Drove into the valley yesterday afternoon and the first two things that hit me were the crowds and the heat. People often say they hate the crowds, but when you spend most of the time on a wall you don’t tend to see them, but yesterday the place was rammed - perfect for a ‘get me off the ground’ psyche. Next was the heat, and as soon as I saw the haze coming of the tarmac I was running through heat stroke - or worse - scenarios for my speed climbing (due to the nature of speed soloing, you can’t carry any more than a bladder). After an ice cream Sunday I was feeling a bit better so headed up to the meadow, the plan being to walk up to the base of Lurking Fear in the cool of the evening and blast off at 2am.
Sat sorting gear in the car park, trying to get my rack down to a weight I can move with. One question was wether to take 2 camalot 5’s or just hope my DMM 4’s would do, after all a camalot 5 is a heavy piece of kit. In the end I took just the one, and packed all my gear and headed up.
First thought was “christ this gear weighs a ton!”, with my rucksack weighing the same as if I was heading up for a week, not a day. The second thing that came to my attention was the mosquitoes, which swarmed around me in the twilight.
My plan was to just lay out the rope on the ground, and lay on my rucksack back panel, and instead of using a sleeping bag, just put on Patagonia micro puff jacket and rap myself in my bothy bag. This plan looked like it could unravel if I found myself in a cloud of mosquitoes, so off the bat I was imagining I’d have to bail from the plan.
After a very long and hot hike along the base of El Cap, including climbing up a short buttress on tatty fixed ropes, I made it to the base of the route. I’d hoped the mosquitoes would leave me alone once I got heigh, but no luck.
Not wanting to bail I decided to stick it out, and putting on my waterproof’s, my micro puff and my capaline top over my face I laid down and tried to sleep.
And so began an uncomfortable night of half sleep until about 9.45 when I suddenly felt something brush my leg. For some reason I didn’t move (or scream) and just laid there until I felt something brush my head - then I screamed.
I sat up and looked for my headtorch and flashed it around.
I know there’s a bear that lurks in these parts, but guessed whatever it was was small.
I guessed that whatever it is was must be after a few biscuits I had, so I tucked them between my legs and tried to get back to sleep.
When I felt something wiggling away down there sometime later I really got freaked and sat up and shouted, and again flashed my headtorch.
Looking out I saw to my surprise the boldest ring tailed cat ever, first all I could see were its eyes, and then its whole body, as it walked up to me balled as brass.
I’ve never seen a ringed tailed cat before, but guessed that that was what it was, as it looked like a cat and had a big tail with rings on it (not real rings). As far as that I had no info, and was left wondering what damage this thing could do to me (breath fire, spurt shit out of it’s bum, blead acid).
Not wanting to take any chances I just threw it my biscuits and tried to get back to mosquito hell.
By around 2am I was sick of just laying there, so got up and started racking up. Packing my stuff up I realized I’d left my spare batteries behind, and that my spare - back up -headtorch had a battery missing. It was also feeling totally fucked. It was not looking good. I pulled out my breakfast bagel and saw it had somehow been half eaten (even though it was hanging in a tree). I was also worrying about not having two camalot 5’s.
It was time to do the right thing.
And so I’m sat in the Yosemite cafeteria having breakfast. Fingers crossed tonight will be better.
A Kit Kat bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram