After the death on the Muir, I deliberated for a long time before deciding to continue with Joe Mills and my plan to go up a free variation, the PreMuir, of the route. I want our ascent to honor the man I had the pleasure of meeting the night before the accident. To me, accidents like these are seemingly meaningless until I choose to derive a meaning out of the occurrence. I see opportunity to create meaning, in the way a community moves through its grievance. Please consider donating to this Memorial Fund set up by Mason’s friend to build a climbing park in Montana. And if you can, please write a note following your donation and/or on my blog that states your support of Joe and my climb.
TO DONATE GO TO: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/bWB03 and please spread the word of this fundraiser via facebook etc.
To better understand the accident go to the following links:
And to follow Joe Mills and I on a free attempt of the PreMuir route at Tom Evan’s daily El Cap Report: http://www.elcapreport.com
A lengthy personal trip report to date:
I’ve been enjoying “wing-span living” for the past 3 weeks. A term Tara dubbed this lifestyle when she and Lola (her ridiculously cute maltese mutt) joined in for a week adventure in Dudley (my van) out to Yosemite. Everything in the van is within wingspan reach, which is one of the joyful aspects of it—the simplicity. Need water, a toothbrush, tape, music, a cookie? Need a home? Dudley’s been there for me for the past 7 years when I’m not in Boulder, CO.
The experience of feeling pressured in Yosemite is nothing new for me. I seem to create a similar set-up every time I come here. I come for 3-4 weeks with an objective in mind that I hope to pull off. Some of my ascents have felt more self-tortured than others. This year I chose to try a free variation of Muir Wall (the PreMuir). Joe Mills, a ridiculously strong climber from Colorado, and I spoke last December about trying the route in the Spring together. We both wanted to climb up mainly new terrain (for us) on El Cap and for the opportunity of climbing such an obvious line of clean corners close the Captain’s prow.
Joe had less time in Yosemite than I, so I spent 2 nights atop El Cap. Alone in my bivvy beside Horsetail falls, I enjoyed time further simplified with a spacious view—-listened to the water pour over smooth slabs of rock, into pools and down the right face of el Capitan. I settled in with the stars and the outline of the Capitan’s prow.
I’d gone up there to stash water and check out the top pitches of the PreMuir in hopes that I would find the climbing possible and that when Joe arrived we’d be fired up to give it our best effort. I haven’t been climbing as hard as I’d hoped (etc…. insert other excuses here!!!) before this attempt so I was trying to accept the challenge of the climb without too heavy of expectations on my performance. Instead I was focused on positive self-talk and being grateful for what was. I noted what was working well (such as feeling well-loved and part of a community) and the joy of days when the purpose is clear and you have the tools and right amount of pressure to want to meet its demands.
Rappelling in from the top El Cap is an exciting, adventure: mad-exposure-dosing combined with consequential problem-solving and treasure hunting. I scribbled Nik Berry’s beta over the phone about finding 1000 feet of stashed ropes and then where/how rappel. Once I found the ropes first anchor, I lowered myself over the visor of El Cap with uncomfortable amount of weight (static ropes, slings and cams and biners and 2 gallons of water) and searched for the desired anchor points. There is of course fixed gear all over El Cap and successfully rappelling to a desired location is as much about knowing what not to fix or clip as directional as it is about clipping anything.
Suffice to say I was somewhat content when I reached my low point goal (the base of pitch 23 where the crux stem corner is) on El Cap with 2 gallons of water and rope to spare, as I’d pre-defined this achievement as a bare minimum marker of success. I found the “shitty piece of tat” Nik mentioned for my 4th fixing point and exhaled, as I could see where I was going now and felt more confident about getting all the way down to pitch 23, the base of the stem corner that I heard was the crux pitch for others. I also felt self-conscious about rappelling on top of the aid parties that I knew were on route and ruining their “wilderness experience.” I first encountered the aid party Chris and Cole first while Chris was aiding pitch 27 (where the accident occurred the following day). They welcomed me warmly.
I met Mason Robison and his partner, Marc Venery, at the base of the stem corner. This was the pitch I wanted to check out. I heard was impossibly insecure and that when your calves pumped out from stemming you’d blow off the rock without warning. It did look impossibly blank, with a ¼” crack deep into a corner devoid of many discernible holds.
When I arrived, Mason was completing the pitch below and we met at the anchor. He met me with a grin and a calm confidence. He was enjoying the aiding and told me about how beautiful the route had been thus far. A chilly wind continued and Mason wore a blue shirt. ‘Is that all you brought?’ I asked. He’d laughed about forgetting his rack and puffy jacket in Montana. He had something more to wear, but said it’d been a damn cold morning. Marc arrived at the anchor and we decided what to do. They weren’t in a rush as they were planning to sleep on the ledge a few pitches up. So I went ahead and tried to climb the corner twice while it was still in the shade.
Mason then jugged my fixed line instead of aiding the corner. He said he was happy to get on to more interesting aid above and for me to be able to keep working on the free climbing. I laughed and said, “If you really want to call this free climbing.” But both Mason and Marc encouraged me, “You look solid!” I figured out the stemming with one fall, learning quickly how and where to position my palms and feet. I texted Joe that my left quad was pumped and that the pitch was indeed possible. “Let’s go crush that thing!” he replied. I jugged out with my ropes and wished Marc and Mason well, thanking them again for being so friendly. (For a cool pic of the 3 of us in the stem corner, go to Tom Evan’s daily blog of May 18: http://elcapreport.com/content/elcap-report-51813).
Back on top I relished in an overriding feeling of contentment (that is often overridden by a more dominant restlessness) and openness to the work that goes into a free climbing a big wall. I made dinner and went to bed tired and little hungry yet notably filled with joyful purpose.
The accident occurred the following morning. At 10 am when I arrived in the meadow below el cap, the scene was somber, a small crowd gathered beside Tom Evan’s telescopes and personnel and emergency vehicles and a helicopter filled the area. It was obvious that a man was dead and hanging below the roof at the stem corner of the Muir. My body sank and I felt ill.
Okay, fast-forward the pace here of this lengthy blog!!
The decision to go up the Muir after Mason’s death was difficult. Joe arrived in Sacramento on Wednesday. I drove to pick him up, observing the neurotic thoughts and a constricted chest as I considered whether I wanted to climb the Muir or something else. I felt relieved to see Joe and get to share a climbing project and the prep, planning and decision-making that accompanies it.
Joe was bouncing up and down like a kid in a candy shop when we arrived in the meadow on Thursday afternoon. We got onto the first pitches of the Muir, deciding to decide after we’d climbed the first crux pitch of the route, a slabby 5.13- traverse, whether we still wanted to climb the whole route. The traverse felt possible to both of us. And so we began to agonize about what to do. Salathe? Or the Muir? I was nervous about being at the stem corner and confront the image of Mason’s body imprinted in my brain. Joe had enough doubts about his fitness that he was talking himself out of the Muir and into the Salathe, what he thought was the easier objective or at least more knowable objective. In summary, after many decisions and then re-decisions, our conviction to climb the Muir was strong again and we celebrated in the excitement that if nothing else we’d get to climb up a new part of El Cap (for us) and have a damn good time trying hard.
So, we go tomorrow. I’ve had fun working together the past few days, hauling our stuff up to Gray Ledges (pitch 15), figuring out the first crux, and generally orienting ourselves towards big climb tomorrow. We plan to climb from the ground (up Muir Blast) to Gray Ledges tomorrow. We have our pace roughly worked out but the route is stacked with difficult pitches so we’ll be celebrating any upward progress we make. I think Joe will send it and he seems to think I will, but if either of us can’t redpoint a pitch we still plan to continue to the top. On Saturday (4th day) we hope to be taking a rest day at the pitch 23 stem corner. We will be flying a rainbow flag and I hope draw a big heart made of chalk there in honor of Mason Robison.