Sending Golden Gate Ground Up

Wall Style over 6 Days

November 2019

I am writing this retrospective recap in early 2022 as a fulltime climber. In 2019, I was working as a fulltime engineer with only a few weeks off of work per year. To fit all my projects in, not much time was spent on the ground in Yosemite. For this specific ascent my friend Aaron Livingston and I used a 9 day window from Salt Lake to roadtrip out and climb Golden Gate wall style, before driving back for my work commitments.

Day 1:

With our in-and-out tactics, we did not have time to prehaul our bags to heart ledges. Instead this day we climbed freeblast in a couple of hours then rapped to the ground. We walked back to our vehicle for our packed haul bags, then immediately turned around to go haul back up to our high point. This was not the most energy efficient way to do things, but we charged onward and sent to the ledge atop of hollow flake before dark. A smooth day, save for my terrifying follow of the hollowflake downclimb due to bad toprope logistics! (The best way to free follow this pitch seems to be to clip into a leaver biner at the bolt atop the downclimb section - this protects the hard portions, with mellow swing potential as you climb up the bottom half of the flake itself. Once the follower reached the rest pod about halfway, the top belayer can throw the other end of the rope down from above, switching the belay to that rope for a plumb tope rope.)

Day 2:

Despite being mid-November, the weather was forecasted to near 80°s. The bottom half of El Cap is especially warm without the winds that come higher up. We woke early to try to make it through the Monster Offwidth before the worst of the heat. We both styled this easier terrain, making quick work up to the alcove with fix-and-follow tactics, allowing the leader to haul while the follower climbs. We dropped our bags and made it to the first crux at pitch 22 by 3pm, a slabby 5.12c downclimb around a prow to link into a different crack system.

I love this sort of funky, balency slab climbing, and had prepped for it in Little Cottonwood (for the LCC locals, I would upclimb Golden Showers and then downclimb Unreliable without taking at the shared top anchor). I nearly sent this pitch in a matter of minutes, but fell past the crux moves trying to manage the easier portion onsight. After further inspection, I freed the pitch in a few more rapid fire attempts, using maybe 30 minutes total to sort and send. I switched to belay mode and supported Aaron into the evening in his attempts, coming painfully close a few times. He was unable to execute the full link, so we fixed lines down to camp in the Alcove for the night

Setting up for the 12c downclimb slab

Day 3:

We jugged back up to the downclimb pitch for Aaron to give a few more attempts. His progress stagnated, and he decided that we should move on, with so much wall above. This is always a difficult dynamic when going for a partnered free ascent. If one person is sending and the other is stuck on a pitch, how much time should the team spend to try to get the second person’s send? I was happy to belay Aaron, but was nervous about the three other 12+/13- pitches above.

We cruised midday through moderate (though scary) terrain to reach the 13a “Move” pitch. This one involves a heads-up 12- intro to reach a good rest stance. Above the rest is a short V7 boulder featuring a wild combination of pockets and crystal dykes. This was my lead and I onsighted the intro, but fell at the hardest reach in the bouldery crux. I hung here and touched the holds, imagining different combinations. Realizing the weight of a 9mm haulline, a haulkit, and way too many cams were making a difference on this dynamic move, I clipped everything to a bolt to work the move unencumbered.

Starting at the midway rest of the pitch, I easily linked through the boulder and made it to the belay. This is the one asterisk I took on my ascent - speaking from my 2022 perspective, I believe strongly in the stance to stance method of bigwall free climbing (the aid belays often don't make sense), but strive to be more stringent on my threshold for a stance. As a 2019 weekend warrior, this felt adequate to me and I called it good enough for The Move pitch, thinking the previous belay was just as hanging as the midway rest I started from.

I hauled kit through the pitch and belayed Aaron from above. He had switched from redpointing mode to sussing every move in hopes of teeing up a future ascent (he came back to send all of GG in 2021, on his third go ground up!). Aaron took the next “easier” lead, which turned out to be quite scary both above the belay and leaving the OW crack near the end of the pitch. Somehow, Aaron continued to get the scariest of leads by accident as we underestimated the intensity of many midgrade pitches. We fixed up to the awesome sky ledge of Tower to the People before rapping back for sleep at our portaledge above The Move.

Aaron following The Move pitch

Day 4:

We took a slow start to this day, expecting to be too scorched midday for strong attempts on the Golden Desert 12+ layback. We slowly jugged the two fixed pitches, careful to not over exert ourselves on this simple commute, and then hauled kit to our camp for the next two nights. We didn’t pull onto the rock until mid afternoon.

Our goal for the day was to send this layback pitch and at least touch the holds of the 5.13a A5 traverse. Aaron set off first on the Golden Desert, using his Indian Creek prowess to nearly onsight the short tips layback bit. The intro and exit of the pitch are both easier than this short section, but are run out and airy! I had a similar performance on my flash go. Once we knew where to place gear and where to gun it, we both sent second go.

We both got one attempt on the A5 traverse that evening, each hanging on most of the gear to understand the blind and slopey climbing. This pitch feels desperate until the tiny foot chips are found and you realize how many of the slopers are best to just skip. We rapped back to our portaledge at Tower to the People to try again in the morning.

Day 5:

It was a warm day once again, so we rested in the morning. We were given a wild show in watching multiple parties climb the enormous El Corazon 8a roof traverse which finishes at our bivy ledge. We made some room and made new friends as we all waited for the sun intensity to fade.

By 3pm a bit of haze took hold and the wind picked up. Aaron and I jugged our line to the belay for the “A5 traverse” pitch (which is really sport climbing on decent fixed gear). We then received our obligatory Emily Harrington Golden Gate appearance as she rapped in from the heavens to give a few working attempts on the same pitch in preparation for her in-a-day ascent. We all alternated attempts on the short and fierce traverse. I managed to lock down the movement and send my second attempt, first go of the day. I lowered back to the belay to let Aaron work the pitch further.

As darkness neared, I deemed it best to try the 5.12- next pitch this eve to hopefully have the free ascent in the bag. I thought a lowly 5.12- was a sure thing after completing the A5 traverse, but this next pitch is not to be underestimated! It may not be as pumpy, but I thought it has a single move more difficult than any on the A5 pitch. I fell on my first attempt. Second go was equally as desperate and I barely made the moves. It really did feel as hard to pull off as the four other crux pitches. With deep fatigue setting in, free ascents on El Cap are not over until they are over.

Sending the A5 traverse

Day 6:

We woke up atop Tower to the People with our lines fixed 150’ up through that devious 5.12- pitch, only 5.11 and below to the top! After hauling kit, we got back into fix-and-follow mode to finish things out. The theme of tricky midgrade pitches continued as we led out way above gear on the razor thin flake pitches. Even the pitch 38 involves small gear and a funky mantle to top out the whole wall. I kept control of my fatiguing limbs and we sent these last pitches to top out late morning.

Sweet relief set in as we sprawled our gear on top. I had sent the Golden Gate by starting at the bottom with food and water, and then climbing to the summit! All things considering, Aaron and I had a leisurely time on the wall with lots of ledge sunbathing and resting. It was Saturday morning, but I worked early Monday, and we had a day long drive back to SLC ahead. We transitioned our bags to hiking mode and blasted down to the truck in about 90 minutes.

Our trip finished with about 30 more minutes on the Valley floor, maybe totalling two hours total for this quick-hit trip. We drove out of the park to bivy at Lee Vining for the night, then drove back to SLC the next day. Blasting the El Cap descent with heavy bags, and then sitting in a car for a whole day is not recommended! My quads have never been more sore.

Hero climbing on the Razor Blade flakes