I am a firm believer in learning something new every time I climb a route. Whether it is a new body position to do a move, a different way to rest, a better method for placing gear or something else that improves my climbing, I’m always looking for it. Unfortunately, our first route on our recent Yosemite vacation taught me a lesson I would rather have left unlearned: how to deal with heat exhaustion.
When we first got to Camp 4 on Sunday night, our tour guides Eddie & Rachel suggested it would be fun for us to romp up the Manure Pile Buttress near El Cap for our first route the following day. Having heard good things about the classic line there, After Six (5.6+++, 5 pitches), I was psyched to give it a shot. I was a bit nervous though because this would be the first route I had climbed in almost 7 months because of the two surgeries I had early in the year, and I had also heard that it was pretty stout for 5.6. Despite these things, we resolved to give it a go the following day.
As with any near disaster story, there were several poorly thought out events that led up to our climb of After Six. Let’s analyze them so that all the kids out there can learn something from my mistakes:
- December through end of June: rock climbed NEVER
- Sunday evening: Skipped dinner to see a (boring) video presentation by the legend himself, Ron Kauk.
- Sunday evening: Ate some pretzels before bed in lieu of dinner
- Monday morning: Spent a few hours of the morning registering for camping
- Monday morning: Ate usual meager breakfast due to picky eating habits
- Monday morning: Left for climb around 11 just as oppressive midday heat really started getting going – highs in the upper 90’s
- Monday morning: Brought 1 Nalgene water bottle for Mrs. Narc and I to share for a probable 4 hour climb in blazing direct sunlight
- Monday morning: Took advice on gear beta from someone comfortable with free soloing my intended route
So there we have the lead up to our climb. Nothing really smart about any of that is there? No real meal, not nearly enough water, poor physical preparation and the late start all conspired to negatively impact my/our climb.
There was nothing smart about how sandbagged the first pitch was either. I’m sure it had something to do with not climbing in a while as well as the heat making the rock even more slick than it normally is, but by the time I got to the belay tree I was pretty gassed. Unfortunately, the belay tree was swarming with fire ants which necessitated 15 more feet of climbing while trying to brush off the ants. This also moved the 1st belay from a shaded spot to a ledge directly in the sun. Not good…
Starting up Pitch 1
By the time Mrs. Narc got to the first belay, it should have been apparent that we didn’t have enough water to complete the climb. However, if I had taken note of that fact and done the smart thing there wouldn’t be much of a story would there? So of course we pressed on into the heat. Trying to save some of our water for Mrs. Narc, I quickly became “that guy”, bumming water from Eddie & Rachel who were climbing with us.
As we approached the final two pitches, my condition worsened from simply thirsty to physically sick. At that point I felt like topping out would be the fastest way to get down so I didn’t say all that much about how I was feeling. Drinking what water we had left didn’t really seem to help at that point either.
Mrs. Narc topping out
Eddie, Rachel, Amy & Brian atop the Manure Pile
Fortunately, I made it to the top of the Manure Pile Buttress before completely shutting down. Despite the physical problems I was having, the route itself was a blast. Besides the incredibly polished first pitch, it offers great variety of movement on good rock.
At this point I knew I needed to get back to the car so I quickly raced down the descent trail. I figured the water and shade waiting there would make me feel better in short order.
After several large chugs of water back at the car I figured I was good to go, and I started driving us back to Camp 4. I made it about 3 feet before I had to bail out of the car and I laid down on a picnic table. I sat there for who knows how long feeling like I was going to throw up (what? I don’t really know). A combination of small amounts of food and more water over the course of 30 minutes to an hour and I was back to feeling normal. I am often a bit over dramatic, but that 30 minutes was one that I wouldn’t want to relive ever. Big thanks to Mrs. Narc, Eddie and Rachel for waiting for my sorry sack to feel better.
Speaking of Eddie and Rachel, they had a very big summer in Yosemite. They made ascents of Valley classics such as Separate Reality, Astroman, The Nose and a one day ascent of The Regular NW Face route on Half Dome. They did a great job of showing us around while we were there as well. Thanks guys! Stay psyched! …and Rachel, please bring back your spraysheet!!
Thanks to Eddie and Rachel for manning the camera during the climb as well!