El Nino Free for McHaffie and McManusby Duncan Campbell - UKC Jun/2014
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As reported at the end of May, top British trad climbers James 'Caff' McHaffie and Dan McManus made a second El Capitan big wall free ascent by climbing of El Nino, 5.13c/8a+ (UKC News Report) in 3 days. Impressively, this was not long after they had got down after a ground-up ascent of Salathe Wall (UKC News Report).
Dan and Caff chose El Nino after being recommended it by two German friends from Camp 4, Tobias Wolf and Thomas Hering, who had just freed the route. The pair climbed El Nino in a more normal big wall style, returning to the ground twice before packing the haulbag and going to the top from the top of the third pitch.
Due to a minimal amount of hard crack climbing, El Nino is well suited to Brits as was well demonstrated in 1998 by Leo Houlding and Patch Hammond. Who, just a week after the Hubers made the first ascent, made an almost flashed free ascent with just a few falls between them.
On the German's advice, Caff and Dan decided to spend a day checking out the first three pitches; The Black Dyke, The Missing Link and Galapagos, which are the three crux pitches. On their first foray, neither managed to free all the pitches, but after a rest day they set off once more managing to both free all three pitches on lead or second, committing them to doing the route. Caff described these pitches on his blog:
"The first pitch, The Black Dyke had a reputation as being the hardest pitch and the next 2 were also meant to be runout 7c+/8a. The reputation is well deserved. The Black Dyke is E6 6b/c to the 2nd bolt where committing moves lead to the crux of the pitch where the unlucky can sample a minimum fallout of 10m, Dan thought this pitch harder than Slab and Crack [E7] at Curbar.
The 2nd pitch [Missing Link] has a 10m runout after the crux and would be E6.
The 3rd pitch, the Galapagos has a massive 5c/6a rockover where you’d fall forever before sustained 6b/c with a few sections that look impossible until the very last minute/second! A bust finger combined with sun/tiredness blew our first go up but the 2nd found McManus on blistering form, sending the Black Dyke, Missing Link and flashing the Galapagos on 2nd."
After a rest day, and hauling past the first 3 pitches, the pair headed off up relatively amenable pitches to The Big Sur ledge. From this they then fixed the next hard pitches; M&M Flake and Royal Arches. Caff managed a flash of M&M, with Dan climbing it 2nd go on second. Dan then flashed Royal Arches and the next day the pair were soon through a number of pitches including the E6 Enduro Corner and up to The Black Cave pitch.blog:
"I took over for a first look at the Black Cave pitch, which resulted in much swinging around on the rope. I got stuck once at the start until I found a way through via a double foot jam and then again on the crux moves before the belay. The hardest moves traverse the lip of the roof via small pockets and heel hooks and is totally wild! It took me a while to work out a sequence and by that time my forearms felt fried."
Caff and Dan soon got to their next bivi point and set their sights on the summit for the next (third) day. This day still contained some hard pitches including The Dolphin and Lucy is a Labrador, before easier pitches to the summit. Fortunately both these pitches were freed without too much trouble, with Caff and Dan standing at the top at 7pm that evening.
Commenting on Leo Houlding and Patch Hammond's near flash of the route, Caff said:
"It stands out to me as possibly the best effort on rock by Brits abroad for a number of reasons, with the tough onsighted pitch of The Prophet [Leo Houlding's route up the right hand side of El Cap; News Report] up there. They would have been on blistering form and have had a fair wind behind them to do it so well. It also has a very intimidating atmosphere from the Big Sur onwards with reasonably technical hauling involved."
You can read a full trip report from Caff on his blog: JamesMcHaffie.com/Caff's-Blog
You can also read Dan's viewpoint on his brilliant blog posts: DanMcManus.blogspot.co.uk
To keep up to date with what is going on on El Capitan, visit Tom Evans' website: ElCapReport.com
Dan McManus is sponsored by: Scarpa