BD grassroots athlete Nik Berry repeats The Prophet (VI 5.13+ R) on El Capitan
This past spring BD athlete Nik Berry rolled into Yosemite and bagged an under-the-radar, third free ascent of The Prophet (VI 5.13+ R), one of the stoutest free lines on El Capitan (and following in the footsteps of fellow BD athlete Sonnie Trotter, who made the route's second free ascent in November 2011). Below is the report and photos Nik sent us, shortly before heading off for a month-long trip to Kyrgyzstan, where more granite big-wall free climbing awaited.
Note: telephoto images by Tom Adams of the ElCapReport.com
With a snowpack of about 40% of normal this spring, Yosemite was primed for a perfect spring climbing season. Routes that were typically autumn-only routes were climbable due to the dry winter. Horsetail Falls pounds the first two pitches of The Prophet making it impossible to climb on a typical spring. This year it was more of a trickle than a waterfall. When I saw how small Horsetail Falls was I thought maybe I had a shot at freeing the legendary Prophet.
I went right to work after a 13-hour drive from Salt Lake City and hiked to the top of El Cap. I felt tired from the drive and from hiking 3,000 feet of elevation, although I was psyched and could not wait to climb in the morning. The crux pitch of The Prophet is near the top so a quick rappel from the top puts you on a ledge at the base of an incredibly beautiful and equally intimidating splitter.
Days began to fade into one another as my mind became so focused on one pitch and my body began to adapt to the abuse. It felt great to have such tunnel vision after getting out of school. There was progress made each day as my body got used to the extremely technical smearing and crimping required to link each move together.
After about 6 days of effort I was able to send the A1 Beauty while rope soloing and I thought that the route would go—until later that day when I rappelled further down the route to the infamous Devil’s Dyno. This is not a standard dyno by any means—it’s a 7-foot sideways leap to a sidepull flake. Many attempts left me dangling in my harness 1800 feet off the ground, laughing at how absurd this was. I felt like I was in a circus trying to perform some sort of a party trick. As I swung back and forth my eyes began to gaze around and there was an arching crack above me that would take me to the same place as the dyno.
On May 30th, which also happened to be my birthday, Madaleine and I hiked up to the base of the route only to see water running down the slab. By noon, however, the rock looked dry enough and we set off climbing as efficiently as possible. It felt great to clip into the anchor at the top of each R-rated pitch almost as if I was dodging a bullet. By the evening I was at The Devil’s Dyno. I was a bit tired but I still wanted to give my variation, which we call The Devil’s Reach-Around, a try. After figuring out the beta, Madaleine pulled out some birthday celebration cupcakes that tasted great after a long tense day.
The following morning I woke up early and lead the Devils Reach-Around. I was forced to break up the pitch at an existing anchor above the flake due to extreme rope drag. It was harder, chossier, and pumpier than I had thought. After The Devils Reach-Around was finished it left me feeling completely satisfied. The rest of the day was spent lounging in the portaledge listening to Steve Job’s biography and waiting for the sun to pass.
At about 5 P.M. I laced up my shoes and pulled off the tape covering the goby on my finger. I knew that this was the time. I felt very strong pulling myself off the feet of the first boulder problem. After a short rest I was able to climb smoothly through the beginning of the route feeling confident and relaxed. Before I knew it I was placing gear before the long runout of the most foot intensive section of the route. Each hold felt bigger than it had in the past, and with a final scream to the last hard move I thruched my gobied finger into the final fingerlock. Clipping into the anchor I screamed jokingly, “I am the Mother Fucking Pterodactyl” then started to laugh. It felt amazing to send one of the best pitches I had ever climbed. There was still one hard pitch left that made me a little nervous. After many attempts I was able to execute the boulder problem and climb the remainder of the pitch by headlamp.
With so many days spent on this route, looking back I remember not only the climbing but also the nights spent on top gazing at the stars while sipping tea, the loads carried to the top, how I believe I got the approach more dialed than the climb, and Madaleine singing me happy birthday. Climbing El Capitan is a truly rich experience and I feel blessed to have climbed such a full value route with a great friend supporting me. I could not have done it with out the support of Madaleine Sorkin.