tat. I climbed to the belay, hauled the bags and belayed Christina up. Once she was at the belay I lowered into the Boulder Problem. I climbed the boulder problem all the way to its crux end of the left foot kick. It really was quite far and I fell. I tried a couple more times and sorted out the ticky tacky feet and then climbed to the belay. I marveled at the idea that people walk right up that Teflon Corner and decided that I would need to come back and check out the Boulder Problem again. We arrived at the Block around noon and once again set to work establishing our shade. We were hungry and the toll of hauling was starting to show. We ate what little we had for the day, took delirious naps and waited for the shade.
Later that evening I climbed to Sous la Toit and I was greeted with one of the most spectacular positions on the wall. The exposure was grand and finally we could get a view out to the east. The climbing was pure glory climbing. It was also really exciting to finally see the Enduro Corners. I fixed our line to Sous la Toit and rapped back down. We ate our dinner, shared a candy bar, and let the Milky Way lullaby us to sleep.
Day 4 and I was hungry and felt just generally fatigued! This would be our last day but it would also be a hard day of a lot of climbing and a lot of hauling. We had 7 pitches to the top. We jugged up to our high point and I set off on the first Enduro pitch. I climbed really well until what is the crux of the route a few feet from the anchor. It was 5am and I was already covered in sweat and was experiencing a lack of umf like I have never quite experienced before. I fell, rested then climbed to the anchor. I belayed Christina up, she hauled and I set off on pitch 2 of the corner. By this point I was pretty spent and I did not send this pitch what-so-ever. I hauled the bag and belayed her up. She was also showing signs of being pretty spent and our tactics of each of us climbing every pitch changed. It was now about getting off the mountain.
I set off on the traverse to Round Table. What an incredible pitch! The exposure is pretty full on and the style of climbing is true sport climbing. I reached the ledge, fixed the lead line, and hauled the bag while she cleaned the pitch. We were getting closer, I was feeling more warmed up, still quite hungry and had summit fever. I led off on the next steep 5.11 pitch. I walked our single #3 about 60 feet before finally getting a #4. I was trying really hard, it felt very scrappy and physical and I decided to take the #3 with me. I established myself under this intimidating stemming, smearing roof and pulled around into a techy and thin 5.10 fingers section to the anchor. I fixed the rope and hauled the bags while she cleaned. Then a “Cawcaw” came from above and there was Ben, rapping in to check us out. It had been 4 days since we had seen anyone else and it seemed a little weird to see him there hanging above. He mentioned that he had some food for us up top and my summit fever really set in. Christina came up and racked up for the Scotty Burke. She climbed through the steeper 5.11 part and established herself in the offwidth. Everyone had told us that there is a point at which you must lie it back but she stayed in right side the entire time. It didn’t even seem too hard. She fixed my line and hauled the bags. I joined her and Ben and the next ledge and we quickly ascended to the summit. Bringing the bags up the final 5.6 slab was heinous and once we were on top it seemed so unreal that we had just climbed El Cap.
I took off my harness for the first time in four days, the chaffing on my hips was so raw and red. The heat was so horrendous and I felt like I had just worked the hardest I ever had my entire life. We did not free the Freerider this time but we did climb El Cap. We pushed each other to work hard, we dug deep to keep going, we starved up there but we did our best. It was a great way to experience the route from the ground, checking the pitches and coming to a better understanding of what it’s going to take. We were self-supported, we hauled our own shit (literally) and we made the summit! The walk down nearly broke us and thanks so much to Ben for the food on top. It’s now a week later and I’ve grown more excited about our time up there together. It was awesome to see Christina dig so deep, it inspired me to do the same.