6.10.2021

Freerider Beta Share


 (If you're here for beta to help your climb of Freerider, and not to read the account of my climb of Freerider, scroll halfway down.)

This spring I got a chance to climb in Yosemite for a few days following a family trip to California. I didn't climb much in 2020, but built a garage Moonboard last Thanksgiving and I was curious to see what some real rock felt like again after fingery indoor limit bouldering. Luckily my free time in California coincided with the end of a work contract for my longtime pal Scott Bennett, who had been building TV show sets in the LA. We decided to try and freeclimb El Cap, which neither of us had done. Scott and I have climbed together all over the world and across the USA and Canada for more than a decade, but never in Yosemite, so it was a real treat to get to team up on this famous objective in the center of American climbing. Scott had done the Salathe as his first big wall and first Yosemite adventure, circa 15yrs ago. I had climbed the first ~90% of the route in 2017 with my pal Nathan Hadley, rappeling from where Salathe and Freerider separate for the final 3 "real" pitches. Scroll down below my own account for some Freerider beta that isn't ubiquitous elsewhere, including my own personal grade suggestions, bivy ledge reviews, gear beta, etc. Sorry to ruin your onsight. 

Scott and I climbed Freerider, the now famous 3-pitch variation to the Salathe Wall, which is ~31 guidebook pitches and has a crux of either a short .12d stemming corner, or a left-traversing ~v7 boulder problem (given .13a as a pitch).  It's the easiest freeclimbing route up the wall, but one of the longest climbs in the country and includes a couple more low 5.12 pitches and a couple physical 5.11 offwidths. Our ascent took us a bit less than 4 days/96 hours and involved 4 bivies on natural ledges. We began the first day in the evening and finished up the last day around lunch time. This allowed us to climb just ~5 pitches/day following our evening ascent of Freeblast (the first ~10 pitches).

I had tried Freerider 3 years prior, when my friend Nathan Hadley and I made an April attempt. We had colder and windier weather that time (40s and 30s high on the wall, with wind and thick cloud cover) and 3 pitches ran with water. On that attempt Nathan and I were both sending the route up to the Enduro corner with Nathan falling just once on the crux, and me following it cleanly after probably 10 quick-succession attempts. Sadly, we both fell trying to lead the Enduro (I recall falling after placing the final piece on the pitch while climbing in fleece pants and jeans plus a hooded puffy, stocking cap, and 3 other long sleeve layers.) With a warmed up body and beta I toproped the pitch cleanly and hoped to continue albeit it with a large asterisk if neither of us lead this 2nd-hardest pitch. Nathan wasn't motivated to attempt to redpoint it either, and didn't want to try and follow it, so we bailed, rapping the lower ~80% of El Cap in ~3hrs. I've believed that with warmer and dryer conditions or more determination we could have sent the whole route, so I've had it in my mind ever sense. But after climbing the final few pitches, it is certainly possible they could have shut us down as well as we were both wet from the Sewer pitch, our rope was wet, and the long exposed final belays would have been frigid between difficult climbing. One benefit of the bad weather on that attempt was that Nathan and I mostly had the wall to ourselves and I had now done all but the final 5 pitches.

Scott and I experienced some marginal weather of a different sort, and we had the wall entirely to ourselves until encountering folks ascending up as we rappelled from the summit. 

Day 1:  The forecast was for calm and 88 degrees and we were still a bit sore from hauling our water and food to the "ear" pitch during the heat of an afternoon 2 days prior (Scott doing about 90% of the hauling labor). Rather than start early AM and sacrifice sleep (plus be forced to fester all afternoon on an oven-like ledge 800' up) we spent the day chugging water and sitting in the river until I began leading my block of the climb shirtless and still sweating at 5:30pm. I lead the first 4 guidebook pitches, Scott lead the next 4, and we were simulclimbing up the 90m of 5.8 terrain to west end of Mammoth Terrace by 8:30. Unfortunately our headlamps were with our stashed bag on a ledge 400' down and left, but I had grabbed a tiny Petzl E-lite from my car at the last second and I handed it to Scott to finish leading the simulclimb then downclimb 130' from Mammoth to Heart Ledge while I climbed and belayed "by braille".  I was alone atop Freeblast in blackness shouting down to Scott who had accidentally downclimbed 10m too far when greeted by questions and headlamps of 2 aid climbers already bedded down for the night on a lower ledge. Shouting into the windy darkness below didn't produce reliable communication and I didn't think I could throw a rope end down for Scott to reach even if I were able to get him to untie from the rope and tie our e-Lite to its end for me to pull up.  So I rappelled the fixed line between ledges rather than downclimb the blocky ~5.9 section. Scott re-ascended in the dark to Heart ledge and met me, and then just a single pitch remained between us and our sleeping bags. Scott went first and quickly sent with a tiny headlight to illuminate the 4 key holds (this pitch is basically 5.10b V4) and luckily there was some old mystery rope between anchors, so he clipped the E-Lite to a locker and slid it down the mystery rope to me on Heart Ledge. I cleanly followed the pitch on self-belay as Scott broke out our sleeping kits and we were soon bedded down for the night on Lung Ledge.  

Day 2: We didn't bother setting wakeup alarms since our schedule had us climbing just 4-6 guidebook pitches a day. On day 2 we hauled a ~25lb bag and wanted to finish up by climbing the Monster Offwidth in the shade, which meant before 11:30AM. The first time up this section of wall I had been surprised how FAR one climbs down on the Hollow Flake pitch. I'd also forgotten how hard/tricky the very start of the pitch is, though maybe it was because cruxy blind downclimbing moves are a strange way to start the day. I had lead the Hollow Flake previously, and did so again, plcing no pieces but walking up a borrowed #7 cam. On the prior outing Nathan and I had lost a #6 camalot into the void of the giant flake when Nathan had untied from one end of the rope and retied into the other while transitioning from cruxy downclimbing to easy upclimbing. With the cam itself no longer clipped to either rope, the #6 in a tipped-out spot had been bumped loose and fallen to its demise in the gutter of El Cap. After Scott did the downclimb (belayed through a carabiner we left behind at the anchor) I untied from my end and lowered it down to him so he could up-climb the hollow flake itself. I lead off again through an easy runout chimney pitch, then Scott lead the next 2 pitches quickly (follower microtraxing, and leader hauling with 5mm tag line and 1:1 using 2 microtrax devices.) We were soon at the Monster, which Scott styled onsight, finishing just before the sun came around the corner. He took just a #6 from the belay, then tagged over some water, a #5, a #7, and a couple QDs at a bolted pedestal 1/4 of the way up. I had lead this pitch the prior outing and both times was glad to have a neoprene sleeve on my left knee and left elbow. We both wore them again (sending them down the tag line from leader to follower) and I think they are especially helpful if your pants or jacket are a lightweight "technical" fabric rather than canvas or denim. Scott set up the (now much heavier) haul, since it included both bags and all our gear, water, and food. Since the pitch begins with a ~10m diagonal downclimb, it requires belaying rather than microtraxing, and as I took rests at 3 spots on the pitch, Scott would resume hauling as I watched our gear getting drug up the now-vertical wall 20' to my right. I lead the final short OW/stem pitch to the alcove and we made some lunch and called it a day. ~20 hours after starting up we were halfway up the wall the alcove with plenty of food, water, and enthusiasm.

Day 3: I woke up sore in weird and little-used core and hip/thigh muscles from the bizarre wrestling match of wide climbing, and from a night of sleeping in a little inverted hammock position, with my waist higher than my head or feet. I should have brought a more plush thermarest to pad out those kind of things on the rock ledges. I lead the block of 3 pitches up to the crux, where we planned to take turns trying the boulder problem. The first pitch I've seen uncharitably rated 5.9, and it's not actually shown on most topos. I'd call it 5.11- and blue collar and noticed it is shown and rated .11a in the new Yosemite Big Walls book. It's 50m and requires a generous rack and running it out to start in order to avoid rope drag. Don't step foot on El Cap Spire but stay to the right up the corner with flakes. The next pitch is a very soft 5.10d (Euro Huber grade for perfect hands in a corner) and I found the 3rd pitch (.11c R, but probably more like 5.11c w/5.10R) much more pleasant this time around, as it was dry and not as cold, and I knew the rack beta and remembered some moves. Scott followed cleanly and soon we were at the Boulder. He went up first to hang draws and started working the pitch. I had written down my sequence and Scott was trying it as well as some other beta that might be tall-person appropriate. The only real difference between my beta (I'm 5'8" w/normal reach) and the more "tall" beta is I never match the left-hand thumb undercling, and I step my right foot past (and under) my left foot after I grab the sloper. The crux for me is the reachy karate kick at the left end of the traverse, and I find that turning my left palm down into a press/mantle really helps. I wore both puffies to belay as Scott tried various moves and positions, as it was probably in the high 40s and breezy, with rain clouds building. Scott took a rest and I tied in, first just warming up with a few moves here and there as I brushed holds and retried the sequences. I soon took off a coat and tried it from the belay (I think toproping from the anchor) and did every move up to the Karate kick, where I fell. I took a rest and let Scott keep working it. He kept having his left foot slip off during the left-hand move to the thumb undercling, and perhaps this move is easier for shorter people who can perch more on their right foot. He lowered off the crux bolt after sticking individual moves multiple times and I quickly tied to his end and started up, wearing a hooded fleece, softshell, and light puffy, relaxedly toproping the first few meters. The cold rock felt pretty grippy and I was soon hanging from the sloper, foot pointed left, crux bolt clipped out right, and ready to try my semi-mantle into a karate kick. I palmed in and down with my left hand, smashing jacket cuffs against the rock. I turned out my right hip, brought up my right foot, hollered an angry yell, and kicked the wall hard. My foot stuck and I kept pressing hard off the sloper, spanning out to latch the edge with a whoop of joy. I carefully clipped a green camalot and then cautiously finished up the 30' of .10- jugs to the anchor - then lowered to brush holds while thinking of things I could do to help Scott send. I settled in to belay, happy to live with my asterisk of a preclipped bolt right of the crux. Scott attempted the moves and sequences for another few minutes, but still wasn't reliably able to keep his feet on during the leftward traverse. The rain clouds made themselves known as fat drops began hitting our helmets. We fixed our climbing rope and rapped to the alcove, our haul line had already been left tied to the first pitch above the ledge. We had brought a silnylon tarp that we set up into a pretty good crosswording and Ramen shelter during the afternoon, and Scott managed to download and solve (via smartphone) one of the greatest crosswords of all time as the rain fell. 



But foolishly we had gotten optimistic at night, thinking things had cleared (I was beneath the tarp in the cramped cave space in the Alcove ledge while Scott was on his 1-person inflatable portaledge in the open when nighttime rains started and stopped and started again, requiring lots of midnight shenanigans in order to keep dry.) We woke up having spent the prior 18 hours lounging, but with very little sleep. 

Day4: Scott was determined to try the crux again for a while and then continue regardless of outcome, so we packed up most of our stuff into 1 bag, and jumared up to the boulder problem, hauling via 1:1. After 30 minutes of fairly demoralizing attempts, he was close to calling it quits until I again suggested he check out the Teflon Corner somewhere to the left, and out of view around an arete. This parallel pitch ends at the same anchor/ledge as the boulder problem, and is reached by walking left 2 pitches lower and doing a 5.10 approach pitch instead of the .11cR pitch we'd done the day before. Scott lowered down out of view, clipped something as a directional as he didn't have a single carabiner on his harness, and told me he'd found the Teflon. It was interesting to belay a famous pitch without actually seeing it, but I could tell Scott was quickly looking at redemption. After brushing some holds and chalking some smears, he was able to almost climb the whole thing. In just 2 real tries from the belay ledge he managed to toprope this alternate option without falling - and though I was belaying I only ever saw the fingertips of his right hand as he reached the end of difficulties. He said there were a 3 fixed steel draws and about 20' of hard climbing above the belay, so he'd probably have fallen farther on our circuitous blind toprope than if I'd grabbed our bags, swung over, pulled the rope and belayed him from below as per normal. Given how quickly he climbed this, I think more folks should try the teflon corner, especially if you aren't an avid boulderer and it's not wet due to early spring runoff. He never tried the alternate approach pitch  (P.20 or so) that leads to the Teflon, but he had already climbed a much harder approach pitch to the boulder problem. 

(I recognize the black stripe of rock from seeing its continuation out right - it marked the end of the Teflon difficulties)

Scott then lead the 45m (Dry! Fun this time!) "sewer" pitch to the block ledge, and hauled our bag and set up camp as I followed. Later than morning we did 3 more pitches, with Scott leading the first two (.10c Flakes, and .11c/d corner which I followed cleanly) and me tackling the 5.12b Enduro corner, the climb's 2nd hardest pitch. This had been the high point 3 years prior, and I told Scott via text I wanted to lead it. After jumaring, belaying, and following, it was my first lead of the day and it loomed large in my mind and on my nerves. The sun had come out after the lower corner pitch but it still wasn't too hot, yet I nervously aided off 2 weird cams in bashed out piton holes, then clipped cord slung around a bashed in square of metal before lowering back to the belay stance to stretch out, shake my nerves, sort my rack to my left hip, and begin with a stick clip to avoid the chance of falling onto Scott's head from the insecure starting moves. The thought of freesoloing this or the next pitch make me want to vomit. I was a half-second shy of saying "take" after shakily placing a yellow alien 10m up, but fought the impulse and kept fighting, soon clipping a string of fixed wires that I assumed were at least mostly bomber since I couldn't see them but knew this pitch sees frequent traffic from aid and freeclimbers. After the thin stemming and tips laybacks, the world's pumpiest hand crack (thin, flaring, leaning, smooth, and shallow, yet accepting of bomber cams) stood between me and the anchor at the Salathe roof. I placed a piece or 2 more than I needed to, and was hyperventilating with adrenaline, fear, and lack of cardio fitness as I laybacked the rounded flake and got a few feet above the #3 camalot I'd fallen on 3 years prior. Scott was his classically supportive self, telling me to gun it as I was "super safe", and I managed to keep pushing and hang on by the skin of my teeth to clip the anchor and yell "rope fixed." We rappeled (50m+ 45m) to the Block Ledge and did crosswords.


Day5: I used my nearly powerless phone to text full-spraydown beta requests from our awesome friends Kerwin and SJ, both of whom had generously loaned us a big cam for the climb and knew it well. Neither Scott nor I had ever seen the upcoming 3 pitches (the independent "Freerider" ones) as he'd only aid climbed the original Salathe Wall years ago, and I had rappelled from this point on my prior attempt. Armed with some great info and encouragement received overnight, we began up the final morning with just a light bag of some water and puffies. Scott went first so he could try and cleanly self-belay both of the prior day's 2 final corner pitches. Having spent so much of the morning trying (and then climbing) the boulder problem and Teflon on the prior day as I rested, he had run out of steam and fallen at the top of both the .11c and .12b corners. As I cleaned up camp and then slowly jumared to meet him, he reworked these pitches in the cool air and did them clean on minitrax self-belay. I soon racked up to begin leading the final 5.12 pitch of the route. Our day would consist of 3 real pitches and 3 cruisers to finish up the wall. At this point we were both sending with a couple asterisks - notably me having skipped the downclimb in the dark and Scott having climbed the 5.11 Boulder Problem approach pitch instead of the parallel 5.10 Teflon approach pitch. I'd been told the upcoming traverse pitch connecting the Salathe Wall to Round Table Ledge was soft for .12a, and required only a few cams. I agree with that assessment, but since you are climbing up and around some aretes and corners, it is impossible to see moves, rests, or gear beforehand and would be logistically difficult to redpoint after a fall anywhere beyond the opening moves. More cruxy layback downclimbs with smear feet soon had me out of view from Scott, but I took my time on the short pitch and overgripped my way to the anchor, hauling over the lowered-out bag and belay Scott with whom I couldn't really communicate. I'd heard Round Table Ledge called a "great" bivy, but thought it was too multi-tiered and exposed to be so regarded. Unlike Hollow Flake, the Alcove, or the Block, you wouldn't ever want to untie and you might not be able to sit/eat/cook together with your partner. And you are only a few pitches from the top. Scott followed cleanly as I shouted beta and encouragement down and across the void. The next pitch, given .11d, seemed graded based for Euro/Huber crack climbers. We both thought it was a great meat-and-potatoes ~.11-, reminiscent of the South Platte. This pitch is also sheltered from the wind and doesn't really hang out over the wall, despite starting with a section of overhanging red camalots. But the final hard pitch, which features a 10m "Scotty B" offwidth, is probably the most exposed pitch I've ever climbed. It's basically an overhanging (initially) finger crack splitting an arete on the left edge of the Salathe headwall, which disappears from view 40' above the nearly hanging belay. The first section is an overgraded 5.11d, which transitions to #6/#5 camalot crack after a small stance with a bolt. Scott styled this pitch after a battle to free a large cam he'd gotten stuck, and he was glad for the info to save his #4 camalot for high on the pitch, near where a variation of the Salathe Wall comes in from the right. The wind had really picked up by the time I began following, and I could barely hear a yell I assumed meant "rope fixed" before the tag line came tight and I watched our small bag go flying out across space, 3000' off the ground. With 50m of skinny rope to stretch in the event of a fall, and the tail end of my rope whipping horizontally across the wall to my right, I tied a backup knot in the microtraxing line (something rarely done) and focused on the job of finshing up the final pitch. After the initial finger crack Scott had clipped his helmet and some superfluous rack to the bolt, so I took on board this extra kit, tied another backup knot, and laybacked into the Scotty B offwidth, making sure not to layback too far since it looked as though the smears and foot chips were ending. After a crux move establishing into the crack, it really wasn't long until my left hand could get jams at the end of my reach, and I was soon motoring up geologically bizarre but easier final section to a sunny ledge. From here it was a couple easy glory pitches to the summit, and 4-5hrs of rappels as we recollected our gear, ditched surplus water, and zipped down the fixed lines to hot dinner provided by Scott's girlfriend on the ground, and some champagne and oreos, provided by some tourist el-cap watchers we befriended.

Upon hitting the 800' fixed lines from Heart Ledge to the ground, I verbally contemplated ascending and then downclimbing the blocky corner to the right that I'd rappelled in the dark our first evening. Scott's reply was to enjoy myself and self belay - and that he was headed down the slab to a cold beer. I had the opportunity. I'll live with the asterisk. 

Happy to be back at Heart Ledge
Headed for a beer


[Soapbox Alert] - El Cap has never been onsighted or flashed, by any route, by anyone, ever. A few climbers have come close. Each is a much more skilled and accomplished climber than myself. But nobody has started up a route they hadn't tried before and climbed to the top (even sharing leads) without falling on at least one pitch. Here are a few close calls - at least one of which had the climber publicly claiming he Flashed the route despite climbing the route in 2 parts between a rest on the ground, and after a fall on his first choice of cruxes. Your flash chance awaits, Josh Wharton![/Soapbox]

-Mike Anderson (of training guru fame) came very close, but had already aided most of the route on a prior trip, and then on his free ascent of Freerider he climbed for a few days, got halfway up, descended, travelled to a different state, returned, jumared back up, and did the remainder of the climb. I believe he climbed every pitch on the route in 2 halves free during 2 different outings, after previously aiding many of them (and I'd imagine freeing a few during that prior climb).

- Cedric Lachat - Climbed the first 10 pitches, then came off the climb and spent some time on the ground, then began (via ascending fixed ropes) atop the first 10 pitch. He then fell on the crux pitch that he chose, rappeled down, climbed to a separate pitch he could have chosen, and did that first try. He fell nowhere else on the route. That isn't flashing El Cap (and I don't think Lachat made that claim).

Peter Whittaker - Peter seems to have done the exact same thing as Cedric Lachat, just 5 years later and with a lot more publicity. When you have options of how to ascend part of the route, part of climbing and trying "flash" the whole wall is choosing correctly the one that you can do first try! You don't get do-overs on your decisions or your climbs. Route finding (both on a pitch, and among options for pitches to ascend through a particular stretch of wall) is part of the skill of a climber. Some pitches can also be climbed in 2 completely separate manners via totally different difficulty levels and physical demands (stemming or face climbing outside a chimney vs squirming in the back of it, hand traversing a narrow rail vs foot traversing, etc) - of course it would be nonsense to fall using one method, then attempt a totally different method to reach the same end and claim you did something "first try" - and it's the same on a larger scale in the climb - if you fell after trying "Pitch A" to reach a given point on the route, you stopped flashing the route. Just because you then descend and choose a backup option to reach that same point on the route doesn't mean you're flashing the route. It means you did your backup choice first try. Gold Star. 

-Ueli Steck nearly onsighted Golden Gate, leading and hauling on every pitch. He fell only on a sandbagged .11c pitch off El Cap Spire (which was wet, and which he didn't actually need to climb, since there is a .10+ corner a little to the right. But you don't get any do-overs on choosing pitches on your route!)

- Ondra and Yuji - I believe that the Czech and Japanese climbing gurus both tried to onsight the Salathe Wall and fell on the headwall. Ondra hadn't fallen until then, and I don't believe Yuji had either (but as Chris Farley says - "I don't speak Japanese") - It seems highly probable that 1 or both could have onsighted El Cap if choosing to finish via the Freerider option. 



Freeblast BETA OVERLOAD


Bivies: For most of us who aren't honed valley locals nor people making many attempts and rap-in recon days trying a route way above our heads, it makes sense to climb FR in ~26 pitches climbing 3-4 days with bivies for 2 (not requiring a portaledge) atop P7 ("Peanut Pitch" off Heart Ledge) or P8 (Hollow Flake) then P13 (Alcove) and P18 (Block Ledge - sloping but spacious). It's also possible to bivy atop P22 (Round Table Ledge) but that spot seemed exposed to wind, only got very late sun, and at that point you are only 2 non-trivial pitches from the top.

Rack: 1x Purple C3, Green C3, #4C4, #5C4, #6C4, #7C4 (or merlin 8, or VG),1x offset cams tips to #.5/#.75combo, 2x Red C3thru #3C4, Single set offset nuts, 8x alpine qds, 4-5x normal QDs, 1-2 48" slings. You don't need anything bigger than a single #3C4 for Freeblast.

Other weird skills/gear: Layback downclimbing w/smear feet, left-facing layback upclimbing and downclimbing, left-side-in right-facing offwidth, vert bouldering. Consider wearing a burly cut off 1/2 sock (no need for the front/toe half of the sock) on your left foot for the Monster, Scott, Burke, and pitch above the alcove, and on your right foot for the Hollow Flake. Consider neoprene volleyball elbow/knee sleeve for the Monster, especially if it's too warm to wear layers and longsleeves. Nice to have 1 large haulbag and 1 small one, as well as a ~5mm tag line and a ~9mm static 60mm rope. Hand Jams and/or tape are useful only above P13 (Alcove). The second #3 camalot is really just helpful for the 2 pitches off Round Table Ledge.


P1: 10c 50m Link P1/P2. Cracks.  Save #3 for top.

P2: 5.11- 50m Link P3/P4 Wires/cams from smallest to #.75.   Low crux then chill stemming w/many fixed pieces and pins.

P3: 35m 5.11b Offset cams + single set tips to #1C4. Tricky flares w/offsets. Crux @ bolt 4-5, moving right good feet, no hands. Stay right at ending.

P4: 30m 11a Draws and slings only. Stay high and right at crux, traverse straight left at the pin.


P5 85m 5.10b Full Rack. Mostly 5.8-5.9, the only 5.10 portion is turning "half dollar" roof, and next 8m. Face out, use arete. Simul to make

link happen or break up w/belay before roof. Anchor is pitons/gear.

P6: 60m 5.8 to the top of Mammoth Ledge. Downclimb is 5.9 andblocky, 10' skier’s L from the anchor with fixed rope @W. end of ledge. Stay "outside" edge of corner on

downclimb. Down-lead or other weird shenanigans for 2nd climber. Leader needs device to belay 2nd (can't Microtrax)

HEART LEDGE

P7:35m5.10V4Slab(.11c)1xGreenC3 to #2. Semi-blind step to large match foot below crux bolt. Key right foot smear crystal for crux. There are 2

anchors atop this pitch. The right one works fine for belaying or rapping to heart w/70m.

P7.1: 20m 5.6 Move belay, bring a .4 or .5 to protect leaning to clip anchor.

P8: (Hollow Flake) ~60m 5.11(down) 5.9+ (up) RACK: only #7BD CAM, LEADER BRING ATC. Clip tat or put a leaver biner on stuck locker L. of anchor to protect downclimb. Crux of downclimb is at start, then downclimb long 5.10 LF finger crack. Where crack thins to tips, move left to face hold flakes then back into corner to lowest terrace. Walk left and easy climb up. Bump along #7BD on final 50. Follower gets down-belayed through carabiner

on anchor, then climbs up. Belayer atop pitch unties and throws his end down to the follower who switches ends then gets

belayed up final ~60’ on the strand not going through first anchor. (If leader brought and placed a #6, beware that your untie

and rope switch doesn't dislodge tipped out cam into the abyss.) Leader may need to rappel down/right a few meters from

anchor to swing their end of rope to the follower. Can't Microtrax

P9: 45m .10a Full Rack. Start up chimney face out, after 10m move left around arete into easy cracks and flakes. Clip first anchor in corner.  Move left and use gaston at short 5.10 crux.

P10: 50m .10a Full rack. Really easy up/right at first, then pass ledge with anchor, then up smooth shallow RFC with polished stone - some short airy laybacks, save #4 for high on pitch. 

P11: (Ear) 25m 5.9 cams from #.75 to #5 ~7 slings (+longs) Place #.75, climb to top of corner, clip pin, reach way left blindly around corner. In Ear, traverse straight left face out froggy/scrunchy using double kneebars + improving edges. Flip tag/haul line outside ear.

P12: (Monster) 50m 5.11d Rack: #.4 or #.5 then #5C, #6C, #7, 3 slings 2 Qds, leader ATC, 5mm tag line, neoprene sleeves, #6 on tether to harness, left hip. Tag over other gear + H2O @ bolted pillar stance, leave H2O for 2nd. #7 fits above this, or bring 2nd #6. Can't Microtrax (5.11+ downclimb, 5.11 sustained OW upclimb)

P13: 10m 5.9+ Short easy OW stem chimney into alcove. Just take #5, #6.

P14: 5.11- 50m full rack to #6, hand jams. Chimney behind tower - run it out for rope drag. Stemming and liebacking on right. Thin cracks on right flake. Save #6 for squeeze chimney at top. Weirdly hard about 30m up laybacking above #5. This is the final use for #6 until Scott Burke (last hard pitch). Fix tag line down this pitch if sleeping @ alcove.

P15 : 5.10a 15m. hin hands (no jammies) Rack 2x #1, and 2x #.75. Go left after bulge - easy to big ledge. (get to Teflon by walk left then up after this pitch) 

P16: 20m .11c (.10 R, wet) Rack: RPs and Tips to single #1 Thin corner then good #1 in base of flake, marginal tips cams higher in flake. Blind moves right then runout to anchor. Belay under boulder. 

P17 :(Boulder Problem) 20m 13a (3x draws, 2 slings, #.75) (Can fix a 60 from atop this pitch to top of P14)

Good beta around 18min here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CikzYN0z4zU

There are 3 bolts. There’s a nice flat ledge 1 bolt up (basically a 2nd tier belay ledge you could use instead, less windy), then a thin no-hands rest at bolt #2 by leaning right, then bolt #3 before the crux. If you’re under 6’ it is likely hard to aid up from bolt #2 to #3 to hang draw and pull through without doing the move. From the anchor atop the BP, you can lower hard left down into the Teflon. I didn't match the thumbercling, just kept my right hand on the crimp. Palm down/in w/left hand on sloper @ crux kick.

P18: (Sewer) 5.10+ 45m (30m + 15m) Full rack to #5. Hand jammies Sewer when dry is a fun face climbing pitch on black rock. Crux final 15m (Save #2, #1, #.75, #.4or#.5)

P19: (Flakes) 5.10c 45m Rack Tips-> #1C4, all slings. Easy loose flakse up to flat ledge. Look up/right and see a flake leading to lower off aid mank. Ignore that.

Go left->Up (blind & straight left at first) on runout flakes. committing mantles and reaches to fingers/hands in a crack.

Crux is ~⅔ height where a bomber pin w/reinforced tieoff protects a reach. 

P20: 25m 5.11c Rack: 1x blue alien, 1x #3, doubles thin fingers to #2 & 5-6 draws. No nuts. Crux is ~8m before top, at rounded leftward bulge. First half of pitch very easy, rest up then punch it. 

P21: (Enduro Corner) 25m .12b Rack 1x cams/nuts tips to #3, 2x #1, #2, ~7 draws, larger offset cams

Funk start (#2, #1 in pods off belay, fixed bashie, kneebars), stemming and jamming in the middle (fixed wires or tips cams), jam then

layback the top (hand cams thin->#3). Crux high.

P22: 20m 5.11+ Rack: 1x cams .4-#3, no nuts, 6 slings, ATC belay follower. Movement easy for grade but can't preview moves or gear + cruxy to reverse/redpoint so fall is consequential. Can't Microtrax. End @ Round Table Ledge (OK Bivy)

P23: 35m .11- Rack: Single #.4,#.5 Doubles .75-#3, single #4. ~6 slings. Hand Jammies. (11d is euro/Huber grade) Jam (w/stem,chimney) thin hands to #3s. Rest in chimney. Pop right out of chimney (#.75 here) hands/fingers to belay. #1 is

nice for the end. (P23, P24, and maybe P14 above alcove are only reasons for 2nd #3Cam).


P24: (Scott Burke) LAST REAL PITCH! 50m 5.11. Rack: 1x Red C3->#6, doubles #3, doubles #.4,#.5,#.75s for start TAPE hands plus crack gloves 

5.11- start burly finger locks w/ many jugs, little corner switches. Possible cramped nook belay 40’ up.  Pull over bulge into W #6. Clip bolt on R. No-hands stance under bolt. Possible to layback and smear via foot chips, especially for 2nd. Burn #6,

walk #5, then walk #4, place #3, save #4 on harness. Left side in, reach way back for LH jams.

After crack convergence/chimney, place #4. After you reach the OW+bolt you don't want anything smaller than #3

on your harness, so you could clip leftovers to bolt. Hard to hear follower, microtrax works fine. If super runout near top on

easy terrain below anchor, look right and there’s a bolt where a Salathe variation comes in from Long Ledge.

P25: 25m .10+ thin hands Rack: 2x .4-#2 Crack/flake, easier for small hands. No tape gloves. Up 5.5 slab in alcove.

P26: 20m 5.9 V2 (or 5.11-) Rack: smattering of gear, few long slings, no big gear. Clip pins, grab horizontal near pin, heel out left, rock up and mantle. Wiggle into chimney, clip tat, wiggle out of chimney into layback. Good feet on left wall. Face west. 12’ of layback, juggy hands to summit slabs, then 20m 5.6 glory knobs to summit.  







1.02.2020

Kyparissi/Leonidio Climbing & Travel

Tufa madness of Leodokardos at Babala. It's like a kneebar/pinch 201 class.

I recently spent 3 weeks on mainland Greece, climbing in the newly developed areas of Kyparissi and Leonidio about a 4hr drive SW of Athens. There was a fair amount of recently posted info on Leonidio online, mostly from European sources, but quite a bit less of Kyparissi. I have read, enjoyed, and benefited immensely from travel blogs in the past and figured our experiences there would be of benefit to others planning trips. I was with an eclectic (skills and motivation-wise) group from the northwest, so we ended up sampling quite an array of walls in the area.

General Greek Travel/Culture


  • We spent nearly all our time in small towns and villages and the people of Greece, even in town now being semi-overrun by infusions of (mostly europe) clown-pants looking goofy climbers, are some of the warmest, most welcoming, and patient people I've ever met.
  • The environment (natural) along the beaches, forests, and crags, was very clean and there was much less trash and human impact than most crags I've seen in Spain and most beaches in the USA.
  • Prices for lodging and food are very cheap relative to the USA and Canada. We had private apartments in small towns and/or adjacent to beaches for $25-$35 a night.
  • I had no idea how much climbing amid diverse landscapes exists in Greece. After reading various guidebooks and travel book I'd love to visit Crete and some of the inland Crags northeast of Athens.

Climbing

Carpe Diem (8a) Babala Wall Kyparissi

  • Leonidio itself had a huge number of fairly moderate European climbers. Most of the walls face south/ish. That combination made it difficult for the newer or more moderate members of our group to find walls to go to. There was often a hurried or stressed vibe at the walls due to crowds and/or short time periods before or after the sun.
  • After now 4 trips to Europe for limestone sport cragging, I've never really seen climbs or a wall with climbs under ~7a+ (.12a) that I though was worthy travelling for. Most of the routes in that grade seem legitimately bad. I think granite or gneiss generally produce better 5.10 and 5.11 sport climbs than limestone.
  • It was definitely too hot to climb in the sun in November.
  • Of all the walls around Leonidio, the only truly "great" (and I don't use that standard lightly) sectors with at last 6 excellent travel-worthy routes were: Elona, Twin Caves, and Nifada. I heard mixed but at least some good things about Limeri and H.A.D.A. but I didn't get the impression that either really compared with excellent walls one might encounter in Spain.
  • At Elona climb "Kopa Cabana" (.12+/.14-), at Nifada climb "Forever Wings" (5.13) and at Twin Caves climb everything on the left side of the amphitheater. 
  • Overall I'm not sure of the ideal climber for a visit strictly to Leonidio. I think it would be a group who highly valued beach access (5 min drive), cute town elements, and didn't mind some crowded cragging with a lot of variety and hopping around from wall to wall to wall different days.
  • Our group thought probably the best wall in the 5.11 and low 5.12 range was Jupiter, which faced due north and had millions of pockets, with most climbs in/around vertical. It was great but not typical Euro limestone.
  • Kyparissi - This tiny town about 35k (and 70min drive) south of Leonidio had far fewer people, higher quality climbing, and mostly harder routes than Leonidio. All of these factors made it less crowded. The beaches were stunning and most of this climbing was very shaded in November. It could be a good spot for climbing even in Apri, May, or September.
  • The "Watermill" wall is practically in the town of Kyparissi itself, and is good but quite small. It basically has 6 good put not great mid-length climbs, all a little soft, in the 5.12/5.13 range. It's a nice diversion but not destination worthy.
  • Babala wall is definitely the best wall in the region. It faces ENE and sits ~2000' above the coastline, reached by a 15 minute drive and 40 min hike from Kyparissi. The wall has endurance marathon climbs on tufas and pockets. There are probably more truly excellent 5* routes at this wall than all the other walls within 60 miles. The climbing mostly starts at .12+/.13-. Every route I tried or did there was good to great so I recommend anything there. If you want tufa madness of crazy kneebars and pinches, "Leodokardos" is described in a guidebook as justifying a trip to Greece on its own. For something with steep pockets and power moves, check out Carpe Diem. 


Babala Wall
More Babala wall

9.16.2019

Miracle Whip Topo

With buddies Mike Pond and Austin Siadak I recently scrubbed, reconnoitered, and made a free ascent of the headwall  atop the "Miracle Whip" route on Colchuck Balanced Rock, which finishes a line first attempted by myself and Scott Bennett 7 (wow!) years ago. After freeing the first few moderate pitches quickly ground up (2 are good, 2 are forgettable, it's all a bit scruffy) I took an enormous fall while standing on a pillar trying to build a belay. I ripped out a cam in some grainy rock and badly hurt my ankle.

A couple summers ago I went back up there with Max Tepfer and we reclimbed the lower pitches and placed a couple bolts below the crux section of the headwall (Scott and I certainly would have been shut down in this section on our attempt even in full aid mode, as we had only cams and nuts) but neither Max nor I freeclimbed the headwall. I believe I only tried TRing it, and failed.

A couple weeks ago I returned for a day trip with friends Mike Pond and Austin Siadak, who both helped scrub and brush and chalk and prep the top of the wall and hammer in a 3rd protection bolt at the crux plus one at the pedestal belay under the headwall where a small stance exists a couple feet left of a crack.

I redpointed the pitch (though there were 2 directional pieces left over in a non cruxy lefward section from our cleaning/bolting/rappel work.) Overall we all agreed it's possibly the best single pitch in the Enchantments, with a very sport climbing or endurance-based feel to it. Take care to sling out your gear and manage pump and rope drag. There no single killer crux if you're at least 5'8", it's just an unusual style for the mountains. The gear-protected climbing is probably .12a or so, and the crux comes after a 3- bolt long boulder problem near the top, something like v5-v7 depending on height and beta.

For the headwall in particular (which realistically is worth rapping in or doing via the west face start) I'd suggest triples (even 4 wouldn't go unused) of yellow aliens and/or stoppers in the #9 BD range, and nothing larger than a couple #1 camalots. Both obvious flakes seem quite stable and were pulled on, kicked, and knocked with a hammer. For a good challenge, and certainly the hardest route in the area, it would be possible to start via The Tempest P1,P2,P3 into the Miracle Whip finish. This contrived combination would feature 2 memorable hard pitches of very very different styles. I suspect if it does see traffic it will mostly be via the first couple hundred feet of the West Face which is a very fast and clean approach allowing for quick access via pleasant warmup.

Edit - after a repeat by Nathan Hadley and a couple attempts by other experienced climbers, this might be more likely .`13a, especially if you aren't tall.

11.14.2018

Getting Better at Getting Better

What expenditures of your time or money are the most efficient at generating improvement in your totality of climbing accomplishments?


  • Guidebooks - Buying a book and consistently browsing through it for inspiration and information is an underrated mechanism towards actually getting yourself to the top of something.
  • Meaningful partnerships - Climb with ambitious climbers who challenge you. Be reluctant to consistently climb with others who are complacent or who are worse climbers than you.
  • Learn your weaknesses - When you team up with a climber who is (broadly) worse than you, find specific ways that he or she is more competent. Learn about their specific strengths.
  • Guiding - Find a specific highly-accomplished guide/instructor. Pay them for a day of climbing on a specific route or at a new crag that you feel would otherwise be slightly above your ability to tackle. Ask many many questions. Include the question "How would you be doing this if I were your partner and not a paying student". 
  • Classes - Be reluctant to substitute social and political capital for competency in choosing instruction or knowledge sources.
  • Advice Skepticism - The person who "achieves the most via the least" likely has far greater insight into achieving goals than does someone who has "achieved the most with the most".

11.06.2018

Dials Not Switches



I just spent a weekend instructing climbing skills at an American Alpine Club event in Bishop. One takeaway from talking with a wide range of climbers: binary thinking (all/nothing, single solution, etc) is far too common and usually misses the point of a change or improvement.

Most challenges in life aren't going to be solved by "a solution" or "the solution" but instead by a variety of complementary nudges that move us in one direction via small increments. Hearing someone on the radio talk about "THE solution to climate change" is as silly as being asked "THE way to climb long routes faster". Often we may not even know for sure that these changes will steer us directly at a solution so much as slowly steer us away from an error or distraction. (It's why this well-reasoned website is called "Less Wrong", not "More Correct".)

After suggesting to someone that for their upcoming planned goal climb they don't bring along their cumbersome and tangleable personal anchor daisy chain or several very large HMS lockers, they incredulously looked at me and asked "Will that really make the difference?" But this question misses the point. They were thinking in switches, not dials. It will make a difference, and that difference will help move the dial towards where they want to be.

11.01.2018

Footwork and Headspace: Underrated.



Freedom or Death 5.12a

Earlier this year I got the chance to climb around on the East Face of Liberty Bell with my friend Scott Bennett, who had just completed a continuous push of running the 100+ mile Wonderland Trail while climbing Mt. Rainier twice. Scott was in very very good cardio and "suffering" shape, but had hardly been rock climbing and basically lacked any kind of forearm or finger strength, and was barely able to comfortably wear rock shoes. We decided to go rock climbing.

Despite having (a couple days earlier) fallen off a .12a permadrawed sport climb that he'd done before, Scott was able to style his was up the onsight of the long crux pitch of "Freedom or Death" while fighting off heinous mosquitos and despite already having just climbed and rappelled the whole East Face via "Live Free or Die!". The mosquito swarm, tiny holds, and sloppy shoes didn't hold him back because the long crux pitch relies on intricate footwork, careful planning, slab balance skills, and maintaining a cool head. It's also a pitch that I'm sure would be more difficult than the .12a sport climb for 90% of climbers. It was a stark reminder that for most granite climbing, knowing how to climb correctly and calmly is far more important than what you have on your feet or how many pounds you can dangle off your waist while you fingerboard.



(Freedom or Death - climbers is Chris Allen, photos Forest Woodward)











10.27.2018

Stop Trying So Hard (AKA the TC Production Function)

Blogging generally, including this blog, has seemed to fall out of use. I do think that blogs are generally underrated and deserve somewhat of a comeback, as a good means of posting frequent updates or links which will remain searchable, browsable, and commentable, without the self-obsessed nature and privacy concerns of facebook or instagram.

You are probably falling off "easy" terrain at a sub-optimally low rate. You're probably trying too hard when you climb, and it is making you unnecessarily tired. I know I am.

Alex Honnold stumbles onto a peculiar and little-discussed element of the Tommy Caldwell long route performance algorithm: don't try any harder than minimum necessary. Be barely not falling, even on easy terrain.


"I've seen him just randomly fall off many times."
"In some ways that's the more efficient way to climb."

The exception would be on extremely runout and non-steep terrain, when a fall on easy ground would be disastrous.

6.17.2018

Fred's Legacy




Last October, I was tethered to a tree just one pitch below the summit of Liberty Cap, in Yosemite National Park, when I learned that Fred Beckey had died. I learned it from my wife, back home in Washington State, when I’d called asking her to google the words “how to descend Liberty Cap.” I had no idea how to get down from the dark summit, which loomed a pitch above, but I thought we had our route in the bag. Just a mossy 5.8 slab to go. My friend Austin and I had climbed a recently-freed route named Mahtah on an obscure face high above the valley, because we wanted a shadier, higher elevation adventure to escape the heat and crowds of El Cap. We hadn’t scoped a descent, but hadn’t spent much time scoping the route either. I hung in the darkness realizing that I was only up there, clipped to a manzanita 1500’ off the deck, because of my connection with Fred Beckey. I had just chosen this route on the suggestion of friend I’d met three years prior, while out toproping in Leavenworth with Fred.

I’d lowered Fred down from the wall into a dusty and smiling heap below the slab, listening to him talk about wanting to get back up there and give it another go, when a dark haired solo climber cautiously walked over. He quietly introduced himself as Pedro, and asked in a Spanish accent if that was THE Fred Beckey. Pedro, an alpinist from southern Spain, was fresh off an expedition to Alaska. He ended up climbing and staying with me in Leavenworth, and sharing updates from the Revelation Mountains with an ever-inquisitive Fred. I kept in touch with Pedro even while Fred’s health declined and he never made it out climbing with me again. I stayed with Pedro on a trip to Spain and climbed with him, and again in Yosemite Valley. Pedro had recently suggested that I check out Liberty Cap’s route Mahtah, and there I sat: a pitch below the summit, having flashbacks to a grinning Fred and our initial chance meeting at a roadside slab in Leavenworth. 


What makes your climbs memorable? What makes them worthwhile? What brings meaning and significance to our days consumed by schwacking through the wet woods, post-holing around mountains and clawing up rock walls? What makes me, in a recent particular case, want to blindly pad up runout mossy slabs in the dark, with more and more damp, grainy granite between me and the safety of that last bolt? The more I climb—having now been at this sport for 13 years—the more I find its lasting value to be not in the climbing, but in the friendships and human connections sparked when the chips are down. When we inspire one another to try harder, learn more deeply, listen more honestly and send something gnarlier than we could have alone, those partnerships transcend sports.


As a full-time nomadic climber for roughly eight decades, Fred Beckey, who died in late 2017, almost certainly roped up with more individual climbing partners than any other human being. Ever. Those partners include essentially every prominent alpine and rock climber in the USA and Canada from the 1930s to the 1990s. His teammates came from around the world and stretched from the era of jingoistically competitive FAs in the Alps to the expansion of plastic walls into shopping malls and rec centers. Fred made, lost and maintained partners through all of it, without ever tweeting or hashtagging the outdoor industry’s trending topics, and despite having zero Facebook friends. Fred’s partnerships were made by actually speaking with other human beings, either face to face or on the telephone. He’d even meet strangers in person at a climbing area, speak with them about climbing, and then just go climbing. In real life! His major climbing accomplishments have been recounted many times, but his full list of partners is impossible to know. His lists of friends, partners, hosts, local conditions experts and sordid couch mooching opportunities were stored across index cards, rolodex files and his encyclopedic brain. His partners would then often connect when Fred didn’t (or eventually couldn’t) keep pace with his own ambitions and frenetic goals.


It wasn’t only through Fred’s personal climbs that he created these connections. By writing meticulous guidebooks and magazine articles, establishing outstanding new routes and giving reports and photos to the American Alpine Journal, he inspired countless adventures and friendships among people whom he never met, and who haven’t yet been born or picked up a carabiner. The list of best friends and best days on Beckey routes is only going to grow.


It had already been dark for three pitches of the 14-pitch route when I started up the final slab on MahtahBut earlier pitches had followed cracks and corners, features to stick your hands and feet into, or to chimney against. The topo showed two bolts on the last pitch, one of which was just a few meters off the belay. The other sat somewhere in the darkness. I’d done very little pitch-black climbing with just a headlamp. Embarking on the slab I realized how much the ambient reflection from snow and moonlight often aided in nighttime climbing, as well as how much it helped to be following a crack or dihedral in order to orient oneself to the pull of gravity. On the blank friction slab, I couldn’t tell what was nighttime condensation, and what was crystalline mineral. Lighter-toned lichen might blur with cleaned off footholds or quartz bumps. And most disorienting was the lack of true sense of straight up and down, leaving little clue as to how steep the slab was, or how my body angle should be. After a pulse-reducing double quickdraw clip of the lone bolt, I actually tried to downclimb and traverse my way out of the situation by circumnavigating Liberty Cap to an easier summit exit, but all I found were more dead ends and my frozen belayer wondering why my headlamp was growing stronger and closer. I explained the situation to Austin, telling him I was pretty gripped but about to go for it. And then I channeled some Fred Beckey try-hard, figuring that he’d probably managed more than one such feature in climbing boots.


Commiting to the darkness above the bolt was a frightening decision. I tiptoed and balanced my way along faint quartz seams and grainy overlaps, stepping with heightened nerves, caution, almost certainly terrible technique. I feared something as simple as a quick high-step would actually topple me over backward for the ride of my life. After reaching a stunted pine on the summit and and letting out a holler of joy, I cheered on Austin and thanked him for the very frigid and very patient belay. Several days later, re-reading the route description, I saw first ascenionist Cedar Wright call that pitch “the hardest 5.8 slab I’ve ever climbed.” That’s hard for me to say, but it was certainly my slowest. I later told Pedro we’d done the route and finished up in the dark. His response was simply “that slab!”


I am glad to have briefly spent time climbing and skiing with Fred, but even more grateful for the friends like Pedro and Austin, connections made through him and through climbing, who inspire me to try hard and who support me, even when I get gripped on the easy pitches or lose my way in the darkness.