Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mt. Watkins and The Nose

We had 5 days planned in The Valley this October.  However, there seems to be a theme in 2015 that when I try to climb I either get shutdown by rain partially or completely.  Luckily the rain only cut our Yosemite trip down to 3 days.  We arrived in the valley on the evening of the 18th to rain.    Luckily our new friends from the Bugaboos Melissa and Anthony had a campsite already and invited us to camp with them.  We woke early the next morning to climb Mt. Watkins, a wall that neither Matt nor I had ever seen.  We hiked in the dark on discontinuous trails until we miraculously arrived at the base of the wall soaking wet from wet vegetation and sweat.  The approach slabs were running with water but luckily the fixed lines were in place and we were able to batman past.  Watkins was sort of a trial run before we attempted the Nose on El Cap in a day.  We wanted to see how fast we could move and see if any of our systems needed to be tweaked before the big day.
Matt had the first block which ended at the Sheraton Watkins ledge on top of pitch 8.  Matt drew the short straw since the first 6 pitches were wet, whereas the rest of the route was dry.
8 pitches above the Sheraton Watkins I was getting tired and slowing down so I lead one more and Matt took back over to lead the last two pitches to the summit.  We topped out just under 8 hrs on route.  We hiked the 3 miles to the road in Tuolumne gambling that someone would take pity on us.  Luckily, before too long a couple on their honeymoon from Utah picked us up and gave us a ride back to the valley.
We spent the next day doing errands around the valley and resting before the big day on the Captain.  Originally we were going to casually climb the first 4 pitches up to Sickle Ledge.  Onsighting up to the beginning of the Stove Legs is supposed to be challenging.  We decided to skip the trial run and just do it in the dark on game day.  Now to be fair, 11 years ago Amanda and I climbed up to Sickle Ledge and then rappelled off, so we weren't completely onsighting.  Upon seeing 8 groups on the route we decided to get up at 1am, in the hopes of passing as many groups as possible while they were still sleeping or just waking up.
I wake up to Matt's alarm.  We get dressed, stuff sleeping bags, pack up our tent, walk to Curry Village, eat some leftover pasta, then hop in the car and the clock reads 1:08am.  "Did that only take 8 minutes?" I ask Matt.  He just laughs.  Turns out all that coughing and clearing on his throat that he was doing while I was sleeping was actually him trying to wake me up.  Matt was like a kid on Christmas morning that just couldn't wait to open presents.
I had the first block this time. We started at 2:30am and did great with route finding in the dark until I went one crack system to far right at the beginning on the Stove Legs.  Luckily Matt caught it before I got us too far off route.  I was able to swing back left and in a 70m pitch get us back on track at the top of pitch 9.
Matt took over and raced up the Stove Legs and up to El Cap Tower passing 2 parties that were just waking up.  I would jug the pitch that Matt just lead and he would just be finishing the next pitch.  I'd unfix the line, he'd pull up the line, refix it, and I'd start jugging again.  We passed another party on top of Boot Flake.  I took over at the King Swing and started my second block.  We hit 2 more parties at Camp IV and finally passed them by the top of the Pancake Flake where Matt took back the lead.  So far we'd passed 5 parties and there were still 3 above us.  Unfortunetly we were only able to pass one more party before the top as one of the groups wouldn't let us pass.  All in all we topped out in 15 hrs. and had a great time on an amazing hunk of rock.
We hurried down the East Ledges, cleaned up, ate some food and drove 3 hrs into Nevada where we finally slept in a gravel lot on the side of the road.  Matt had to get back to work and I was headed to Gunnison to see my beautiful wife Amanda.