Highlights included; freeing every pitch of Premuir with Neil Dyer and Hazel Findlay after some abortive efforts to get going due to weather and hold-ups, watching Dan McManus and Callum Muskett climbing Golden Gate over 5 days and trying Golden Gate in a day with Dan McManus. The most sadistic moment of the trip was a young friend stuck in/on the Hollow Flake chimney.
Of particular note were Hazels performances every day on Premuir which were some of the best I’ve seen in climbing and it didn’t surprise me hearing a top American climber suggest she may be the best female trad climber in the world. Although Dyer missed out a few of the easier pitches which were awkward in a 3 he was the strongest member of the team and could easily have freed it all. Neil Dyers climbing became more of an enigma as we gained height, with his limits being nowhere in my sights.
Things weren’t looking hopeful when setting off. After losing my partner Ben Bransby to a form of labrynthitis I was left with vague messages from potential partners travelling down from Canada in a ‘car of chaos’. Filled with philosophers and waifs, their ETA was unknown even to them. Messages about how hot the weather was were not sounding optimistic either. I’d written off using my new haul bag and was going to talk Dyer into trying day hits on Freerider and some other big routes.
Climbing with Dan and Callum the 1st few days was ace. We did Astroman the 1st day and with 1 litre of water between us meant that the last 5 pitches were climbed with syrup like mouths. After Astroman Callum was keen to go pulling on the knobs in Tuolomne Meadow hoping for cooler conditions but myself and Dan persuaded him that the hot cracks of Yosemite were where it was at. They began preparations for Golden Gate and McManus was probably the most psyched person in the valley at that point. Just before they set off I picked up Dyer from Merced and passing under the Cap at midnight with the rolling stones playing and a full moon making it glow, Dyer was stoked for a look at the Muir wall and we make plans to try the 1st quarter called the Muirblast.
We got up at 2.00 and climbed Moby Dick then two 5.12s by head torch and a 3rd in the dawn light to arrive at the 5.13b traverse well before the sun hit it as the weather was still baking. Having seen a piccy of Kurt Smith undercutting across the roof I set off doing the same and after a quick tussle fell off. Realising shorties need to palm across it, with a quick rest at the belay it goes. 3 more great pitches lead up to heart ledges where we abseiled off talking about the best day out climbing we had ever had.
Neil and I hauled a 60 litre bag of water and other crap up to Grey ledges, about 16 pitches and one day later I set off on the Muirblast again with Hazel whilst the legend Dyer hauled a bag of food alone. We arrived at the 13b traverse at 1st light and Hazel had been saying all sorts of self deprecating stuff on the way up but when she mentioned the word ‘flow’ I was concerned for her sanity, let alone her climbing ability.
When she set off quite slowly across the easier bit I settled in for a long belay stint. I’d told people I wouldn't be surprised if she flashed it but as she used her same slow pace to waltz across the crux and I was in fact surprised. We reached Heart and gave Dyer a hand hauling to past Mammoth.
On the way down we had a good ‘Panorama’ of McManus who, having built the Monster OW up the last month, was adamant he was going to do it in the shade. Unfortunately Salathe was as busy as it gets and he was forced to do it in the sun. It was great to see the Welsh language in full flow on the Cap. Callum: “Iawn Dan” Dan: “Cae dy Geg ****! Dan did a great lead in the midday heat.
Going back up a day later Hazel leads 12b(E5/6) by head torch and I lead through linking a 12d and 11d as the aid belay is in the middle of the crux. Arriving on Grey my heart sank as Mike and Mike were climbing the Shield which makes a fankle probable. By the time they had polished off the 13b corner it’s in the sun and mission shutdown ensues. I had a burn and after 2 falls I reached an impasse. Hazel does a superb effort breaching the impasse via a heinous move and falling high on the final corner. I second up and realising times getting on suggest to Hazel to get to the next belay any way she can. When I arrived there it was very cold, neither of the 2 pitches we’d wanted to do were completed, the forecast was shit, we couldn't communicate with Dyer and other aid climbers were coming up to use the good bit of grey ledges. Feeling gutted I suggested we bail as my thoughts of the Sierra Nevada in the beer locker to commiserate our efforts became prominent.
We fixed down to Mammoth and had a beer. After a couple of days getting impatient in Camp4 - the forecast was for it to shit out at 11.00 - and as Dyer had not done any climbing and these pitches were awkward in a 3, we headed up and did the corner and slab 1st go before patching the haul bags up to weather the rain and Dyer did everyone a favour by replacing 3 of the fixed lines down from Heart.
At Camp4 the other prospective member of the team arrived briefly and having mentioned ballistic and ethics many times in one conversation I was slightly relieved he wasn't coming up Muir as I associated neither of those things with our current efforts. We were keen to do it in similar style to Caldwells Shaft ascent. Up to Heart, have a rest day on the deck, then go. With the weather being a bit shit an extra rest day or two was had. Nico Potard and Paulo set off on the Friday in the turd weather and we joined them at Grey ready for a final push. Hazel did the 13b corner 1st go and Neil followed through climbing the 13a slab first go with Hazel making short work of it. We do 2 further easier pitches and bivvy on the triple direct.
The next day was a big one in the sun. An 11d links into a 12b, a 12a/b layback, a 12c layback and hauling doesn't sound much but it felt it. Hazel laybacks up the 11d leading to beneath the crux and pulling out of sight onto what looked like a ledge from the meadow and starts moaning about it being hard. I managed to hold my tongue wanting to tell her to just get on with it which was lucky as it was an awful and desperate pitch when seconding. It felt like a 12c slab with very loose flakes making climbing across it feel like the old game ‘operation’ as the flakes would decimate teams starting the Nose.
We made a base beneath the crux which looked incredible and Nico and Paolo were good enough to leave 3 pegs in. Keen to save time I aided the corner that night and lower down to climb it with 2 rests and sleep more happily in the knowledge it was doable. The next day was quite fierce. We all warmed up with a burn up the corner on a rope, then Hazel and I checked out the top crack which has a sting boulder problem near its end. We waited out the sun and in the evening I had a burn in the sun on a rope to save time and Dyer blasted the corner looking like Samson pushing the temple apart and almost flashes the tope crack. Hazel, Ms Patience, makes an awesome ascent pulling the ropes she leads it easily 1st go. Under pressure I was well happy to second this pitch before darkness. I was so close to falling off the top crack it felt like a stiff breeze blew me into the final finger locks.
Watching the sun creep across the face made for a frantic effort. After falling nr the end first go I get it next thinking it quite reachy and was therefore super impressed with Hazel working out a shorty sequence in the sun so quickly.
The next 12b gave us all some grief but luckily Hazel found the midget variation. I knew some of my friends like Robbins would be well suited to the brilliant 12d pitch beyond, involving some hot knob pulling it led to some great ledges where we had some porridge and grub.
Dyer led the next traversing 12a dyno pitch, which lead us to a fantastic ledge above the shield wall. As the ledges were getting set up I quickly fix the 11d above ready for morning involving using shrubs to reach a chickenwing to gain a layback I abbed to the belay thankful I didn’t have to climb this ‘choss’ pitch in the morning.
The next day started badly. Some strange noises coming from the 11d as I’m belaying are at first amusing but after ten mins are worrying. Hazel had gone the wrong way on the layback and had become stuck in a chimney. It was seriously close to a 999 episode and I was concerned both for Hazel and myself when Steve Findlay next came round to pay me a visit. Luckily our dihedral queen got extricated and we continued via an ace 12b to the penultimate pitch a 13c corner. Hazel and I checked it out and Dyer pulls a blinder flashing it easily on second. About 7c laybacking to half height it then gets really hard for 5/10 metres. We hung out hiding from the sun and just before dark I give it 3 burns in 15 mins slipping off the easier bit each time I was pissed off and knew the evening was going to be long. Hazel had a sterling 1st burn almost catching the ledge post hard climbing.
Her next goes are more tired and things begin winding down with Dyer having belayed the both of us for 3 hrs by headtorch. I ask for 1 last go and manage to slither to a high point, pasting my feet wherever I slap the ledge, mantel and spin round to look down most of El Cap and crow down with delight at my friends. Hazel quietly sends it next go and we have a very tired final feast on our ledge. Topping out the next day was fantastic and I was more than happy with how we’d climbed it with Neil and Hazel being great company on the wall. Neil giving the strength, Hazel the next gen’ talent and myself offering an impatient edge. Almost every pitch was as good as it gets. As well as relief at being finished it was also sad as you may not climb with the same team again. The moment passes.
After 2 days rest we set off at midnight and things didn't start well. Falling low down I realised I’d put the dud batteries in my torch. As I’m blocking to Mammoth Dan kindly lends me his torch and chatting to Dan about how much better life is I fall again on a 4b move cursing into the night, climbing without due care and attention this time I felt ill and I knew Dan would be thinking exactly what I would have been, which was ‘what am I doing on the cliff with this clown’. Not wanting to let Dan down I pulled myself together re-climb it and things go fast and smooth from here to the move pitch. Dan hadn't fallen to here and having grabbed a good sidepull he needed only to pull his right foot up. He had 2 goes getting cringe-fully close. With the grey clouds having moved in time is against us. I get close on the 2nd twice in ten minutes.
Dan tells me later it was horrible to watch as my fingers uncurled on the finishing holds. We hit the Tower for the people (pitch 30, 8 to go) zonked and nervous about the weather. Going French free and getting a little lost in the night we topped out around ten and staggered down east ledges to camp4, both of us more knackered than we could remember being. The heavy rain came down an hour or two later. If Dan had got through the Move pitch I’m pretty convinced he’d have polished it off or would have gotten deadly close. Dan has been one of Britain's best trad climbers for a decade now and has been going very well the last 2 years, if any companies would like to give him free gear (like Scarpa and DMM) he’d be a great ambassador for it. When I go again GG in a day with a bigger weather window will be top of the list. From that effort I couldn't open my eyes for more than 20 secs for 2 days, looking out like Moley from Wind in the Willows enviously at everyone with 20/20.
Dyer cooked up a mega feed round a fire in Camp4 on the final night in the valley. Dan and Callum and I finish the holiday hanging out in San Fran eating loads. The Fort Mason YHA overlooking the Golden Gate and Alcatraz must be one of the best based YHA's in the world.
A MEGA Trip.
Thanks a lot to my partners, Pete Graham for helping haul gear to El Caps Base, Justen Sjong for ace beta, Scott Cosgrove and Kurt Smith for being bold enough to find the line and placing the belay bolts for our horrifically heavy haulpigs, Nico and Paulo for the pegs and Will Stanhope for picking up the bags, Neil and even Hazel from the picnic car park.
Thanks also to Sophie for not having too many parties while her devious partner was away, my Sponsors for ace gear to try and trash and the Brenin for the time off.
...Oh and one more 'Big Up' to Raff, a captain with British Airways who tried to get us upgraded to Business Class and got us some champagne - legend.