South Face of Washington Column, story of a successful aborted climb

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As soon as the International Climbers Meet was over, last Sunday, Stefan and I made ambitious plans. We attacked right away with our first big wall (also, the easiest wall in the valley): the South Face of Washington Column, which goes at 5.8 C1 and 11 pitches. The forecast was marginal, with a big storm scheduled for Wednesday, but the route is easily abseilable from anywhere, so we figured we’d be fine.

We took a leisurely start at 6am from camp4, and the approach and first three pitches went fine, if a bit slow as I switched to full-on aid on P2. By midday, we were on the giant Dinner Ledge, where most parties bivy after fixing one or two more pitches. I led the next one, the awesome Kor roof, which included a couple of scary aid moves and a super fun bolt ladder to the lip, then more aid to an exposed belay. Only then did I notice how much the weather had turned, with crazy high winds (I wouldn’t have wanted to free climb in this) and very threatening clouds having moved in. Without a belay jacket, I abseiled the tagged line to the ledge while Stefan cleaned. After regrouping, we decided it looked like the storm was early, and not keen to have to flee in high rains, we decided to bail early.

We were soon joined by a Spanish team which had just summitted, and things went mostly fine on the way down, until we had to pull the ropes from joined P2 and P3. Try as we might, they wouldn’t budge. The only result we got from the 3 to 1 pulley system was to lift the big boulder we used as anchor (I’m awed that no bit of climbing gear failed). Unfortunately, the only strand we had was a static, so leading back up would be very dangerous. I did go partly back up the C1 pitch before coming down, too scared of breaking either my back or my harness if I took a big fall on a static spelunking rope. The strand was also too short to cut and manage to abseil to the ground, so our only option (bar calling for a very silly rescue) was to wait for another party to come down and unstuck our ropes. We had seen several haulbags on Dinner Ledge so knew people were due back down soon. Unfortunately, it seemed as if they all decided to spend the night on the comfy ledge, and we soon had to bivy on our own ledge.

Things weren’t actually that bad, as we had plenty of food and water, and the ledge was quite large and comfortable. We spent a good night with amazing views of Half Dome before being finally saved by a descending party in early morning. All in all, though we only climbed about half of it and we had a mini epic, it was pretty good fun and we both felt fairly solid with all the systems involved (except perhaps rappel rope pulling…).

Here are some images from the climb (for captions, head over to google+ or facebook). And if all goes as planned, by Wednesday or Thursday, I should have shots from the Nose!

3 thoughts on “South Face of Washington Column, story of a successful aborted climb

  1. @Tony: actually no, it didn’t. It was a bit cloudy and windy, but nothing too bad. The real storm came later the next day. We learned our lesson about not jumping the gun when it comes to weather!

  2. Josh says:

    Are you using the Think Tank Skin system for Yosemite routes as well?

    I was there recently and used an old beater point & shoot clipped to my harness with a Nikon rangefinder tether. Always had the camera handy, which was great, but I’m looking for a less abusive solution for my new G3.

    Hope the weather holds for your Nose attempt! We got caught in a downpour on the Glacier Point Apron one day, and a thunderstorm rolled by about 5 miles NE of us as we topped out on Snake Dike a few days later. The summit of Half Dome is not the best place to be when there’s lightning striking nearby and you’re carrying a bunch of metal gear. Fortunately Snake Dike is run out, so the rack was nice and small. ; )

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