The clouds part to reveal one of the worlds biggest pieces of stone: El Capitan
With the snow starting to fall in the mountains, the stoke for the upcoming winter is palatable. At times the feeling of time is transcended throughout our life and our daily routine; as I prepare for winter, I feel that both the last ski season just ended, and its been an eternity since I put away for boards for the summer. Reflecting back on the past 8 months, the latter is probably more accurate. I don’t spend the off months in Sun Valley and work takes me to other amazing places in the West, and a lot of mountain stoke has happened. As a professional guide, and one that is one final exam away from full AMGA/IFMGA international Mountain Guide certification, I need to critically balance my time in the outdoors, and make sure that I am giving due process to work (pays the bills), professional development and training (important for the profession), and lastly, having some personal fun.
This past year, I focused heavily on working and professional development. I was successful in passing my AMGA Ski Guide Exam in April, working a full summer guiding season in the Pacific Northwest, passing my Alpine Aspirant Exam in September, and passing my Rock Exam in October. Whew! That was a lot. While I attribute this success to both personal dedication and professional development, the role that mentorship has played cannot be understated. Once my Rock Exam was over, I wanted to take some personal climbing time to revisit the stoke and passion that climbing has always brought to me, which at times can be overshadowed by work. I also wanted to take the opportunity to visit and spend time with friends throughout climbing areas in the West that have played a pivotal role in who I am today and also wanted to create new milestones in my climbing career. Furthermore, I wanted to take the opportunity to give back and offer mentorship and share my experience with others. Apprentice guide, Niels Meyer was game to come along on the wild ride with me. Please enjoy the photo essay of our adventures below, and I hope to ski with you this season! :SVT Guide Chris Marshall
Our first stop was Red Rock Canyon. The climbing here is super varied, with everything between overhanging sport routes, excellent splitter crack, technical face climbs, and long multi-pitch adventure routes.
Looking down the 4th pitch of Risky Buisness (5.10c R). This climb has a reputation for being run out and spicy. I wanted to see for myself and found five-star technical face climbing on bulletproof rock (and some run outs).
Levy best: Levitation 29 (5.11c) has been called the best multi-pitch route in Red Rock. Last year it was too hot, and then I lost motivation. Feeling strong and with cool-enough temperatures, Nick Malik and I had the route to ourselves. We found sustained technical face climbing in an outstanding setting on a huge wall. A milestone for sure.
Niels gets the redpoint on a classic 5.10 in the Black Corridor.
Eventually it was time to leave the desert, Yosemite Valley was calling. The Valley was another monumental place as I developed as a climber, and not having climbed there much in the last few years, the bucket list was starting to grow.
The North Face of the Rostrum feels like an entrance exam into hard Yosemite climbing. At 5.11c with seven of the eight pitches 5.10 or harder, this route requires excellent technique from overhanging fingers to squeeze chimney, to burly overhanging wide hands, to offwidth. I had the pleasure of climbing this with Valley guide Greg Coit. Standing exhausted on top of a climb I had aspired to do for six years was surreal. Another milestone and inspiration for the future.
Chris jamming up the Rostrum
Coming from the desert, a day remembering how to jam splitter granite was in order. Niels follows Salathe Pitch 1 (5.10c) at the base of El Capitan. Climbing under the Big Stone was an inspiration for the days to come.
Cool temps and the first winter storm had chased away many folks from the Valley and off of El Capitan. As a team of three, Niels, Greg, and I had been planning on climbing the Muir Wall, but with the possibility of another winter storm on the horizon, we set our sights on the classic and steep Zodiac (5.8 A3/C3). We took a few days prepping, teaching Niels the ins and outs of aid climbing, and packing for 4-5 days on the wall. We had hoped to spend 3 nights, but with the cold, the storm, and the short days, we topped out after 5 long and amazing days living and breathing in the vertical. We believe that we were one of two parties on El Cap for the storm, which brought snow down to the valley floor and temperatures in the 20s.
Greg stoked as I lead p2.
The upside of snow on top of El Capitan was that Horsetail Falls was pumping. The Zodiac is so steep that water runoff from the top was 10-20’ out from the cliff.
Niels jugging in the evening golden hour. Plenty of space jugging on this steep route!
Greg making good vertical progress after the storm.
Looking down to our portaledge camp as I lead the Mark of Zoro pitch. By the time I had lead this pitch, the clouds had swirled around and it was snowing. We ended up spending two nights at this protected bivy woken by ice fall throughout the night.
Portaledge life: even though we were three feet apart, we often didn’t see each other!
As the storm clouds clear, Niels space jugs wearing four jackets with El Capitan’s icon Nose in the background. Jugging is hard work; it was cold!
A stoked summit team. While human nature was to sit in and revel in the view and accomplishment, the reality of descending down the snow, verglass, and water covered East Ledges descent set in quickly. This ended up being fairly serious, and it wasn’t until we were past this part, the six ensuing rappels, and walking down the trail toward valley bottom under the beam of our headlamps that a sense of fulfillment of a lifelong dream set in.
Niels and I are in Indian Creek sampling some of the best desert splitters on earth in a lower stress environment. We’ll head over to the San Juan Mountains for some early season ice before this adventure ends, back in Sun Valley, where we’ll have time to reflect on this journey, dream of the next adventure, and get stoked for the ski season ahead!