Bad Weather, Perseverance, and Thrifty Ravens. Joe Mill’s recap of freeing The Salathe Wall.

I am sitting comfortably in my new house drinking copious amounts of my House IPA out of my kegerator after returning from a successful free ascent of the Salathe Wall on El Cap, life is good…

The 5 days of rain and snow absolutely soaked the route. Indeed, there was a literal river of water flowing down when we climbed the bottom 1000 feet to recon the conditions. With our stuff 26 pitches up the wall, bailing back to Colorado was not an option so we waited two days to push the mission back as close as possible to our absolute back-at-work date of Monday morning, hoping the route would dry. The route did not dry, but the river stopped flowing. The climbing gods have a funny way of making things just hard enough to force you to give everything, but still allow success if you push hard enough. We moved quickly up the first 20 pitches, feeling great and managing the wet conditions. However, things were going too well so there had to be a twist.

While rappelling the route we left 3 drop bags with food and water along the route so that we could climb light our first big day.

Apparently, the thrifty ravens from the Valley floor also venture high up El Cap. We arrived to our food caches to find the backpacks torn open and all food gone. This meant that we had to climb 12+ hours with only our small breakfast rations of a couple of Nutella tortilla wraps. I managed to finish the day despite being completely bonked out due to zero calorie intake.

The next day, I staggered up the easy 5.11 off the bivy ledge and nearly vomited at the top of the now wet 5.12 Enduro Corner from exhaustion, which I had easily walked up on our previous mission. We then hauled our bags and made our new home atop the headwall for the next 2 days, looking forward to a solid rest day. The following day was one of the first true rest days of the trip, and hanging out in the sun at the top of the headwall was finally feeling like vacation. Rest days on El Cap are special because unlike rest days on the ground there is absolutely nothing to do but rest, no grocery errands, no shower, no phone calls, just total rest and reading a good book – total relaxation.

As with most built-up goals, the pitch that I had been working towards for 3 days was suddenly over. Climbing is funny in that way, you fall and fall and fall and then when you finally send it feels easy and you’re left wondering why it was ever so hard. We then enjoyed a glory finish on stellar dry rock to the summit. We had a brief summit celebration and then descended to the valley floor as quickly as possible. We hit the floor at 9pm, had some food and a shower, and then drove through the night back to Colorado to our respective jobs.

Epilogue:

A shameless plug for the Ibex W2 shirt. I am not a salesman and I don’t like plugging product. That being said, I wore the long sleeve Ibex W2 the entire time on the wall and it will be with me every time I go up El Cap. It’s thin and versatile, doubling as a cool morning shirt with a wind layer and a sun shirt in the heat of the day when the sun hits. The W2 merino blend took the abrasion of big walling like a champ. The Monster Offwidth pitch, a 160 gently overhanging #6 camalot crack, kills everything. It destroys shoes in 1 go from the intense heal toeing, bloodies my shoulder and elbows, but the W2 came out fine. This is remarkable given how thin it is. I shredded my shoulder from the abrasion, bleeding through the shirt, but it showed no holes. I don’t get it. It is the best base layer I have ever worn for climbing.