Monday, October 29, 2012


Smearing my feet on the glass granite rock, I struggle to undercut the edge of the crack which as thin as a dime. I look down, and there was my climbing partner Liam looking back up towards me with horror. God, I need to put a runner in. I reached for the micro cams. Man! wrong size, it wont fit in the tiny overhanging crack. I started shaking as my forearms were burning up. It’s early in the morning; perhaps only the bats notice we’re climbing in the dark. We have just turned off our head-torches at the second crux pitch of the West Face on El Capitan as the valley brightness up.  I reached for the smallest size cam. For god’s sake, the bloody thing still won’t fit. I am going to fall off and take a whoppa straight on to Liam. This could be serious. My leg started wobbling like a sewing machine as the fear built up. I ran for the oasis without any gear just charging onwards and upwards. This seemed like the best bet. Jackpot, I reached the jug.

Yosemite is the Mecca of all climbing, the centre of the universe some may say. In Yosemite, I am the character Peter Pan and we call the place ‘Never Land’. The rest of my climbing friends are the ‘lost boys’; never wanting to actually grow up either but just to fly (climb). The rangers are the pirates and Captain Hook is the Camp 4 ranger boss. It’s quite a fantasy here in the valley.

When I first stood in the meadow beneath the shadow of El Capitan, I must have stood there with my head tilted back for a good 20 minutes admiring the earths greatest and hardest cliff. El Capitan scales over 30 pitches, at over 1 vertical kilometer high. My first ever climb in Yosemite was The Nose with my dear old pops on the very first day we arrived. We planned a 3-4 day mission but bailed due the heat and jet lag in early September. As a true Brit, I could give a hundred excuses why we bailed. But the experience was still really thrilling even through we didn't reach the top. I couldn’t believe the difficulty of hauling over 39kg’s of equipment and food pitch after pitch, the sheer amount of water needed, and even having to poo hundreds of feet of the ground in front of my pops.
 At night on El Cap, the moon and stars glowed the valley as my father and I lay down on the portledge. It was a magical starry night. At 5am we watched the BASE jumpers freefall into the valley. Their black parachutes opened right over our heads silhouetted in the moonlit sky. This added to the unreal feeling of the whole place. The excitement was mutual but not mutual when our portledge came apart as we we’re going to sleep. Real nightmares really do happen here in the valley.

This is the magic of Yosemite; El Capitan is an invitation to the boldest climbers in the world to climb the right of passage. No matter where they originate, all self respecting rock climbers have a desire to make a pilgrimage to Never Land to pitch themselves against the giant El Capitan.

Walking through Camp 4 one morning, I see a dozen nationalities. Several Czech climbers celebrate with beers after their 5-day ascent on Salathe Wall.  Two German’s flicking through the guidebook discussing which route to do. A hippie Spanish girl slacklines as she bare foot tests her balance. Hip hop blasts through an iphone as a dude from Finland balances his body on his yoga mat. It’s all mainstream here in camp 4.

The routes here are mind blowing, offering certain styles. Forget Bouldering and Sport climbing, that’s fast food. This is Big Wall climbing, the Sunday roast of them all. The perfect horizontal crack line, thuggy and brutal Separate Reality lies high up above the valley. I hanged from my fists with motivation from two strong climbers from the Zilertal in Austria, Bernhard and Floren. The 8 pitch Rostrum came with a surprise of having a bad ass off width near the top. It was very kind of the Californian wanna-be Sandeep to let me lead every pitch of this route.
   Jonathon is a young lad from Dublin. When I first met him, he was eating beans out the tin as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. He reminded me of Alexander Supertramp from 'Into The Wild'.  He wasn’t the strongest looking climber in Camp 4, but he was fit and I knew it was possible to do Nose in a day with the chap. After a brief introduction we agreed to team up. I was lucky to climb with Supertramp as his original partner was injured due a nasty rock fall. He can’t quite move his shoulder and his helmet had been cracked in half.

The famous Warren Harding and his team first climbed The Nose in 1958. It had taken the climbers 45 days over 2 years. To get to the top, 3000 feet above the valley floor, they’d pounded a hundred or so pitons (thin wedges of steel) into the rock, from which they’d hung their ropes to climb a style called Aid Climbing. This was an iconic and remarkable achievement back in the day. Today in the topo guidebook, it says it takes ‘3-5 days for most professional climbers’. Doing this in just 1 day was going to be hard. The Nose is an immense physical and psychological drain. Fitness and extensive climbing experience on very steep and long routes is mandatory. The failure rate is high.

Supertramp woke me up at midnight; my alarm didn’t seem go off. That’s the trouble with products made in China and of course being Deaf. God I am exhausted, I must have only just got to sleep a few minutes ago. Perhaps I should pretend I am ill? But no, this was my only chance and I had to do it. We kicked off from the base of El Cap at 1am and we were in the zone for the next 27 hours before topping out the following day at 4a.m. Flawlessly we performed hundreds of precious, physical and athletic moves one after the other after the other, without hesitating even for a moment. During the ‘Changing Corners’ at pitch 27, my head-torch died on me. I couldn’t believe this as I had just put in new batteries the day before. I struggled placing micro wires on the aid lead in pitch black. I am neither a coward nor an idiot but I determined to flirt with the line till I reached the top. I made a note to myself to avoid products from China assuming where the batteries came from. We were badly dehydrating for at least the last 10 hours before we reached the summit. Some really kind Czech friends had left a gallon of water for us at the top but we just couldn’t find it in the dark. We made a fire and tried to get some rest but it was just too cold. I couldn’t stop shivering till dawn. At first light, we had another attempt to search for the water. Supertramp fortunately found it. It was so refreshing. It is amazing how we all take Water for granted and only realise it's importance when we don't have any....

Every sports has it’s own mythology, it’s legends, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordon, David Beckham. Faces you see on television. Climbing has it’s own mythology too. Most of it’s based on what you have read or heard. Stories of great rock stars told over and over again of unimaginable achievements in Yosemite. Sean ‘Stanley’ Leary over took me ‘practicing’ for another attempt to break the speed record of The Nose. He did this in 4 hours having climbed the route over 50 times. At one of the festivals in Yosemite he joked that I had slowed him down by 10 seconds for that brief chat on pitch 13 but was delighted for my achievement. I had expected to do a bit better; maybe next time!.

Timmy O’Neil, presenter of the Yosemite Climbing Association events nights, introduced me to Patti who is also deaf; she has lived in the valley for 25 years. She is a natural born runner and must have spent a third of her life running and occasionally snaps pictures of other runners for Patagonia. It was nice to use sign language for once and she kindly showed me around Tuolumne Meadows. Through Patti, I was invited to Beth Rodden’s house for my last few days to score a few skydives near San Francisco. You never know where you end up on such a trip.

Everyday seemed to end with a miracle. My last day of climbing, I on-sighted the hard ‘Hotline’ graded the enduring 5.12 with Antti from Finland. I’ve met this dude in France and Spain a few times over the years but not actually had the chance to climb with him till now. After the boulder traverse crux and a beautiful perfect 30-meter vast hand crack we approached the flared, off-width chimney. This pitch was a real son of a bitch that did everything to push you down the pipe. It was a real fight, and an unpleasant one. Every nationality has a different method of climbing and rope work. Antti had brought up a 6mm rope to rappel down. “Lightness is the only way we will climb fast” he says. The rope looks as thin as a worm and in my eyes I think it’s going to snap. I can just imagine plunging to my death. “errm, Antti, are you sure it’s going to hold us?” I ask nervously. “Oh yeah” he responds as his eyes light up, filled with adrenaline.
  On my last night in Camp 4 at dusk, an assembly of climbers from all over the world gathered around a big fire sharing stories of great routes they’ve accomplished in the valley or from their home crag. They know that these walls and cliffs are much more than just mountains and everyone agreed that they would definitely return to Valley without doubt.

During my last few days in the States, I caught a quick flight to British Columbia in Canada to see my loving Uncle and Aunty. They took me all over Vancouver Island and surfing in the cold cold sea of Tofino, the waves were dramatic in the foggy mist. Another long Journey came by to live large in Texas with my cousin Wobbe, He showed me the true culture of America, Basketball, American Football, boobs at Hooters, late bars etc. I had an awesome time. There was just so much to do. But my trip wasn’t over yet, I had one more destination to party was with my other cousin Alex in New York City. The lawyer for rock bands knew every single party that was going on in the city that very weekend. He lived like I did when I was a student in Sheffield. I must have gone to 10 or more different band parties in only 2 nights. I couldn’t believe I spent hundreds of Dollars on Booze and only realized after checking my bank statement the other day.

Shit, the rope's jammed
The Art of Big Wall

Squeezing The Nose

This is what you look like after climbing non-stop for 27 hours
Das Boot
Need to get the full resolution image from dad, he is in Sudan somewhere.

Learning a thing or two from the Austrians 

Hotline celebration

The enduring pitch
Sometimes, the off-widths win

Climbing to heaven

Austrian strongman Bernie

Centre of the universe

Big wall dudes, dad and I.
Need more runners 

Racking up
Supertramp and he success Kings Swing 
4 days on the wall!
Nose in a day

Yosemite Valley
Come on!

Camp four bloody queue starts at 2am

Westway muscles

Camp 4 

Dude, are you sure I look like a pro compare to you?
Team Westway, Shannon, San, Liam and I

Tuolumne Meadows

Somewhere near Bishop

Big wall life
Hot Springs!

Never enough gear
What a freefall

Max, a true Yosemite bum!
Now I know where dad enjoys sleeping the most

Sometimes I just cannot believe how hardcore dad is.

Overlooking the Half Dome

Separate Reality
Patti and I

Making holes in the sky
Surfing in the pitch black cold cold cold waters of Canada


Houston Rockets

I am sorry Uncle, I just had to get this picture

Wobbe Borrowing his dads Bentley

Wobbe and Stacie
The Penthouse Rock Band private party

Alex's flatmates

Alex and I


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