Wednesday, 23 September 1998. San Bruno, California.
"Come on Jamie", I thought to myself. Shit, its going to be dark soon. I started digging through the haul bag to find a head lamp, it looked like I'd need it to follow the next pitch. Finally about quarter to seven, Jamie called "Off belay."
As soon as Jamie started hauling the pig, the affectionate name for the haul bag, I started jumaring the rope up to the third belay. I'd been working on my jumar setup, and was finally getting it dialed in. I raced the haul bag up the face, huffing and puffing I beat it to the belay. Turns out I didn't need the head lamp to clean the pitch, but not by much.
Our home for the night going to be the third pitch of Zodiac (VI 5.11 A3), one of the trade routes on El Capitan. Our first task was to assemble the portaledge, our bed for the night. What's a portaledge? Its a metal framed, cloth covered platform suspended the rock. And its small. Two of us would spend the night in an area 43" by 75". To fit on the portaledge, we would sleep head to toe.
Of course by now it was dark. Carefully we made sure everything was clipped in before letting go of things. We managed to get the ledge assembled, only to find the straps were connected upside down. When we packed the portaledge, we didn't realize there is a specific way to pack it. Two attempts later we had the ledge hanging from the wall correctly. Unfortunately it was no where near level. Fidling with the straps brought it closer to level, but it didn't look very comfortable. I guess it will have to do.
After the portaledge was assembled, I started dinner on Jamie's hanging stove. Luckily, the belay had a small ledge, about two feet wide and five feet long, which made life on the wall a little easier. We wolfed down a dinner of mashed potatoes while standing on the rock ledge. With our gear cliped into various anchors we were ready for bed.
The portaledge is suspended from a single point. Which means getting on and off is an adventure. I stepped on and felt the ledge tilt! Moving towards the center helped. With Jamie and I both on the ledge, it seemed to level out. The entire time we had both been roped in with our harnesses. I have a nice harness, but I really didn't want to sleep in it. So I made a temporary harness out of runners and clipped in. Settled in we enjoyed pudding for desert.
Laying on your back, the portaledge is very comfortable. Sleeping on your side isn't all that comfortable. And just like a water bed, you can feel your partner shift around. Just don't sleep walk!
We woke to an incredible view of Yosemite Valley. This is a cool way to start the day. Unfortunately we couldn't linger too long. The day before, we'd been hung up by a Spanish team who fixed ropes to the third pitch. And a second team fixing ropes had been behind us. So we knew they cliff would soon be busy. And we had gear strung across all the available anchors.
After a quick breakfast we continued climbing. I lead the next three pitches, which were a mixture of free and aid climbing. We knew we'd have to rappel the route to get to the ground. So after three pitches we planned on heading down. By now the Spaniards were on the fourth pitch. We wanted to avoid congestion on the small belays so we hung out waiting for them to reach the fifth pitch. They were much faster the second day, so we had a while to wait. We rapped back to our home on the third pitch, lowered the haul bag, then continued down. Lunch had been waiting three pitches down while we waited for the Spaniards. So we eagerly dug it.
Carrying our mound of gear back to the truck wasn't much fun. At least we were going down this time. Or was it an improvement? We were heading straight down the loose talus field. Nearly fell on my ass several times. Nearly at the truck, a group of tourists were watching climbers on El Cap with binoculars. They clapped and cheered for us as we staggered in. Didn't expect a welcoming committee!
After dropping Jamie off at the Sacramento airport, I headed to San Francisco for a few days. I stayed with ex-Bostoners, Steve Fitzgerald and Kimber Morgan in their new house in San Bruno. I took advantage of their hose and vaccum to give the truck a much needed bath. I did a bit of gear shopping and a bunch of chores over the next couple of days. During this short stay, I managed to catch up with some of my class mates from Virginia Tech: Gil Kasparek, Lawrence Kestloot and Brad Grantham. And did a major grocery shopping run. I think I may have bought too much, I'm going to need about three bear boxes for all this food!
Tomorrow I'm headed back to Yosemite. There's a bunch of free climbs I'm interested in attempting. But what I really want to do is to attempt another El Cap route. This time I'll leave plenty of time to finish it!