We moved over the granite, meticulously but keeping pace. Travelling upwards smoothly and carefully in the warm sunlight of an early October afternoon. We chatted about boys, work, winter plans, pausing our conversation once in a while to focus on a move or turning our heads to admire our oceanfront town of Squamish. A solo evening lap on the Chief was a perfect way to unwind after a few weeks straight of remote work away from the rock.
Earlier in the day I had come back into cell range after two weeks of private catering work in the North Harrison region.
I texted Hannah, “climb Chief?”
Hannah and I had previously shared our thoughts of climbing the Nose to each other and had played with the idea of teaming up but we hadn’t yet made the daydreams into a concrete plan. Our meeting to climb the Chief was in a way a meeting to discuss business. Eventually somewhere above the enchanted forest the conversation turned to the Nose and the time came to commit. We planned on late October. I would be just finishing up 6 weeks straight of work and Hannah just finishing a rope access course and subsequent work. It was ideal in the fact that neither of us would be in top shape, but both of us would be thoroughly ready to let loose some of our pent up energy.
With plan in place we left the details to a later date and kept climbing towards the top of the Chief. Perhaps I imagined it but our climbing felt more purposeful, quicker, maybe in anticipation of things to come, not too soon to start training? I smiled with the thought of returning to the Valley and attempting my first big wall on one that has lured me for ages. I also greatly looked forward to learning to speed climb from Hannah, who’s experience on big walls and skill of movement is truly inspiring.
The next few weeks while I finished my catering work, I became a little worried about my physical strength and endurance. I hadn’t really climbed since the Waddington trip due to an infected elbow bursa and between busy work and house building, my fitness had basically gone to shit. At my North Harrison work site, I started a daily routine of stretching, running and biking, (logging roads), weights (rocks) and climbing (a hydro tower).
The routine wasn’t ideal but better I figured than nothing at all.
Once we were in the Valley, Hannah and I spent three days preparing for the Nose. I hadn’t aid or speed climbed before so Hannah led me through an excellent crash course. We tried hard to not get distracted by all our other projects and fun, hard and shorter lines. Our first day we drank coffee in camp and relaxed until about 3 pm, finally making our way towards the meadow. We climbed the first 4 pitches of the Nose, a perfect warm up for the muscles and to suss some of the more technical leads. We then climbed the South Face of Washington column to sharpen (blossom) my aid/ speed climbing skills. We then climbed to the top of Dolt Tower (10 pitches) to work out the kinks of the traverses and pendulums as well as stashing 4 liters of water.
The day before we planned to go for it, Hannah and I were still tossing around the idea of climbing other objectives and we were both aware our our lack of 100% commitment. Well, we were commited but why were we still discussing other potential options? We talked about it and agreed there were feelings of (in no particular order- fear of failure or a slow time, lack of fitness, being sick, not being ready. Etc blah blah… We both individually wrote on a small piece of paper whether we were yay or nay for the next day. Little slips of paper were passed across the picnic table and opened and we both grinned. “Go for it!” “Send!”
We were in bed by 9pm, awake by 1 am listening to the sound of Tony driving down the Valley for his solo attempt of the Nose. We could hear his mufflers deep drone fade until he parked ‘the van’ in the meadow. Whilst still fuelling with coffees at camp we were visited by a black bear, his unannounced arrival injecting some (very) early morning adrenaline into our veins and with that we hopped in the car and blasted some awolnation- SAIL all the way to the meadow.
We soloed the approach pitches under the moonlight and began climbing at 330 am.
Hannah took us to the top of the Dolt, I took us to below the Great Roof, Hannah up the roof and after the changing corners I took us to the top.
The experience was one of the most memorable I have had on a piece of rock. Every pitch was amazing and unique and to be ascending a route as rich in history and as high quality as this one made me smile the entire way. .
Pulling over the top and softly padding up the last pitch my contentedness was subtle yet overwhelming. The darkness which surrounded us made the experience of sitting on top of El Cap for the first time almost surreal, looking over the valley rim highlighted by moonlight whilst munching some snacks down for the long walk down.
We stopped at Curry village on our way back to camp to indulge in one of the most amazing hot showers of my life- Oh bless Curry Village! The dirt and sweat flowing down the drain was impressive and a sign of a restful sleep to come.
I awoke to friends smiling and drinking coffees, Lydia making me a cup of sweet brew and helping me to do up my fly as my hands were swollen, pink and incredibly sore.
I spent the day napping and hanging with Lydia and at the Cookie cliff, nursing my knobby, throbbing mitts and enjoy the peace that followed such a grand vertical adventure.
After two days spent lounging and resting, Hannah and I had one day left in the Valley to climb. We were both stoked to climb the Steck-Salathe as neither of us had done it before, yet had wanted to very a very long time. Again the night before our last climb we were dragging our heels. We both had drippy noses, sore throats and didn’t feel like getting out of bed at any particular time. We revealed to each other that we would be happy to have a less committing and relaxing last day. Maybe still a bit zapped from the Nose, we were both relieved that the other was on the mellow program. We rode our bikes into the sun, took of our shirts and happily solo’ed up the Royal Arches. Feeling the warm sun on our backs and picnicking on top of the route we looked across the Sentinel rock and smiled. The rope and the cold, run-out chimneys and off-widths would be left for another day. The business had been done!