Wow. What a roller coaster. As life is I suppose. The Highest of highs, and Lowest of lows. It’s a beautiful thing really. I’m now in Bishop, California, with my incredible wife Lydia, I don’t mean to brag, but she gets more beautiful with each day:) I am soo lucky. I missed her dearly, I didn’t even realize how much until I saw her at the San Fransisco airport 2 days ago. But there’s a sad truth that when you’re so focused on a project such as the Prophet, time literally just flies by. Days turn into weeks and you don’t even think twice about it. Looking back now, most of it’s a blur.
5 weeks in the Valley, 5 failed ground up attempts, 4 days in Lake Tahoe, 2 days in Santa Cruz, and over 25 days climbing, hiking, rappelling, hauling and slogging. El Cap is a glorious son of a bitch – that’s a fact. And the Prophet, is one of the richest, most deeply rooted climbing experiences I have ever had, with a partner who’s got both a boyish charm, a man’s ambition, and a spirit that’s tougher than leather. It was more like an expedition than a climbing trip.
I’m a little sad, but a little happy to report that this seasons El Cap Chapter has ended. It’s time to shift again. Bishop is a mellow place with lots of sun, a great crew of amazing people, and all I want to climb are tiny little rocks, in fact, the smaller the better, ha ha ha!
In the end, after two snow storms, two flight changes, and after Tommy spent 16 days on the Dawn Wall, Will Stanhope and I got our lucky break. Heading up the day before my birthday, on Nov 14th, and 2 days before Will’s birthday (Novemeber 16th), we embarked on a final attempt and we were the only climbers on all of El Cap. That was an odd but invigorating feeling. Our dream was to breakthrough the “Screamer” pitch on day one, and continue up the wall hauling and grinding on the pitches we had rappelled into and send the entire climb, all free, in one continuous push over 3 days.
The stars were aligning.
To make a long story short. On the very last day, I desperately managed to redpoint the A1 Beauty pitch on my second try in evening light. I was overwhelmed with euphoria. Putting Will on belay, he climbed brilliantly, as he hit his personal high point I thought it was in the bag, he looked calm and strong, he then climbed beyond it, past the crux. It was all happening in slow motion in my eyes. But it WAS happening. Stanhope on the other hand told me later that THAT was when he knew he had nothing left. He hit the end of the rope and swung into the abyss. Weighting the cord for a flash he got back on and continued to the anchor.
We had both given it nearly everything we had. Only saving enough mojo for the next 5.12 pitch and the Final Defence, 5.13-, which we completed by headlamp and adrenalin. The next morning, Will heroically tried the A1 Beauty pitch again. After 3 days of hard, scary climbing, he mustered the energy and psyche for 4 honest attempts at dawn. But ultimately, his skin was too thin, our knuckles swollen, and our muscles aching. We had climbed 6 out of 8 days. He calmly surrendered and vowed to return as soon as possible. There isn’t enough time or words to explain it all, but in a nut shell, I have so much respect for Will’s determination and motivation. He’s one of the best and strongest climbing partners I have ever had and I could not imagine doing the route with anyone else. It was a truly unforgettable experience. I know he’ll be back because that’s the type of person he is, and because he told me before I dropped him off at the airport for a trip to China with Matt Segal and company. We talked about the remarkable failures in climbing, and how in many ways they trump the summits. We grow the most in those moments.
But more than any of that, what I’ll remember forever are the really little things. The chocolate cup cakes Kyle Berkompas rappelled down to us on our birthday, the cold beers we drank on the port-a-ledge on the night of our birthdays, the 50 0r so shooting stars I saw, the cold mornings and hot coffee wrapped up in warm sleeping bags. Watching the horsetail waterfall pour over the top. Getting text messages from Tommy Caldwell and friends in the Meadow. Laughing with Paul Bride over Simpson’s episodes. Calling Lydia every night to report on our progress. Hearing the cheers from the valley floor when we ticked off another pitch on our quest. Seeing Ben Moon rappel down above us to capture some pictures. The sunsets that engulfed us in orange and purple light. The magnitude of the wall, the exposure and belaying Will on the Devils Dyno pitch, absolutely one of the wildest and most memorable belays of my belying career.
It wasn’t just the A1 beauty pitch, it was everything, all wrapped up into one massive and ideal chapter. The beginning and end of everything. I think it was the most savage and satisfying rock climb of my life. One of the hardest routes I have ever done. My first El Cap route ever. And I’m glad it’s over.