In mentioning that I may have almost died recently, I thought I would clarify what happened to me. Let’s just say, I didn’t die, and I’m starting to realize my comfort zone is something I can do without.
Do Hard Things
The theme for me, as of late, is “Do Hard Things” and I’ll tell you, I’ve been putting myself up to the challenge, and growing a lot. A few short weeks after my return from Bishop, my buddy Bruce asked me if I wanted to take a job in Yosemite that he wasn’t able to make. I jumped on the opportunity, seeing how I had never been to Yosemite, and from the brief description, it sounded pretty epic… Little did I know how much I’d be pushed to do hard things.
See, things in Yosemite don’t follow the same rules I’ve grown up following. In fact, it’s a whole new game on how things are done, and I thought it best to be as prepared as possible. Having said that I found out that I would be in need of a rigger (someone to climb ahead of me and place the rope I was to ascend on, during filming). In talking to Bruce, he had arranged for D. Scott Clark, a fellow photographer/climber, to assist me in rigging and my overall trip.
THE FIRST PUSH - ONE OF MANY
Now, leaving for Yosemite at 1 am, due to miscommunication and a delay of flights might have you questioning our sanity. Upon arriving in Yosemite, it was straight to work. Filming time lapses, and quickly trying to get our barring in the vast and beautiful valley.
The following morning we awoke at 5 am (note: we went to bed at 1), and drove into the Valley from Yosemite West, to where Hans Florine had hosted us. For those who don’t know who Hans is, he’s a professional climber, who holds the speed record on the Nose of El Cap, needless to say, pretty cool if you ask me. He was also the guide the client had hired to lead them around the Valley.
Upon arriving in the valley, we meet the rest of the crew at Manure Pile Buttress, a simple, but moderate multi-pitch to where we would begin filming the host of the show. Now, in talking about the job, I have to be a little vague, due to disclosers and all, but what I can tell you, is this was the host’s fourth-time trad climbing, and he killed it! Seriously! After sending Manure Pile, we discussed what was next. Jokingly, Hans mentioned going up El Capitan.
It’s funny because he wasn’t joking. If the client wanted the shot, they would have to work to get it. Meaning, since I was hired to be the camera on the wall I would be the one working a lot harder than anticipated. Upon the clients asking, I jokingly commented, "I thought that was the plan all along.” In some ways, I was serious, I had no clue on what the overall production would be, and I knew it would look cool, so I was kind of along for the ride.
Arriving in the Valley
The following morning Scott and I headed towards El Capitan, we planned on meeting up with Hans, and the team two to three pitches from Mammoth Terrace (our camp site for the night), since we would be ascending seven pitches of fixed lines, each pitch being ruffly 150-200 feet. Sending Scott first so that he could rig my film line, I watched as he made his way up the first line. About 75 feet in the air one of his ascender slipped, and with a look of death and fear in his eyes, I knew my turn was soon to come where I question my sanity.
Once Scott was on the second pitch it would be my turn to make it up the wall, and although this wasn’t my first time jugging up the side of a mountain, it was my first time jugging on two ascenders with no real backup, and to heights that I’d never been exposed to.
As Scott yelled down that I was clear to ascend, I said a prayer and locked on to the rope. After 20-30 minutes of inching my way up in a white-knuckle grip, I made it to the second line. As I let a sigh of relief, I quickly began to shake during the transferring from one rope to another. Muttering foul language under every breath, I knew it was too late to turn back, not to mention I wasn’t going to quit! This is my job, and as much as it was pushing me at the moment, I knew I rather be here than sitting behind a desk.
Pushing forward, I made my way from the second to third to the fourth line and was starting to get the hang of moving quickly and efficiently up the battered ropes. Did I mention that the fixed lines on El Cap are a little battered and ragged? Well, they are! By the fifth pitch, the standard 10.2mm lines had expanded to where the ascenders hardly slid through. Questioning the lines integrity was first and foremost on my mind.
Finally, I heard over my radio that Scott had reached the last pitch and was making his way up. At this point was able to see Scott, and as fear and uncertainty are slowly being overpowered with a small amount of false confidence and even smaller amount of experience, I soon begin my way up the line.
Now, if the battered lines weren’t enough to put me into shock, I soon realized that this line, the one that was separating me from the end of this nightmare had a knot tied into it. This only meant one thing, the line had been core shot at one time, and the mend to this issue was not to replace it but rather tie a butterfly knot into it and leave it for the time being. As the false sense of confidence went full flight out the window fear and panic poured back through my body. I began inching my way to the knot, releasing one ascender while gripping to the other for dear life as I came to the make shift tie off. Never in my life had I ever had to come to accept death, yet at this point, I knew one small mistake would cause that acceptance to become real. Fifteen feet past the knot, I would reach the hard ledge and be “safe”… As I made my way past, and to the ledge, I crawled over and laid down in shock. I had just done the hardest thing mentally, and possibly physically ever in my life.
As I attempted to process what I had just done, Scott came rushing over telling me that I had to get to the other side of the ledge, and rappel down two more pitches and begin filming. The mental game now was real. It required me to get up and walk over to another line that would throw me back into space over Yosemite Valley. As much as I hesitated, I knew I needed to do this if I cared to continue in this line of work. As I tied in, to repeal, I came to the terms that this was my rope now and that I knew the history of it, and I knew I could trust it. I tossed it down and began to descend.
After capturing what I came to do, I ascended back up to Mammoth Terraces, our camp site for the night! Now, I’ll say this, I’ve camped in some pretty unique and beautiful places, but I think takes it, and I’d have to recommend it to anyone who can do so to go do. The only down side of sleeping 1500 feet above the valley floor is the views. Seeing how I never was really to process the view on the way up, and my mind was so racing I didn’t get to enjoy a peaceful night sleep, rather I enjoyed a quiet night taking in the view, and processing what I had done, and what was to come.
Now, I can go on about this story, in that I meet Jimmy Chin the next morning, or how I didn’t sleep in a bed for the next three nights because I bivvy out in order to get a shot. But I hope you get the point. It was a pretty insane trip, and I’m extremely grateful for the experience. I learned a lot, and I still have a lot to learn. I can’t wait to push myself like this again within my career, and in all honesty, if I die doing this, it’ll be that I died doing something I love.