The Monkey Tracker

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lurking Fear - Monkeys Conquer El Capitan

So eventually the Excel spreadsheet told us it was time to leave Moab so we hit the road for the long drive to the California Coast. Our first stop was the second largest city in Utah, St George. We spent the afternoon sport climbing at Chuckawalla wall.

Highlights of the following days drive included a strange desert town with some sort of alien theme, and our in car thermometer hit 100 degrees for the first time!

We arrived in LA to a mess of traffic, it seems that 7 lanes aren’t enough to keep the cars moving around here.

Eventually we found our backpacker accommodation in a very dodgy suburb somewhere near Hollywood. Strangely for some reason there was a few Corvettes and a Rolls Royce out the front.

Once inside we went straight to the free ‘buffet’ dinner. This consisted of corn chips, French fries, potato and white rice sitting at the back of a seedy bar. Plus a birthday cake?

After the feast we met a girl from Australia who ended up in some sort of confrontation with the owner of the hostel. You see she had tried to get a drink and didn’t have her ID on her. She was clearly in 30's not to mention.  For some reason this was blown way out of proportion and the owner threatened to shoot her before spitting in her face in some sort of insane rant. He kept repeating "Im the owner of this place!". Following this the police arrived and the girl was escorted out. Meanwhile Beric was being followed by a 60 year old hooker.

After all this action in our first 20 minutes upon arrival we decided to escape the mad house and go for a look at the famous Hollywood walk of fame and a few random bars along the strip. All hail Hermione!! <3

All hail King Bloomy, it seems they have some sort of tribute shop to him.

The next stop on the tourist list was Santa monica pier and Malibu beach. Beric came to an agreement with some sort of bird.

The next day we left the hostel of madness and drove to San Francisco to stay with our good friends Andrew and Susie. We met back in 2009 in Vietnam and it was awesome to catch up again!

Andrew and Susie are 'big wall' rock climbing experts and helped us prepare for the massive El Captain mission with heaps of beta and much needed extra gear!

We spent several days cleaning, organising, sewing and debating over what to take.

Hmm.. to take the poop tube or not? Apparently, poohing on a wall can be quite a challenge.

Nomad finally lost the plot after 4 months being around Beric and Steve. He was strong to last this long, don't worry Nomad, a lesser man would have crumbled months ago.

Nomads gone mad, his goose is cooked! And he keeps writing in this pad. "What are you writing in that pad Nomad!? He keeps writing in that pad, he's writing in that pad again!"

We also spent some time looking around the downtown area of San Fran. This place had a high density of wierdos, some of the best we've seen!

Steve found an arctic suit to wear on El Cap, never mind jumpers and beanies, this suit had it all.

In yosemite we encountered excessive amounts of snow and water. USA still seems to be in the middle of some freak winter weather conditions in May. Highly unusual, the worst climbing season in 20 years so we heard.

All the snow made it impossible to prepare for free climbing properly so we had to resort to a full aid climbing mission in order to conquer El Capitan. Aid climbing is a method of climbing in which you used gear to assist you in ascending the cliff. You carry mass amounts of wedges shaped chocks of metal, camming devices and hooks. You wedge these metal things into cracks above you and place the hooks on little bumps in the rock. You attach a ladder made from nylon slings to the gear and walk up it. If the gear doesn't rip on you or the hook doesnt fly of and smash you in the face, you place another one. This process repeates.. like 3000 times. Sounds easy right? It is good when the rock is freezing cold and wet as you dont have to rely on your finger tips to pull your way up. As this takes a while you need to haul your food water and gear behind you in big vinyl bags that weigh more than you. Good exercise!

For those of you who don't know, El Cap is a world famous 3000 ft sheer granite cliff. It is the king of "BIG WALLS". It is the ultimate goal for many climbers and no easy task to climb. Around 60% of climbers fail...

"A big wall is a steep, multi-pitch ascent that takes most people much more than a a day to climb. Big walls are all about vertical exposure - climbing and sleeping with thousands of feet of air below you and thousands of feet of rock above you. There is nothing else like it. Big wall climbing is not about summit glory or pulling a single hard move or savouring the rush of adrenaline, although these things will happen. The experience is much more complex and rich. You don't flirt with gravity like you might base jumping or doing a hard single pitch climb. You live with gravity and exposure for 24 hours a day. People who climb big walls realise that the fact climbing the is so hard is the reason they do it. They make you dig deep both physically and mentally." Chris McNamara - Big wall guru.

El cap is far far bigger than we are. It looms over you and has a tendency to scare the crap out of people. People come from all over the world to climb it, but when the get below it and get 1 pitch of the ground it is quite common to bail, coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why the time isnt right.

You seriously have to bend your neck as far as you can to look up at it when you stand below it. The first time you see it you have to keep looking to check if it is real, "whoa, its, big, really big, I didn't it would be that big, what have we got ourselves into? nah dont worry about it, doesnt look much bigger than Moonlight Butress in Zion.. only some 2000 feet longer right.."

It is mysterious, massive and unforgiving. The stakes are high. The wheather is notoriously erratic and can turn bad at any moment. And theres no where to hide! Lets just say its a lot of pain and hard work, certainly not "type A" fun, its what we call "type B fun" i,e at the time there is nothing fun about it, its only when the memory of you throbing swollon hands, mangled stubbed toes and cramping biceps finally fade, you look back on what you achieved and then you truly enjoy the experience!   

For the record Beric's hands were not functional in anyway whatsoever when he first woke up on day 3.. they were smashed into the rock on day way catching nomad when he took a big whipper fall. Combined with the morning cold and mass hauling the evening before he could barely undo his underwear to go to the toilette.. Nomad and Steve wouldn't help me with this either for some reason. We need bigger paper bags for next time I might add. Thats the price you pay for saving it up for a few days also. To Andy Beric and your Cronie friends.. All hail bog island, platypus rock and the El Cap log ledge!! 

Along the way a few things paid the price actually...

  • Beric's hand - mangled into the cliff face when he caught the rope to stop nomad plummeting
  • Steve's sunglasses - lanyard failure
  • A hammer - back clipped off carabiner, fell a few m's then bounced of nomads head for 500m more
  • Nomad's finger -  mangled while using rock serving as hammer substitute
  • A walkie talkie - the old back clip trick again
  • Our sanity - nahhh that was already gone
Thanks to all the people who helped us along the way in Yosemite

We would like to thank our sponsers, Andrew and Susie for letting us borrow their big wall gear.

For the record you need a ridiculous amount of gear to climb a wall for three days. And everything needs a lanyard, Beric spent days putting lanyards on everything he owns, even his toothbrush!

Tom Evans on the bridge is the gatekeeper of El Cap, keeping a careful watch on all the climbers on the wall. He gave us critical beta on the weather, without his encouragement we may have missed our only window! Thanks for taking the awesome photos of us Tom!

You can check out Tom's site at:

Meg and Tamara hosted us in the lead up to the big wall. We stayed in their amazing house in El Portal. Thanks Girls!

Friends Erin and Melissa from Colorado came to the valley and were waiting with food and a super sized tent when we finally got down from El Cap!


For out last week we stayed with Casey in her sweet place in the middle of yosemite valley. Casey you're amazing and we can't wait to see you again mate!

Casey is quite the artist..

Casey works as a teacher at the Yosemite school. This school is smack bang in the middle of heaven. One evening Casey took us to a bbq at the school featuring some sort of band band camp playing Lady Gaga. I bet they have good band camp stories inspired by Gaga lyrics ...this one time at band camp..

Andrew and Susie visited us again in Yosemite. We met them after they climbed Royal Arches and for some reason Andrew then proceeded to take several watermelons out of his pack.

After that it started to rain but never mind that, Andrew and Steve still managed to climb up a crazy waterfall slab.

This seems to be some sort of nature place..

There seems to be some sort of reoccurring theme where Beric gets naked in iconic places for a stunning photo shots.. This is a big tree, no the thing with leaves on it! Next stop, Eiffel tower and the Colosseum.

Never mind the sign.

Gotta mark ya territory..

It seems that the bears are running the show around here:

Get outta here bear!

No seriously, they break into the cars at night time looking for food, rip the roofs and doors off good and proper..

Our local friends gave us an all American cultural experience called "SMORES". You light a fire, melt chocolate, marshmallow and gram crackers together, ingenious! never mind the fire, its too cold, candles in a pub will do..

This cider beer thing was warm and tasted exactly like an apple pie..

Dancing in a donger kitchen with girls was on the list. Check.

 We accumulated too much crap in America given all the walmarts. We made like 30 Walmart visits. We had to offload our excess crap to the other climbing bums on the last day. The were ravenous, the vultures took it all within minutes!

Nomad back in the game:

Nomad in ten years:

There, I hope you're happy! Its 2am and we have a flight to catch in two hours, its been a huge day in the sun, craziest yet. Lets just say a helicopter rescue was involved. You've got you're stinkin' blog, you people make me sick, get out of here and don't come back!


  1. haha Steve and I were literally just talking about how we are waiting for your approval of the blog post Lee! We just read your comment above like 30 seconds after.. good thing! otherwise we would have to take the blog down and write it again.. Nomad has gone Bonkers.. he's all washed up haha