The following was written by Dan S. about our climbing trip in Yosemite, 5/10-13/07, which involved Big Wall Mike (A.K.A Epic Mike)

Yosemite, May 2007

Well, the trip to Yosemite was great, although it did not go as planned. The plan was that we (Jordan and I) where supposed to meet Mike (a guy hired by Yosemite to do some video work for them) and climb Washington Column while he took video of the climb. Mike had stated that he was 5.10a/b climber and knew how to jug (ascend a rope using mechanical ascenders and aiders). To get someone up a wall, one only needs to know how to jug. Being a 5.10 climber is helpful, but not required for success as long as you have a leader that can continually fix ropes on the way up. The plan was that Jordan and I would fix ropes for Mike, then lower off them and let Mike jug them to wherever he wanted to take video from. Then Jordan and I would re-lead some pitches to get top down video and such. Of course, we would take some video of Mike. Anyway, that was the plan. 

On Wednesday May 9th, I went into work at 5 am so I could get my 8 hours of work in before flying out at 6:30 pm from Oklahoma City. The flight was uneventful the fact I have a phobia for flying. Anyway, I arrived in LA (after a layover in Denver) at around 10:15. Jordan picks me up and we head off to his and Kelly's (his fiancťe) apartment in Pasadena. We have a few drinks, sleep 2 hours, and leave for Yosemite at 2 am.

The drive up to Yosemite is uneventful, as it is dark most of way. Jordan dives 2/3 of the way there, and I drive the rest of the way. We both get a little sleep (me a little more than Jordan). Upon entering the park, the sun is rising just in time to light up the spectacular sight of El Cap, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the rest of the Valley. Of all the places I have been, I can think of no other more awesome site for a rock climber than the 3000 ft vertical to overhanging rock that is El Cap. It is my one of my life goals to climb it in the near future (it beat me once already), but not on this trip. It looks to be another beautiful day in the valley. 

Since Jordan and I are a little early, (we are supposed to meet Mike in cafeteria at the park at 8:00 am) we eat breakfast while waiting for Mike to arrive. Mike had sent us a climbing pic of him and said he would be bringing a lab top computer with him. At around 8:30, a little guy holding a lab top walks in door followed by another guy who looks like a park official. I recognize the little guy to be Mike and waive him over. We introduce ourselves to Mike and the Park Official who turns out to be the Director of Safety for Yosemite. They, Mike and Bill (the Director of Safety) go get breakfast for themselves and return to eat with us. Most of the talk is about our plans for climbing Washington Column. Bill also tells us about the first fatality of the year at Yosemite. A 40 something woman was hiking on Half Dome when she slipped on a slopping slab and slid down until she plummeted over a 700 ft cliff. However, he also told us that rock climbers are the least likely to be injured at Yosemite, a nice thing to know. Sometime during our exchange, Mike has to use the restroom. Upon leaving, Bill looks at Jordan and I sharply and tells us that Mike is a slow climber (apparently Mike and Bill had climb together on occasion). We should have taken this to heart, but Jordan and I were in the mindset that Bill meant Mike was slow for a Yosemite climber. Seasoned Yosemite climbers are by far the boldest and best in the world climbing lightning fast and using little if any pro. Therefore, Jordan and I think Mike will be right at our speed, maybe a little slower. 

After breakfast, we move on to sort gear and pack haul bags in the Yosemite Lodge parking lot. With Yosemite falls is roaring from 2000 ft up and less than 1/2 mile away, it is great place to make final preparations. While Jordan and I are trying to minimize gear so we can have a lighter load, Mike is constantly packing excess stuff, not a good sign. When wall climbing, you want just enough to be safe, but not to much such that it will make your approach to the cliff, and hauling the supplies up the wall, a nightmare. I concede and reluctantly pack more than I want to. After all, we have 2 1/2 days to climb a wall that would normally take 1 1/2 days.

After packing, we head to the Ahwahnee Hotel parking lot which is were we will park our car and start the approach to Washington Column, a 2-mile hike gaining 1500 feet in elevation. Bill uses Mikeís video camera to document the start of our approach, and then we head off. Shortly after starting, I make the decision to ditch Jordans and Iís portaledge to lighten my load from about 110 pounds to 90 pounds, and thus have more energy for climbing. While the portaledge would make for some good filming, it is not necessary for the wall we are climbing, as there are two good sleeping ledges on the way up the column. 

Shortly after starting the approach, Jordan and I notice Mike has fallen way behind. Jordan I find some good boulders to sit on and rest while waiting for Mike to catch up. Not so bad, as resting occasionally is good for us, and gives me an opportunity to take in our surroundings. Once Mike catches up, we take off again. Mike falling behind would repeat itself throughout the approach such that Jordan and I had plenty of opportunity to rest on the way up. However, one time while waiting for Mike to catch up, I noticed something dangling around Mikeís feet. A closer look revealed object around his feet to be his harness (he had elected to put on before starting the approach). Hmmm..., I think, harnesses usually do not just fall off people. Anyway, we wait for him to put it back on, and then it is off again. 

We finally reach the base of Washington Column South Face route at around 4 pm. We let Mike lead the first 5.8 pitch. He does well, and Jordan and I quickly follow. We decided to fix the first three pitches before hauling. I lead pitch 2 (5.10 b) and pitch 3 (5.8) up to dinner ledge. Jordan quickly followed, and I took a few quick pics of him. Then we headed back down for the first pitch ledge. 

During my leads and fixing, Mike had descended the first pitch and prepped the haul bags for hauling. I set up a 3 to 1 pulley system to ease hauling and started hauling, while Jordan went below and assisted the bags up from below. After about 5 minutes of me hauling, Mike offered to take over, and I obliged. About an hour later, the haul bags were on top of pitch one. I quickly dissembled the haul system and moved the bags over to the start of pitch two. Jordan jugged the fixed line and set the haul system on top of pitch 2. We agree that Mike will jug the behind the haul bag and assist them up, while Jordan hauls. Then to my surprise, Mike asks me, ďHow do I set up my ascenders and aiders to JugĒ. I am stunned, after all, he was supposed to have jugged thousands of feet! Not a good sign! It has just turned dark, we are in a hurry to get the bags up to the pitch 3 ledge where we intend to sleep the night, and I am eager to get to bed since I have only had 4 hrs of sleep in the last 36 + hours. I set his jugging system up for him, and let him give it a go. He falls over, tries again, falls over, tries grapping the rope, struggles, and falls over again. Jordan is hollering down from the top of pitch two wondering what is going on, as he canít see us in the dark below. Mikeís futile attempt at jugging continues for 1 hr without moving one foot up the rope before I tell him to detach himself from the rope and go sit aside somewhere. I jug up to Jordan, and we have a little talk. I tell Jordan that we cannot bring him up, and that he now has become a serious liability to us. If either Jordan or I are hurt on the wall, it will become too difficult for either of us to watch after one injured climber and Mike since he would not be able to assist in a rescue effort when he cannot jug. My decision is to call the climb, Jordan is still optimistic that he can teach Mike to jug, It is now 11:00 pm. We decide to let Jordan try to teach him in the morning, and if Mike can demonstrate an ability to send the rope in a reasonable amount of time in the morning, we will continue. 

We rap down to the pitch one ledge, and tell Mike of our plans. We make dinner, and Jordan and I drink some whisky. Mike is indifferent, and asks if I will set up his portaledge. I told him that he could do it himself and that all he need to do was set up trad anchor to hang it. He tells me he does not know who to set up a trad anchor! What! I set up his ledge off to the side of the pitch one ledge and then proceed to clean and organize our bivy. Jordan has now been crashed asleep for an hour. Finally, at about 2 am Friday, I roll my sleeping bag out on the ledge, 6 inches from a 500 ft drop off and 2 foot from wall heading up pitch 2 which, oí by the way, is crawling with thousands of ants marching in a trail. It is hard to fall asleep since I keep thinking I am going to wake up with thousands of ants crawling all over me (this wouldnít have been the case if we could have proceeded to dinner ledge at the top of pitch three). But, for some reason, Jordan and I had decided we should sleep on the first pitch ledge to accompany Mike. 
6:00 am Friday morning, wake up, wake Jordan up, let Jordan try to wake Mike wake. 2 hrs later, Mike finally wakes up. Make breakfast, re-hydrated bacon and eggs, yum, yum. Jordan tries to teach Mike how to jug for an hour. It is futile. Finally, Jordan sets him up with a frog style system, and Mike finally gets off the ground, but is moving slower than an amoebae. It is decided either we must ditch Mike, or call of the big wall route. We decided to call of the big wall route as Mike has no where to go. Jordan goes up and cleans the upper pitches and retrieves the gear I left on top of pitch 3 while I end up having to take pics of Mike sitting in his portaledge. He was adamant he has pics taken before taking the portaledge down. I finish packing the haul bags, and we descend first pitch to the fourth class ramp and proceed to hike out. Again, Jordan and I are constantly finding Mike dragging way behind. Finally, we decided to sit and rest a while and let mike get a head of us away. Shortly after, we here Make making some ruckus about a rattlesnake sitting in the trial. Sweet! Jordan and I drop our haul bags and run to check it out. Sure enough, there is what looks to be a 10 year old rattler sitting on rock just next to the trail. I get video and a few pics of it before poking it away with one of Mikes hiking pools and we truck on. We reach the Merced River about an hour later and stop for break on its shore. The cool water is awesome to wash up. 15 minutes later, we are back at the car. 

At the car, we decide to head over to the Royal Arches wall taking a free climbing rack and Mikeís portaledge and sleeping gear. The idea is to find somewhere to sleep on the wall so we donít have to pay camping fees our get a backcountry permit. (In Yosemite, the only free way to camp is to sleep on a wall). We decide we should do the Royal Arches route in the morning. In the mean time, I climb a 5.10c bolted mixed trad sport climb, only to find out that from the second bolt on, they are all crappy ľ rusted bolts that might hold body weight. Scared out of my mind since retreat is not possible, I carefully and diligently continue on until I can finally place a cam up high. In doing so, I got my first onsite of a Yosemite 5.10. I then work my way over to some bolted anchors to my right and tie in on top a 5.11 sport climb. I belay Jordan up as a second, then lower him out, and set up a top rope. Then I cruise up the 5.11 for another on site on TR. I then fix the rope, set up a haul system, and then let Mike practice jugging, hauling, and setting up is portaledge. 

While waiting for Mike, Jordan and I go scout out the Royal Arches route and talk to a German couple descending the route. From there description, it is great route and worth doing. It is 14 pitches of moderate climbing. It follows a watercourse on the wall for a while before heading strait up. However, every pitch ends at a nice stance, often with a tree that making for easy belays. Jordan and I decide that this is the best route to try where Mike might have some chance of getting up. So, we head back down to find Mike still struggling up the rope to anchor on his jummars. Jordan and I decide to leave Mike there and go the Ahwahnee Hotel for Drink and dinner. That place is high class, and we felt a little outplace in our climbing cloths and dirt all over us. But, they let us in and we had a great Chicken Caesar Salad and some stiff Bourbon. 1 Ĺ hours later, we had back to the base of Royal Arches to find Mike just starting to haul up his portaledge. We jummar up to him, give him some food, help him out a little, then go to our sleeping ledge to start drinking some more. Mike needs help again, so I head over to him spend another hour or so giving him a hand before I finally get back to my ledge and drink some more with Jordan. It is now 2 am. Jordan, again, has crashed, or passed out from all the drinking, and I do the same. To finish Royal arches at reasonable hour on Saturday, I calculate we will have to start climbing at around 8 am. That means waking up at 6 am. 

Saturday, 5:30 AM I am awoken by some climbers passing by. I get up and wake Jordan up, who says I should try and wake mike up first. I walk to end of ledge were I can see Mike sleeping in his portaledge on the adjacent cliff. His portaledge is cocked sideways and it is hard to believe he did not fall out of it. Anyway, I start trying to wake him up by yelling at him. He peaks out from under his sleeping bag, says it is chilly and hides under the bag again. This goes on for 1 hr and 45 minutes. Finally, I get my jummers out, traverse the fixed line to his anchor station, and start shaking his portaledge. Finally, he gets moving about, and I am sure he wonít go back to sleep. Then, I go over to Jordan and find him puking his guts out. Guess we got a little to happy with the whisky the night before. However, he assures me he is good for climbing. It takes us another 2 hours to get ready to go, as I find myself taking down Mikeís portaledge and packing everything w intend to leave at the base of climb. Climbing commences at 10:00 AM. 

The climbing at the start is easy for me and I often find myself placing just 1 to 2 pieces of protection per pitch. Much of the first several pitches have long sections of 3rd and 4th class. However, I am constantly dragging Mike as a second along. Jordan is tied into Mike to speed the process along and constantly having to physically help Mike up. In addition, the set up allows Jordan to effectively TR solo each pitch. As the climbing gets more technical, Mike slows down, and it is taking longer. Keep in mind we have 14 pitches to do and then a long rappel down. As the way goes, the climbing gets stepper, yet there are only two pitches more difficult than 5.7 of which one, you have to go off route a little to do, of course I hit that pitch up. It was a perfect splitter crack going strait up the wall (my favorite pitch). Then we did a cool pendulum and 4th classed over a small waterfall before heading up the remaining four pitches. We topped out at 7:30 (Sweeeeeeettttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!) and started rappelling down at 8. No time to celebrate as we where already looking at rappelling in the dark. Again, Jordan and I were help up by our third, and it quickly turned dark on us slowing things down further. The rope got stuck in tree sticking out from the vertical cliff that took 1 hour to undo and required Jordan to detach from the rope and precariously hang out on the tree for while I managed the rope and set up the next rappel. He would later mention that his hang out was one of the freakiest things he did. Throughout the rappels, Mike was becoming increasingly lethargic and loopy. It eventually got so bad (after the third rappel) that Jordan and I had to set up his rappel device for him on each rappel and clip him in when reached the next anchor station. Otherwise, we would have to wait 15 minutes or more for Mike to do it himself, and pray he did not make a mistake. On the third to the last rappel, I missed an anchor station, partly because I thought the rope could reach the third class terrace below (itís hard to tell when your only light is your head lamp), only to find out I was thirty feet short and had to re-ascend the rope part way without jummars. Ugggg. All said, it took 9 rappels and 8 hours get on horizontal ground again, time 4:00 am. My flight leaves from LAX in 12 hours. 

After getting down, I grabbed as much of or gear (haul bags, portaledge, sleeping bags, climbing gear, etc) and ran toward the car to start sorting out gear while Jordan waited on Mike to make his last rappel. It would take another 40 or so minutes for them to get back to the car. Apparently, Mike was dazed, confused, and getting lost on short trial back to the car and Jordan had to retrieve him. One hour and 15 minutes passes before we are able to start heading out of the park and we still have to find Mike a hotel in the first town outside Yosemite. Finally, we find mike a Hotel, drop him off and race off to LA. Thankfully, Jordan and his red bulls drove most of way. It takes 7 hours to get back to LA from the time we started leaving Yosemite. Time 11:30 AM. 

I had just enough time to take a shower, go eat some good Mexican food with Jordan and Kelly, and watch about Ĺ of TV and chat, then off to the Air Port. I arrived in OKC at 11:10 PM Sunday night, got home at 12:00 AM Monday, finally got to sleep at 1:30 AM, and was at work Monday morning at 8:00 AM. I was very tired at work. 

The trip was awesome, in spite of Mike not being nearly as proficient of a climber he clamed to be and ending having to serve as guide for him. Overall, I lead 17 pitches. In addition, while not very difficult climbing, I did lead 14 pitches (approximately 1300 feet) in one day and Jordan effectively got to TR Soloed all the pitches. I led and on sited my first Yosemite 5.10 and TR on sited a 5.11. I mention that because the ratings there tend to be more difficult than anywhere else I have climbed. After all, the ratting system we use to judge the difficulty of a climb is the Yosemite decimal system. Jordan and I alone, probably could have gotten up the Royal Arches and back down all during the daylight. Yet, our third bogged us down severely. However, it turned out to be a good lesson in patience and excellent nighttime multi-pitch rappelling. In addition to the climbing, it is just awesome to be at Yosemite. The scenery is the best I have seen in US. One could never get board looking at all the granite cliffs, half dome, the snow capped peaks, waterfalls, trees, Merced River, and wild life. 

As far as the Video goes, I am not sure what Mike is going to do. We all took pics and Video with our cameraís, however, we were rushing Mike so much after Washington Column that he had little time to whip out camcorder and stuff. I have made a cool 13-minute video from Jordan and mine cameras that contain the highlights of trip. I will try and it post soon. 

Below is Post from Mike that set in motion the whole trip.

Looking for partner to film an ascent of Washington Column or any other bigwall is Yosemite in 2-3 weeks.

I am a filmmaker and free-climber (10a/b) and I have always wanted to go to Yosemite and do a big wall, or at least a very long multipitch. I want to film the assent and make a nice short film of it to put on the web and maybe submit to a film festival.

I was asked to do some film and video consulting work for the park service so Iíll be taking 2 trips up there.

I have never been to Yosemite and donít know any of the routes there, but have done many multipitch routes in Mexico (canyon Tajo), Australia, Nepal (Island Peak), and on Taquitz rock in Idlywild, California. I donít have much experience doing aid, but have done lots of jugging (mostly in deep technical caves, and on mountaineering expeditions), but I am a quick study. Iíll probably do more filming and jugging then climbing.

I am hoping to find a partner or party to join so I can get a wall in during the 2 times I will be in Yosemite.

The dates are not set yet. The dates are actually quite flexible, so I can work them around any climbing opportunities.

I have jumars, a small haul bag, aiders, and some other gear. I can rent or maybe borrow port-a-ledge if needed.

Let me know if I can join any party doing a wall or if someone with Yosemite bigwall experience would be willing to be my partner to do a climb and make a film.

Thanx in advnce,


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