I'm glad we climbed this thing, but I'm never going to climb it again.
We woke up early and I sat in the back of Riley truck as he hauled up from El Portal and got super sick and almost threw up on the haulbag. The ride took a lot out of me in a weird way, but then I volunteered to carry the bag up to the route. It kinda sucked. I wasn't in a good headspace. The approach is gritty and then the ledge out to the start of P1 is the crux of the entire thing if bringing a haulbag.
When we got to the ledge I felt I'd put in my effort and fell asleep on the ground while Henry and Riley managed the crux to get the bag to the climb. I woke up and found Riley halfway up the P1 bolt ladder. Riley crushed P1 and P2 in one go. Henry jugged up, which meant he was the first to experience the spookiness of jugging overhanging terrain.
Henry got up and then I released the bag and they hauled it up. I cleaned the bolt ladder using a lowering out technique I kind of made up in the moment, but that seemed to serve us well for the rest of the route. Can I describe it? 1) Get to bolt. 2) Put 12-20' cord through bolt and equalize ends, grab cord to take pressure off rope being ascended. 3) unclip piece (quickdraw) 4) lower out from using cord until under next piece. I think that was a bad description...whatever...here: a 12-20' piece of cord is necessary to clean overhanging terrain. You go figure out why.
The belay stations are pretty bad on Leaning Tower. When I got to the top Henry was leading the next pitch and Riley was chilling. Henry led up quietly and ran into @alixandramorris and @nate_murphy1 who were working through the crux moves to free the Tower. Alix kind of kept getting in Henry's way and shit and Riley and I laughed thinking about Henry just blankly staring at her. Staring, what the fuck are you doing? What? She like bounced around over him. It was weird to watch. What the fuck are you doing?
Henry combined two pitches and made it to Ahwahnee Ledge. I followed and then Riley cleaned. And then we were all at Ahwahnee. I then led out on P5, the technical crux. Its a traversing pitch that starts with a pendulum lower-off and then a really thin crack. I climbed it it was scary. I continued up the unprotected first 30' of P6 and then ran out of gear to leave for the P6 bolt ladder so just started leaving cams attached to their biners and shit, it was a mess, so much rope drag, but it was safe. I lowered fixed the rope and lowered back down to Guano and then Ahwahnee Ledge. Henry followed to clean which sucked for him. Not a fun pitch to follow, probably harder than leading it. If not harder, certainly more work.
The only near-miss of our trip was Henry lowering out to start P5. When lowering using a rope you have to put a biner on the sling you're lowering from so its not rope-on-sling, nylon-on-nylon. The friction from nylon interacting with itself and easily melt the plastic. Were that to have happened when Henry was lowering he would have taken a 200' fall. Clean fall, but a 200' fall. Anyway, I didn't describe this well, but it happened and Nate freaked out. It was kinda funny.
We three hung out with Nate and Alix for the afternoon and then night. They were both kind of batshit crazy, into climbing hard AF. Nate has a super-profitable YouTube channel that he funds his lifestyle with. Six dollars per thousand views is a lot when you're getting 500,000-1,000,000 views...
The next morning we all ascended to the top of P6 then Riley led off on P7+P8. Some C1 later we were all at the top of P8. Henry led the quick P9 and then P10 roof pitch to a big beautiful ledge by Leaning Tower standards. I followed and Riley cleaned.
When I got to the ledge Henry and I hauled and then I started leading P11, which was sort of the other aid crux pitch. It was weird and managing a huge finger feature was a bit funky. About halfway up the pitch Riley arrived at the ledge below and I hauled up the rest of the gear so that I could finish the pitch. The guidebook mentions something like "get ready to bump bump bump up a #5" which is something I didn't understand in the end. The pitch was pretty straightforward and I was quickly on the big rusty ledge atop the Leaning Tower.
Leaning Tower is another exercise in exposure. Have to free-hang jug for the majority of the route was mentally taxing in a way I hadn't experienced since I started climbing. I would dread jugging on this route in this very fearful way. There was just a baseline anxious space that I hadn't inhabited consistently since I started climbing. Its the space you start questioning gear again. Is the rope going to hold me? Its not a fun space to be, but it does feel perhaps like a growth space. Hmmm.
The route itself, with the excessive bolt ladders etc. didn't feel particularly aesthetic. Warren Harding really fought his way up this wall initially, and in that way if felt forced. It was a forced route. A bit more contrived than others. Not great.
The descent was dirty and contained some of the biggest chockstones I've ever seen, and then we were down.