Yosemite National Park is a true mecca for those who love climbing on big walls: free climbing El Capitan has always been one of my biggest dreams.
Alexander e Thomas Huber (1998)
Living on the face for eight days was an amazing experience. The valley’s chaos, the portaledge, it all becomes a remote memory; it’s like being inside a bubble in which calm reigns.
When you think of “big walls”, or of immense granite walls, Yosemite National Park comes to mind. A mecca for those wishing to explore and rock climb. I had this dream of visiting this iconic valley ever since I started climbing and I found the right motivation to do so only after the positive experience in Siberia.
I set off together with Babsi (Barbara Zangerl ed) with the aim of climbing a route on El Capitan, a rock face on which dozens of years of climbing history has been written. Initially we had planned to climb one on the left of “The Nose”, but after noticing that it was packed with climbers, we looked over further east. Many friends had suggested “El Niño” (5.13c, A0, 800m - 30 pitches), e and we followed their advice. We didn’t want to queue up to climb the other routes, and considering that route was always free it just seemed the best choice.
After carrying our heavy haul bags to the base of the face, we tried the first five pitches, three of which were meant to be the hardest of the route. It took me ages before I managed to link up the various moves: the rain from the previous day had erased any chalk marks from past attempts, and the heat made it a lot more difficult to hold those tiny crimps.
On the day of our attempt it was clear that we had to leave really early, to climb the difficult pitches before the sun hit the rock face. The plan was to free climb all the routes, alternating leads, except for the pitch which was more than 7c, which we would have both lead. We had brought a quantity of food that would have allowed us to stay on the face for five days.
On the day of the attempt we set off before sun rise, climbing the first difficult pitches without ever falling. Those tiny crimps, in the shade, definitely had an improved grip. Recovering the haul bags though, due to lack of experience, slowed us down: we weren’t in a hurry but we were worried that we would run out of food. After four days on the wall, finally we reached the second last difficult pitch, a large roof named “ "The Black Cave”, where we set up our portaledge due to the weather forecast, which were spot on, they said it would rain. The next day we were forced to rest, while preoccupied we observed the section of rock on our left which had turned into a waterfall. Fortunately, the next morning we were kissed by the sun: the rock dried up quickly and we quickly climbed the roof above.
The rock face in that point was really overhanging, but we managed to climb up it quickly, saving energy, since the haul bags were getting lighter and lighter with each day, becoming easier to pull up.
We set up our portaledge on a ledge a few hundred metres from the top, with the aim of ending the route the successive day. Strongly motivated to complete our “mission”, and also to finally enjoy our first decent meal after almost a week, we quickly climbed up to the last difficult pitch which was totally drenched in water. The last hundred metres should have been relatively easy compared to the rest of the route, therefore those ten metres of wet rock would have established our success or our failure. After many attempts, finally we found the best way to resolve the sequence. I made it almost straight away while Babsi, due to an extremely morphological move, only after a few hours, and only after drying the holds with her t-shirt. A hundred or so metres to the top, even if we knew that we could have continued without problems, it was too late to move on, so we decided to continue the next day and spent another night on the face, aware that once at the top we would have had to sleep anyway. We ate some of the food left and kept a ration of powdered soup for the next day. Awoken by our grumbling stomachs, the next morning we got to work straight away, and towards midday we were on top. Before starting the descent back down to the valley, towards the first supermarket, we celebrated the dream coming true by sipping on a hot soup.