climber

Category Archives: El Capitan

How Craig DeMartino Became a Climber

When I started climbing 30 years ago, all I wanted was to BE a climber. I wanted to be strong in every climbing discipline: trad, sport, big wall, ice, and bouldering. I wanted to be able to move seamlessly between them and practice those arts at the highest level I could. After doing it for 15 years, I was pretty solid in the arts. Then one day I wasn’t.

They call them accidents for a reason. Not one person to really blame, really just a bunch of small, insignificant actions that resulted in a catastrophic failure that got me to a hospital bed clinging to life after a 100 foot ground fall. After surviving the fall and following days in the ICU and orthopedic care, my life went from one of action to one of reaction. My movement was stifled. For the next year I would react to what doctors told me and make a design on how to best “save” what I had left. They fused my spine in the Lumbar region, my neck at the C5/6 level, and finally, I found myself back in the hospital to amputate my right leg. A reaction to the fact I couldn’t walk without a cast. The reality was that climbing and my life would never be the same with the limb I had left. After the surgery, I fought to find out what was left of my former self. I loved my wife and kids and that would never change, but being a climber was a huge part of WHO I was and it seemed I was back to square one.

I was back to wanting to BE a climber, so that’s what I put my mind to. With the help of my wife and friends, I began to build back the climber and person I was before. The setbacks and fear were huge. Most times I climbed I wanted to quit and find something new. But if you climb for a while it becomes part of who you are and what you are. It’s very hard to ignore. For me it was like denying my DNA.

The first climbs were small, but I kept moving. Movement was what felt best. Even 15 years later, sitting still makes me stiffen and have trouble moving. As the climbs got harder, so did my adjustment to my new body. My windows of opportunity were small, so I pushed hard and tried to capitalize on them. This left me completely destroyed and needing rest and recovery. Improvements came slowly, but four years after the accident I found myself climbing El Cap in under a day and actually feeling like a climber again.

As with any journey, this one was not without its setbacks. Stump infections from a shower fall kept me in and out of the hospital for months last year. It cut into my crag time as you can imagine, but through it all, my wife Cyn and I would load the van, hit the road, and keep moving.

I’ve been really lucky to climb some amazing routes first as a disabled climber, to team up with other adaptive athletes and climb El Cap unsupported, and have strong finishes in the adaptive competition scene over the years. Through it all, the idea of being a climber is what keeps me going. Today, I remember my friends and partners much more than I do the routes and comp results. To be honest, I remember very few of my podium finishes, they are fleeting moments in time. Cyn keeps a record of her proud sends, and I often don’t even remember if I DID a route. But I DO remember the climbers I’m with. The connections I’ve made over the years with other climbers and places are what drives me forward. It’s the act of being in a space where everyone understands what you are talking about, where living in a car for a period of time is normal, where being a climber is what everyone is trying to do.

Getting hurt so badly ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. It’s changed how I live, work, and play. In short, I wouldn’t trade it or give it back for anything. It has taught me that there is more than me in this world. It has taught me to help others and stay humble. Its shown me the depth a relationship can have. It’s made me a better human by crushing the old one.

It’s what made me a climber.

Not Every Project Goes Down Easy

Not every project goes down easy.

Sometimes a route takes two tries. Or three. Sometimes more. Sometimes it’s days, or weeks, or months.

Then there are those that take years.

I remember the first time I read about Astroman. I was 19, only a handful of leads under my belt. I’d never been to Yosemite, or anywhere really. I’d grown up climbing on scrappy crags on the coast of Maine, made my way to the Gunks and Adirondacks and now was out in Colorado for my second try at college. But the plan was really to climb—Eldo and South Platte rock, ice in Ouray and Vail. School was an excuse to play in the Rockies.

That’s where I first I read about it, “The best rock climb in the world.” 12 clean, hard pitches up the steep east face of Washington Column. The Enduro Corner. The Harding Slot. First ascent by the Stonemasters. Freesoloed by Peter Croft. This was the land of legends.

Yosemite Valley

I, meanwhile, climbed 5.8. I carried around a rack of hexes like cowbells, and if there wasn’t some kind of sling running bandolier-style across my chest I wasn’t leaving the ground. My rope had never seen a leadfall. Astroman was a dream, a myth shrouded somewhere in the distance. I had no idea what such a thing truly meant.

15 years, however, has a way of changing things. Some projects, afterall, take years.

My first swing at the legend was six years ago. My partner Jim was an old school hardman, the kind of guy you want on an over-your-head mission. I’d climbed a lot of Valley moderates, long free climbs up to 5.10 or those with short 11 cruxes, and put few walls under my belt. Now I wanted the prize.

We warmed up, got ourselves reaquainted with the physical nature of Yosemite climbing, and then got on the Rostrum, the supposed training-wheeled version of Astroman. The route went, with Jim and I onsighting pitch after pitch of perfect crack. The 11c crux fell quickly, a few pulls on fingerlocks. The only ugliness came on the offwidth, which I grovelled up pulling on cams. It was a good reminder that in Yosemite the wide is often the crux.

We topped out and over pizza made plans for the main event: rest, then Astroman.

If only things always went according to plan…

We started early knowing the route might need a long day. Jim strung together the first couple pitches. Soon we were below the Enduro Corner, a shimmering dihedral of overhanging thin hands. I racked up.

It started well, I felt solid on the jams, stuffed gear as I climbed. But the Enduro doesn’t relent: 40 feet later I was still in small hands, then still 30 feet after that. Then it pinchs down. The feet were small, the rock so clean it felt like glass.

I fell. I fell again. And again.

Soon I was aiding, so gassed I could barely bare to shove my fingers into the crack. I was miles from the anchors. I shouted “Take!”

Make a move.

“Take!”

Make a move.

“TaketaketaketakeTAKE!”

And again. And again. The pitch felt went on forever. Barely a jam or a stance revealed itself anywhere.

Astroman. The stuff of legends.

By the top I was dry-heaving, my skin was in tatters. My tremendous rack was gone. I built an anchor and just sat down, dejected. This would not be the day.

When Jim made it up he looked at me. “Let’s do another pitch or two and get out of here,” he said. I nodded, still too tired for a discussion. We climbed two more pitches to the base of the Harding Slot and bailed. The greatest rock climb on earth would have to wait.

Fast-forward six years: February 2016. A group of friends are planning a climbing reunion. We met climbing in the Caucasus Mountains of Armenia and Georgia, and now our Armenian host was coming to the States to sample American rock. I called my friend Andre: “Yosemite. Will you meet me? I want to climb Astroman.”

It’s funny how an idea can endure, how it can stick in your brain through tremendous changes and come out unscathed. Barely out of high school, more a hiker than a climber, I first fell across Astroman, printed myself a rudimentary topo. Now 15 years later, just off trips to Cuba, the Caucasus and Scotland, I was itching for another swing. This, I figured, was my shot.

We met in Indian Creek, started the tour with sandstone splitters. From there I took a detour to Castle Valley and a quick run up the North Face of Castleton, then on to Red Rocks, where the Armenian (his name is Mkhitar, which he helpfully shortens for Americans to MAH-heek) and I ran up the nine-pitch Texas Hold Em. Things felt good. Astroman was waiting.

Erik Eisele Texas Holdem

But the Valley is not the desert, as Yosemite would soon remind me.

We crossed through the tunnel into Yosemite Valley at midday. We were packed and ready: I wanted a shot at figuring out the Enduro Corner moves, to treat it like a sport climb almost, so at 2 p.m. we started up.

It was hard, but not impossibly hard. I found feet, and rests, and places to jam. But I still took. A lot. The pitch would go, but it would be no easy feat.

The next day we came back, Andre wanted his shot. We were fired up for the top; after the rehearsal the day before we thought it might go. But it was to no avail. The Enduro spit Andre out, left him as smoked as it had left me. We climbed to the Harding Slot and descended.

No big deal. We had time.

A few days later we were back. We eschewed the second rope, got an early start, sprinted up the first few pitches and were soon looking at the Enduro once again.

“Go,” Andre said. “You’ve got this.”

I started up. The jams felt solid. I dropped in a cam, climbed, then dropped in another. I punched it, placing less than I’d like but enough to be safe. The clock was ticking. The first rest was 40 feet up, a handjam with a stem. I had to get there. So I went.

Erik Yosemite 2016

Over our repeated missions I’d discovered enough jams of substance to know I could hop between. It meant running it out a bit, but cams in amazing granite kept it safe. I jammed, placed, then punched it. Again. And again. Soon the end was in sight.

Then my foot popped. I was off, flying through the air.

“CRAP!!” I yelled as the rope came tight. “I wasn’t even pumped!”

It was a lie, I was pumped, but I wasn’t out of gas. Inattention that caught me, poor technique, not a lack of forearms. I yarded back to my last piece, got back on route and climbed to the anchor.

Andre was next to me a few minutes later. “Well,” he said, “what do you want to do?”

“Keep climbing,” I said. “I want to send that pitch, but we might as well keep going up.”

The fall, however, broke my resolve. We climbed to the Harding Slot, which I started up, but when things started turned physical I backed off.

“I want to send this thing for real,” I told Andre back at the anchor, “not hangdog my way up it. I want to go down and come back later.”

“Later?” Andre said. We had one day left, and neither of us would be in shape for a second go tomorrow.

But some projects take days; others, weeks; others, months. And some last years. The best climb in the world would have to wait.

“Later,” I said threading the rappel.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

Meet the Team

Featured Events

There are currently no upcoming events.

All Events

Partners

The American Alpine Club American Mountain Guides Association Access Fund Leave No Trace - lnt.org

Archives

Authors

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail
eGrips Tenaya Fast Rope Descender

© Trango - All Rights Reserved