How I got the picture Back

Nov 26, 2012

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     I’d done several El Cap photo projects by this time, three as part of the climbing team and another two dropping in from the top, with several hundred feet of rope.  Both approaches yielded good results but the story was incomplete. 

     I was wanting to have a decent photo position for an entire climb.  Fixing ropes from the top to the ground would allow me to move freely above and beside the climbers. 

     One solo load carry and another, with two friends, had my gear and 2,000 feet of rope on the summit of El Cap.  I was hopeful this amount of rope would get me to Heart Ledges, from there existing fixed ropes continued to the ground.

     I’d discovered the difficulties of merely finding the top of El Cap, from the trail above, a year earlier while photographing on The Zodiac.  Finding the actual top-out point of the route Sunkist without a first hand experience turned out to be difficult.  I made several explorations over the lip, looking for a recognizable feature.  I made a guess and lowered two 300’ ropes tied together over the edge.  I rappelled with the remaining six ropes coiled and dangling from my harness.

     500’ down I realized I was headed for and eventually was standing on Chickenhead Ledge.  Several hundred feet East of where I wanted to be.  I jumared back up my lines and hauled them back to the summit.

     I was needing to find and get into the Fat City Dihedral, find the exit where Sunkist rolled over into it and go down from there.  I had a pretty good idea now where to start but with my mistake I didn’t have enough daylight to continue fixing ropes and reach the ground.  I bivyed on the summit with the ropes piled on top of me to stay warm.  It was a cold and sleepless long night.

     I started fixing down the next morning.  I was on the right path now.  One of my biggest fears was getting stuck dangling out away from the wall, unable to swing back in.  Sunkist manages to follow an almost plumb line unbroken by any huge roofs or jutting features, I clipped my lines in occasionally and rarely drifted out away from the rock.   The giant roofs of The Heart were below me and I passed these with a long free rappel.  My only rope snarl happened here, dangling 50’ away from the cliff, it seemed like hours of untangling as I slowly spun in circles.  Added to that I realized that the heat polished cam on my rappel device was letting the rope slip through, very slowly.  I reached the Heart Ledges rappels with plenty of rope to spare.  I continued to the ground on the worst fixed lines I have ever descended.  One of the lines had a half dozen knots tied in it.  At each bad spot in the rope a knot was tied, basically eliminating a terribly damaged sheath area.

     We started up the route the next day.  The featured photo below was taken four days into our ascent, high on The Shield Headwall, 2,000 feet above the Valley floor.