On October 4th, we arrived in Yosemite National Park. After 18 months of training, a load of gym sessions, exploring a few British crags and getting through multiple injuries we had finally arrived to take on the 3000ft wall of El Capitan. Our month in Yosemite was planned to immerse ourselves in the environment that would best suit our intentions and set our mind for the big wall climbing that lie ahead. For a month, we would be surrounded by climbers, vertical granite walls, hundreds of metres of rope and more Black Diamond cams than you can shake a stick at, all with the purpose of making the crazy and unnatural seem more natural and normal. It’s a far cry from our co-working space in Old St, but we felt the month was needed to acclimatise. It was a great opportunity to ramp up our big wall training and experience long days, getting out of sticky situations, and applying our lessons to problem solving on our feet (or hanging in our harnesses 1000ft in the air). We spent hours on YouTube learning a specific technique, to then apply it on the granite later that day. Our initial plan was to have tuition and instruction for the entire month from a friend of ours. But unfortunate uncontrollable circumstances meant that was no longer an option so self-teaching was our last resort. We were constantly pushed and every single climb provided gripping experiences that brought with it crippling anxiety. Every day provided valuable learning opportunities, but it would be fair to say that the days were flying by and it was the most nerve racking month we have had since forming The Tempest Two. The wall of El Capitan loomed over us literally and metaphorically. Following the multiple near-death experiences, and the lack of the final instruction during the month, we made the decision to climb as a party of three. We trusted our own ability when on the ground and cognisant, but not so much when fatigued at 2500ft. We would each be entirely responsible for each other and ourselves, but we felt a more experienced body was required somewhere in the party just in case. This was our greatest decision, and one I am particularly proud of. We didn’t let ego get in the way of our judgment. We were seeing climbing accidents and deaths all around us during our time in the valley from experienced climbers and this was our way of acknowledging that.
On October 28th, we finally made our push up El Capitan. After spending 26 days living in a van in the valley, the time had finally come for us to make some vertical progress.
6.10am, 28th October - El Cap Meadow
Today is the day. It’s 6.10am and -2 in El Cap Meadow of Yosemite National Park in California. We are stood staring upwards at the 3000ft granite rock face in front of us, and about to head to the base of El Capitan to begin our climb up one of the most famous rock climbs in the world - “The Nose”. We are just waiting for the mist to lift. We have been training for this for the last 18months in the UK and intensely over the last month here in the valley. We have met some incredible people along the way to help us in our journey, from all-star free-soloist Alex Honnold, to the generic dirt bagger from Camp 4, both playing a vital role in educating us through our journey to be here. It’s overwhelming the amount of information required in not just getting ourselves up the wall, but pulling a 40kg bag up with us too. Every system has multiple procedures, all of which open up more opportunities for failure and danger. Knots, ropes, loops, protection, people, this was going to be interesting...
Today we aim to reach the ledge of El Cap Tower by early evening, giving us time to rest, eat and get some sleep in ahead of a massive day 2.
2am, 29th October - El Cap Tower Ledge
Well that didn’t quite go to plan. Our early evening arrival expectations were dashed over and over as the bag continuously got stuck, the climbing took us forever and we were gripped beyond belief for hours on end. The wind was gusting so hard we couldn’t hear each other, and those vital calls for safety were lost somewhere on the face of El Cap. The beautiful climbing pitches of the splitter crack “Stovelegs” provided hours of entertainment and fear in equal measure. We finally made it past Dolt Tower and eventually up to El Cap Tower for around 1.30am, just the 8 hours behind schedule. We were thrilled to be met with the smiling faces and good vibes of the legends Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell and Austin Siadak who had their own journey on their hands in the form of a First Free Ascent elsewhere on this giant piece of rock. For now, we try to keep our voices down, eat some food, and get some rest on this dinner table sized ledge ahead of tomorrow. There is somehow 6 of us on here and it actually feels great to finally be able to relax and rest from the madness of the day.
7am, 30th October - Emergency Bivi somewhere near camp 5
WHAT. AN. EPIC
After being woken up on the ledge by a BASE jumper at dawn, we spent a large portion of the morning chatting with Alex, Tommy and Austin. We knew we had a big day ahead, but how often do you get the chance to chat with the true greats in their sport. This was a perfect opportunity for us to soak in some final words of wisdom ahead of our huge day.
Today involved some of the classic sections of the nose, tackling the King Swing, Great Roof and Pancake flake. The King Swing was first up. A 100ft Pendulum at 1500ft off the ground, in order to reach a new crack system and progress. It was a surreal feeling sprinting and jumping across the rock at break neck speeds, relying purely on one piece of rope and trusting a knot tied by Tommy with my life. Trusting Tommys ability to tie knots was tough to be honest, but my only option and he delivered time and again.
We made some good progress but before we knew it the sun went down, and we still had 600ft vertical to navigate. One thing we hadn’t anticipated was the non-stop nature of this ascent. There is ALWAYS something to be doing, whether it is climbing, hauling, cleaning the gear, flaking the ropes out, untangling the systems, eating, drinking enough water, un-sticking the bag etc. Because of this, when the sun goes down, time becomes warped and it was 4am before we looked at the time again. 8 hours of non-stop climbing since sunset with no breaks. We were no where near our target of Camp 6, and had to start thinking about Camp 5 as our next best option as fatigue was starting to effect our ability and safety by this point. After freeing the bag from behind yet another flake we eventually made it to camp 5 at 5am... it was full. Considering Camp 5 is the size of a car bonnet, it only takes a couple of people to fill it. We had to make due with 2 roasting tin sized seats around a corner on the edge of the cliff, sitting bolt upright. One of the more surreal places to “sleep” and we managed about 40 minutes before waking to the sun once again and realising the ridiculous exposure immediately. It was time to press on with day 3.
8pm - 31st October - The summit of El Capitan
The moment we have been waiting for... and it feels slightly anti-climatic to be honest. I think that may be down to a combination of pure fatigue and knowing we have a 3 hour, sketchy descent ahead of us. We were on the face of El Capitan for 72 hours, awake for 66 of those, not a great ratio when the experience is the most intense of your life, and you still have to scramble down the east ledges, rappel 1000ft and hike back down to the base. That being said, we are full of pride and relief at this moment. Our final day was a total whirlwind, the exposure hit us like a bus as we woke up, which made simple movements and systems full of fear and trepidation. It’s incredible how the exposure effects your mindset. We pressed on early from camp 5 to try and ensure we made the summit. The final pitch is one of the most exposed places I have, or will, ever be. At 3000ft off the base of El Capitan you are dangling in space, with nothing but air underneath you. The sun had set about half an hour prior and we had now become the head torches on the upper face of El Cap that we so frequently envied (feared for) from the valley. Our bodies were absolutely battered, our minds content and buzzing, but fatigued beyond belief. Our achievement hadn’t hit us yet and we were conscious that the majority of accidents in climbing happen on the descent when the “job has been done”...
10am - 1st November - Yosemite Valley
It is the morning after, and we are now beginning to appreciate what we accomplished. The descent was as expected, slow, loose and unsettling. Tommy took a couple of spills on the ledges that if a few metres further down would have been a very different story. When we look back at El Cap now, or see pictures of it, it is hard to believe we summited. On reflection, the three days on the face of El Capitan were absolutely incredible, but the 18 months in the UK, and the month in the valley beforehand were where the real progress was made - the climb up the nose was merely an outcome of all the work put in. The decision to climb as a party of 3 took absolutely nothing away from our experience. If anything, it added another layer to our journey. We were responsible for someone else outside of The Tempest Two, as was he for us. Our usual communication methods, mannerisms and core understanding of each other wasn’t enough this time. We applied the lessons we have learnt to date and actually flourished as a team, especially in the testing times. Something we are very proud of. A massive shout out to the legend Erik, who put up with our terrible chat and slow progress for 3 long days.
We are already having exciting conversations about what we are planning next, and that for us is the point. Seeking constant growth and learning in adventures we “can’t” do... yet. We have come to value a few key things throughout both our time training, and on all of our adventures, and routine is one of our most important keys to success. The small things that are so often taken for granted are essentially responsible for the accomplishment of our larger goals. Consistent training, health, diet, sleep and a purposeful attitude. It’s easy at this time of year to kick off resolutions and let them fall away in a few weeks, but the rituals that you build and uphold will be the reason for your success down the line.