Tribal Rite - A New Speed Record

Tribal Rite follows the yellow line, starting on the
Nose but breaking right at Boot Flake.
Photo: Mark Hudon

I was in the middle of my lunch break from my EMT refresher when Luke came by.  We were hoping for a speed record on Tribal Rite that coming weekend with Skiy Detray.  Looking a little distraught, Luke told me how his bike had just been run over at El Cap meadow.  Coupled with a rain-stormed journey up Lurking Fear, he was ready for new venues. 

I couldn’t blame Luke for wanting to take off.  Hanging out in the Valley without a solid plan or place to stay is, to say the least, difficult.  We had a pretty huge season and were ready for some free living and free climbing.

I knew I couldn’t bail on Skiy, I was committed; so we tracked down another friend, Kevin Prince, for the push on Tribal.  We knew Kevin would be fast and fun to climb with, even late into the night.  When Skiy and I started talking about the best tactics for gunning to Boot Flake with six gallons of water and a haul bag, the level of misery this mission would entail became clear.

The plan was for Kevin to lead us to Boot as fast as possible, Skiy and I jugging behind him with a backpack with three gallons of water each, clothes, food and other things.  This could be over 24 hours of wall climbing push if things didn’t go as hoped. We wanted to be prepared.

It ended up working out pretty much as planned.  We jugged.  The packs were heavy. It sucked.  But we did it.  It was hard, but we got to Boot Flake about half way up the wall (in terms of vertical distance) in about four and a half hours. That left nineteen hours to climb thirteen pitches and break the standing record of 23:33.
Photo: Tom Evans
At the Boot, we shared a stance with two Argentinian climbers headed up the Nose.  They were on their third day of climbing, and had three more days on the wall. We were on our fifth hour and headed to the top.  They seemed more perplexed at our objective than anything else.  Maybe they were wondering the same thing many of us wonder:  What are we doing? Non-stop? Why?!

Skiy took over at the Boot, leading out into some A3 terrain and then into the formerly A4 pitch. He navigated loose rock while Kevin and I chatted on about this and that.  Skiy later remarked about how casual the whole route was.  Not in terms of the climbing, but in terms of our attitudes. Chatting away at belays, laughing and joking, then exploding into a flurry of motion when ropes were fixed and upwards movement required.

Sky coming up on the grey bands

Passing through the grey brands
Photo: Tom Evans

Skiy put away four pitches of climbing quickly and efficiently.  On a nice ledge below the iconic feature dubbed ‘The Carrot’ I geared up to take us into the dark of night and through the next block of climbing.
Things go by in a blur at this point.  On hard pushes, once my block begins on these hard pushes I go into the zone, my eyes always feel like I am holding them open wider than normal.  My mental processing feels accelerated and heightened.  My hands move swiftly from cam to aider to fifi hook, to cam and aider again, up up up.

The pitches run together in my mind, even as I climb and think back to moves I just made I can’t always remember if they were on the previous pitch or the pitch before.  I think this is common for climbers: Many of us become ‘now’ centered machines, taking care of the task at hand, thinking of little else and focusing on quickly moving the team up the wall.  And this feeling, the hyper-focused state, is what I love. The hours of sitting in the harness waiting for my block melt away, and I become more focused than at any other time in my life.  The rhythm that I get into becomes a moving meditation, stilling my mind and that feeling keeps me coming back.

Three pitches from the summit, well into the darkness, Kevin took over for the final push to the summit.  Nineteen hours and forty-eight minutes later we arrived on the summit with a new speed record on El Cap and it felt good.  Sitting on the summit, despite how tired we were, we begin talking about what was next.