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Native Son - A4+

Average Rating = 5.00/5 Average Rating : 5.00 out of 5
Route sequence (left to right): 80
Route Summary | Ascent Notes (5)
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Standard "hard wall" aid rack with extra rivet hangers, and plenty of nylon slings and duct tape(!)
Consensus Ratings
  Difficulty 5.8 A4
  Safety Rating R
  Exposure 5.00/5
  Rock Quality 5.00/5
  Scenery 5.00/5
  Fun Factor 4.00/5


Here is a superb route that is certain to test your mettle as a big wall aid climber. Not only will you be ascending some of the steepest pitches on El Cap, but you will also have to negotiate one of its most dangerous - The Coral Sea. Native Son is both spectacular and unique, from its start where you have to climb out of a tree (no kidding!) to its finish where you'll be making fabulously exposed pendulums with nothin' but air beneath your heels. In between you'll find tricky nailing, scary hooking, and an A2 pitch that'll eat up virtually every piece of gear on your rack. The pitch which gains the headwall, The Wing, could well be the steepest on El Cap. By the time you reach The Golden Finger of Fate, you might think that the worst is behind you, at least until you find yourself up against the hardest damn A1 pitch on the whole crag!

Submitted by: passthepitonspete on 2006-03-26
Views: 2514
Route ID: 5209

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5 Ascents Recorded

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  Difficulty 5.8 A4
  Safety Rating R
  Rock Quality
  Fun Factor
Onsight Onsight ascent by: rexcarrs on 2004-05-23 (View Climbing Log)

5 out of 5 stars Perhaps the steepest offering on El Cap

Very good climbing following mostly natural features in a wild & steep location. The Machine Headwall is sooooo exposed. The coral sea pitch is A4 & the steep roof above is only A3, not A4+.

Added: 2008-01-12

Red Point Red Point ascent by: b_fost on 2004-08-29 (View Climbing Log)

0 out of 5 stars Ascent Note

No comment

Added: 2004-08-29

Hang Dog Hang Dog ascent by: areyoumydude on 2002-11-09 (View Climbing Log)

0 out of 5 stars Ascent Note

5 days on the wall. It was pretty damn hot for November. Brian led The Coral Sea, Linus led The Wing, and I got The Golden Finger of Fate which is rated A1/5.9 Yea right. Damn sand baggers

Witnessed by: Brian Jonas/ Linus Platt
Added: 2002-11-09

Onsight Onsight ascent by: mchristie on 2002-09-13 (View Climbing Log)

0 out of 5 stars Ascent Note

No comment

Added: 2002-09-13

Onsight Onsight ascent by: passthepitonspete on 1999-05-10 (View Climbing Log)

0 out of 5 stars Ascent Note

<br><br><b>Native Son</b> was my <b>second solo of El Cap,</b> but what made this different from most of my other climbs is that it took me <b>two tries.</b> My first attempt was what you
might call a <b>"near-epic",</b> with plenty of exciting moments and harrowing tales that still make my hair stand on end when I think back on them <br>

<br><br><br><b><font size=+1>FIRST ATTEMPT: MAY 1998.</b></font><br>

<br>It was by <b>default</b> rather than <b>design</b> that I ended up solo on Native Son the first time. It was May of 1998, and <b>"El Nino"</b> was
wreaking havoc with the weather. My partner from <a href=""><b>Pacific Ocean Wall,</b></a> Jon Fox, and I had made plans to climb <b>Sea of Dreams, </b>but our scheme was <b>squelched</b> [or
should I say <b>"quenched"</b>] by the huge waterfalls pouring out of the Cyclop's Eye and pissing down the face. About the only dry-ish rock to be seen lay farther right on the steepest section of the Southeast Face. Miles Smart had climbed Native Son the previous week, and told me that it was dry enough to do, so I set up <b>Base Camp</b> in my [now] usual abode, the clean flat rocks directly below and slightly right of El Cap Tree. That season, my spot was probably <b>THE only dry campsite</b> in
all of Yosemite, and here I cowered next to the wall, <b>dodging drips</b> and building <b>tiny fires</b> in order to conserve dry firewood which was at an absolute premium.<br>

<br>I had wanted to climb Native Son anyway because <a href=""><b>Chongo</b></a> had told me it was one of El Cap's finest routes, and I didn't mind travelling alone one little bit - I had enjoyed <a href=""><b>my ascent of Iron Hawk</b></a> so much the autumn before. The fact that Native Son was nine pitches shorter than my previous solo made it that much more appealing, as did the two <b>"gimme pitches"</b> of rivet ladders comprising <b>The Machine Head Wall.</b> It was my goal to perfect my solo climbing systems, and <b>eliminate the systemic errors</b> that I made on Iron Hawk.<br>

<br>The <b>start</b> is pretty cool - in a <b>tree!</b> - and you have to supposedly make a <b>5.9 mantel</b> to gain the wall. Having retired from free climbing some time ago, I instead <b>equalized several tree branches</b> for pro, pounded in a pin and aided the move. They don't call me <b>"Pass the Pitons" Pete</b> for nothin', eh?<br>

<br>The belay at the top of the first pitch is all natural, and it was difficult if not impossible to set up and anchor to take an <b>upward pull,</b> which is what you need when you're soloing. This problem I solved in a rather clever way - I took my static haul line, and tied the bottom end to the tree on the ground. I then constructed a special quick draw using a <a href=""><b>load release knot cord.</b></a> On the lower end of this quick draw were two carabiners, the other [upper] end of the quick draw I attached to the bottom of the power point at the first belay station by tying a <b>load release knot.</b> Next, I put the upper end of the fixed haul line through the two carabiners on the draw in the form of a <b>garta knot</b> [also known as an <b>"alpine clutch"</b>] and cranked the haul line tight. <b><i>Voila!</b></i> A power point that can take both an upward <b>and</b> a downward pull, and a load release knot that would later allow me to <b>derig</b> everything while <b>under tension.</b> Pretty neat, eh?<br>

<br>It was a good thing I did things <b>right</b> - little did I know my station would be put to the <b>ultimate test!</b><br>

<br>The second pitch involves a long stretch of <b>A3+ hooking</b> - unlike the trade routes <a href=""><b>the hook placements aren't enhanced,</b></a> and you have to <b>feel around</b> carefully with your <b>fingertips</b> to make sure you've got the best one. Sometimes you can see little scratches on the rock, clues as to where other climbers have hooked.<br>

<br>At one point I <b>duct-taped</b> a regular Chouinard <b>Skyhook</b> to the rock for <b>pro.</b> Back in early '98 I didn't have any <a href=""><b>fall arresters,</b></a> though. Several hook moves higher I felt better sitting on a big ol' Fish hook behind a <b>decent-sized flake,</b> where I was also able to stuff a couple of the smallest black Aliens. I was just pondering how I could reach the fixed head above when I heard the flake go <b><i>"k-k-k-k-k".</b></i> I had just enough time to think, oh - I should probably move back down to -----<br>

<br><b><font size=+1><i>"AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!"</b></i></font><br>

<br>The <b>flake ripped</b> and I took a <b>twenty-foot screamer</b> onto the duct-taped hook which miraculously <b><i>held!</b></i> When I
jugged back up to the hook, I could see that it had been <b>straightened</b> so much it was seemingly held by nothing more than the adhesive of the tape. <b>RAD!</b> Sometime later I straightened out the hook, and if you want to know its ultimate fate, read my trip report for Reticent Wall.<br>

<br>Two pitches higher, it was time for the battle of the <b>Coral Sea.</b> This was the most challenging pitch I had yet attempted, and I was not disappointed. With a rating of <b>A4+R,</b> you won't be disappointed either. It starts out with hooks, then moves through a <b>loose and scary heap</b> of choss - don't even THINK about placing that 2" cam here! I probably whacked in close to a <b>dozen pins,</b> and what sticks out most in my memory is that every single pin placement <b>moved</b> the rock in some way[!] You'll get a slight reprieve in the middle, but don't be fooled - it ain't over til it's over. You'll get stung in the ass plenty more before you finally clip the anchors. This
pitch definitely deserves the grade of <a href=""><b>PDH/DFU.</b></a><br>

<br>Just when I thought the worst was over, I got <b>bullied</b> by the longest, hardest and meanest A2 pitch ever. Because of its traversing nature, I didn't dare <b>backclean</b> anything, and I ended up using practically every piece of gear I owned, from the smallest pins right up to 4" cams. It's always harder tagging on a traversing pitch because of the potential for the <a href=""><b>tag rack</a></b> to get hung up, and sure enough it happened. That meant I was obliged to <b>reverse aid</b> back across the traverse to fix it, then turn around and aid back. Sheesh.<br>

<br>By the time I reached the upper anchors, it was dark. Unfortunately, I couldn't just rap off from <b>five pitches up</b> and go to sleep - I needed the rope that was strung along the pitch in order to reach the ground! I had <b>no choice</b> but to clean the pitch. I had a huge <b>continuous loop</b> formed by the lead rope, my backup lead line, and my static haul line, so I rapped from the upper station, crossed the knot, and hung in space in the dark suspended halfway between the two stations which were well over a hundred feet horizontally apart.<br>

<br>Still attached to the upper station by my Grigri, I took in the slack to the lower station, put on my jugs and <b>started climbing diagonally</b> up the static rope. But in the dark, I couldn't see that much of the haul line was still <b>stuck inside the rope bag!</b> -
because I had been pulling at it sideways, the rope hadn't completely cleared the lip of bag. So here I am jugging up a rope I <b>think</b> is fixed, when in fact there was a <b>huge bagfull of slack</b> between me and the anchors! My weight was being held by nothing more than the coils of rope <b>snagged</b> inside the sack.<br>

<br>I don't know how far I jugged [quite a long way] when I had finally put enough weight on the rope bag to cause it to <b>rip,</b> and suddenly I was falling through space in the dark on a huge long pendulum, <b>utterly petrified!</b> The haul line suddenly snapped tight, and I was unceremoniously jolted to a rather sudden halt. All I can say is it's a good thing I still had my Grigri attached to the upper rope!<br>

<br>I was <b>more than a little shaken,</b> and it took me until 3 a.m. to clean the pitch, fix my three ropes, and descend to the ground where I was finally able to collapse, completely knackered. <br>

<br>But it was <b>all for naught.</b> I was fixed to 5, and now it was time to <b>"shit or get off the pot." </b> The weather had continued bad, and if I were to have committed to the wall, I would no longer have been under the protection of the roofs and would have been fully exposed to whatever <b>El Nino</b> had decided to toss my way. The forecast was <b>dismal,</b> so I had no choice but to bail. <b>Mikko Routala</b> from Finland and two of his friends helped me carry all my stuff down to the meadows, where we stood in <b>two inches of snow</b> and watched the bus driver put tire chains on his vehicle. <br><br><br>

<br><b><font size=+1>MAY 1999 - SUCCESS!</b></font><br>

<br>A year later, I was back at Native Son and ready for another go. With the experience of <a href=""><b>Reticent Wall</b></a> under my belt, I was able to cruise the second pitch with no problems. My experience from Reticent had also taught me to bring along two new items - a <b>ghetto blaster and beer!</b> <b>Never again</b> would I climb a wall without these two necessities!<br>

<br>Chongo suggested that I really travel in style and bring along a <b>solar-powered shower,</b> which I did. What a <b>bitchin' idea</b> that was!<br>

<br>On the ledge at the top of two I set up an <b>Advance Base Camp</b> where I assembled my load - this ostensibly allowed me to break up the
hauling a bit, but in retrospect turned out to be a <b>huge mistake.</b><br>

<br><b>The Coral Sea</b> went much more smoothly for me this time, as I <b>outwitted</b> it with a bit more <b><i>finesse.</b></i> I used <b>fewer pitons</b> and a lot more <b>duct-taped slings and hooks</b> for pro, which permitted a much <b>less intrusive</b> and hence safer approach. I got an early enough start to the hugely traversing fifth pitch so that I could avoid the <b>histrionics</b> of last time - no <b>recalcitrant tag racks</b> or stubborn rope bags were to plague me.<br>

<br>At some point while I was fixing pitches, <b>Chris Falkenstein</b> and two mates came down from a few pitches up <b>Iron Hawk</b> after doing a bit of filming. Here Chris introduced me to my new friend, <b>Julius Kessler.</b> It turned out there were <b>four loads</b> of gear but only <b>three guys</b> headed back down to the valley. It didn't take too much <b>arm twisting from Julius</b> to convince me to carry down the extra pack, and Chris promised he'd return later to film me near the summit.<br>

<br>About the same time <b>Thad Friday</b> showed up, who is <a href=""><b>tf on,</b></a> ready to solo Native Son as well. I told him I planned to take my time, so he returned to the valley for extra food and water. <b>James Magee</b> dropped his headlamp off of the fifth pitch of the Trip, so I tied it on to the end of the ropes he lowered so he could pull it back up. He promised to leave me a present on the summit.<br>

<br>Time to <b>blast off!</b> With my ropes fixed to five, my fully-assembled load and I stood tethered to the belay station on the ledge at two. Here I suddenly discovered the <b>error</b> of my ways - since my bags could not sit <b>unsecured</b> on the ledge without falling off, I had no choice but to get on the rope above them and release them into space, with myself attached! It was like <b>jugging an iron rod,</b> the rope was so tight. I was <b>scared shitless</b> - I couldn't help but worry how this enormous load was weighting the station above. At least the rope was hanging free and not rubbing anywhere, so I made the ascent without incident. But it took me a <b>3:1 haul</b> to bring the load up around the bulge of rock on which the rope was rubbing. <br>

<br>It took me <b>twelve days</b> to solo Native Son. As per usual, I was in no hurry. One pitch per day was good enough for me. <b>The Wing</b> could be the <b>steepest pitch on all of El Cap!</b> You'll find Aliens and heads in between the rivets.<br>

<br>The next few ropelengths up to the Equator were all pretty good value - <b>hooks, heads and
expando nailing</b> kept my attention most of the way. Somewhere up here one evening I could hear the strains of <b>Amazing Grace</b> floating up the wall, the melody coming from a <b>trumpet</b> being played in the meadows. [Some day I need to make the <b>First Solo Trombone Ascent</B> of El Cap.]<br>

<br>The traverse heading right to the base of the <b>Golden Finger of Fate</b> had its own <b>"special ambience"</b> - I had to nail through copious amounts of <b>frigid water</b> gushing from the crack.<br>

<br>Below you see my <a href=""><b>flagged portaledge</b></a> as I lower it out. Notice that the <a href=""><b>paint is peeling off of the ledge</b></a> on this <b>prototypical painting of Wee-Wee,</b> which has since been replaced by a <a href=""><b>much bitchin'er painting</b></a> made on a cotton sheet sewn to the ledge.<br>

<br><b>The Golden Finger of Fate</b> is about three hundred feet high, and you can <b>see clear through</b> all the way behind the thing to the Leavittator, the nasty 5.11 offwidth on
<b>Scorched Earth.</b> I had to wonder what keeps this thing attached to the wall(?!)<br>

<br>By this point, I thought I had the climb pretty much licked when I hit the A1 of the Finger, but I
was in for a <b>rather nasty surprise.</b> I wasn't kidding when I said you have to climb the <b>hardest damn A1 pitch on the whole crag!</b> It's a nasty <b>squeeze chimney</b> with a crack in the back that greedily and hungrily <b>swallowed</b> my old #3 Friend. I didn't mind too much - that piece had been on my rack since <b>1981,</b> [<a href=""><b>I like my friends like I like my carabiners...</b></a>] so it sure didn't owe me anything. I'd be curious to know if my Friend is <b>still stuck</b> there, or if anyone was able to <b>booty</b> it - I sure as heck couldn't get the thing out! <br>

<br>When I hit the rivet ladders of the <b>Machine Head Wall,</b> I could have climbed two pitches in one day, but just because I <b>COULD</b> have didn't mean I <b>had to!</b> Instead, I kicked back, listened to more tunes, and spent half the day making a <b>comic strip called "Monfred the Bat"</b> which I taped to the rivet ladder to entertain future
ascensionists. I wonder who read it?<br>

<br>I enjoyed a <b>solar-powered shower</b> since it had finally warmed up enough to heat the water. So there I am, <b>standing naked</b> on the side of the wall and taking a shower, when I am startled by a shout:<br>

<br>"Pete! Pete!"<br>

<br>I look over to the right, and there's <b>Chris Falkenstein</b> dangling on the end of a rope! Evidently he had dragged himself, his camera gear and a whole pile of rope up to the summit so he could rap off and take pictures of me.<br>

<br>The next day he filmed me as I led the <b>Golden Nipple pitch,</b> which was great fun.<br>

<br>I felt priveleged to have him shoot me, and the photos were spectacular! <b>How often</b> will you be able to get pictures of yourself soloing on El Cap?! You can click here to see a <a href=""><b>photo of me on the Golden Nipple Pitch.</b></a> Some of the video footage even made the <a href=""><b>Reid aid climbing video.</b></a><br>

<br>I topped out the next day in a <b>cloudburst,</b> and laid down in the stream of sun-warmed water flowing across the slabs. <b>Thad</b> had caught up to me, and I gave him a
hand with his final haul. There on the summit, dangling from a tree and swaying in the breeze, we found a Gatorade bottle partly filled with an <b>amber-coloured liquid.</b> The thank-you note wrapped around it said it was from James. Thad and I cracked it open and <b>toasted</b> what had become the First Solo Shower Ascent of El Cap.<br><br><br>

<br><b><font size=+1>EPILOGUE:</b></font><br>

<br>I was smarter this time, and split my load in two for the descent. A couple days later I hired <a href=""><b>Ammon McNeely</b></a> to go back up to the summit with me and help me grab the rest of it. [This was in the days before I found the <b>Better Way</b> of bringing gear down from the summit] I definitely achieved my goal of <b>perfecting my solo systems</b> - I've really got them <b>dialled</b> now!<br>

<br>You can click here if you would like to read about <a href=""><b>Russ Walling's Epic Rescue from Native Son.</b></a>

Witnessed by: Wee-Wee the Big Wall Crab
Added: 1999-05-10