Dan's El Cap Story
I actually bought my first sewing machine in 1970 for personal use and hand sewed my big wall haul bags before that ( starting in 1968 ) with hand awls, and let shoe repairmen do the final sewing. It's interesting to look back at the success and failure rate on El Cap in those days - it had much to do with whether or not the haul bags held up. This was at least 10-15 years before haul bags became available at stores. By 1975 I had a heavy duty walking foot machine and was making my own climbing gear like aiders and harnesses and made my own survival tents for the El Cap solo adventures out of truck tarp vinyl! For the 1977 climb I even had 2 of these along figuring if some gritty waterfall destroyed one I could just pull out another. I also had a wetsuit top along for the ride! I had a harmonica and......Even hauling 135 lbs (including 9.5 gallons of water) of gear and canned food in the haul bags, I still did the climb in record time for those days, 5.5 days. Below: The swami belt from my old harness.
The leg loops were separate from the belt in those days ( mine still are ). My later models even had a cross-bar similar to what windsurfers used on their harnesses, but smaller and lighter. I windsurfed so I knew that trick. I even had hooks on my hammers so I did not have to always search under all the hardware for the stupid holster. I discovered that trick on the El Cap solo. I had fixed some pitches and went back to Camp 4 to spend the night and took my hammer and holster with me accidently. In the morning, when I got to the base of the wall, I discovered I had somehow left the holster in camp. I knew that if I went back to camp that I might easily postpone the climb another day or even lose hold of the sometimes fragile psyche it takes to do this stuff, so I stayed and taped a Chouinard skyhook to the hammer head and smashed it down to keep it out of the way. No excuses for me - not this time! It worked great and probably help speed me up. Later models I made had hooks drilled into the other end - the free end of the wooden handle. I'm always cranking out new stuff. See my axe toob page. Other spooky things happened high up too, like having to back down a pitch to get different gear from the bag and discovereing that all the free rope that went down with me went inside of a deep crack and got stuck. I pulled and pulled on the damned rope and before I was able to get it out made up my mind I could finish the climb by cutting my haul line in half if I had to - and I would have had to!
Anyway, I zoomed up those 3 fixed pitches, maybe 4, and slept on the ledge at the end of the 11th pitch VERY late the first night! In the dark with a headlamp, and to save time, I actually kept climbing at the end of the 10th pitch on my haul line to get to the ledge.....or maybe it was that the 11 pitch was just so long.......I think that was it, because I still had enough rope left to rappel to the haul bag, set it up to haul, clean the pitch, and then haul the bag. All of the time saving episodes probably saved me in the end. The day after I came down from the top a torrential rain storm hit, and some people, I recall, died up there on El Cap. Hiking up to the base to get gear I had dropped, I was walking in water up to my knees.....damn good thing I took those 2 tents along. There's always something going on up there in that ocean of rock. I spent 2 nights on the ledge since I fixed the 2 difficult pitches above it and called it a rest day. On one of those nights, something very large went sailing/plummeting/wooshing by me within 20 feet. I thought maybe a deer had fallen from the top, or a log, or maybe a party higher up that was on another route called Mesqaulito threw or dropped a haul bag. It was spooky. But that was why I chose the Dihedral as a solo, because the arches above ad protection from falling debris.
Dare I share the strangest memory of that climb? I think it was on that first day real day after the fixed pitches and after going over the roof on the 7th pitch ( there were fewer bolts in those days above the roof, with more flakes to hook ), I had a feeling that I had aced the grim reaper for the time being and that I was safe, and even saw him disappear for good around a corner higher up. Part of the creation of those feelings maybe that I had been to the roof at least twice before with friends and what lay above was intimidating and represented serious commitment - even though I had climbed the whole thing before, 5 years earlier. I probably don't have to say it's a little different all alone! Who knows, maybe what I have thought all this time to be the Reaper was really one of those imaginary friends that children have, and I did not know I still had one, or had one at all - even one that could climb! Who knows? Goes to show how negative one can be! If I told the story of how I willed myself day by day to train for the climb, almost sneak up on myself to get myself to do it, then the most amazing part becomes not the climbing itself but getting myself to do it. It was something I HAD to do but not really! Soloing El Cap didn't really take 5.5 days - it was more like 5 years. Another memory that I just unburied was that Gretta Garbo's name kept going through my head up there somewhere. It was like a tune that would just play on automatic. I had to look her up later to see what that could have been all about. I then learned her famous saying was, " I just vant to be alone ". Well, I did too, and enjoyed every minute of it.
One of my funniest stories is of an El Cap Dihedral Wall attempt me and a buddy, Dan Wort, made in 1969. He made a giant haul bag as part of a college project. It was the Jumbo Jet of haul bags. It was beautifully made and tough, but when we tried to get our gear back in the single bag from the hanging bivi at the 7th pitch of the Dihedral Wall, we could not! It was too big around, and as the weight caused the sides to collapse inward we could not get the gear in. Well, it was enough of an excuse to retreat anyway. Even though I was good at technical climbing, as a 17 year old, it was still scary to think about what was higher up. I finally made it up the Dihedral with Jerry Yesavage in April of 1972, officiall still a teenager with my 20th birthday the next month. We had both wanted to solo it, but were too young in the head still, so we teamed up. The rain moved in the day we finished that one too. It was April and we only had net hammocks and no hanging tents! The Dihedral 1972 - http://www.stanford.edu/~yesavage/Yosemite.html
Below: Looking up from the start of the Dihedral Wall - the beautiful 3,000 foot ocean of rock on El Cap and me after the 1977 El Cap solo - Charlie Christ photo. The rock photo is from a 1968 issue of Summit Magazine and is from a story by Don Lauria about his 2nd ascent of the climb with Dennis Hennick. The route follows the crack the climber is in, up and left, to the dark bulging triangular ' roof ' of rock at it's end 700 feet up, then goes over it. The ledge is about 1100 feet up. The entire climb is about 2,700 feet rock. The rock in the photo is most of that 2,700 feet - it becomes very forshortened an shorter looking when you are actually on it - which can help with fear.