Joe Mills – Salathe Wall Update (PART 2)


Joe working the Enduro Corner on The Salathe Wall.  PC: James Lucas

A week after leaving our homes in Boulder, Chris and I have already put in a 5 day ground-up push on freeing the Salathe Wall on El Capitan.

Our original plan was to leave Boulder after work on Friday, but the weather had a different agenda. A total snowfall amount of 12in overnight was predicted for the Colorado Front Range, a major problem for my Prius with newly mounted summer tires. Furthermore, the weather forecast for Yosemite indicated major rain and snow storms late in the first week of our trip, potentially shuting down free climbing on El Cap. This two week period (April 16 to May 3) was the only time window we had from work to make the trip happen. A few hurried phone calls back and forth and we were packing and leaving Boulder Wednesday night in a frenzy to beat the Colorado snow storm and make it to Yosemite before the potentially trip ending storm hit El Cap.

Our new plan was to head up the Salathe Wall ground-up as soon as we arrived. Two days of back-breaking wall-hauling hell ensued followed by two days of throwing ourselves at the Salathe Headwall with very little sleep all around. Without the luxury of rappelling in and stashing some food and water along the route coupled with added storm gear, resulted in haul bags in upwards of 180lbs. We had not planned to haul such a load and did not have the gear to do it properly. This drastically slowed our progress and we were climbing well into the early morning hours to make our schedule to be at the headwall in two days. We had to climb one of the 5.13- crux pitches of the route, a sideways all points off jump to a finger jug, in the middle of the night after climbing and hauling all day. Being forced to perform when your’e completely exhausted, regardless of the conditions, is one of the unique things about big wall freeclimbing that you just don’t get in other aspects of the sport.

We made it to the headwall and began throwing ourselves at it on lead for two days. The quality of the rock climbing on the headwall is equaled only by its exposure. Lobbing off the final moves of the monster pitch was some of the most fun I have ever had rock climbing. After two solid days of effort our fatigued bodies simply could not pull it off and we had no more water to take a rest and try another day. I put in one more hail-marry effort at dusk and gave it everything I had. I passed my highest point, nearing better holds and a rest at the top of the pitch…when fatigue got the better of me and my foot slipped. I popped off violently and went sailing through the air, the piece below me ripped, and I took a spectacular 60 foot whipper off the top of the headwall in perfect evening light. We rappelled the entire 3200ft route 400 ft from the top. However, the pain of failure was small compared to the knowledge that I gave it 100%, I couldn’t be happier with the attempt.

Oh wait, YES I COULD WE COULD HAVE SENT! The storm was smaller than expected so we are heading back up for another attempt from the ground next week before we have to head home…but this time no hauling!


“Aftermath of battling 5.13 overhanging flared thin hands on the salathe headwall. Licking the wounds and heading back tomorrow”

Read Part One Here