Adam Ondra: Dispatches from YosemiteFriday, November 11, 2016
Adam Ondra has big plans for his first trip to the Valley, and he’ll be sharing his progress, goals and adventures right here. Stay tuned...
October 17, 2016: Ondra Jumps on the Dawn Wall
“First day on the big wall in Yosemite, and straight onto the Dawn Wall! Foolishness, lack of respect or boldness? Well, not necessarily any of it. The Dawn Wall just dries up quickly after the huge rain on Sunday. And it went all right. Definitely scary and adventurous. Tiny footholds and insecure climbing, smearing my feet onto glassy footholds of Yosemite granite and all that with poor protection by copperheads, peckers, tiny cams and occasional bolts.
“I ripped some copperheads, took some falls but made it to the top of pitch 7 and fixed our ropes. Leading the pitches with all the fear definitely felt super hard, but once I had the rope from above, the moves felt OK. But grades on the Dawn Wall are definitely not overrated. Great success for today and 5 pitches to go tomorrow to have our ropes fixed under the crux pitches.”
October 19, 2016: Ondra Climbs to the Top of Pitch 10 on the Dawn Wall
“We started pretty late yesterday and the fact that we are very inexperienced was obvious right from the beginning—I’ve done a lot of jugging up in my life, but only sport climbing and always using one GriGri and one ascender. Bad technique resulted in being super slow and tired after having jugged up the first 7 pitches. It was 3:30 p.m. by that time, so I managed to get to the top of pitch 10 until it got dark.
“It was quite intense, a lot of bold climbing again, especially on pitch 10, which is another horrendous layback with poor protection. A combination of aid climbing, French-freeing and fear got me to the top without ripping out any of my pieces of pro. I didn’t feel like going for more adventure in the dark, so we just fixed our ropes and I tried pitch 7, 8 and 10 (5.14a, .13d and .14a) on toprope with headlamp. These pitches are not only bold, but freaking hard too! Definitely no easy grades for these ones—Tommy and Kevin are tough guys! I tried the moves all over again to get some confidence and we got back to the camp by 12:30 at night. Big day for sure.
Oct. 21, 2016: Ondra To Rest Up for the Nose
“Yesterday was another day on the Dawn Wall. We had our fixed-lines on the top of pitch 10 and we wanted to move as high as possible. But we would face some of the crux pitches of the whole climb. Fortunately, the pitches were better protected and it was not such a big problem to climb through the next five pitches, including the crux traverses. I would like to emphasize that I am not free climbing everything yet. The goal right now is only to go ground-up to the top, free-climbing and using a little bit of aid climbing, to fix the whole line with ropes and start working on the pitches properly to have them ready for the final free push later. So if the crux is around the protection, I just touch the holds to see how the sequence would be and continue. The first crux-pitch looked definitely super hard to free climb. Almost impossible. I will have to take a look at all these razorblades more closely.
“Finally, already in the dark, I was pushing through pitch 16 (Dyno Pitch), but I was stopped by the final bold section of the route, where I felt I needed the light for climbing this tiny layback high above bad protection. So we just called it a day and went down back to Camp 4. Now it’s two days of rest to heal my skin and I will try the Nose.”
Oct. 24, 2016: Ondra Attempts to Onsight the Nose
“Yesterday was probably the longest climbing day of my life. We went with my dad up on The Nose, wanting to free it in a day. We started at first light and up to the Great Roof it was going well, onsighting all of the pitches in a few hours. But the Great Roof shut me down. I had a pretty good flash go, got the beta, lowered and gave it a second shot thinking I would fire it off easily, but I had not realized how important the feet are on this climb. After climbing so many pitches and taking no rest after my flash, they went super shaky and weak. I fell, gave it even a third go and fell in the end of the traverse. There was no point in giving it more tries and we just wanted to top out. Time to switch to night climbing and onsighting all of the pitches except for Changing Corner, topping out at midnight in the starting rain. Full alpine experience, as we did not find the descent route in the pissing rain, and had a wet and cold bivy in the little cave, before we finally got to the car at 9 a.m. The Nose is one of the most famous climbs in the world and I am super glad to have climbed it with my dad, even though not free. A big day out.”
“I believe Adam's ascent was absolutely impressive,” reports photographer Heinz Zak. “He onsighted everything up to the Great Roof, which unfortunately was wet.
“Adam still gave it an onsight try, fell and gave it two more tries, finally falling at the very end. Although the weather was doubtable, they continued into the dark. Adam onsighted every other pitch but the Changing Corners, but since it was just before the rain, they decided to continue and topped out at midnight. Then the rain started and they went down.
“We had been up there during the day and had expected them a little earlier. Pavel and I rapped the route, but as several parties were going up, we gave up near Changing Corners and jugged out. Too many people seemed to be in a rush to get out before the rain and this seemed dangerous to me. That is why we descended, also due to the forecast of rain. We put several more cairns for Adam but unfortunately right at the rappels for the East Ledges they did not quite see where to continue and spent a few hours bivying. Altogether for sure a great adventure for both of them. Here everybody is truly excited and impressed about the passion and enthusiasm and spirit of Adam!”
October 27, 2016: Ondra Is Back On the Dawn Wall
“Another day in the office. We hauled up and set up the portaledge on the Dawn Wall yesterday. I got to the top of pitch 16, and worked the moves of pitches 14, 15 and 16 ‘til late night. These are three of the hardest pitches on the whole climb, and on every pitch I missed one little piece of the puzzle. But with better skin and colder conditions (which are on the way), I will hopefully have these pitches super wired soon. “Pitch 14 [5.14d] has this really mysterious last boulder problem—seemingly blank—but offers a few razorblade crimps that are just horrible. The previous boulder problems on this pitch felt very good. Pitch 15 [5.14d] has this really small razorblade that I did not want to pull, since in the warm conditions I would cut my skin open. The rest of the pitch felt good. Pitch 16 [5.14c] has this crazy dyno that definitely felt hard. I did not do the single move, but there is always an option to make the loop variation. The rest of the pitch is tricky and insecure but I found my way.
“For the next few days I think I will work on these three pitches if the weather allows.”
Oct. 30, 2016: News from the Dawn Wall
A lot of rain and humidity in the Valley, with some sunny and hot conditions mixed in. We jugged up the ropes in the evening right when the rain stopped, hoping that we would get in a good session of night climbing, but instead we just got soaking wet. Even though we could see the stars, it was still raining on the wall and the water turned into a waterfall. We spent a very cold and wet night in the portaledge, and waited 'til the sun came out and dried our clothes and the wall. As the sun came, it got really hot too. I still worked the traverse pitches, which only just destroyed my skin. We rested on the portaledge and in the late afternoon, I went on pitch 16. I wanted to check the loop instead of the dyno. I found out that the loop is equally as heinous as the dyno itself and super tricky. It was still really warm and my soft skin did not help either. I spent around 3 hours on this pitch, refining my beta all over again. I wanted to send pitch 16 that day, but by the time I had the beta, I was so exhausted that it was not possible any more.
Complexity and difficulty of the whole climb is just shocking to me. I might have been too optimistic, but I definitely expected it to be easier. Every single pitch is so tricky and hard and yesterday on pitch 16 was the most frustrating day so far on the wall. It revealed the real difficulty of the whole climb and crucial importance of good conditions and skin. Hats off to Tommy and Kevin, who believed that the whole climb was possible before they free climbed. Without having the beta, some of the sections look just impossible. I have the advantage that I know that the climb is possible and that helps me to keep the faith that I might be able to do it as well. I am humbled and impressed by what Tommy and Kevin did!
To make everything more clear about what is going on on the wall, I will make a little recap. We spent a few days going ground up, using free and aid climbing techniques to fix the lines and be able to work on the pitches and get up and down easier, which was bold and scary most of the time. So far, we made it to the top of pitch 16. Above that, the climbing is by no means easy, but there are no more crux pitches. In the next week, we will continue to fix our ropes even higher and take a look at the whole route. But before that, I wanted to work on the crux pitches and see if they are possible.
These days, we are using fixed ropes to jug up to the pitches I need to work. Then we go down to the Valley in the evening after one day of climbing or we stay on the wall for two days and sleep on the portaledge. At a certain point, I will decide to give it a try to climb the whole route in one single push. But before doing that, I need to see the whole route (not only first 16 pitches but all 32) and have every single pitch super wired. This will still take at least two weeks. Little intermediate goals before the final would be redpointing the individual pitches, most importantly the crux pitches (14-16).
November 2, 2016: Ondra Dials in Pitch 15 (5.14d) of the Dawn Wall
“After the period of rain and two days of rest, I went onto the wall with Pavel for three days. The plan was to send pitch 15 [5.14d] and 16 [5.14a] the first night. Hauling took us a while, so we got to our basecamp under the crux pitches in the dark. But it did not matter really. It was finally cold enough for pitch 15!
“Unfortunately the very beginning of the pitch was still wet after the big rain, so I had to skip the first 5 meters, which are not very difficult. Finally, on my fourth go I could send this ‘shortened’ pitch 15. Super excited about it! I worked hard on pitch 16 later that night. I got pretty close, trying it via the ‘Loop Pitch’ and tried to continue all the way into pitch 17 (5.14a), which makes sense to me. It is much harder—the whole pitch could be around 5.14c—but I think it is worth it. But let's see what I will think on the push;-)
Right now, we are resting on the portaledge this morning. I would like to work on the 4 pitches (around 5.13c-5.13d) to the Wino Tower tonight and tomorrow. Then we will go to the summit and complete our ground-up free/aid ascent. Cool style in my opinion to justify the use of fixed ropes.
“Life on the portaledge is just great. We’ve just had oatmeal for breakfast, and it is pleasant temperature to hang around in the sun and we even have solar panels to charge our phones. Life is pretty sweet up here. Even using Wag bags when necessary is not as bad as I thought.”
November 4, 2016: Ondra Tops Out on the Dawn Wall
“It has been a productive 48 hours on El Cap. After the first night and ‘climbing’ pitch 15, I rested the whole day, slept as much as possible and at 10:30 p.m. we set off. The first thing I wanted to do was send pitch 16, which did not work out—soon after getting up I was not feeling very well. But I didn’t give it more tries and continued. Above us, there was untouched terrain (untouched by us). I led (with a few falls) the remaining four pitches up to the Wino Tower in the dark, finishing at 5:30 a.m. All these pitches in the 5.13c range felt quite good.
“From Wino Tower we faced 11 more pitches and around 400 meters of climbing. Even though the hardest pitch is only 5.13a, there are some bold pitches too with fairly loose rock. I felt pretty good, and onsighted all pitches except two where photographer Heinz Zak made me stop. I was extremely happy to onsight the 5.12b flare (worst version of offwidth) three pitches below the top. By 2:30 p.m. we were on the summit. This ground up ascent made fixing the ropes justified (according to our ethics), so now the whole line is fixed with ropes and easy to work.
“Now we are down in the Valley, recovering and getting ready for more work on the wall, especially pitch 14 (first traverse) [5.14d] and all the pitches below.”
November 7, 2016: Two Busy Days for Ondra on the Dawn Wall
“We had two busy days on the wall, but extremely important, motivating ones! At first, I tried pitch 14 [5.14d], where I still had no idea what to do on the last boulder problem. After a little session, I could finally do the moves and soon after I gave it a go, but realized that my beta for the intro-moves on the last boulder problem didn’t work. It took me a lot of time, skin, frustration, and swearing to finally find a satisfying sequence, but I was exhausted and my skin thrashed. I still gave it another go that night, slipped on the first boulder problem, but then continued to the anchor, which gave me a lot of confidence that next time it should work out.
“The second day, I was incredibly lucky to get an overcast day, so I could make a lot of work. At first, we took some pics with Heinz Zak on pitch 14, then went down and sent pitch 8 (5.13d) and toproped pith 7 (5.14a). After lunch, I went for pitch 11 (5.13c) and linked the whole crux sequence, then linked the whole crux on pitch 12 (5.14b). Then we went down for a toprope session on pitch 10 (5.14a), which is always desperately wet in the dark, but I still made it with one hang on toprope. To finish the day, I just rechecked the moves on pitch 9 (5.13c).
“It seems like I need to work a bit more on pitches 10, 12 and 13 (5.13b) and then pitches 1-6 (only 5.12b to 5.13c range) and I will be ready to go for the push. Can't wait!!!”
November 10, 2016: Ondra’s Psych for the Push is High
“Two more days of work on the wall. The first day my goal was to send pitch 10 (5.14a), which is possibly the most difficult pitch besides the two crux traverses because it is long, bold, always wet and with the crux at the very top. I did it and then worked and got very confident on pitches 11, 12 and 13 (5.13c, 5.14b and 5.13b).
“Yesterday I woke up on the portaledge with a pretty bad cold and fatigue. I was even considering going down straight away, but in the end I decided to go up to pitch 20 and 21 (5.13c and 5.13d) to get them dialed. In the afternoon, I wanted to work pitches 1-6 so I would be done with all the preparation for the push. But pitch 3 (5.13c) turned out to be more cryptic than expected and I haven’t found any satisfying beta. So I need a couple of hours to work on this pitch before I feel ready for the push.
“Anyway, the life on the wall, "2 days climbing 1 day rest" regime has beaten both of us and Pavel and I need a good rest. So we are checking out the weather forecast and planning the push accordingly, but we will definitely not start in two days as we were planning. First I need to get 100% healthy (get rid of the cold) and spend a few more hours on pitch 3.
“But the psych for the push is high! I guess I just need a little more patience. Even though it’s hard to be in such a beautiful place and rest!”
November 14, 2016: Battling Heat and Sharp Holds, Ondra Blazes Through First 9 Pitches
“We got up at 1:30 a.m. after only a couple of hours of sleep, but a few rest days gave a feeling of actually feeling fresh. It was also pretty cold down in Camp 4 so I was hoping for some good night conditions. But the climate on El Cap is crazy. Only when we reached the base of the wall, it was easy to feel the temperature difference. Trying not to be shaken and trying not to get myself out of a good mood, I just ignored it, laced up my shoes and started climbing.
“Pitch 1 (5.12b) is a slick slab, and I was curious about how it would feel in the dark. Fortunately it went all right. Pitch 2 (5.13a) and pitch 3 (5.13c) are both quite insecure and somewhat bold (or I cannot just place pro), but darkness might have helped me to have less fear and I did them easier than expected. Pitches 4, 5 and 6 (5.12b, 5.12d and 5.13c) went all right and soon I was under the main problem of the day—pitch 7. Even though it is all on fixed gear, it is protected only by beaks and copperheads. Not the most reliable protection, but I kept my head cool … until my foot slipped and I fell. The protection held and I lowered myself down, pulled down the rope and headed back up there. This time my foot did not slip, but I really wanted to make sure I would not fall, so I was pushing with my feet onto the sidewall of the layback as hard as I could. It paid off and soon I was at the anchor.
“I almost thought the goal of the day was done—only two more pitches to go (5.13d and 5.13c). Not that I underestimated the following pitch, which is ultra sharp and ultra bouldery. I just placed my foot imprecisely and off I went into the air. I ruined my skin a little bit, which started sweating a lot. I went for another try, still confident. I did the crux move, but my left hand was so sweaty that I was unable to move. For the third go, racing against the sun coming down the wall, I could not rest but gave it a try anyway. I was nervous!
“Luckily, one minute before the sun would hit me on the wall when I was at the crux, a little breeze picked up which helped to dry up the skin a little bit and I sent the pitch. I was on cloud nine and quickly finished the next pitch too.
“Now it is about surviving the heat on the portaledge and resting for tomorrow. Hopefully it will cool down a little bit. Pitches 10, 11, 12 and 13 are on the program (5.14a, 5.13c, 5.14b and 5.13b).”
November 16, 2016: Ondra Sends Pitches 10, 11, 12 and 13
“It should have been a rather easy day with only four pitches to do, but it turned out to be the opposite. We started in late afternoon, when the wall was getting into the shade. I must admit that I felt the pressure. I hate pitch 10 (5.14a, but I would almost say 5.14b). It is all laybacking—smearing your feet against nothing (sometimes wet nothing)—and the harder you try, the harder it gets. I knew it would be good to send the pitch first go, which almost worked out. I had my face at the belay, but I wanted to move my foot more right and stand up onto the no-hands rest. And somehow—I still do not know how it happened—I was in the air. Devastating. The pitch always gets progressively more wet. And it did. The middle section turned much harder due to wet footholds (some holds are perma-wet on this pitch). I was nervous as hell, climbed quite poorly, but my determination was stronger and I somehow made it up to the belay! I was very relieved!
“I was pretty sure I could finish the schedule of the day. The next pitch is a hard stemming corner at 5.13c, but fortunately, no mistakes on this pitch. Pitch 12 is the Molar Traverse at 5.14b. It is one of the hardest pitches on the whole route (French 8c), but I never found this pitch very hard. Mainly because the crux is just a powerful boulder problem, which fit my style, and the rest of the pitch is technical, though not too bad. But it turned really epic. On my first go I fell off two meters from the anchor, because a little crystal broke. The next go, I slipped on the same move even though I was relaxed, very careful and focused. On my third go, I fell on the lower boulder problem. It was obvious that I had to send the pitch next go, otherwise I would be stuck! I entered the zone, focused, and despite the fatigue I fired it off.
“Pitch 13 (5.13b) was quite OK—one of the few pitches that doesn’t feel sandbagged:-D
“All in all, it was pretty good training! Climbing basically five times 5.14b = 8c (if you count pitch ten as 5.14b). Not a bad day at the crag. Hopefully I will make use of this training Thursday on the crux pitches, after taking a rest-day on Wednesday.”
November 18, 2016: Ondra Sends Pitches 14 and 15!
“Day 5. As day 4 was a complete disaster, I still felt a lot of pressure, as I knew that sending pitch 14 is almost a must. But today, my mindset was different. I tried to make jokes, being relaxed and focused only just before the climbing. I was lucky enough to be precise and send pitch 14 (5.14d) on my first go after a little warm up.
“Pitch 15 (5.14c or d) was next. This pitch is much longer and has a very nice and enjoyable 5.13c intro (with a few normal holds and even footholds) and a heinously sharp boulder problem at the end of the pitch. After chalking up the holds, I had a heartbreaking fall, a few moves below the jug of glory... and I had to face a hard decision. Should I give it one more try and try risk cutting my skin open or wait for tomorrow? It was rather unsure whether my skin would be better the next day. I took the first option. I started climbing again and despite feeling strong, my skin was really soft and sweaty. On the jug below the boulder problem, I almost thought my decision was wrong. I kept going nevertheless and somehow made it through the crux, where I had to improvise with my beta, as I was unable to reach with my foot all the way due to my sliding fingers from the razorblades. Getting to the anchor was emotional of course.
“Let's continue tomorrow. Still quite a few exciting pitches, but none of them are as sharp and hard as these two.”
November 19, 2016: Ondra Makes It to Wino Tower
“Hard to find the words to describe how I feel. We made it up to the Wino Tower and no more hard pitches guard my way to the top. I could not have asked for a better day. We woke up quite late, as I felt quite wrecked after yesterday's success on pitches 14 and 15. At 11 a.m. we were up at the belay where pitch 16 starts. It was overcast and windy and even my wrecked skin felt sticky.
“Pitch 16 can be climbed via the dyno or the loop. If I am not wrong, the dyno was given 5.14c (8c+), and the loop is probably easier—I heard something about 5.14a— but due to the crazy character of the climbing, the grade is not relevant. The dyno might be more logical as a line, but the loop pitch climbs the easiest way up the wall, so I consider both equally logical. I tried the dyno a few times in the last weeks, but I thought I would have to invest considerable effort into the dyno with insecure results, and that is why I decided to climb the loop pitch. The loop pitch or dyno pitch is followed by a 5.14a layback. In between, there is no belay, only a no-hands stance. My original goal was to connect the loop pitch into the layback, making a 60-meter mega-pitch at 5.14c at least.
“The loop pitch is an extremely hard pitch mentally. The down-climb is awkward, powerful and insecure and is the crux of the pitch for sure. At the bottom of the loop, there is a good ledge, but I could not sit down. As you start climbing, you get into a tiny layback with pin-scars, which is super easy to slip on. This section is probably at 5.13c, but it is really devastating if you slip and have to climb the down-climb again. I was lucky to fight through the down-climb, took a rest at the ledge and climbed super carefully through the layback into the no-hands stance—the end of the loop pitch/dyno pitch. I continued into pitch 17 (5.14a layback), but after climbing for 45 minutes, my feet were just gone. I took a little rest and did pitch 17 from the no-hands stance. Doing the whole 16 plus 17 link seemed impossible at that moment.
“The day was still young and in the next 4 hours, I climbed pitch 18 (5.13c) in possibly the biggest fight of the day. My feet were so painful and weak that I was shaking so badly on the second half of the pitch. But I made it. Pitch 19 is very short and bouldery (5.13c, but I think 5.13b is better) and pitch 20 (5.13c—one of the best pitches on the wall) went very smooth. Pitch 21 (5.13d) is the last hard pitch. I had never worked on this pitch very carefully and it got dark in the meantime. I switched on my headlamp and headed towards the Wino Tower. I climbed slowly, took my time and hoped I would not pump out. It turned out to be a good tactic and at 6 p.m. I was at the Wino Tower!
“Weather forecast said rain later during the night, so we did not risk it, rapped down back to the portaledge and took a deserved rest. It seems we will have a forced rest day tomorrow in the rain, and hopefully finish the push on Monday.”
Dear Adam Ondra,
Thank you for showing us what’s possible once again. Through your hard work and determination, we’ve been able to witness another groundbreaking milestone in the world of climbing. We want to congratulate you for challenging yourself with climbing the world’s hardest big-wall, roping up in the face of doubt and succeeding. And we want to thank you, of course, for providing not just us, but climbers worldwide with inspiration. Nice job sending the Dawn Wall!!!!
Your friends at Black Diamond Equipment