Sure, after over a year's time my jugging had gotten a little rusty, and it took me a second to put together the haul system, but big-walling is kinda like riding a bike...you have your system, and you don't forget it.
Portal slab climbing is similar, although it had taken me a few warm-up routes to remember...that, and pulling the mythos out of retirement!
Myles and I actually found the second pitch of this route randomly a few years back- a wild, bolted traverse put up by the slab-masters Darrell Hensel and Johnny Woodward. We loved it! But after linking "Nimbecile",as they called it, into Nimbus, we looked up and wondered why it didn't continue to the top.
Fast forward two years and lots of mileage and there we were, back in the Portal, gawking into open space.
"We'll just bring one sleeping bag so we can snuggle", my honey says trying to persuade me. As if he needed to, I was already choosing my pitches. Some couples go on romantic candlelit dinner dates, we big-wall!
That week we started hiking loads to the base. It wasn't far, and really we wouldn't have needed much, but May is the beginning of the busy season in Lone Pine, and we both have to work. No time for week long escapades...who would cook the burgers? Sadly, we had to do this one siege-style...
We spent our first stint going up the familiar first two established pitches, the first pitch 5.6 fun on the "Portal Buttress Tower" and Nimbicile. Sieging isn't all bad, however, I took the time to dig out the crack system after the bolted traverse and made a perfect place for a blue TCU...instead of the little nut I had used before! Don't worry, though, we left the little rubbery tree which makes it all possible:) Myles took the next pitch up one of the Portal's many stellar, hard underclings, which goes for 115'! We called it 5.11. That was it...day one. Only three pitches, but everything was awaiting us at our high point for the next go. We spent a lot of time cleaning and fixing the entire route for rappel, with bolted anchors (thanks FIXE Hardwear)!
Our first real go with a few days off, we were shooting for a giant bivy ledge. I went up psyched...I was about to lead up what looked like a moderate pitch and stance drill for the second time ever! Well, as it turns out, moderate is a relative term when you are looking from below.
I started up the pitch, plugged in some gear, and continued to well above my last good piece. Placing a crappy yellow TCU in a desperate flake, I yelled down for the kit. But, oh God, that old thing is heavy! I get it up to me and lift it above my head...legs doing the sewing machine, I try to readjust over and over again. It's no use. I'm coming down.
Myles had discussed his apprehension about me stance drilling this pitch, which made it even worse. I get to the anchor and pout. Well, lets be honest, I start to tear up like a little girl, " I want a lady-drill", I cry. Myles was very patient, and comforted me for a few minutes before I handed over the rack. I felt significantly better when, after getting to my high point, he showed some signs of difficulty. Even higher, it got harder...soon it turned into bolt to bolt. I was pretty happy that I had decided to let him take it! 3 hours later, I was on belay. It was now my job to see if the pitch would go free. Dumping all the excess stuff I should have put in the haulbag before it disappeared onto a piece of gear, I tried the crux. After hanging once and evaluating the slab, I trusted the little, tiny foot I had found and freed it. Sweet! No aid pitches yet. Luckily he bolted it perfectly, too, so if you were to fall leading, the crux is safe.
I came up to Myles' belay and he talked to me about his vision for the next pitch...more blots on slab. " Let me check this out first", I say, wanting to lead my pitch without having to bolt! I traversed down an left and found an awesome wide but not too deep chasm that swallowed me.
No big gear needed, I was actually completely inside for the first 25'. When I popped out there was a cool dike that cut through an overhanging crack. I called it 5.8, although, Myles says I'm a sand-bagger.
Two more cruzy pitches had us sitting, exhausted, on our giant bivy ledge...complete with fire wood! We had neglected to buy a new hand drill before taking off, and we were running pretty low on bolts. It was time to go down, but not til morning. I was cashing in on my promised snuggling, firelight bivy!
A storm passed through the Sierra the next week. Of course, there was no snow in January, and now, in the end of May we have to abandon our attempts. Luckily, everything was tucked away in one of Myles' custom-made haulbags!
So finally, last week, we were able to get back on the route, this time with a giant in the mix. Harhi, aka Barrel-Chest, is a seasonal ranger here in Lone Pine. A crusher on ice, the boy has never really learned about wall-life, and heck, we're always up for entertainment. The three of u started up the 800' of lines at 6pm...Harhi was nervous. It's hard as a 5'7" woman weighing a buck 20 to instruct a barrel-chested giant on the art of jugging, but we made it up just in time for dinner and a fire.
The next morning we awoke hot, with lots to organize before starting up the next pitch. Myles took the lead with Harhi as belay-slave, while I sorted and coiled our many ropes and got the bag ready to haul. Just as we expected, the beautiful Yosemite-looking flake ran out, and it was time to drill. Finding the way, Myles took a fall which jerked Harhi about 5' on the ledge...well, lesson 2 learned quickly. Watching from afar, I mentioned to my sweetie, " how 'bout a Hook"? Soon the next bolt was in, and he was climbing in style, taking me right into my corner. Time to free it. The climbing was great, and the bolting was, once again, exactly where I will want it when we come back to lead the route in a day. Hard, definitely, but it went on TR.
I was up. The fin we had been going for from the ground was finally in our faces. Cracks! Being no one had ver touched them before, they had some grit and some moss to deal with, but that's why the leader carries a nut tool! Getting to the base of the next fin, I was faced with a dilemma...keep going to the base so Myles could go up the crack which looked good but was riddled with giant death blocks we couldn't possibly remove them without hurting something or someone, or stop early so we could hit the beautiful face to stellar arête. I chose midway between the two. After bringing Myles up, the two of us couldn't make a decision..."We'll let Harhi decide", I offered. Our steady, patient friend arrived a few minutes later, much more efficient in his jummaring from the last two days. "Do you want burly or pretty?" he asked...give her pretty Myles decided. Yeah! Thin, fun sport-like climbing 1'000 feet in the air to the golden granite we've come to worship on the headwall.
Harhi again belayed as Myles went up, placing two bolts by hand and a piton to get onto the arête. Meanwhile, I went down the fixed ropes and scrubbed the last pitch...I actually mutilated my wire brush, but it sure does look good for the next time. By the time I returned Myles had almost finished and it was time to climb. It was perfect! Exactly as I had envisioned it would be. Up the slab, giant jug, mantel to a flake, and marked by a piton...dream climbing.
The day was done. We hauled up our bag, and headed to camp. We knew Harhi was rapping down in the morning, so we toasted the red wine I had snuck in the bag to his help, and slept like kings and queen.
Summit day had finally arrived. We bid farewell to Harhi and jugged our ropes to the high point. Finally, just us and he shuttle bucket, going to the top.
The last two pitches took a lot of route-finding. First, I took off up a wide crack that looked good from below. It turned out to be very wide and of kitty litter quality. A huge bush barricaded me from the finish, so I cut right on a slab and found an awesome #1 hand crack! The bush also made it impossible to belay and haul the bag, which would inevitably get stuck in the wide, from the same spot. I had to constantly switch between two anchor points as Myles came up, freeing the bag every few feet...unhappy!
We peeked around to the right where I had joined into the slab- a bit of a jungle, but we knew we could do a good job cleaning and protecting it, but first we had to get to the summit.
Myles started up what appeared to be a pretty undercling, only to discover that, it too ,was crummy rock. He traversed left to a good stance and after a considerable amount of up and down, side to side, he opted to continue up the last 100' of Mean Streak, clipping it's anchor as pro for the 5.10 slab move. Finally, we had made it. Our elation was short-lived, as we realized once again, "what comes up, must go down".
Myles drilled the first bolt for rappel, and I drilled the second. Sure, I'm a little slower, but for some reason I like swinging the hammer, especiaaly with our new FIXE drill that protects me from bashing my hand! We rapped down to the top of my wide pitch and I lowered Myles down to try a different way though the jungle. As soon as we realized it would go, and was a much better addition to this awesome line, we began cleaning and pruning. I drilled another bolt as Myles built terraces and cleaned up the rappel.
We were exhausted. We set all the rappels and dropped lines back to our bivy. When Myles joined me on the ledge he had a huge gash over his calf...apparently, he had some trouble with a tree. With less than half a gallon of water for eating dinner and drinking until we make it to the store the next day, we go to sleep early, eating dried oatmeal as a snack and dreaming of orange juice waterfalls...
We both had to work the next day, so we got up early and packed our haulbags. We had to leave the ropes fixed to the bivy ledge as a matter of time, but also to come back with more chain and set the rappels. Always more work to be done! All in all, this route tuned out to be awesome! The climbing is mostly hard, with really good quality rock...now that the work is done, we are fired up to go do it in day!
Nimbicile IV, 5.12 11 pitches; Whitney Portal Buttress. Lone Pine, CA