A CHAPTER ENDS!

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

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.

Category : Climbing

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25 Responses to “A CHAPTER ENDS!”

  1. Uncle Sam says:

    What an awesome adventure! What a great piece of climbing history you guys just lived! Next though, eh?
    keep up the good work – & keep up the blog updates: love it!

  2. Hayden Kennedy says:

    Hey Sonnie,

    Really inspiring work on the Prophet, full Respect!

    HK

  3. Matt says:

    Happy birthday to you both for last week, I couldn’t think of any better way to spend a birthday than the way you lads did. Great stuff!

  4. Pickles says:

    Wow!! Nice work boys, well done sonnie, next time will! You got it….. Have been reliving the whole thing while you guys have been up there, it’s nice to see you had a similar experience to us….it’s out there. Big up yourselves for keeping it real! And thanks for the psyche.

  5. luke says:

    Yea Sonnie, Big ups!

  6. Paul Gagner says:

    Hey Sonnie – Great to hear you sent it, and good to see you and Will and Paul on top of Zodiac after all these years. CONGRATS, that’s super impressive and RAD.

    WOO HOO!!

    Paul

  7. Mark says:

    Awesome send and great write up! Thanks for sharing.

  8. David says:

    Congrats! Leo mentioned your work with respect during his presentation on the Eric Harvey stage at the Banff Festival and I went right back to the room and plugged in for news.

  9. Adrian says:

    Awesome work, incredible photos. You’re living the dream for us weekend warriors and armchair mountaineers.

  10. Tracy says:

    Always keeping it real, much appricated because “reality doesn’t have an advertising budget” eh?!

  11. Keith Preston says:

    Loved reading about the journey……keep inspiring the rest of us! The pictures are fantastic

  12. Branko says:

    Great achievment! I was following your progres via this site, and I’am very glad that you sent it. Congrats :)
    In which style did you guys climb? Team attempt or did both of you try and lead all of the pitches?
    Btw, you are a really talented writer, your posts are quite a treat.

  13. Anders says:

    Good effort boys! youe blog is an true inspiration in the cold and dark swedish vinter. keep it up!

  14. James Lucas says:

    Honnold and I were taking bets about whether or not you guys could do it. The odds were not looking good. Way to pull it off.

  15. Martin and Lotti says:

    Congrats Sonnie! We can’t even imagine the feat, but we surely are enjoying your blog and pictures. We’re glad to here you and beautiful Lydia are reunited. Enjoy bishop!

  16. John McMullen says:

    I really enjoyed reading this (very nice writing man). Yes, Yosemite is truly amazing … and to be up on the Captan this month what with our interesting weather … kudos to you guys! Congratulations! I look forward to reading about your next adventure.

  17. Gorgeous write up, dude. Sounds like you had an epic. Those are the moments to remember.

  18. Lanny Mann says:

    Beautiful synopsis of a grand adventure. Nice shots too.

  19. Darrell says:

    Awesome work Sonnie. I just caught the news in Alpinist and came to read your report. Incredible story.

  20. Grant says:

    As a squamish climber now caught in the rain of winter, following your adventure has really been inspiring! Congrats to both of you on the rad send and thanks for posting your progress so I could tag along.

  21. Nigel says:

    Great to hear the weather cleared up for you guys! Glad I got outta there when I did, though.

  22. Congratulations to both of you, sounds like a great few weeks. Keep up the blog, the words and pictures are a regular source of inspiration!

  23. Sonnie says:

    Thanks everybody, wow, what amazing feedback. I’m glad we were able to inspire some of you. I think what inspired me the most was that Will was still only half a year off of a broken heel. Part of his rehab was El Cap, ha ha!!! Best Wishes through the Holidays, Bishop continues to shine.

  24. r.t says:

    a little late: but wanted to add my congrats.

    thanks for putting yourself out there. firstly, with regard to your idea of yourself (on the big stone) and secondly, on the world climbing stage (with your writing).

  25. [...] Leo Houlding grabbed the first ascent of back in 2010. Oh wait, no. After weeks of hard effort & incredible blogging to match; he bagged the first repeat with the not unmentionable Will Stanhope in late [...]

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