Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crosstown Traffic: A TR by Jake Whittaker

A little while ago, last Spring maybe, Yosemite Valley climbers Jake Whittaker and Alex Honnold headed out to try Crosstown Traffic, a 5.13 free route established by the Huber brothers on Washington's Column. Jake, a closet crusher who is the only non-famous person to free climb El Capitan in a single day, wrote this about the route:

Alex dragged me up this thing last spring...I was kinda off the couch(off the farm), so it was extra spanker for me.

I led the first pitch of the Prow, then Alex headed out on the crux pitch which was very wet and grassy. He spent a lot of time throwing hummocks over his shoulder, hanging on gear, and looking over at me and saying, "This is the worst climbing experience of my life...."

I managed to toprope through the 5.12R first half of this pitch and thought it was rad...featured 5.12 face climbing with copperheads for gear. Then I figured out the .13a boulder problem, finished gardening it, and sent it on TR in a couple of tries...its probably a V5. Honnold quickly lapped it on TR too.

I led up the next pitch, J-tree grain for a ways, without much gear, then traversed right to, and across, a slopey and glassy was kinda scary, with the gear way back left in the corner. I clipped a bolt and climbed up into an .11+ move right above the ledge. I tried to clip a piton but it fell out. It was only about a quarter inch long! I chucked it over my shoulder and powered through the move onto a series of stances.

From the highest stance I clipped a knifeblade. I then spent who knows how long climbing up and down the next fifteen feet, fiddlin in a few pieces of terrible gear and getting really pumped...I was starting to regret my lack of fitness.

After much whining and more up-down action I committed to the crux .12a mantel move in full savage survival mode. I pushed, I pressed, and I went for the high-step to finish. Instead of getting my foot on the shelf, I pasted my knee in desperation, quivering. Then, in full beached-whale position, I slid off into space, wondering if I'd die.

Ping, ping, ping! The pieces I'd placed popped out of the flake with ease. My feet hit the stance by the knifeblade and I tipped backwards, wondering when I was gonna smack the big ledge. Then, the knifeblade caught, I slowed, floated past the right end of the ledge, and stopped. My death scream slowly dwindled away and echoed across the valley. I looked UP at Alex, and said, "You wanna give it a go? I think I might be blown...for the week."

We switched rope ends and he toproped up to the knifeblade. He then repeated the numerous up and downs on the flake, but skipped repeating my gear placements...though I wondered if those pieces had helped steer me right, ensuring I missed the ledge. Finally he committed to the mantel shelf, but instead of hittin it straight on, he traversed left, cripped somethin, and mantled on that side. I looked away and held the rope.

"Gosh, that was scary...wait, what the f*#k?" After performing the crux mantel Alex stood on the shelf at a huge no hands, on a pitch that seemed to be a free variation to the aid line of Electric Ladyland. There, where any normal person would have proudly hand drilled a bolt, Alex Huber apparently decided to place a copperhead. Honnold clipped it, then, after some excavation, managed to get in a marginal TCU behind the ledge...where a lost arrow would've been bomber.

After much wondering and contemplation about the next move, Alex JUMPED upwards and caught a small bucket with both hands and climbed another 20 feet of choss to the anchor! Who knows what would've happened if he hadn't stuck that bucket, or if something had broke.

Note that the climber in this photo is nailing 5.10 fingers. Nailing on free climbs is fucked up!

Since I was a worthless pile of sh#t by this point, Alex dogged up the next pitch, a rad .12b with bread loaf pinches and spicy gear. He sent it second try and then onsighted the next two pitches of 5.12. I started to recover eventually, and managed to onsight the .12c flare on TR...the flare is 5.9 and the fingers in the corner afterwords is maybe .12a. After that we were both tired and it was late in the day, so we rapped before the traverse.

Back on the ground Alex said, "So are we gonna send tomorrow?" I said, "I guess YOU are...." I wondered...who goes up on grade V 5.13, which we now knew should include an "R" in the rating, kinda gets spanked, and decides that the next day would be the best time to attempt the redpoint? I spent the rest of the evening trying to decide if should take jumars...I finally decided not to. For training, I'd power toprope with the pack.

Since it was easy, I again led the first pitch of the Prow, but unexpectedly tore off a microwave sized block, took another huge and dangerous whipper, and let out another blood-curdling scream.

Alex patiently redpointed the crux, and I sent on TR. He repeated the scary mantel pitch, again we marveled at the ridiculous engineering...a couple more pitons would make it a lot safer. We established a good rhythm and Alex floated the rest of the route, though, unlike on the topo, we traversed straight right all the way to the belay just after the Harding Slot. We toiled up the rest of Astroman, and as we did the last pitch, Alex said, "I can't believe I scrambled this." He soloed it again a couple days later.

In conclusion, Crosstown Traffic is a funky, grainy, chossy, runnout, but completely rad new-school route. I still need to go redpoint, but wanna add some more pins to that one pitch. With a lot of traffic it could someday be kinda good. Its like what I imagined free climbing A4 would be like when I was a kid...and i enjoyed toproping most of it. A solid big wall partner is required because of the traverses.

additional notes by Jake Whittaker:
We traversed as per Crosstown Traffic, but at the last bolt Alex decided to continue traversing the obvious dyke feature, on toprope, as opposed to busting blank looking .12 moves into runout terrain. We couldn't tell where we were "supposed" to go till afterwards. So technically we didn't complete Huber's route. The way we went just seemed like the natural way and was super fun and safe bucket traversing. I left the bolt clipped and pulled the rope afterwards.

The initial traversing part of this pitch presents some difficulties for a follower unable to free climb and too impatient to lower out, aka: me with a pack on. I elected to unclip and run, which nearly exploded my tight fitting performance shoes. Apparently my eyes got really wide. Alex was laughing hysterically and said I looked like an owl...hoo! Coulda got real hurt numerous times on this route....

Notes: made by Eric Sloan

Very minor comment on Jake's awesome story: Alex Huber probably didn't place the copperhead on the 4th(the Hubers show the first pitch of the Prow as two pitches, odd because of the long, hard pitches on the rest of the route) pitch, as Endangered Species, which Crosstown follows on pitch 3,4 & 9 was put up in January just 4 months before Alex did his climb. (it's possible that that 4th pitch crux had some fixed pins, which someone doing EL lowered down fifteen feet and cleaned or cleaned while bailing from there). So the second pitch hummocks that J describes Alex cleaning might have been more cleaned out, and there may have been an extra fixed piece here or there which fell out or was removed before Alex and Jake did their climb(Jake describes leaving the traverse bolt on pitch 8 clipped. when we climbed EL in '07 there was a quickdraw on that bolt, which I easily reached over and cleaned from the EL pitch).

Jake Whittaker comments:

So the .12a mantle pitch is part of Endangered Species? That would explain the lack of a bolt. I'm guessing Huber had a pin behind the shelf, since it looks like that on the topo, that would be real nice to have in there. Who knows though, that guy's crazy. Honnold wasn't worried enough to do anything about it. Another knifeblade right next to the other one would be awesome too, especially as the years go by.

It sounds like you cleaned a quickdraw from the first bolt of the traverse...probably where Huber's jug monkey lowered out. I left the second bolt clipped and we went down then right at .11a-ish instead of right and up at .12c.

It definitely didn't seem like anyone had free climbed up there in a long time...and its probably already re-vegetating.

It makes it scary to repeat these routes when the crucial pro is pitons etc. that aid climbers can easily booty as they go past...not really any solution though, other than taking pins and a hammer and dealing...or being less safe.

Ok aspiring hardmen, get out there and buff this thing till it's as clean as Astroman!

Further comments and the original post can be found on Supertopo.

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