Replacing Anger with Fear on the Yosemite Falls Wall


Belgian Nicolas Favresse has free-climbed a major new route in Yosemite Valley without any new fixed protection. Favresse, 25, worked for a month on L'Appat (VI 5.13a), the first free route up a big wall about 200 feet right of Yosemite Falls. (L'Appat means the "bait" or "lure" in French.) Favresse climbed the route all free on September 9, leading every pitch.L'Appat consists of 12 long pitches with all natural anchors, except for two bolted belays on aid climbs crossed by the new line. Favresse did not add any fixed gear, and thus the protection is at times rather spicy. The first five pitches are around 5.10, and as the face steepens the difficulty increases, with pitches of 5.12d, 5.12b, 5.12c, 5.12d, 5.11b, 5.13a/b and 5.10a. The route combines crack and face climbing with some hard, runout face and stemming sections, sometimes with old fixed copperheads for pro. While working on the route, Favresse took 30-foot whippers onto small copperheads, terrifying his belayer.This was the second trip to the Valley for Favresse, who has redpointed 5.14d and onsighted 5.13d in Europe. Last fall, in a month-long trip, Favresse and his friend Seán Villanueva quickly learned how to trad climb on The Rostrum, Astroman and The Crucifix, and then they redpointed Free Rider on El Cap (VI 5.12d), onsighting 35 of the 36 pitches.Favresse said completing his new climb"felt really good! This experience taught me a lot and opened my eyes to the huge potential for new extreme long routes."


I hiked to the base the next afternoon, drank a few beers and promptly fell asleep. That evening I arose to the scent of frying vegetables. Nico had spent the day climbing several pitches up the wall with his girlfriend Sanam, and now they now were preparing dinner. Her voice trembled as she recounted the dangerous falls he had taken onto small copperheads as she hung from natural belays. I nearly picked up my bag right then and hiked back out to the Valley floor.


The Yosemite Falls Wall had never been free climbed, nor had most of the aid routes even been repeated. Nico had rapped the wall once from the top, and identified where his new free route would go. He had only worked the last crux pitch, a mere hundred feet from the top, and the first few pitches. He felt ready for a complete ground up reconnaissance, what he needed now was a good partner. All the qualified climbers he tried to recruit up to this point had turned him down. I put my hands out like a balance and weighted the options. “I’ll go,” I finally said.


Nico and I talked about different strategies as we ate. I wanted to follow him free, but concluded it be best to Jumar every pitch (as I was to carry a small pack containing all of our supplies). We went over the slim rack, consisting of double set of cams and some nuts. We left the ground with one rope, thus there was no option of retreat (I questioned this tactic, but Nico was calling the shots).


After the first five pitches the wall steepened significantly,


and the difficulty rose to 12d.


Nico boldly stepped into the seventh pitch (around A3), which he had never even attempted before. The rock was gritty, and holds were loose. He hung on gear often as he fought his way through the traversing, overhanging terrain.


I emulated Harding, and he made an array of funny faces.


We passed the camera back and forth at the belays, and struck all sorts of posses.


Finally he yelled that the line was fixed. I wondered what the anchor would be. When I arrived at the belay my body tensed up and I became sick to my stomach; a few small units looked haphazardly equalized.


Nico French-freed into the next pitch and grabbed each one of the half dozen (#2) copperheads that lead directly off the belay. I thought back to all the heads I had inadvertently pulled out over the past decade of wall climbing, and envisioned the worst-case scenario. The terrain was as steep as nearly any wall I had ever been on.


Whenever I found an off route belay – on one of the many nearby by Eric Kohl routes - while cleaning, I would swing over to it and anchor in. This way, I would have the security of bolts, and wouldn't have to hang on Nico's miniscule anchors (especially, when he called out that he didn’t have the right cams).Nico’s muscles were cramping, and jugging with a pack through the overhangs had me frantically fighting to gain an inch up the rope with the Jumars. We briefly discussed calling Sanam on the cell phone to have her hike to the top and lower a line to us.We reached the last of the hard climbing two pitches from the top. Once again I hung from less than perfect cams as he climbed with sparse pro into 5.12 and 5.13 terrain, again taking big falls onto small TCU's, yanking me up at anchor. Finally he reached a ledge, quickly dispensed with the last 5.10, and we were out of there.I quickly ran to the Valley floor - one of my jobs was managing the Yosemite Theatre – I didn't want to be late for the show and have the actors curse me and also have an audience of 80 impatient people or so be waiting outside the doors.


Nico found me the next day and coerced me to partner with him again, this time for the send. I agreed under specific circumstances: We would bring a skinny tag line for emergency retreat, and he would leave a fixed line from the top a hanging a few pitches down from the top, so we could jug out if we had to. Early in the morning, three days later, we were at the base of the wall. We both traveled much faster up the wall than before, and dispensed with first five pitches in a few hours. It began to rain, but the wall stayed dry.


Nico didn't fall on the first crux, or on the awkward A3 traversing pitch. Things were going better than expected.


As we neared the end of the wall, the rain ceased to fall and the clouds temporarily parted. I jugged on simple anchors – a few cams each – and kept myself calm by remembering that they held the last time; Nico had yet to take a whipper. I began thinking about climbing with Nico again, next time I hoped to free climb too. I looked back down at the jail, my time there seemed like a distant memory.


When he reached the last crux pitch, I paid close attention to Nico's style:


He paused in the crux, his last piece of protection sticking out of the crack several body lengths below; I held my breath. Please Nico - I quietly urged him in my head - please don't fall now. He reeled his body in, reached for the next sloping hold, and stood up on tiny grains; he was now past the crux, and a few easier moves stood between him and the ledge that marked the end of the pitch.


He screamed with happiness. I jugged, and we shook hands at the belay. I was as happy and relieved as him. We talked for a while on the ledge before continuing up the last pitch. I looked at my watch amazed that I still had plenty of time left before work.Nico chose the name L'appat for the route, which means to "lure" or "to bait" in French. That seems fitting now, as I reflect back on the experience: I fell into his trap, lured on by need to escape my grim reality. We planned our next objective before I ran down to the Valley floor for another night at the theatre.


Our friendship was cemented by this intense experience. Jugging through the impossible overhangs and executing the big air dangler, eight -meter lower outs showed me resourcefulness. It was to me clear now, that my era in Yosemite – 10 years was enough - had come to an end. The time has come to test my skills in life, and explore the other climbing arenas throughout the world.