Ex-Girlfriend up the Nose

My ideal in relationships is to cultivate unconditional Love. I am fortunate to be close friends with a few wonderful women who helped me to reach 40 years of age without ever having married. One such person, who happens to be nicknamed "The Furry Marmot", had a dream, that I had once promised to help realize, that one day she might climb the Nose on El Capitan. We had broken up years ago, but we felt the fulfillment of that dream would cement our friendship in a wonderful way.

That was easier said than done. The Marmot had grown a bit soft from too many years of having non-climbing boyfriends. Still, we weren’t going to let anything stand in our way. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and take one of my best buddies, Brosig, for his first trip up the Big Stone as well.

Aborted Attempt

The Nose was a nightmare, congested with a gumby conga-line, so we opted for the Triple-direct. I decided we should just launch up Free-Blast and haul at the same time to maximize our vertical camping and minimize logistical ups and downs. This turned out to be quite strenuous (although I had done it before) since we were a party of three. Marmot had insisted on extras like luxury food, bars of soap, video camera and so on. Whatever, it was all fun with friends along. I was proud to make it to Mammoth Terraces before dark.

We had a splendid bivy and the next day we started off to Gray Ledges. Steve caught "The Furry" belaying me, half asleep, while tapping on the ledge repeatedly with a small stone. A few pitches later, the climb would change dramatically in character. I was leading one of the few pitches that might require a piton or two. I had placed a lost arrow in a questionable crack. I was expecting to switch to a crack on the left but it was choked with grass. One minute I was standing in my aiders and the next minute….Ping!!! I was flying through the air! I had great pro right at my feet but for some reason I kept falling so, panicking, I grabbed the rope and burned my hands. That didn’t help but finally the rope came tight, I smacked the dihedral, and came to a stop. Whew! Hi Marmot and Brosig! They had switched the belay during my lead for filming purposes. I didn’t know who to blame for my long fall (no pieces pulled except the one I was standing on) but, except for the purposes of teasing, it didn’t really matter.

We had to get serious for a moment and evaluate our options. I had second or third degree burns on my hands. Neither of my friends was prepared to lead any pitches. On the other hand, spirits were high and we didn’t want to go down just like that. I managed to lead up to Gray Ledges and we continued to enjoy the big wall atmosphere. When I re-lead the pitch I fell off of, I noticed a fixed pin nestled in the clumps of grass I disregarded previously….Dooh!!

The next morning Brosig, a paramedic, told me what I already knew about my hands. We decided that if I was the only one leading, it would be irresponsible to keep going, when a few days in the future, near the top, my hands might be infected and torn up. On the other hand, the weather was beautiful and we had plenty of food and water. We decided to take two days to bail and have a big party on Heart Ledges on the way down.

We rapped down to Mammoth Terraces and prepared to shuttle loads to the rappel to Heart. The Marmot insisted on schlepping stuff unroped and barefoot. I insisted she wear shoes and clip into a safety line. When she argued with me, I snapped and called her an unspeakable name in a loud voice, (an incident that she is still prone to remind me of) The responsibility of the whole affair must have been weighing in my mind. I instantly calmed down, apologized, and the Marmot, being kind in character, forgave me in time for our Heart Ledge festivities.

We spent the afternoon joking, drinking Brandy and Gatorade (Gator-aiders), and finding vulgar ways to eat smoked oysters and sardines. I hate bailing, so I thought it might be a good exercise in humility to retreat with style. It was actually way more fun than the climbing up part. We bailed the next morning, but I knew it wasn’t really over….not until

The Return of the Marmot!!

It was a couple of years before circumstances inspired us to take another crack at the Big Stone. The Marmot was in charge of the food, a job we both felt total confidence in her qualifications for. We had had many adventures together: climbing rocks, traveling in Thailand, and trekking in Nepal; she could remember most memorable days in her life based on what she ate on that day.

We jockeyed for a place in line on the Nose and found ourselves spending the first night on Sickle Ledge. (I am not a fan of fixing ropes) We were proud to make El Cap Tower by 3 pm the next day. The Furry and I were rollin’!

Naturally, things didn’t stay smooth the whole time. The Marmot had Hell trying to unclip the haul bag when we traversed the Gray bands. That allowed some foreign guys (who Marmot had nicknamed Smorgas-Boarden and Farfig-Newton) to catch up enough to help her out. Then the haul rope got stuck and I had to rap down to free it up. When she arrived at the belay, she was near tears and blaming me for her troubles. "Alright Varmit" I explained "Remember, you wanted to come up here, I didn’t twist your arm, and the reason climbing El Cap has an attractive mystique is because it’s Hard!!" Then I said some nice things, we got it together, and made it to Camp 5 before dark.

We got a late start the next day then started making good time. In fact, a couple of guys doing the Nose in a day were gaining ground from below. They never caught us. We met on the top and Marmot shared a tupperware full of spaghetti with the lucky pair. The cute and Furry Marmot had conquered El Cap off the couch!! Yes, she had been a jug monkey, but she didn’t care and neither did I. We had set a lofty goal and blessed our friendship by overcoming every hurdle to reach it.

We decided to spend the night on the summit to savor the moment before descending back to Babylon. Another reason for the extra bivy was our knowledge that it would take us forever to limp down the East Ledges. Varmit’s don’t like humping loads.

This was years before I became a guide and it was good experience to that end. The Marmot still shows up for our annual Joshua Tree vacation and is friends with all my ex-girlfriends. Brosig had a baby with my other ex-girlfriend. The girls got together and bought me soap, a broom, and all the other stuff they knew I would hate to buy for myself when I moved into my new place in Yosemite. I guess this is a real California kind of Trip Report. You don’t have to stop loving someone just because you needed to get rid of each other!

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Marmot looking fresh on Gray Ledges on Triple Direct, Brosig on Lower Ledge
The Nose more or less back and forth between the line of sun and shadow.
Marmot Enjoying the Illusory Riches of Nepali Money!
Marmot on Outer Limits 10b