by Paul A Brunner
Dihedral Wall Solo (VI 5.9 A2)
Yosemite National Park, CA
The idea of soloing an El Cap route had been rattling around the back of
my noggin for some time, but I could not decide which one to do. Zodiac?
The Trip? "Feh!" said Steve 'Roadie' while we were knocking back
a Baldwin & Cooper Ale at the Sound Brew Pub in Squamish (August, '98).
"Dude, do yourself proud and climb a REAL El Cap route, something long
and obscure. 'Ol Ben "Huckleberry" here just did Dihedral, think
about that one." D-d-d-d-dihedral?! I remember checking it out in '94
when we did Lurking Fear, some character told me to forget about it, saying
it was a nailing-horror-hell. Like lotsa stacked, tipped-out pins, and 1/4"
rusty anchors with no screws/hangers. And, other things to make you load
your trousers. Ben barked, "Nawwwww, man, it was great, here's the
What a difference time makes. In one year, I had moved back to the States
from Hong Kong, sunk a killer job, Coleen and I got married, and we bought
a great house on the beach in Marin. Sure, who cares? Well, the point is
that all the mojo was right to do a solo ­p; no excess bagage to lug
up the wall. My plan was to fix 5 pitches the weekend before 4th of July,
then blast over the holiday period.
Coleen and I cruised in the valley and made the mistake of staying in the
tent cabins for the weekend: screaming brats and chubby tourists galore
­p; not worth the value. I was up at 3:30AM on Saturday, mainly so I
could get in as much as possible before the sun hit the face at 1PM. That
was the beauty about this climb, even though it was approaching July, as
long as I got an early start, I could spank out as much as possible and
get as high as possible before the bake-fest.
Although I had not done a big wall in 3 years and had not soloed in 5 years,
I was surprised how easy it was to slip back in aid mode. Since I usually
use the counter weight haul method (bag on fifi hooks), I can do a pitch
in about the same time as with a partner (lead/clean/haul, 2 hour-ish).
I also used the Silent Partner which worked pretty well the whole time.
I staggered up the short 3rd class pedistal, then launched into a little
free but broke out the aiders for a hook + sawed-off maneuver before going
back to free climbing to end the pitch. The second pitch was all clean,
a total sweeeet nut-fest. After that, the next 3 pitches involved a couple
larger sawn pins + an LA. Heck, nothing harder than A2. In the early afternoon,
Coleen appeared at the base, swatting mosquito's, while I fixed 4 ropes
down from the top of pitch 5. I left 6 liters of water hanging from p5 anchors.
Wooooo-eeeeee, done for the day! We immediately went to El Cap meadow, swam
in the river, and had a great picnic at the big oak tree, viewing the mayhem
After another evening of fat, screaming rug-rats and a gay pride party (music:
"It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-Aaaaaa.") at the tent cabins, we
had a great time climbing at Glacier Point Apron ­p; then back to the
river before cruising back home. Coleen took off to New York to visit some
friends and avoid my pre-wall jitters. On Thrusday, June 29, I hit the road
at 5:15AM, drove straight to the valley, and shouldered that pig on my back
for the slow-mo 45 minute approach. I left most of pins and some of the
water at the base the week before, but with a double ledge, water, and other
supplies, it was a hoof.
My original plan was to have 24 liters of water (enough for 6 days) - 18
liters were in the bag ­p; but by the time I got to p5 anchors (and had
dropped my fixed lines), I noticed the 6 liters of water I left hanging
were GONE! Flapping in the breeze was the webbing that "was" duck-taped
on the bottles. Eeeek gads, what to do? It appeared that the sun had baked
the bottles and the duck-tape had turned to goo. Crap! I hung at the belay
for about a minute, mulling over what to do, then did the math, compared
it with my ability and figured I could definitely do it. I didn't even look
P6 breaks out right from the long, first dihedral, and gets steep by climbing
out a triangle roof. A couple fixed pins and I get to inspect those 1/4"
posts, placed so long ago. I was prepared for these babies, and had a pocket
full of 1/4" screw tops, which I left on all the posts. This pitch
went by el fasto, nothing harder than A1.
P7, with all it's scary warnings (McNamara super topo, etc.) of having "expanding"
flakes and "thin A3" was nothing more than A2 and A1. Camalot's,
nuts, and a couple hook moves, a pin or two, and some rivets. Caj pitch.
Hell, I don't remember anything expanding on the whole route. And, the ASCA
did a stellar job beefing-up the belays. I left more nuts on the rivets,
hopefully making the next team's journey less stressful.
I wanted to get to p7 since it was labeled a "bivy" belay (sb),
and wanted to do the Black Arch before the sun hit that section the next
day. I was organized and flopped on my double ledge by 6PM ­p; digging
into my ravioli and logistimosizin' the topo to compensate for my 6 liter
water deficit. I figured I had to do 5 pitches a day, one more than planned,
so I would still do the early start and try to get out as much as possible
before the afternoon sun-bake. Still, I felt great and even more relaxed
as I popped the top on my beer, flicked on the tunes, and rested my back
against my pillow. Feelin' good!
Up at 4AM (iced coffee and danish for breakfast, nice starry view), climbing
a little after 5AM, the Black Arch was the sweetest pitch of the route.
Man, ya gotta love those cam hooks. Pitch 9 combo was more of the Black
Arch, before getting real steep on the rivets. The ascent team must have
been short, it was easy to reach all the rivets. I left more nuts on the
rivets, passed the old belay and launched into free/aid mode up the corner
to the top of the pedestal. Since I was continuing on, I set up a natural
belay, instead of down-climbing the 20' to The Ledge. Beautiful plant varieties
started to appear in the cracks. Nice floweres and sweet smelling varieties.
Pitch 10 (after The Ledge) was mainly A2, since the rivet ladder by-passed
some to the old, rotten, A3 corner. Pitch 11 was more A2, and The Flake
(pitch 12) was pretty tame (A1+), no expando. The hauling had been pretty
easy, surprising, since I had a double ledge, 18 liters of water, 4 monster
cans of beer, and heaps of food. I was only using two ropes: one beefy 11mm
lead line and an 8mm static haul. Maybe it was the light static line or
maybe it was my secret big wall training: two hour runs + working on my
property all day.
I set up my ledge on what looked like a good bivy spot, pitch 12 anchors,
but at night a 60 second intermittent drip gave me the 'ol Chinese water
torture. The water was coming from the A1 plant section on pitch 13. Luckily
it was slow enough so I did not get soaked, but was happy for the 4AM wake-up.
If my iced coffee did not wake me up, the flaring section off the belay
on pitch 13 sure did. At the top of the pitch, I felt a little at home with
the A1 plants on the upper section. Yee-haw, down on the farm, enough greenery,
but not enough to use my nut tool (like I was told) to farm the crack. The
real fun was pitch 14, with the festering, oozing slime, pulsating from
the crack. Ick! A rusty fixed pin by-passed the 10' goo section, with some
of the glop sticking to my rope and aiders.
I was told that pitch 15 was the crux of climb and it continued the steepness
from the previous pitch. Crux? Bah! It was fun: mixed gear going out and
over the triangle roof, then up a corner system to belay under a roof. Man,
those off-set Aliens are great! A pin or two kept things in the comfort
zone. On the climb, whenever I felt a little nervous - getting spaced out
on marginal gear, nothing worked better than whacking in a solid pin.
I was prepared for pitch 16, by duck-taping the sharp roof edge and keeping
my runners spaced. There was always a fixed pin to start each pitch off,
probably part of the old belays, so positioning off the belay was always
quick and easy. The steepness continued along with the gear variety ­p;
I even threw in a hook move after the double bolt traverse to the C1 crack.
At this point, the sun rounded the bend, but I was happy knowing I only
had one pitch left for the day.
Or did I? Looking up at pitch 17, it eased back and had a variety of plants
and free/semi-aid sections plus a natural anchor at my discretion. Things
went smoothly until I decided to go up too high on the splitter crack, leap-frogging
#1 Camalots in the process. The crack merged back to the flaring groove
which made my belay set-up awkward ­p; damn, I went too far! No chance
of bivying here. The bag got snagged on a minor lip which made my counter-hauling
operation grind to a halt and man, I was looking forward to the airing my
toes on the ledge!
The reward of going to pitch 18 paid off, nice bolts on the face with a
stellar view, I added one of my hangers to the ASCA post that was hanger-less.
What a day! 6 pitches ­p; wooooo-eeeee! I was stoked, just psyched that
I was ahead of schedule and things were going well. I had been going to
sleep at 9 PM, but tonight stayed up to watch some of the stars appear and
some guys rapping off the Turret, across the valley. Ironically, I found
out it was Clint Cummins, whom (along with Paul Friberg) had given me the
Horse Chute beta (Dihedral sections). I thought, "Poor lads probably
had a rough go at DNB." Far from the truth, however, with Clint on
his own route, Ho Chi Minh.
Did the usual agenda of waking up at 4AM and was eager to blast to Thanksgiving
Ledge. But, the final 3 pitches up to Thanksgiving proved to be the slowest.
Pitch 19 was awkward in places, due to the flare, and longer than expected.
Luckily, I knew to go past the Horse Chute merger belay anchors which made
hauling on the next pitch (2) easier. However, for pitch 19, the haul bag
got snagged in a couple places.
The real fun(!) began on pitch 20, the Black Cave. First of all, there were
many cans of food, left from a 1992 (according toTom Evans) 14 day ascent!
Chili, beans, sardines ­p; the usual wall delicacies. As for climbing,
way awkward and hard doing the chimney. I tried to leave most of the gear
behind and it was still tough. However, I was trying to be cautious and
not become a chockstone, only to be discovered years later. I was a happy
amigo to reach the bolts leading to the A1 section, which led to another
natural belay anchor. Okay, there was one rusting 1/4 incher ­p; no way
I was going to clip that baby. The ASCA had run out of bolts by the end
of pitch 18, so the rest of the anchors were fixed pins and natural gear.
Pitch 21, the final up to Thanksgiving, was a true moaner. Due to its low
angle, shrubbery, chimney/off-width ­p; it sucked. Took me forever just
to whack my way up, plus I made the mistake of being too far to the right
and had to do the A2 crack ­p; lotsa pins. Man, give me the steep stuff
back! After the added pleasure of getting el piggy up to Thanksgiving (couple
snags, errrrRRR!!), the sun came out and I was whipped and hid under the
lone pine tree to regroup.
Last time I was on Thanksgiving Ledge was in 1994, when I did Lurking Fear,
but that was 600' to the West. I wandered 100' in that direction, rapped
down the short 40' 4th class section ­p; lots of manky fixed lines ­p;
to check out the Dihedral finish. Damn, it looked just like that last pitch
­p; except 5 more pitches! No way did I want to relive that experience.
So, instead, I fixed a line along Thanksgiving for the first 60m, after
the short rap section, and hoofed my stuff 180m (600') to the West Buttress
If you have wandered around Thanksgiving Ledge, it's kinda cool, with wide/narrow
sections and caves. I bivied on my portaledge, hanging below the 5.10a,
exit pitches. It was also nice to have a fairly level ledge to re-organize
my stuff ­p; nothing like 4 days of wrappers/cans/plastic bottles/general
mank floating around the bag. Ahhhhh, final night on the wall with a frosty
beer and starry sky.
The final day was easier than expected. Anyone who has ever done the West
Buttress exit knows about the endless 5th class at the top. I led each pitch
with the 2 ropes and all the rack, then rapped down and carried el piggy
on my back. After a couple 60m pitches, I was at the top, wayyyy elated.
RaaaaaaAAAAAA!! Did the gear sort and headed to my favorite summit bivy
­p; I love topping out and spending the night on the summit! That night,
I had a great fire and enjoyed, again, the beautiful star show.
Next day was a careful hoof down the East Ledges descent, and used the fixed
lines for a speedy rap. My first encounter with people, in the Manure Pile
parking lot, was fat tourista's munching on hot dogs and swilling beer ­p;
well, of course, it was 4th of July! Back at the car, I ran into Tom Evans
and Jim Bridwell, and had an enlightening conversation regarding the Dihedral
and some wild Bridwell stories ­p; but, that's another story.
Did the usual afternoon stuff: clean the fixed lines, pick up trash, swim
in the river, took a zillion hour shower, and got booted out the Ahwahnee
for not having a dinner jacket (the stinky shoes probably did not help either).
Dinner at the Mountain Broiler Room, and a "cleansing ale" at
the Iron Door Saloon topped off the day on my way back to Muir Beach. What
a day! But, the real fuzzy feel was waking up in bed with Coleen, knowing
that I had fulfilled my dream.
Dihedral Wall Beta/Rack
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