So, the plan was pretty simple.
Climb the 7 main big walls in Yosemite in 7 days.
- El Cap
- Leaning Tower
- Mt Watkins
- Washington Column
- Half Dome
- Liberty Cap
- El Cap Spire
It’s funny because this is usually something I’d think of, some random bizarre challenge of endurance. However, it had in fact been done before by Quinn Brett and Josie Mckee back in 2016. And the idea to repeat it wasn’t even my idea, it was Sean’s!
Sean is a mate of mine from back in the UK, and when he’s in Yosemite he likes his hammer, his ladders and he’s a wizard with both. I’m sure he’s probably chuckling away to himself when I’m in a tangle of daisy chains and ladders whilst trying to aid through tricky free climbing to be quick on big walls. Anyway, he’s the aid climber, I’m the free climber and together we thought we’d be a good team to undertake this obscure little challenge.
There wasn’t a huge amount of planning that went into it, it was more a “go for it, see what happens and hope for the best” type of affair. I mean, we hadn’t even done some of the routes and even some of the buttresses before, so there was bound to be some shenanigans.
Day 1 of 7: El Cap- Lurking Fear
At the beginning of day 1, I had no idea why people complained about jet lag, it was working in my favour and I was wide awake at 4 in the morning, literally jogging to the bear boxes for breakfast.
After meandering to the base of Lurking Fear, we found the water that Sean had pre-stashed had been taken. Never trust a thirsty lurking climber. However we were kindly offered a gallon from some sleeping bivvyers at the base. And no, they weren’t asleep when they offered us the water…
Sean smashed out the first block then graciously handed over the sharp end when things started to get wide. I keep telling folk I’m not into that shizzle anymore but nobody believes me. However, I only have myself to blame that I have to take the off-width pitches for the rest of my life. All good, nay bother.
- El Cap Yosemite
Having not stepped on Yosemite granite in a year and with brand spanking new rock shoes on, I felt like a right punter. Feet like blocks of wood with the delicate touch of… well, not a ballet dancer.
After a few pitches and reaching more rambly ground, my short fixes got longer and I gained a bit of confidence. A party stopped and let us past just before Thanksgiving Ledge, which was kind. One mentioned they were psyched to see me climb the 11d offwidth. Apologies for putting on a poor show and yarding on the cam #5 for all it was worth, I'm sure it wasn’t that graceful to watch, but my plan was to reserve as much energy as possible considering we were just on day 1. We topped out in 9 hours.
Day 2 of 7: Leaning Tower - West Face
- Leaning Tower
Leaning Tower was the next day. Sean’s lead. I was on the jugs all day and came to realize why it was called Leaning Tower. The climb went fine, I mean I just leisurely sat in my harness all day. However surprisingly on the evening of day 2 I felt hideous. Sick, nauseous and shivering, essentially ill. Sean mentioned how good he was feeling and not wanting to seem like a right wuss, I played along. It was my lead tomorrow, Watkins. I thought, “let's just climb that wall and see how I feel”.
Day 3 of 7: Mt Watkins - South Face
- Mt Watkins
After another 4am start, an obligatory bushwhack to the base and an arduous heave-ho up some fixed lines to the base, it has to be said I felt reasonably tired. I blamed the travelling and jet lag this time, rather than praising it and just decided to get on with it. When I actually got on the rock I remembered how to climb and made decent progress to mid-height in a couple of hours. Sean got his best jugging arms on and we topped out in 7 hours 30 minutes.
It says it’s 3 miles to walk off the top of Watkins, but I don’t believe a word of it, that thing goes on forever. And the trail cons you, it goes whiskers away from the road before whisking you off in the other direction again. The trail builders obviously weren’t thinking about my poor legs when they built that one. Typical.
Day 4 of 7: Washington Column - 10 Days After
Sean’s day again. After climbing some mungey, bird shit-filled cracks, we got into the nice stuff. Or…Sean got into the nice stuff, I was swinging wildly away from the wall whilst trying to clean.
Halfway up we met some nice Belgian men who waited and let us pass. Kindly, one offered me some water as he’d heard about my ‘Nose solo with only 1 litre of water escapades’ last year, and thought he better look after me. Thank you Dennis.
Sean smashed it in 8 hours 30 and I felt vaguely rested for my lead the next day.
- Washington column
Day 5 of 7: Half Dome - Regular North West Face
By the morning of day 5, the novelty of getting up at 4 in the morning was really starting to wear thin. Few words were spoken at breakfast, everything was just routine now. Drag bodies out sleeping bag. Oats in pan. Water on oats, lighter on gas. Eat. Drag body up steep hill towards crag.
Although Half Dome wasn’t necessarily the hardest climb, it was the one with the most pitches of climbing, so I was keen to ‘get a shift on’. I felt a little bit sorry for Sean jugging this one, because by the time he’d finished jugging a pitch, I’d short fixed and pretty much finished the next, not really giving him a break at all.
The second half went a little slower and by the top I’d had enough of mega looping and Sean was totally over battling his way up broken and rocky ground on a fixed line. In typical style we missed the climbers path on the way down and ended up in a world of bushwhack that was taller than Sean (which is quite some feat, as he’s massive). Bush drowning, not recommended. 6 hours 30 was the time.
Day 6 of 7: Liberty Cap - South West Face
After the bush drowning of the Half Dome walk off I actually felt pretty psyched for the ‘C2 bushwhack pitch’ [description in the guidebook] at the top of this wall. I have to say though when I got there it kind of disappointed me. I was expecting to have cam lobes between branches and poison ivy in my face and an all out bush battle. Maybe my past life of a tree surgeon had trained me up well. I just got a little tickle on the chin whilst approaching and a poke in the arse when leaving and that was about it. 6 hours and it was in the bag.
Day 7 of 7: Lost Arrow Spire - Direct Route
The funny thing was that on the last day, I felt better than on day 2. Maybe I’d finally warmed into Yosemite climbing… or maybe in reality it was just last day psyche. Who knows! What I do know is that we were both keen to get moving. I smashed out the cracky wide blocked leads to mid height, and Sean took the thinner aid to the top. Although I was pleased to see him getting his off-width skills out when he neglected to take the #5 and found himself swimming in arm bars. Good lad.
- Lost Arrow Spire
The Spire was a great one to finish on. A real solid point to mark the end of a long week. Although it was slightly longer climbing time of 7 hours 50 mins, it had felt like one of the easier days.
I say we felt fresh on the last day, but I had to laugh when Sean said ‘this way Pete, there is a cairn’ and pointed at a squirrel sitting on a rock. ‘Sean mate, that’s a squirrel eating an acorn’. We turned and plodded down the path in the opposite direction.
Solid effort Quinn and Josie for forging the way with this one, what a fun little week!