AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

North America, United States, California, Yosemite Valley, Ribbon Falls, East Portal

Ribbon Falls, East Portal. Hoping to succeed by sheer weight of numbers, John Evans, Dick Long, Allen Steck and I, aided by a small band of porters transported our tonnage to the Ribbon Falls amphitheater late in June. We brought food, climbing equipment and bivouac gear for a siege of indeterminate length upon the East Portal, the 1800-foot buttress which forms the right wall of the huge amphitheater west of El Capitan. We were prepared for a grade VI with rurps, knife-blades, bongs, pulleys for hauling, sleeping hammocks and morphine. Each was famed for his ability to live on the granite walls like a rat. And we four, together for the first time, felt that we constituted a pack that no wall could stop. The first day Long and Evans did the clinging and hanging, while Steck and I managed the hauling and tangling. As if to show contempt for the difficulties, we deliberately made the ascent as hard as possible. We began by throwing rocks at our new nylon rope. After several tries, Evans finally succeeded in striking and cutting the rope about 30 feet from its lower end with a large, sharp rock. Then, by traversing to the right, Evans was able to avoid the clean and secure rock above him in favor of some filthy and rotten granite which led to a vertical jungle all but hidden by mud. Finally, as we settled down for a bivouac 600 feet up, we decided that too much food and water had been brought and so we sacrificed some. Two-thirds of the food, over half the water, together with some bivouac gear all went singing down the face neatly held together by a duffel bag. Bivouacking in a tree 100 feet below the others, I heard Evans scream in a voice like a high school chemistry teacher who has just dropped a vial of nitro-glycerin: "Pack! pack! pack!” I felt a strong breeze as the 35- pound duffel bag just missed my head and disappeared into the twilight below. It struck the face 100 feet from the ground, sending a dozen cans out into space amid a shower of sparks, which was extinguished almost immediately by a cascade of water from the gallon containers bursting upon impact. The following morning it was our turn to handle the clinging and hanging. The bongs were broken out and I began nailing a wide crack. Naturally two short leads brought us to a broad, flat ledge where all could have spent a comfortable night. Far above, a gigantic thin flake loomed ominously. It seemed jammed edgewise in a large chimney and consistent with the rock climber’s own morbid sense of humor, it was called the "guillotine flake.” Half a lead above the broad ledge, we ran into a major problem. A wide chimney was blocked by a large chockstone. Behind the chockstone was a space which seemed too narrow even to allow a rope to pass through, but using a technique learned from Warren Harding, the notorious two-dimensional climber of Yosemite, I was able to worm my way to the top of the chockstone. Steck, after some difficulty in locating the slot, tried to ooze through but got his hard hat jammed. I had terrifying visions of Steck, supported by nothing but his chin strap, dangling helplessly from the slot. Finally he succeeded in crushing himself sufficiently to reach the top of the chockstone. Rallying magnificently, Steck performed a lead of mixed climbing which none of the other rats could follow. After placing a fixed rope halfway up the next pitch, we settled down for a second bivouac. The following day Long redeemed himself by leading the guillotine flake pitch in fine style. Having passed that obstacle, we were relieved to find the remainder of the climb 5th class. Moving rapidly over clean, low-angle rock, we reached the rim of the Valley at the end of the third day. The only difficulty encountered on the last day was Long, who tried several times to strike his companions with rocks from above. A final bivouac was spent near Ribbon Creek before returning to the Valley and the world of men. Provisional grading: NCCS VI, F9, A4.

Charles Pratt