/ El Capitan (poss Zodiac) - for the first timers

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Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
Hi there,

So over the weekend my climbing buddy and I were thinking about a long term goal in climbing - feeling we really need one.

The all time dream has always been to do the El Capitan so we thought we would research the reality of doing such a climb.

After a quick search we think we would like the Zodiac (US 5.7 - UK 4C - 16 pitches) as it seems a lot more mellow than the longer Nose, etc.

Now we were wondering if anyone there has done it and could let us know about the reality of such climb. Give advice on training for it, gear, etc.
We would hope to do this next year and would look for places in the UK to get a big wall experience before we go.

Our experience:
We have had some trad experience (VHS) and will get more before we attempt anything like that.
Mostly indoor climbing up to 6b-c lead.
Currently after a 6 months break getting back into it.

Cheers,

Pav
JimboWizbo - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: I can't comment on the route, but I would plan a lot of time in Wales on slabby VS routes (Tennis Shoe?)
John2 - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: You do realise that the main climbing on Zodiac is A3 aid? Have you any conception of what that consists of?
davepembs - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

If you want to climb it free it's 5.13d that works out to about E8 so I reckon you either need to up the ante on your trad experience a bit or learn to aid climb as A3 is somewhat tricky.
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to John2:

Thanks John, yes this came up but thanks for mentioning it. Didn't know it's A3 - do you mean pitch 9? My mate has aid climbing experience and of course the whole point at this stage is to asses the challenge. Do you mean that this is way to hard for us even with 1 year left of preparation?

Please explain.
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to davepembs:

Sorry I'm not sure I at all understand what you are saying - from what I know Zodiac is 5.7 not 5.13d and of course I don't want to free climb it - just trad - I assume it't not bolted.

Or do you mean that pitch 9 is 5.13d and with the lack of protection it's an E8?

Please explain,

Cheers
jon on 25 Feb 2013
Goucho on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: I haven't done Zodiac - although Enty of this parish has - but I have done other Yosemite big wall routes, and wouldn't have thought it was the best 'first' big wall route to go for personally.
John2 - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: Plainly you have no idea what this route entails. Look at the link posted by Jon - pitch 1 states 'better take a head or two'. Do you know what it means by a head?
jimtitt - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to jon:
Id guess things have changed since then, currently it gets 5.7/A2 or 5.7/C3 or 5.13d free. A guy I know did it clean aid a couple of years ago and said the grade changes depending on how much fixed gear is in at the time on the A2 sections.
davepembs - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: The whole route is an aid route, lots of pitches of mainly A3 some bits have to be free climbed at 5.7 but realistically you have to free climb sections at 5.11 thats about E4. Basically you're a long way off getting up it at the moment. The Hubers free climbed the entire route at 5.13d - they're quite strong.
jon on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to jimtitt:

Yes. My point was that he seems to have missed the A or C bit!
cat22 - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: I suggest you get hold of the "Road to the Nose" ebook available on supertopo.com , should give you a better idea of what's involved. If I were you I would concentrate on doing a load of trad in the UK this year then head to Yosemite next year with the aim of doing some of the fantastic 1 day trad routes, then you can get used to the style of climbing there. You won't find anything comparable in the UK!
a lakeland climber on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

Sounds like you don't know what "free" means. It doesn't mean soloing, it means climbing without aid. So the grade is 5.7/A3 which means that to get 5.7 climbing you have to do A3 aid climbing OR you can free climb it at 5.13d.

ALC
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Goucho:

Thanks for your reponse, which do you think would be the most suitable then? We are silly enough to really want to do one on El Cap - do you think that's not the best approach?
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to a lakeland climber:

Get it, cheers!
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to cat22:

Great advise cheers will get the book.

Pav
Kemics - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

Thin A3 sounds pretty gnarly for a first big wall.

have a look at Regular Northwest Face on Half dome. It's not on El Cap but it is in the valley and with appropriate training you should be able to free a decent amount. I think there's only a handful of 5.12 pitches (you'll want to aid) and a few optional 5.11's you might want to french free. But the bulk is 5.10 and under. Which is entirely reasonable to trad climb.

disclaimer: i'm a pure fantasist and have no idea what im talking about.
David Coley - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

Lurking Fear is easiest route on the Captain. C1+/C2. Like Zodiac, you will need a ledge.


sparkass - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

As mentioned above, Zodiac is pretty much an aid route with some small sections of free climbing, probably not an ideal first big wall.

Regular NW Face of Half Dome is much easier and involves only very small sections of aid. However, it is notoriously unpleasant to haul on so most parties want to move fast - ie climb it in one push 15 - 20 hours.

The Nose is technically easier than Zodiac but much longer, which can make it a big proposition. It also involves a fair bit of aid climbing unless you operate around the E4 mark or above.

Two fairly easy big walls in Yosemite are the South Face of Washington Column at C1 5.8 and the West Face of Leaning Tower AT C2 5.7. Each involve aid climbing but are pretty easy. I think Lurking Fear is the easiest route on El Cap at C2 5.7.

It may be an idea to consider some big free routes in the valley instead: Royal Ariches is 5.7 and has only a few sections at this level, its very easy but big and exciting. Snake Dike is 5.7 and has only one move this hard but again it's really big, adventurous and you top out on half dome. Steck Salathe is 5.9 wide cracks. East Face of El Cap is an option, although is apparently pretty poor.

There are loads of other shorter climbs that will still be an involved undertaking.

It is worth noting Yosemite is nothing like anything in the UK, it's pretty intimidating and can feel a lot harder than it is until you're familiar with the place.
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Kemics:

Cheers
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to David Coley:

Because it's not as long as the nose and seem to be easier than the Zodiac this is probably the next one we will be investigating.

Cheers
Goucho on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:
> (In reply to Goucho)
>
> Thanks for your reponse, which do you think would be the most suitable then? We are silly enough to really want to do one on El Cap - do you think that's not the best approach?

Personally, I think you need to get a bit more experience, and up your grades before you look at a Yosemite big wall.

Don't be fooled by grades that are mentioned regarding Yosemite big walls - they are all big undertakings, and need IMHO solid multi-pitch E3 experience before thinking about even the most straightforward ones.

Gouch.
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to sparkass:

Awesome advise, thanks for taking the time to answer it in such detail, so Lurking Fear looks like the next one to have a look into then. Thanks for all the other suggestions.

Cheers,

Pav
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Goucho:

Thanks for that, we'll bear it in mind. Could you let me know what are you basing this opinion on? Personal experience? Which big walls, etc? Or is it something you read somewhere if so where?

Many thanks,

Cheers,

P
Enty - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

It's a tricky question - which first El Cap Route? Lurking Fear is a good choice (I did the first 5 pitches as a warm up for other stuff)Fantastic rock, great cracks. There's some hooking on the first two pitches but the placements are bomber and the rest of the aiding is very straight forward.

I've met a few people who did Zodiac as their first El Cap route but they have usually done Washington Column or the Leaning Tower first. I cut my teeth in Zion first.
The difficulty with Zodiac depends on how clean you go and how fast you go. We were determined to do it clean but ended up placing about 4 or 5 beaks. Although we did it with one bivvy when two or even three is more common (you'll need a ledge)
By far the hardest pitch for me was The Nipple. 25 foot of upside down cam-hooks then a tiny brass nut then some decent cams. I took a pisser here and banged my hip. When I got back up there and eventually pulled round the end of the Nipple thinking I was almost there I was faced by another 100 foot of flared crack - it was going dark so out came the hammer and I placed a beak - gutted!

Pitch 14 is thought provoking too - leapfrogging big 5" cams. If you don't have enough it will be scary.

Some of the lower pitches had some rivet ladders and fixed heads - scary when you're the wrong side of 80 kilos.

On Zodiac, the 5:7 refers to the very short sections where you need to pull a few free moves to get to the next feature. I seem to remember a few pitches with the off free move, padding across slabs and pulling onto ledges, The move at the end of the Nipple is hard.

Another thing which stuck in my mind was how steep it is. Looking straight down from the belays you don't see much rock - just the ground!!

The top out is amazing though - like a crag top out going from vertical to flat without a slab and there's a sandy beach which makes a great bivvy spot.

Goucho is right about your free climbing ability though.Even on something like Zodiac where there are few mandatory free moves.
I've been in France for 10 years and was never going to get my trad grade back up to a solid E3 before a trip to Yosemite so I concentrated on general fitness - trying to climb up to 7a sport and losing weight running and cycling. Getting back down to El Cap bridge on the 4th morning after The Nose is definitely the most knackered I've ever been in my life so a good general level of fitness is essential.(was for me)

Just ask if you need any more info.

E


Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Enty:

That's awesome Enty. I suppose the only thing would be any literature references so we can read up more about it if there is anything you could recommend. After all what we heard here I'd say we would be setting our eyes on something else than Zodiac. Lurking Fear sounds more fitting for us. So will be reading about that.

On another note maybe you could suggest what you think would be the best first big wall challenge for us? We will sure investigate Washington Column, the Leaning Tower and Zion.

Cheers,

Pav
Enty - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

Have a trawl through these trip reports:
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/forum_trip_reports.php

There's loads of first hand accounts of most routes in Yosemite from hard, experienced big wallers to novices on their first walls.

Some amazing reading and will give you some great tips.

E
Goucho on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:
> (In reply to Goucho)
>
> Thanks for that, we'll bear it in mind. Could you let me know what are you basing this opinion on? Personal experience? Which big walls, etc? Or is it something you read somewhere if so where?
>
Personal experience of - The Nose, Salathe Wall, North America Wall, NW Face Half Dome, Leaning Tower West Face, Washington Column South Face.....need any more? :-)

Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Enty:

Thanks that's really useful.

Cheers,

Pav
ads.ukclimbing.com
Pav - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Goucho:
Sorry I think you took it the wrong way, no offence intended. I just needed some constructive advice.

Cheers
David Coley - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Goucho:

I'm not sure you need to be solid at E3 multi-pitch to get up El Cap, however it would be a very good idea to be able to do a lot of climbing in a day and to be as quick as possible at setting things up and taking them apart. Looking at where you live, I would suggest being able to do ten HVS routes in the Ruckle at Swanage in a day would be a good starting point.

In case it is relevant, it is more than possible to spend 1000 on ledge, aid gear and cams for a trip to Yosemite. This makes the long free climbs in and above the valley better value for money.
Goucho on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to David Coley: Always have something in reserve for them big granite walls :-)
The Ex-Engineer - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: Just to demonstrate that people aren't being overly pessimistic:

My first big wall was an attempt on the South Face of Washington Column with another big wall novice. He lead around HVS and was actually working as an outdoor pursuits instructor and teaching rock climbing at the time. Anyway, he got completely shut down by Kor's Roof on pitch 4 which is only C1 and I ended up leading and fixing the pitch. We jumared it the next day, but at that point he just couldn't handle the exposure and we bailed.

Subsequently we changed partners and he climbed the East Face of Leaning Tower with an experienced big-waller and I did Lost Arrow Spire Direct with another experienced partner.

Even just free climbing in Yosemite is a massive learning curve for most Brits and to attempting a big wall, let alone one on El Cap is a monumental jump. There are far more novices who completely fail on routes than there are those who succeed on their first (or even subsequent) attempt.
Goucho on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:
> (In reply to Goucho)
> Sorry I think you took it the wrong way, no offence intended. I just needed some constructive advice.
>
> Cheers

No offence taken :-)

Gouch.
steveej - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

okay, 1st tip...beware of big wall theorists!

2nd tip....just because zodiac is 16 pitches and the nose is 30+ pitches does not mean zodiac is easier.

I climbed zodiac after I did the nose. I thought we were going to cruise it. it was far from a cruise and there was some difficult climbing on it.

the nose is C1 which means with a triple rack of cams every placement is bomber and each pitch will go in 1 and a half hours (lead, clean and haul) if you are dialled in.

we did the nose in 2 bivis, and the zodiac in 3 bivis.

the zodiac we nailed which slows things right down, and had sets of offset cams.

the zodiac is a good first el cap route for a lot of yanks who have spent some time doing aid routes on shorter walls but have plenty of aid experience (not normally the case for brits).

your climbing wall grade is completely ireelevant.

If you want to climb it in September 2013, you should commit all of your time between now and then learning how to climb big walls. do that and you will succeed. Mess about going trad climbing and slick multi pitching doesn't mean anything. you need to train specifically for leadin,cleaning and hauling. find a shitty quarry and spend your weekends there.
johncoxmysteriously - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to steveej:

>you need to train specifically for leadin,cleaning and hauling. find a shitty quarry and spend your weekends there.

Hmm. Based on the OP's performance so far I'd say that he would need to spend all weekend, every weekend, between now and then as you describe in order to have any chance at all of not troubling the YOSAR people if he were to attempt Zodiac. Not that I've tried it myself, you understand.

I can't say I know much about it, but I thought Zodiac was generally considered a fair bit harder than the Nose.

jcm
steveej - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

in 2010, my 1st trip to the valley was 3 weeks and the ticklist was....

nutcracker, central piller of frenzy, snake dike, s.face wash column, the prow wash column, the nose on el cap.

That was after 15 plus years of trad climbing, 30 odd trips to the alps, and knowledge of how to suffer. Then 12 months of specific dedicated training, considerable investment in portaldges and rack and spending 5 nights a week in the wall and every weekend in a quarry learning to lead clean and haul.

when I did mescalito in june 2012, my partner who has onsighted The Cad and Lord of the Flies, aided the bismark pitch which is supposed to be e1!

so the moral of the storey is you cant compare grades with UK trad climbing because they are completely different
steveej - on 25 Feb 2013
In reply to johncoxmysteriously:

agreed, sorry I had not read his profile but gave him the benefit of the doubt. if the profile is up to date, better spending 000's of 's on projects closer to home than wasting all your time and money going to the other side of the world.

climbing like life is a series of stepping stones. don't run before you can walk.
Pav - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to steveej:

Many thanks for all this, will defo bear in mind. We are thinking about 2014 though so a bit more time. Interesting thought with the quarry training, cheers. What are your thoughts on the Lurking Fear - we are thinking about that instead.

Cheers,

P
Pav - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to johncoxmysteriously:

Hee hee yeah thanks for pointing this out, yeah guys read above we are off the Zodiac idea now. Many thanks. We are thinking about the Lurking Fear though :)
Pav - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to steveej:

BTW what is a big wall terrorist!? :)
Pav - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to steveej:

theorist!? :)
adamki - on 26 Feb 2013
I think its people who give advice without having done it themselves.
David Coley - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: We found Lurking Fear very pleasant as a first way up El Cap. It isn't very classic and it isn't on the most dramatic part of the wall. But Hey, its on the Captain. We had a storm, we ran out of food and water, we were too slow. But in a sense that's just part of the normal experience.

If you practice in a quarry and time yourself for leading, hauling and cleaning a pitch, re-racking and setting off and divide this by the length of the pitch, you will have your time per metre figure. I suggest you assume you will aid the whole climb and add in 2hours per day for faffing (like putting the ledge away). This should give you the number of days you might take.

Enjoy the next year getting ready.

PS. The Dewerstone in Devon make a good place to practice C1, rigging and hauling.
PPS. The Leaning Tower is much less of a mission than LF.
Enty - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

A few more thoughts.

Autumn 2014 is a good target.

I was 43 when I did my first El Cap route. If I'd ignored the naysayers and believed in myself a bit more twenty years ago I'd have a few more El Cap routes in my logbook.

Whenever I've been in the Valley I've met people who have done The Nose or The Salathe or Zodiac as their first ever big wall - it is possible. When I failed on The Nose in 2010 the team a day in front of us were on their first ever wall - it took them 5 days. They did it - I didn't.

Look up Jane Galway's solo of Lurking Fear on the Supertopo link I gave you - if that doesn't inspire you to keep going nothing will.

E





Pav - on 27 Feb 2013
In reply to David Coley:
> (In reply to Pav) We found Lurking Fear very pleasant as a first way up El Cap. It isn't very classic and it isn't on the most dramatic part of the wall. But Hey, its on the Captain. We had a storm, we ran out of food and water, we were too slow. But in a sense that's just part of the normal experience.
>
> If you practice in a quarry and time yourself for leading, hauling and cleaning a pitch, re-racking and setting off and divide this by the length of the pitch, you will have your time per metre figure. I suggest you assume you will aid the whole climb and add in 2hours per day for faffing (like putting the ledge away). This should give you the number of days you might take.
>
> Enjoy the next year getting ready.
>
> PS. The Dewerstone in Devon make a good place to practice C1, rigging and hauling.
> PPS. The Leaning Tower is much less of a mission than LF.

Many thanks, I needed to hear something from a first timer. Cheers.
alex_arthur - on 27 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

First of all read the big-wall guide on supertopo. You will need to learn alot of new skills.

I think before contemplating something like zodiac you should have your big wall systems well practiced, the climbing will be challenging enough without struggling to haul or set up a ledge for the first time.

Practicing in a quarry is fair enough, but no substitute for the real thing.

Big wall climbing requires alot of hardwork and hardship before any returns.

A common big wall apprenticeship would include something like

1. Multiple single pitches of easy aid.
2. South Face of Washington Column
3. Leaning tower/Reg route half dome/Mount Watkins

Then you might think about an El Cap route...

You could make a good case for doing zodiac as a first El Cap route but only if you are proficent in the basics already and have done shorter stints of harder aid, mainly because its steep so hauling might be less painful.

Lurking fear or the Nose are more common. To make progress on these routes free climbing abilty will be very useful. Climbing granite cracks takes time to learn and like everything else in Yosemite is hard work.

My first big wall attempt was the Shield and I got humbled only a few pitches above the real start of the route...even bailing from halfway up el cap isn't straight forward.

My last trip to Yosemite was in June last year and in two weeks didn't have a window of dry weather long enough to get on El Cap... So I have experiance of getting my arse kicked by the big stone.

You should definately go to Yosemite, its a very special place, however more than one trip might be required if you have aspirations to climb El Cap...







David Coley - on 27 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:
> (In reply to David Coley)
> [...]
>
> Many thanks, I needed to hear something from a first timer. Cheers.

We were not first timers to Yosemite, long routes or aid, just first timers on the Captain. :)

Have a great trip!
rgold - on 28 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

One additional piece of advice: Chris McNamara (SuperTopo site owner and publisher) has just published his magnum opus, How to Big Wall Climb, http://www.supertopo.com/packs/howtobigwall.html . This is almost certainly the most authoritative treatise on Yosemite big wall climbing ever written, and it doesn't presume much in the way of prior experience; he really gets you going from the ground up, to coin a phrase.

Many otherwise skilled climbers fail on their first Yosemite big wall because they are a combination of too slow and so inefficient in their systems that they exhaust themselves. McNamara shows you how to move and haul quickly and efficiently and provides graduated training exercises. I suspect even wizened old hands could learn a thing or two from the book, and for a novice such as yourself it should be required reading.
Pav - on 28 Feb 2013
In reply to rgold:

On order now cheers

P
Enty - on 28 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav:

Chris Mac's basic tutorials on youtube are also well worth watching.

E
Pav - on 28 Feb 2013
In reply to Enty:
Cheers
dj_brigham05 - on 28 Feb 2013
In reply to Pav: Good luck!

Climbing El Cap is an amazing experience. The build up, ground work, research and training trips will keep to entertained for months and I found all added up to heighten the overall experience. And if you are anything like me you may be seriously unproductive in 'General life tasks' in the coming months ;)

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