Climbing El Cap for Charity
SYMG Guide Drew Brodhead high up on El Capitan, Yosemite CA  

By SYMG Guide Drew Brodhead

Hanging from a 4-point anchor, I yell down to Les “Dude! This is awesome!” Looking up disturbed and tense, he yells back “What?” in a way to mach his demeanor. I don’t blame him, nothing but 2,500 feet of air below him. Engulfed in the present, I don’t reply back. We are now on the Salathe headwall. Five degrees past vertical, “steep” is a conservative way to describe for what is to come. It’s around 6:30-7:00 P.M when Les reaches the hanging belay. We discuss our options: 1) Set up the portaledge and sleep on the headwall. 2) Push to Long Ledge, two more pitches up. Les leaves it up to me. My climbing block still looms over my head. Weighing the options, a quote came to mind “there ain’t no challenge in being sensible.” Very true! I turn to Les, “Ok, let’s go!”

The Salathe Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan is considered one of the greatest rock climbs in the world. Established by the three musketeers of their time: Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt, and Royal Robbins. These modern pioneers established their new route in 1961 over 9½ days. Using the unconventional alpine style method, the three climbed in a continues push, never coming down to the ground for supplies. This landmark ascent still holds its face value.

“There is no challenge in being sensible!” I say to myself as I plug gear into the perfect crack. Breaking out of the metronome rhythm that took over my climbing, I stop to drink some water. I am now climbing in total darkness. Connected by a 9.8 millimeter piece of rope… I feel alone. Looking down to void my feelings, Les is a faint glow in the abyss. I feel no better. I know he is not having a good time. Hanging belays suck. When I was young they seemed cool, I was mistaken. “How are you doing bud?” I yell, hoping he is still awake. “I’m ok! How are things up there?” yelling back. Cool, he’s still awake. I would not blame him if he weren’t. I update him “20 minutes to Long Ledge”.

A few more feet I have broken from my rhythm. The easy C1 aid climbing quickly became awkward C2 climbing, drastically slowing me down. I wrestle using “the technique of struggle”, a David and Goliath type of story. I begin to fill the pin scar cracks with the smallest gear I have, equivalent to the tip of a lead pencil. Hungry with ledge fever I forget to slow down. Testing my pieces haphazardly, I am testing my luck 2,600 feet above the ground that I no longer can see.

Things have been going so well, what can happen to us now? That’s the dumb climber in me. I begin to move up onto my micro piece of gear. Looking up, I see the piece blow. Taking out the other smaller pieces below, I accelerate. Unsure of my future and my gear below, I continue to fall. I stop surprisingly comfortably. I instantly look up to see what stopped me. A mysterious piece of fixed gear stopped what could have been a 60-70 foot fall. Thankfully, I only went about 35 feet. With no shame of what just happened, I begin to yell out of excitement. Breaking out of my hysteria I hear a yell from Les. “Yo, what happened?” I try to explain though my gasping and slurred speech. He understood. We are now both awake, ready for anything. Feeding off of pure natural adrenaline, I finish my lead 20 minutes later, approximately 50 minutes after the 20 I gave Les.

Looking back, climbing the Salathe Wall was flawless. We climbed the route faster than expected, always a plus. With the backing of our loved ones, smart and safe climbing was our motive at the time. But now things have settled. We are one of many teams to climb the Salathe Wall this year. More will come. We climbed with our ambitions and hearts. While filling a lifelong goal of ours, we were able to give back. At first it seemed impossible: to climb El Cap and to raise money. Doing both brought on their own challenge. To be totally honest, the fundraising was the toughest part, more route finding and unknown then El Cap. We used a map to get up the El Cap. No map for fundraising. It was brand new terrain for us both.

Climbing has always been considered to be a selfish sport. Climbing for ones’ self is always the sensible thing to do. But like a Kiwi friend always said “their ain’t no challenge in being sensible Drew.” So why not up the ante?

Drew and his partner Les raised over $2,500 for the local Fresno Country School District. Way to go guys!

Born and raised in the Midwest (Iowa & Illinois), I always held a fascination for the outdoors and mountain landscapes as some “distant place” on maps. That fascination continues today but I am fortunate to have now lived and worked in the mountains for 15+ years. My first job as a guide was leading sea-kayak trips in coastal Ketchikan Alaska. After that season, I attended undergrad in the Southeast (Montreat College) studying Outdoor Education and Environmental Studies and went on to pursue my MBA. I first visited the Yosemite area during a spring break climbing trip with some buddies. I can vividly recall driving in and being completely awestruck by the beauty of The Valley, well as all the great climbing : ) After college I worked as a Guide with Summit Adventure in Yosemite as well as internationally in the Ecuadorian Andes and mountains of Mexico. I enjoyed teaching outdoor education in Santa Cruz and Yosemite Valley during my off-seasons. I also worked with Outward Bound California leading youth trips and eventually worked as Program Director at their Midpines and Joshua Tree locations. In 2016, I transitioned to SYMG and appreciated the thoughtful approach to the work of guiding. I enjoy spending time with the great crew of guides that come here to work, live and play. Beyond work in the outdoors, I am a proud father of two children, Owen & Eleanor. I enjoy adventures with them and my wife Sarah not quite as far afield. While we still return regularly to visit family in the midwest, we are happy to call Southern Yosemite home.

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