Post by UK based rock climber Dan McManus who recently completed the second ascent of the Secret Passage 5.13c in Yosemite Valley with climbing partner Pete Whittaker

The Secret Passagesecret passage, yosemite, el capitan, climbing, solar charger, big wall climbing

Pete Whittaker and I have just returned from another great trip to Yosemite Valley in California. Yosemite is where big wall climbing was born and where top climbers are pushing forwards the standards of big wall climbing today. El Capitan is the showpiece formation, a granite monolith 900m from bottom to top. On previous trips to the valley Pete and I have both climbed El Capitan numerous times via a few different routes that have all been difficult climbs and amazing adventures. This year, we were interested in trying a route called the Secret Passage, a climb on the eastern flank of El Capitan. The route is smaller but considerably harder than the others we have done before and, crucially, it has never had a second ascent.

Top Belgian climbers, Nico Faveresse and Sean Villanueva, first climbed the route in 2006. Nico commented afterwards “The route tested my physical and mental abilities to their limit with the challenge of many hard pitches to send each day on the wall, plus the fatigue of hauling” which, coming from Nico, must mean it is a tricky climb indeed! With such sustained climbing, we were going to need to take our time on the route, to work the pitches and to rest. We took supplies for seven days, which included all the water we would need, food, sleeping gear, a portaledge (collapsible platform for sleeping/relaxing on), lots of climbing gear, as well as cameras, phones, speakers and head torches – for which we took along two Voltaic Amp chargers. As it turned out, due to the weather, we were on the wall for nine days. We had minimal food for the last couple of days and we were drinking rain water, but we had limitless power!

secret passage, yosemite, el capitan, climbing, solar charger, big wall climbing

In perfect conditions, this would have been a challenging route, but the conditions were far from perfect. On our first foray up the route, we retreated after three days because of sweltering temperatures into the mid 30’s. Our second venture started well with a few really good days of climbing and we made it about halfway up the wall. At this point a storm came in that trapped us on our portaledge for two days. The forced two days of rest was welcome, but once the storm cleared there were waterfalls coming off the top that made the next few days a struggle. The temperatures also plummeted, to -17 degrees C on top of the wall apparently. The biggest waterfall was down our line of retreat, making this the least favourable option!

We pressed on over the next few days, but very slowly because of the cold and having to wait for some parts of the cliff to dry. Our aim wasn’t just to get to the top, it was to free-climb the route, which was made much harder if it was wet. But as we progressed we were free-climbing every pitch, right up until the last hard and wettest pitch. In the midday sun this part of the wall dried out just enough, and just long enough, for us to climb it! Having already decided we weren’t going to be able to do this pitch, I was incredibly pleased we both managed to free it and therefore make the second free ascent of the route. It was awesome adventure which tested mine and Pete’s physical and mental abilities as it had Nico’s!

secret passage, yosemite, el capitan, climbing, solar charger, big wall climbing

I’ll definitely be taking the Amps big-walling again. To be able to keen the phones going for contact with the outside world and constant weather updates was invaluable. Listening to music whenever we were chilling on the ledge was great for keeping us motivated, as well as not worrying about the camera and head torch batteries dying. They have clip-in points which meant we leave them hanging on or above the ledge to charge without having to worry about them. They’re incredibly hard wearing, which they have to be to stand a chance of surviving being hauled up a big wall.

– Dan McManus

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