El Corazon, Ground Up

A seven day El Corazon redpoint with Jordan Cannon

July 2022

In late May, an unseasonably cool wave passed through Yosemite Valley. By the fifth day of these crisp temps, Jordan Cannon and I were lounging on our portaledge at Tower to the People, a skinny table sized ledge 2500' off the ground. We were riding the weather front up an ascent of El Corazon. I had just sent the wild 13b crux roof traverse, so I was surprised to look at my fingertips and still see a robust layer of skin. Somehow, this was my lowest stress El Cap free ascent yet. We were nailing the logistics and wasting no energy along the way.

Heel toeing across the roof traverse, the defining pitch of El Corazon

El Corazon seemed to have been the El Cap free-route-of-the-year, with multiple attempts and many (7?) redpoint ascents over the last 12 months. Half of these ascents were upwards of two weeks on the wall, waiting out stormy weather! El Corazon is a major waterway for the cliff - rain gets funneled onto the obvious bivies and seeps out of the hardest pitches for a few days after. Jordan and I had gambled on a late season ascent, which may be quite hot, but ought to be dry, at least.

This was my third trip out to the valley for the spring season. Over the last year, I've come to learn that I don't crave "the hang" of climbing trips. I've reverted back to the in-and-out style of a past career lifestyle. Flagstaff is where I enjoy to resting and regrouping between ascents, much preferring the luxuries of time with my partner, home cliffs, community, and a fancy espresso machine to extended camping trips. My Prius V is the perfect tool for this tactic. Being one of the most fuel efficient vehicles that fits a full size bed, I can get 2.5 trips in before I hit the fuel expenditure of the same trip in a "tall white van".

In truth, our El Corazon ascent was slightly anticlimactic. Jordan and I had only roped up for cragging previously, but I knew him to be highly detail oriented. We were totally on the same page with wall efficiency tactics. Our Self Supported plan began with a one day stash mission to get our 300lb kit of bags up to Grey Ledges (1500' up), resting a day, and then casting off free climbing from the bottom for 7 more days. We'd catch up to our bags and then drag them to the summit while bringing camp with us. We'd both redpoint along the way, questing into 18 pitches of new terrain for the portions not shared with Golden Gate and Freerider. I was excited to try for a third free route having still never rapped in from the summit, hoping to keep this streak going as long as I can.

Night 1, on the Grey Ledges

With sharp irony, we would climb the relatively moderate first half of the route in 6 hours, and then take 6 days to get up the second half. I found the route to be much more classic than Golden Gate and Freerider, with many more pitches that were quality enough to want to climb in a hypothetical crag setting. The iconic roof traverse was slightly less intimidating to climb than expected, but really does require using a heel-toe cam as a third hand to shuffle out a horrendously slopey rail. The El Capitan macro features create movement unlike those on any other cliffs.

My preparatory months were spent rapid firing as many mid 5.13s as possible around Flagstaff. Quick redpointing is the key to maintain a reserve of energy on a multiday wall - any effort used down low on the wall only snowballs one's fatigue to make the higher pitches harder. The skills of low effort beta sussing and sequence memorization are crucial. I was able to send the 5.13b Beak Flake, 5.12d Pecker Corner, and 5.13b Roof Traverse all third try (a slab slip on the 5.12a Fat City exit also required a second attempt), but I did every other pitch along the way first try. Jordan had a similar effort with just a few falls on other pitches. We both led all the 5.13s. Our only asterisk is that we left preplaced gear in the roof traverse as the spaced gear takes cumbersome aiding to clean in either direction. I do believe most ascents have been done this way.

Sending the 5.12c slab of "Bobby's Bunny Slope" first try, back to back, in the sun!

I did have a couple hours of acute stress - difficult climbing to get the rope up the Beak Flake pitch while tip toeing past detached blocks got my emotions going. The worst part of El Capitan climbing BY FAR is loose rock encountered with parties directly below you. Even on trade routes, the loose rock sticks around because you are too high up to see if people are at the base and know a trundle would be safe. I would highly suggest any future El Corazon parties to take a moment while working the Beak Flake pitch to haul up an empty haul bag, carefully fill it with the few detached plates, and then lower them down to Grey Ledges just 120' below. While you're at it, the four pitches off Mammoth could all use better belay bolts too. I wish we would have known to bring a bolt kit on our stashing day to class up the route.

Enjoying Tower to the People The largest ledge along the second half of the route.

Our Tower to the People Sky Camp, at ~2500'

Summit selfie, with our hilarious pack-stacks

On the sixth day of the wall, Jordan and I finished off sending the last difficult pitches. It was only midday, but we decided to bask in the afternoon sun at our already-set-up camp. On the morning of day 7 we hauled up our lines to the previous day's high point and finished out the last four pitches up the Fat City ramp system. The cool weather was breaking and the sun felt intense. We quickly regrouped on the summit and hiked down the slabs with tipsy, heavy packs strapped high with gear, surely more effort than we used over the last handful of sky cragging days. My valley floor time was brief. After a quick river dip and a 15 minute gear sort, the Prius was pointed back towards the Ponderosa paradise of Flagstaff.

In continuing an open-information approach to my climbing systems, I wrote up a separate post with tips for keeping wall life low-exertion