Salathe wall free after all

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After having climbed the Nose with Belgian TV Star Tom Waes, it was time to get into the real business. My girlfriend Argyro who had never come to Yosemite joined and I decided to do her big wall baptize on the Salathe wall which is mega classic and I had never tried to free. It must have been the hardest big wall when it was first freed. Now it is for sure still a benchmark for hard big wall free climbing. LOCATION

It’s almost the same route as freerider except for 4 difficult pitches way up high on the route. Being up there brought back to me some really fun memories from 7 years ago when Freerider was my first ever big wall and my third ever trad route. I remember having so much fun with Sean as well as many scary/intense moments. The nice thing was, this time the climbing felt easier and way more under control than 7 years ago. I guess after 7 years, experience is kicking in;) It was nice to get to lead every pitch but on the other hand that meant I had to haul every pitch too in a boiling hot sun! That was by far the most difficult part of the ascent. Even with drinking a gallon of water per day I could never get rid of my thirst and strangely I was only peeing once a day! Of course we didn’t go up with empty hands. We had my mandolin, Argyro’s melodica which basically is a piano which you can blow in and all the tools not to be lacking of any comfort. Even though it was so hard and more about the hauling than the actual climbing I really enjoyed being up there with these fun toys and having this opportunity to do it all adding this extra challenge.

Argyro did also a amazing job at handling the exposure and seconding every pitch without the use of jumars considering she has so little experience. She had basically never crack climbed before and was able to pull all the move on the headwall free but one! After three long and strenuous days we finally made it to the base of the Salathe headwall, a mega slightly overhanging flaring crack with exceptional exposure. We set the ledge right at the edge of big roofs at the base of the headwall and started with one well needed day of jam/rest just enjoying this amazing location. It was funny because there we ended up meeting with Sean and Mayan who had started the climb the same day as us but with a very different style and strategy having preplaced stashes of food and gear along the route. Mayan had been looking for the right partner to give a good shot at it and finally recruited Sean for it.

It was so fun to be all there super psyched to be trying the headwall and to be just cragging up there straight out of the portaledge. One of the main challenge was the sun that would come in around 10 am only and making the crack much less welcoming. So we had only about 4 hours/day to share between the three of us. On the first day I ended up trying it a couple times in the sun and made a really close try. It wasn’t ideal but the time was running and I had to learn the moves. Mayan had come very close to send it a couple of times but the right moment hadn’t come yet and Sean was just following Mayan focusing mainly on Mayan’s success. It was funny because while being up there no climber were climbing up on the route but five climbers came down for working on some pitches and stashing gear. That felt pretty strange to suddenly have ropes dropping down and climber rappelling with big haul bag from the top. It seems like it’s a new trend in Yosemite. It’s kind of a shame I find. Just reducing the adventure of big wall climbing to its minimum by top roping every pitch before going ground up but whatever as long as people respect each other and the place climber can do whatever they want i guess. Argyro too had here her little project trying to red point the 12a super exposed roofs below the headwall so we were all trying hard.

The second day on the headwall was the day. As usual we were woken up by Mayan and Sean who were really good at getting up on time for the first light as opposed to us not having alarm o’clocks and slow morning people. So that fitted kind of perfectly. After a brief warm up Mayan made the show by sending the headwall first try while we were watching from laying down in my warm sleeping bag. That was great and very inspiring. I was quite a bit more anxious because I knew I could do it too but also easily slip off the crack at so many places. My energy was dropping. It was my sixth day on the wall. The pressure of a red point like this is so much bigger than if it was just dragging on the ground. I had spent so much energy just to get up there and when you know it’s one of your last chance to succeed the pressure is on big time! I knew I could do it but that wasn’t the point… I wanted now! After a brief warm up it was my turn. Since the headwall is so long there was no way or me to remember every move of the crack. Mainly I had to stay focus on dominating the crack all the way.

On my previous attempt I decide to fight trough one move and then couldn’t get back to a comfortable position so I just pumped out and the headwallspitted me out. So I stayed focus on staying in control. It was prefect and beautiful. Just the climbing, the flow, the exposure. Probably the best crack I have ever climbed.I was so psyched when I got to the first anchor!!! And then I just decided to keep going trying to make it portaledge to ledge making a mega 60m pitch. I had only tried the following 13b pitch once briefly but I had nothing to lose so I went for it. Thankfully Sean was just next to me helping me out with his beta and a couple grunt later giving it all I was at the ledge. I had the salathe wall! We stayed an extra day with Sean while Mayan exited the route allowing Sean to have a bit more food and water. The next day Sean took his turn and kept the sending train going with a beautiful fight and we all topped out going straight to the “all you ca eat” buffet at curry village to add the cherry on top of the cake;)


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