How We Got Here

Well, we’re a week and a half out from the Valley, and each of us is taking some time with our families following graduation. Zero of us are sufficiently in shape for a month of strenuous physical activity, but we’ve still got big goals ahead. Here’s the major objectives on the docket (photos lovingly stolen from other blogs):

South Face, Washington Column (1,100 feet)

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West Face, Leaning Tower (1,100 feet)

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Regular Northwest Face, Half Dome (2,000 feet)

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The Nose, El Capitan (3,000 feet)

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Between these multi-day objectives, we have several other climbs on the tick list that we may or may not do.

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Elam aiding in Big South Fork, TN

It’s important to note two aspects of our team that make us stick out like sore thumbs in the Valley. The first is that we are a team of four. In the big walling game, climbing teams usually consist of two to three people. There are several reasons why they tend not to grow larger than that, but the most obvious is baggage handling. When climbing enormous walls over multiple days, a team must bring food and water in giant haul bags. These bags are winched up the route via pulley systems, and they are very heavy. The more people, the heavier the loads. Our baggage for a three-day ascent of El Cap may very well weigh 200-300 pounds. Some might ask: is it worth it? In short, probably not. But we are all very good friends who may not see each other again for a long time, so the gang has decided to stick together.

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Matt aids a dead horizontal roof crack at Big South Fork, TN

The second obvious point is that we are all very new to the big walling game. Voss has only been climbing, period, for nine months, and the most experienced trad leader (“trad” means “traditional” climbing, in which the leader places their own protection instead of clipping pre-drilled bolts) in our group is myself, with ten months experience in that discipline. Anyone with a brain who has seen this story before knows what tends to happen when newer climbers tackle enormous objectives: you fail. You climb for a day, get tired and move incredibly slowly, then bail. 60% of El Cap teams bail, most on the first day.

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Elam and I practice overhanging aid leads in a tree in the park. The local homeless community found this rather strange.

Why do we think we have a chance? Well, we’ve been training hard. Since we decided to do this trip six months ago, we’ve gotten in plenty of climbing practice as a team.

We’ve done several aid multi-pitch routes (“aid” means that you use artificial means to climb terrain that is otherwise too difficult to climb), including the 700-foot Glass Menagerie on Looking Glass Rock (one of the only “big walls” on the east coast) in a day. We’ve spent hours upon hours practicing big wall techniques in Nashville’s Centennial Park, climbing a forty foot tree (and hauling a 200-pound bag up it) countless times. The owner of our local climbing gym calls us “the aid guys” because we consistently aid climb easy gym routes with giant big-wall-style nylon ladders instead of using the obvious plastic holds, timing each other with stop watches to see who can get to the top in the quickest time. We participated in this insanity because we know that we needed to prepare if we were going to beat the odds.

The adventure starts in under two weeks. Can’t wait to see if the practice will pay off.

 

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