Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Yosemite Fall 2012

I planned on retiring.  The Yosemite Climbing Assosciation promised to award me with a Golden Piton for 10 years of being a Valley dirtbag.  I would show my dedication to by pawning the piton for a new set of cams.    

“How can u retire when u haven’t done anything yet?” Nik Berry asked me. 

Scanning my fall season comes up with a lot of toiling and very little sending.  A decade of climbing in the ditch makes a lot of climbs projects for me. 

heading out the top of the Freerider after falling...again
I arrived in Yosemite in September and immediately went to work on the mega proj.

I rappelled into the boulder problem of the Freerider.  I tried the difficult pitch twice before the sun hit.  I kept descending, Down. Down. Down. El Rapitan.  A few days later, I dropped 1300 feet of rope from the summit.  I attempted the boulder problem again. I went again. And Again. And Again.

Here’s some footage of me on the wall.

On my last effort, after waking up at 4am to make the 2 hour hike, rappel 1300 feet, and try 20 feet of climbing, I slumped my head against the wall and felt a deep sense of failure.  I did not send the boulder problem.  I realized I needed to be a better and stronger climber before I could return to toiling on the wall.   I stared across the Valley at Middle Cathedral.

Every trip up to the top of El Capitan, I stared across the valley at Middle Cathedral.  Mikey Schaefer established a VI route up the north west face.  Father Time follows ten pitches of technical slab before hitting a steep headwall and three pitches of very difficult climbing. 

For six days, I climbed with Mikey on the route.  He managed to redpoint the enormous route after a huge effort on the wall.  Watching Mikey fire the rig inspired me.  The route quickly gained popularity with two ascents just days after Mikey returned to the ground.

Mikey Schaefer collage of Father Time VI 5.13b
“I was surprised by how hard and how good it was,” said Tommy Caldwell, who attempted the route with Jonathan Siegrist.  The pair redpointed to the last crux pitch, which Caldwell redpointed and Siegrist failed on, before descending in the dark.  Alex Honnold made the second ascent with his lady friend, Stacey Pearson, jumaring behind him.  “It’s 13b, straight up” said Honnold.

Further down canyon, on what Royal Robbins called, “The steepest wall in North America,” Alex Honnold made bold steps in his climbing career.  Honnold’s resume includes many difficult second and third ascents but he rarely steps out on his own.  This fall, Honnold examined an old Todd Skinner line on the Leaning Tower in the hopes of freeing the entire formation. 

After hand drilling a dozen crooked bolts, Honnold established Welcome to Wyoming, a 3 pitch 5.13c slab journey to the cat walk, the approach ledge to the Leaning Tower routes.  A few years ago, Skinner scoped a free line that parallels the initial bolt ladder on the West Face.  Dean Potter sunk directional bolts and freed all the moves.  A few well spaced holds lay a difficult path up the overhanging section of the wall.  With the Welcome to Wyoming start, the 200 foot bolt ladder variation section, and the free Westie Face- the entire Leaning Tower could go free. The route would not be easy though.

“The leaning tower pitch is amazing but probably 9b and has a few chipped holds at the top,” said Ethan Pringle, who tried the route one day with Honnold. After investing a few days into the project and deciphering the difficult moves, Honnold left for Oman.  The project remains.

The Leaning Tower on the Left and Fifi Buttress through the trees Mikey Schaefer photo

Across from the Leaning Tower, on Fifi Buttress, Luis “Lucho” Rivera and Dan McDevitt established the Romulan Freebird, a 10 pitch sustained 5.12c route.  First established as an aid climb by McDevitt,   Lucho spent the late spring and summer months free climbing the pitches and finding the best possible line through the aid variations.  The route is a harder version of the Rostrum, sustained 5.12 thin cracks.


Lucho and I climbing the 3rd pitch 5.11 on Romulan Freebird
“You need to Hoover your car,” Hazel Findlay said as we left Camp 4. 
“You’re cheeky,” I told the blonde haired Gummy Bear.  By 10 am, we reached the base of the Freebird.  The route begins with a technical stemming pitch.  I fell, climbed to the anchor, lowered, cleaned the gear, and pulled the rope.  Hazel hiked the pitch.  She had recently made a free ascent of the Muir Wall. http://hazelfindlay.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/free-adventures-on-el-cap-the-premuir-second-ascent-5-13cd-33-ish-pitches/  Where other parties encountered difficult stemming, the Gummy Bear bridged through the crux.  She employed this same bridging technique through the first 5.12 pitch, kicking her legs into a split.


Hazel swung into the next pitch, which she fell low on, emitting a shriek and a string of giggles.  She returned to the belay and redpointed the pitch.  I followed cleanly and led the next two pitches without falls.  Hazel encountered some difficulties on the top of an enduro finger crack corner. She led the next pitch.  I attempted the final 5.12 tips crack.  I failed.  The Gummy Bear wiggled her fingers in it and flashed it easily on tr.  I made another attempt but could failed.  We rappelled to the ground and finished a solid day of cragging.  Nothing is better than climbing large routes quickly or at least cragging them out.      

“You have to promise me you won’t fall,” Stanley said. I stared at the topo for the Nose and wondered about simul-climbing 5.10. We could die if I fell but that that did not concern me. If I fell, I would be breaking a promise to Stanley.
stepping through on the Lynn Hill Traverse on the Nose

The next morning, Stanley and I walked to the base of the Nose.  At first light we started the route.  I never fell simul-climbing because we short fixed instead.  Stanley simul-climbed behind me though.  We topped the route out in 6 hours 13 minutes.  I was exhausted and wanted to go to sleep.  Stanley wanted to go bouldering. 
top of the Nose 6 hrs 13 min
Sean “Stanley” Leary ran laps on the Nose this season.  Early in the summer he set the bisexual speed record with Mayan Smith-Gobat in 4:26.  Mayan also completed the Nose Half Dome Link-up with partner Chantel Astroga doing the Nose in 7:26.  Mayan said in a Rock and Ice online interview, “As to my time, I believe I could do them much faster if I was willing to put the time into really learning the route, and had a partner who was a much stronger free climber.” http://www.rockandice.com/news/2262-mayan-smith-gobat-interviews-and-pics Mayan’s comment bothered me greatly because she claimed her time could be faster with a better partner.  Partners, on climbs like these, are part of the game.  Stanley could climb the Nose much faster with a better partner- he’s done it with Dean Potter in under 3 hours.

I added that last bit to make my blog controversial. Can you smell the drama?  I can!

Stanley climbed with a better partner on a few other wall routes.  Alex and Stanley climbed the South Face of the Column in 53 minutes, the West Face of the Leaning Tower in 1 hour 16 minutes and Wet Denim Day Dream in 2 hours 55 minutes.-http://fiveten.com/community/blog-detail/13510-low-hanging-fruit-sean-leary

Other notable ascents in the Valley include Will Stanhopes free ascent of the Prophet, a difficult line up the south east face of El Capitan.
http://www.arcteryx.com/Article.aspx?DE&article=Will-Stanhope-s-Prophet-Repeat  Jesse Huey made a 15 hour free ascent of the Freerider.  Jasmin Caton and Evan Stevens, Greg and Mike Kerzhner, and Walker Emerson all made free ascents of the Freerider. 

Me showing  video of Hercules at the Facelift
I gave three slideshows this fall at Santa Rosa, the Yosemite Facelift, and at Stanford.  I'm starting to get pretty dialed at presenting slideshows.

The weather in the Valley turned from solid wall weather to amazing bouldering temps.  Randy Puro, Mike Wickwire, and Kyle O’Meara replaced Tommy Caldwell, Jonathan Siegrist, and Kevin Jorgenson on the hard climbing circuit. The boulders exploded with a hosts of solid new V10-12 problems.   I sent a cool problem called Squirrel over by the Gunsight.  I also toiled a lot on problems, climbing stronger then I ever have. 
The Center Route in Lower  Yosemite Falls Amphitheater Scientific 12b
Today is November 27th. For three weeks this month, Kim and I house sat in Yosemite Village.  We bouldered, climbed routes, and hiked.  I managed to eek out an ascent of Jonny Dawes Center Route in the Lower Yosemite Falls Ampitheater.  I heard the route called “scientific 12b.”  Mason Earle, who redpointed the pitch on his second effort, said “I think “solid” 12+ is a more accurate grade.”   I also climbed a number of boulder problems. 

I have invested a significant amount of time into redpointing Cosmic Debris.  Today, I fell once on it, something I have done two other times.  Redpoint cruxing.   I’d like to send it before I leave in Dec.  The seasons in Yosemite are changing.  The days are short now but I want to, no I need to send something this year  Than maybe I can retire. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Dark Brother:Mikey Schaefer Makes First Free Ascent of Father Time (5.13b) on Yosemite's Middle Cathedral

The granite burned my forehead. I slumped my body further onto the wall, hoping it would support me. I cried. For the past two hours I seared my finger tips on the hot rock of the Boulder Problem, a twenty-foot section of unforgiving crimps that guarded my path to free climbing El Capitan’s Freerider. I’d spent 16 days over the past year toiling, working, and wanting to send the route. It was destroying me. I stared across Yosemite Valley at Middle Cathedral, El Capitan’s dark brother. How do people complete these enormous routes? [Above: Home in the clouds. Photo: John Dickey]

The Dark Brother

For over two years, Mikey Schaefer worked on his mega project. From the Boulder Problem I watched Mikey toil on the cold rock of Middle Cathedral, pushing a line through immaculate slabs and onto the steep headwall of the northwest face. On his fortieth day of climbing, after hand-drilling 113 bolts from marginal stances, after questing on the wall searching for a free passage, after doing the majority of this work alone, Mikey summited. This was the beginning. The route needed to go free.
On Tuesday, October 9th, Mikey packed water, food, and supplies for a five-day free effort up his route, Father Time. At five foot four inches tall and a solid traditional climber, Mikey Schaefer is the type of short man that people look up to. My stoic friend needed a belayer, someone to hold the rope and help keep the energy high as he fought up the wall. I volunteered to follow him.

[Back in the valley and right back to the #megaproj on Middle Cathedral. Lots of work ahead but at least the views are good! Looking over at El Cap. Photo: Mikey Schaefer (@mikeylikesrocks)]

[Mikey takes off with the author on belay. Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Photo: Jeff Johnson]

Mikey stepped on one foot, shifted his hips and stood up. From early morning until twilight, he performed this maneuver. The golden rock yielded to free passage with a series of mantels, delicate footsteps, and far too many one legged squats.

“Who established this route?” Mikey yelled. Fifteen feet below the bivy ledge, he danced on a series of small holds. A year ago, when he first climbed the pitch, he’d told himself the climbing was easy. Now the protection was far away and his feet were tired from a thousand feet of climbing. It suddenly felt impossible, and scary.

“You got it!” I held the rope carefully.

Mikey scraped his way to camp, a long three-foot wide sloping ledge below the headwall. Out of the haul bag came a bag of Cabernet, a six-pack of beer, an iPod full of This American Life and lots of chocolate. Mikey would stay on the wall until he freed the entire route. He was dedicated.

Instead of being cramped on a double ledge with Mikey for the wall, I rappelled down a thousand feet of fixed lines to the ground. I spent the night in his Mercedes Sprinter consuming all the Cabernet, beer, and chocolate he’d left behind.

The Boulder Problem

The second morning started cold and windy. The pitches off the ledge went smoothly, though we were dressed for the rough weather. After a steep roof section, Mikey belayed me to the base of the desperate climbing. The first crux pitch involved a series of heinous pinches, wrinkles for feet and 30 feet of hard moves. “It’s the Mikey Schaefer Pitch,” I said at the belay. “It’s short and hard as f***.”

Mikey tried the boulder problem six times. He grabbed the holds and froze off them from the cold weather. Then he tried again. After hours of work, his skin and muscles failed. He returned to camp, overwhelmed and unsure if he could climb the route at all.

That night, a storm passed through Yosemite. For two days, Mikey festered inside of the portaledge. He pulled the rain fly down and pretended he was in a different world. He listened to This American Life. He drank Cabernet. He hunkered down, waiting out the storm and preparing himself for the upcoming difficulties. I went down to the ground. Mikey stayed alone on the wall.

[I feel like I'm floating aimlessly in a sea of granite. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Mikey and James, 1,500 feet up, staring down the first 5.13 crux. Photo: John Dickey]

[The Boulder Problem a.k.a. the Mikey Schafer Pitch. Photo: James Lucas (@james_lucas)]

[Mikey throws to a relatively large jug while working the moves on the Boulder Problem a.k.a. The Mikey Schaefer Pitch. Belayed by James Lucas. Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Day 3, a rainy rest day, complete on the wall and day 54 total on the #megaproj. Ready to try the crux again tomorrow! Photo: Mikey Scheafer]

He grabbed the pinch, kept his body tight, hit the crimp, readjusted his feet and stabbed for the ear. In the second between holds, his body sagged. Two days of sitting in a portaledge, staring out a wet window weighed him down. He failed.

Mikey’s head froze against the cold rock. For the past two hours he had tried the Boulder Problem, grabbing the subtle pinch, snatching the crimp, and trying to stick the elusive ear hold. His fingers numbed and he fell. This twenty-foot section guarded his path to a free first ascent of the Northwest face of Middle Cathedral.
The way his body sagged when he hit the ear hold, how his fingers opened snatching the crimp, the sheer difficulty of the Mikey Schaefer Pitch suggested that Mikey might not be able to do it. I looked across the Valley to El Cap. We were about the same height as the Boulder Problem on Freerider.

“You can do it,” I said with a conviction I did not believe. Encouraged, Mikey tried again and again. With each attempt, he got closer.
On the eighth day, Mikey moved his feet a little differently. He grabbed a hold a few inches to the right. The move to the ear became easier. Suddenly, he stood on top of the Boulder Problem. Success.
The Athletic 12c

Mikey fired into the next pitch, a forearm-sapping layback flake. We called the pitch The Athletic 12c, an ironic note on how strong climbers call 5.13 pitches “athletic 12c.” At the end of the difficulties, he torqued his knee behind a flake, resting before the final hard moves to the anchors. He hiked the pitch and returned to camp successful. The line would go free.

[Mikey casting off on the Athletic 12c. Photo: Sean Leary (@seanleary)]

In the morning, I raced up the fixed lines to Mikey’s camp for the fifth and final time. The slabs to the portaledge passed quickly below my feet as I pushed my ascenders up the fixed lines. I stepped up to his camp and hit the stopwatch.
“29 minutes 45 seconds,” sweat poured down my face.

Mikey barely looked up, “I think my knee is jacked.”

Mikey pulled himself off the portaledge. Torqueing his knee on The Athletic 12c pitch, nine days sleeping on the wall, rationing five days of supplies into nine, and the endless effort of Father Time were taking their toll. Bright red stubble covered his face. His hair, salted with more white than I remembered, stood on end. Insanity crept into his eyes.

“You might need to lead some pitches.”
“Sure,” I said. I heard more than a request for a top rope in his voice. On the Index Corner, the last bit of the headwall, he had grabbed two wrinkles and nearly pulled the mountain apart to hike his foot half an inch. He had finished the Mikey Schaefer Pitch, The Athletic 12c. He needed to complete the route, to finish the mega project. There was just a little more but even the tiny bits were crushing him.
When we reached the highpoint, Mikey tied in. “I’ll try and lead this pitch.” He slowly climbed up a perfect corner. He winced as his knee turned in the crack. He kept going.
Mikey fought through the pain. He punched through another boulder problem and then held on through a final steep section of rock. We reached a large ledge two pitches from the top of Middle Cathedral. Two hundred feet of death blocks guarded the summit. The climbing wore through the last of Mikey’s mental reserves.

We clambered to the summit of Middle Cathedral. Mikey gave a tired smile, a reward that would last. Our headlamps lit the wall as we rappelled down to camp.    

“I’m too tired to go down. I don’t think I can make the hike anyway.” Mikey hunkered into his portaledge. Tomorrow, he’d come down – worn, tired, and complete. As I descended, I stared across at El Capitan. The headlamp on Father Time shone across the Valley. The light hit the Boulder Problem. I’d try again. I’d stay committed. I’d put in the time. I’d climb like Mikey. I left the base of Middle Cathedral and walked towards El Capitan.


On October 21, 2012, Alex Honnold, supported by Stacey Pearson, made a one-day free ascent of Father Time and the second ascent. “It's 5.13b, straight up,” reported Honnold. The route was attempted by Tommy Caldwell and Jonathan Siegrist on October 19, a day after Mikey finished. The pair climbed free up to the Index Corner, which Caldwell redpointed but Siegrist did not. They descended from that pitch.

James Lucas lives out of his Saturn station wagon, bouncing between Yosemite and and other Sierra crags. He really likes rock climbing. Read more from James on his blog, Life of a Walking Monkey, and on Instagram at @james_lucas.

Patagonia ambassador Mikey Schaefer has carried a passion for rock climbing and a love of photography since he was 13. He’s climbed and made images around the world, but he always returns to the place he calls home – Yosemite. See more at Mikey Schaefer Photography and on Instagram at @mikeylikesrocks.

More photos from the free ascent:

[Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Sent to the bivy ledge. Photo: James Lucas]

[James Lucas is so bad-ass he hikes 5.12+ slabs with one arm tied behind his back. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Good morning from Yosemite. Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Home on the wall. Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Mikey works the crux. Photo: James Lucas/Tom Evans]

[From last night as the clouds rolled in heavy. It might rain today. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Another rain day up here, but at least I had a little company. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Mikey brushing the holds before sending the 5.13 Index Corner pitch. Photo: James Lucas]

[Mikey warming up on the Athletic 12c pitch. Photo: James Lucas]

[James on the "easy" 5.13 pitch. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[About to finish day seven up here. #portaledgejunkshow #runningoutofbeer #restdaysareboring. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Mikey working the delicate lie back moves on the second "easy" 5.13 pitch. Belayed by James Lucas. Photo: Jeff Johnson]

[Keeping our eyes peeled for Mikey as the fog clears on his new route on Middle Cathedral. Photo: Nate Ptacek (@arborealis)]

[After over a week on the wall the Boulder Problem went down! Time for the Athletic 12c. Nice job, Mikey. Photo: James Lucas]

[Sean Leary following the boulder problem after I sent on day eight. Saying I'm stoked would be an understatement. Only one more 5.13 pitch to go! Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Sending on middle. Photo: Sean Leary]

[After nine days on the wall and nearly 60 days of effort spread over two years Father Time is officially finished! No longer the #megaprojnow the #megaroute. So many people to thank that helped out:James LucasKate RutherfordJohn DickeySean LearyPatagonia,Josh HuckabyJeff Johnson and Ben Ditto. Photos: Mikey Schaefer]

[Father Time (5.13b), Middle Cathedral, Yosemite Valley, California. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[I thought I was going to get a rest day, but oh no. Back up here on Father Time cleaning my ropes so Tommy Caldwell and Jonathan Siegrist can attempt the second ascent! Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

[Mikey Schaefer sorts out the gear he used on Father Time. Almost two thousand feet of rope, two dangerously worn out harnesses, multiple biners warn thin from rapelling, blown out anchor webbing, and a beat down hammer, to name a few. Photos: Jeff Johnson]

[Mikey at the base of Father Time. Photo: Jenning Steger]