Stormy horror— how to survive a night in Hell
Climb enough big walls, and sooner or later you’re going to spend a night in Hell. The most terrifying night of my life occurred while attempting a winter ascent of El Cap’s Zenyatta Mondatta. Our double portaledge spent most of the night bucking and swaying wildly through the air — with us inside. By morning the rainfly was shredded, and my partner and I were lying in frigid pools of water. As with most big-wall epics, this one could have been avoided. Here are a few things you can do — that we learned the hard way — to see yourself safely through the storm. Rig for a rodeo. Anchor the bottom of your ledge to keep it from flying away from the wall in strong updrafts. This “lower” single-point suspension, which clips onto the underside of the bed’s four corners, is essentially a mirror image of the ledge’s standard single-point upper suspension. The crux is finding a suitable anchor point anywhere from four to seven feet directly below the middle of the bed. Any kind of protection will work, but remember that it will be subjected to a vicious upward pull from the wind. After the ledge is set up, rappel down and equalize all four points of the bed into the lower anchor using rope, webbing, and aiders. Make sure to snug the system extremely tight so the side of the ledge will lie flat and firm against the wall. Put the pigs in the barn. If possible, hang the haul bags under the ledge. Clip a sling through the bottom straps of all the bags and fasten it to the same anchor that holds the ledge down. When the wind gets rowdy, this will keep the bags from flying up and smashing into you. Seal up the fly. The best way to keep the inside of the ledge dry is to use a bomber, seam-sealed expedition rainfly. Regardless of how impenetrable your fly looks at first, take the time before heading up on the wall to go over every seam with rubberized seam grip. Look for any places where webbing runs through the fly, like the anchor point. Coat the webbing thoroughly so that it won’t absorb moisture. Bend a pole. Keep the fly from flapping in the maelstrom by bending a tent pole (which you should always use with your fly, storm or not) along the length of the bed, flush against the fly. This keeps the fly taut so that it won’t whip about in the wind, and stops the damp material from drooping onto you in your already tight living quarters. Safe, sound, and dry. Most people like to anchor themselves with the rope, which must run out of the ledge to the anchor. Even if you leave a loop hanging down, water will eventually wick up the rope and into the ledge. Plus, you’ll have to leave an opening for the rope — one that will quickly become an entry point for moisture. Better to clip straight into the power point on the inside of the fly with a double-length daisy chain. Batten down the hatches. Try to anticipate everything you’re going to need and get it into your ledge before sealing up — you do not want to open the fly once the storm starts. If the wind is horrendous, it may be difficult to get the door closed again, and you risk damaging the zipper.