The time we met El Capitan...
As the road meandered, we would catch a glimpse through the trees. The shine of the sun off the granite revealing itself. The car turned one last corner, and broke through the tree-line. Ahead of us, standing taller than all its siblings, prouder and more menacing, was El Capitan. Over the past 12 months, we have scoured through images and videos, but nothing could compare us for the real-thing.
A few weeks ago, we travelled to Yosemite National Park, California, to perform a recce for our next challenge. We had decided that we needed to touch and feel what lay ahead, as so many had warned us of stories of the unprepared, the postcard adventurers who took on a challenge based on a photo, and fell short on arrival.
Over the past 12 months, we have been training rigorously in climbing gyms and in the Peak District, to try and build enough ability and expertise to summit the most famous rock face on the planet. Even though we have progressed a huge amount looking back to where we were last January, we still have a significant way to go before we are worthy of such a feat. Our understanding of climbing is good, we now know the moves, the lingo, and what is required of us. Six months lies ahead to train smart, and hone specific skills to make sure we are successful.
As we entered the park, there was an immediate sense of unease. The US government shutdown was in full-effect. The entry checkpoint lay derelict, and the usual bustling roads and viewpoints were ours alone, the park was a ghost-town. This eeriness simply added to our anxiety. We were pretty nervous, as the previous evening we had watched Alex Honnold’s recent film, Free Solo, in which he climbs (albeit with no bloody ropes!) Freerider, our chosen route up El Cap, our perceptions of the climb had changed. There were points where one of the greatest climbers of all time struggled, and panicked, even with ropes. What chance did we have? What the f*ck were we thinking?
We parked up and stood in the meadow, a patch of grass with a perfect viewpoint of the rockface. Natures auditorium, a front row seat into the world of climbing, and the pinnacle of the sport. Cricket has Lords, Rugby has Twickenham, Golf has Augusta….climbing has El Capitan. It is on this 3000ft slab of vertical granite, that the renegades and dirtbags of the 1980s put climbing on the map, and set in motion a rise in superhuman level accomplishments. As we stood there in total silence, we tried to take in the sheer scale of it. If you’ve been to Paris, you will know how impressive the view is looking up at the towering structure of the Eiffel Tower. Build three of them, stack them on top of each other, and thats what stood in front of us.
As impressive as it was, we felt strangely underwhelmed. Yes it was big, but we kind of expected that, and we were stood in the most photographed point of any national park in the world. This is the view we had seen 1000 times before, and it still didn’t give us a feeling of the true challenge ahead. For this, we walked the 20 minute hike through the forest, to the base of the wall.
As we stepped through the shrubbery, the canopy above obscured any possible view of the rock, it was like any country walk in the UK, on a muddy woodland path, until we reached the end. A solid wall of stone abruptly jutting up from the mud, sudden and impassable. As we craned our necks upwards, the magnitude finally made itself known. It was without doubt, one of the most impressive sights we have ever seen. An impossible wall of rock, so big no human would ever be stupid enough to climb it. Glassy smooth to touch, and laced with cracks and overhanging features, battle scars from a time we know little about.
We sat there for a while, not saying a huge amount, simply staring at it. In hindsight, we were in a rare scenario where we were the only ones on the wall. There were no tourists, no other climbers or hikers, and the silence was deafening. Occasionally there would be a shuffling sound, as the ice from the face melted and skitted down the rock as the sun made its way across the slab, showering us in a mist of icy haze.
I am not even sure how long we spent there, but it was long enough to feel a genuine connection with that place. Something felt right, as big and scary as it seemed, we were beyond excited to push ourselves to an entirely new limit, and take it on. We had introduced ourselves, and had come away with pure and unfiltered respect for the rock.
We believe that when setting and achieving big goals, its vital to connect to the purpose, the why. Taking something on without these components, creates stress fractures that are hard to overcome. Our visit to Yosemite confirmed the purpose, and gave us a much needed dose of inspiration.
Our estimated climb date is October, which will arrive in a flash. The next 6 months are dedicated to a purposeful routine of training. Indoor has served its purpose, we now need to understand what is required of us to climb Freerider. A route consisting of a scary slab (just below vertical, glass-like climbing), and a 2000 ft crack system. We must master the intricacies of climbing vertical cracks, trust our feet on seemingly non-existent holds, and our rope work needs to be world-class. Training anything outside of this, is wasted energy and focus.
We aim to climb in Yosemite in Spring and summer, as well as throughout Europe and the UK. There is no short-cuts, grit and determination is a nice-to-have, but nothing more. Without the skillset and expertise, we will not make it up El Capitan, its that black and white.
Win or lose, we are going to give it everything. Big year ahead…