El Capitan - East Buttress

September 17th, 2003

The day after coming down off the Nose, Eric was ready to get moving again. We decided to climb El Cap "one way or the other", and the East Buttress looked classic. We used the SuperTopo, which was available on a little 4x6" laminated card in the mountain shop. We started the route at 6 a.m., not three minutes ahead of a guided party, and were the first ones on route.

Eric following the 5.9 chimney on the first pitch, an amazing chimney with a hand crack running up the back. It gets pretty sustained near the end too.

Reading the topo on top of pitch 3 (run 2 and 3 together with a 60m rope). Eric and I both A0'd the hard move on the 2nd pitch. 10b my ass!

Eric following the classic arrete on pitch 4. This was an easy (5.6) but slippery and exposed pitch right on the crest of the ridge.

Eric topping out on the roof of pitch 8. Like most 5.8 roofs, you need to find the key moves that make it easy. Good pro right under the roof, didn't see a fixed pin though.

Wow! The exposure on this pitch (9th 5.9) can't be beat! Eric heads left towards the dark and ominous offwidth pitch.

I got the offwidth pitch, so I racked up all our big gear (up to #4 camalot) and headed up. The OW is more like a roof on a steep slab that you need to traverse left in and then back up as it curves around. This makes the traditional stuffing-shit-in-the-crack technique useless, so when I got to the base of the real wideness, I plugged in that #4. Unlike some OWs, there also weren't jams to reach deep in for, so after a few insecure arm bars, I started laybacking up the thing. The edge was sharp and I started to really move. Before I knew it I was nearing the top, about 20 ft out from my last piece. But sure enough, just at the critical moment when you need to crawl back inside, the lip of the crack rounded out. There was a small foot hold off left, and I tried to jab my foot for it, but as I reached out, my upper hand slipped out of the crack and I lurched backward. Just barely catching myself with my lower hand, I crammed my foot to the hold and hauled myself into the squeeze chimney for a rest. It was so tight that it was hard to breathe, but eventually I kept going and made a belay at the first ledge I found. Whew!

Eric and I in the yellow circle, just above the obvious dark offwidth. Photo: Tom Rogers.

Tom was talking to us on the radio all throughout the OW pitch, getting annoyed that his calls weren't generally being answered. Finally he said, "Hey you guys, we've got some grandparents down here who want to know what it's like up there." I had just setup my belay and was huffing and puffing still, but inspired by the great Barry Blanchard, I pulled out my radio. "Tom, climbing that offwidth was like having sex with death!" The grandparents quickly moved on with their vacations...

Eric coming up the rounded 5.5 on pitch 11.

A French party climbing a little too close behind on the SPECTACULAR 12th pitch.

Find your way through the sea of polished knobs on a vertical wall for a full rope.

Eric topping out on pitch 14. With a little running belay and a 60m rope, we combined 13 and 14 together for a long and moderate pitch to the top.

The camera sees what's really important on top of El Cap...

The East buttress follows the illuminated skyline for 14 pitches of fun. We round tripped the climb in about 11 hours, getting down around 5:30. The guided group behind us, after being passed a few times and having a party of 3, didn't get off until 11:30pm! The clients must have been having fun though, for Mike Schafer is one of the nicest and most courteous guides I've met!

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