The West Face of The Leaning Tower, North Americas biggest over-hanging rock face, was an obvious choice for a speed ascent during our short trip to Yosemite (November 2010). Our plan was for me to lead the first half and Oli to lead the second half. The ‘average ascent’ time is 3 days, but we were aiming to do the route in under 12 hours.
After managing to hitch a ride to the the end of the trail we hiked up the the start and made camp on a small flat area to the right of the traverse to the base of the route.
As we made-camp we buried our food bags under a pile of rocks in the hope that it would reduce any bear-enticing smells. Oli was not overly keen about sleeping here, and put up a few skinny branches in the hope that it would alert us to any sneaky bears. I slept like a log – Oli probably managing to give himself a bit of bear-paranoia and, as a forest is never quiet at night, did not sleep well at all.
We got up & racked up and traversed to the base of the climb. The traverse was pretty easy, but we roped up to be safe. I started up the first two pitches; aiding a steep overhanging bolt ladder, leaving just single biners on ever 4th bolt for protection. The aim was to be as economical on gear as possible because as we were short fixing the route we needed to move efficiently. We climbed on a single 70m rope and trailed a 50m tag-line for passing up gear to the leader; short-fixing means you rarely meet your second at a belay so the leader needs to be resupplied with protection every so often using the tag-line.
We climbed quickly to a big ledge, traversed right up a funky rock feature with small pro and up towards some free-climbing before hitting a bolt ladder. A couple pitches after this Oli joined me at the belay, we switched over gear, and Oli took the lead.
Oli climbed the overhanging corners fairly quickly and it was not long until he was on the big roof in the top section of the route. That went well, but when it came to cleaning the roof I managed to get myself a bit tied in while trying to get the gear from the back of the route without leaving any pro behind. It ended up with me having to use a shit load of arm power to get out of the situation – pulling myself in to the corner with on hand – holding most my weight while the using the other hand tried to untangle the lower-out cord.
A massive faff and the result was cramping biceps as I got up out of the over-hang and moved up towards the final section of the route. We completed the route and as I racked up the rope on a ledge below the belay Oli could see the sun setting on El Cap – some serious Alpen glow – not that I would find out as, in the few minutes more it took for me to coil the ropes and climb up to him, it was gone.
From there it was a long and tedious rappel down the rubble gully down the back of the route. The 50m tag-line was not really long enough for this job (take two 60m ropes) and by the time we got to the bottom we decided to eat the snacks we had left over and sleep there before heading back in the morning.
The good news was that we did the route in a respectable 10.5 hours and no-one was molested by bears.