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El Cap prep and lessons from East Buttress of Middle Cathedral

I’ve been home now for a few days, mulling over my most recent Yosemite climbing installment.  In many ways, it was one of the best Yosemite trips I’ve had, but in others it was disappointment.  If you want the one sentence version:  Flashed my hardest granite crack yet, and failed on The Nose on El Capitan.  The story will come out in several postings, because there is just too much to say about the last 10 days in Yosemite

The trip started out well.  I arrived on Thursday morning (5/21) and spent the day in El Cap meadow chatting with Tom Evans (of El Cap Report fame) watching some various parties climb various parts of the route through his scope.

In the evening I racked up for the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral (5.9 A0) with Colin, a partner I found while waiting in line for a spot in Camp 4 early that morning.  I wanted to get one last long easy climb in before heading up El Cap.  This fit the bill perfectly.  In fact, I climbed this once before as my introduction to Yosemite climbing, many years ago.  Back then, this was a really hard climb for me and I didn’t lead much of it — just a few of the easier pitches — and the car-to-car time for us was about 7:30am until 9pm (phew!).

What a difference years of climbing makes!  Colin and I were at the base fairly early, around 6:30am.  There was one party ahead of us just finishing up the first pitch.  They told us we could pass if we caught up to them.  This psyched us up because we thought they might be slow (witness our time from the previous trip!).  I led us through most of the harder and funner climbing.  We passed them between P6 & P7 which was a mistake.  We never climbed fast enough to get completely out of their hair, so we slowed them down a bit, and we also knocked a couple of small rocks down on them out of the final topout gully.

Lesson learned — only pass if you’re going to be fast enough to blast ahead of the slower party.  If you’re both climbing at nearly the same speed, just suck it up and enjoy the day.  Also, if you pass, be extra extra careful to not knock anything down on the party below you.  I remembered there was a gully to the top, but I didn’t remember how chossy it was.  The rope dislodged some small rocks down onto them, which didn’t add to their enjoyment or put them in a very pleasant mood towards us when they topped out.

We made decent time on the climb, and topped out before 1pm.  We waited for them on the top because they had never done the descent before, and I felt bad about causing them problems.  All’s well that ends well though, so I went first and set the rappels in the descent gully, and later that evening I picked up some beer and shared it with them back at the campsite.  It seemed to do the trick.

Other than the passing problem, this was exactly what I was looking for as a prep day for The Nose.   As an added bonus, there are great views of El Cap from the top.  We appeared to be at about the same elevation as El Cap Tower, which gives a whole different perspective on The Nose.

Next up — Failure on the Nose.  Stay tuned.

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