Climbing my First Big Wall with a Fractured Foot

May 1, 2017

View of Washington Column, South Face route

Washington Column South Face (5.8 C1) is a 1000 ft granite face across Yosemite Valley from Half Dome. It is the easiest big wall climb in the valley and therefore the busiest. Optimistically, we were hoping to do it in a day with an early start, hauling only to Dinner Ledge and then blasting to the top. I even brought flashing light up glasses to make festive the predicted night rappels back down to Dinner Ledge where we’d hope there would still be room for our sleeping bags after sundown.

Speed would be the key and we planed to free as much as possible (first three and last four pitches) to make this climb 5.10b C1. Both Marco and I were relatively new to aid and we ended up learning a lot. We kept at it even after a lead fall injury where I climbed 70% of the wall with a fractured foot. I couldn’t walk, but I sure could aid climb!

Day 1: Hello Kor Roof

After 3.5 hrs of sleep we were on our way to Yosemite Valley from the El Portal pullout. We had packed the night before so all there was to do was take out the bags, weigh them for posterity and then hike up the trail in the dark towards Washington Column. I took the first block of carrying our 75 lb haul bag filled with mostly gear while Marco took the 25 lb day bag with water and a rope. In the dark we missed our left turnoff and had to backtrack (FYI the outhouse is too far). Hiking off trail we took the path of least resistance towards the wall to find the climber trail and arrived to the base after an hour and a half.

Start of climb from ascent trail

I was glad we started early when 5-10 minutes later six people walked up the trail behind us. None with haul bags. The first party had already hiked their haul bag in the night before and was doing The Prow. The other two parties were like us new to aid climbing and doing the South Face. Marco and I quickly got our shit together and started climbing. Marco would lead the first three pitches as a block going the 10b variation on pitch two. Our strategy paid off and we reached Dinner Ledge at 9am after a little over two hours.

There is a fixed line across dinner ledge. The pitch 3 anchors are around the corner.

Prime sleeping on Dinner Ledge

A little water and food then it was my turn to lead the infamous Kor Roof. Just before the bolt ladder there was a ‘5.8’ move without feet and two flared shallow pockets for fingers. I didn’t like it so I threw in an offset cam in what I considered mediocre placement. However, pulling on it and weighting it with 50 percent of body weight it held so I decided to use it to french free up to the sling starting the ladder. As I pulled, the piece blew and I fell 15 feet or so catching on my last protection: a small, half inch, teethless #0 purple Metolious cam! Luckily it held and I started feeling the throbbing pain in my right foot. I took ten minutes to let this pain decrease to a reasonable level and then I tried it again, this time breaking out the aid ladder for a proper bounce test to reach the start of the bolt ladder.

Looking up at the Kor Roof from Dinner Ledge

The bolts on the ladder were pretty close together so I didn’t need to high step that much, but I did employ a rest step quite a bit. I found aiding the next 5.11 low sloped traverse much more difficult than the Kor Roof since I wasn’t able to just haul myself over the ledge but had to slowly raise myself up over the lip through a series of placements I couldn’t see very well. There were two fixed slings that helped with this. Towards the middle I had the joy of discovering a piton I was aiding on was half sheered off and flexing. After two hours I reached the anchors and fixed the line for my follower. Then I took a ten minute nap. Marco cleaned the pitch in an hour.

Marco jugging over the lip of Kor Roof

The next pitch (5) was mostly bolts with a couple bomber placements and a short pendulum which was fun. To start go straight up to the bolt above the anchor, not right onto Skull Queen. This pitch took an hour (lead/follow) and it was now 2:30pm. During P4 and P5 two parties rappeled down to Dinner Ledge despite having fixed part of the route that morning. Both saying something along the lines of ‘this is too much for us’.

Looking at the P5 traverse from anchors. Red sling is lower out point.

For us, the in-a-day was also slipping away and we decided to just see how far we could get. It was now Marco’s turn at aid leading for the roofy-traverse on P6. He used a couple bomber cam hook placements and took a short fall after a water knot slipped on one of my cam hooks (sorry!). It took him 1.5 hours to lead that pitch and I cleaned it in a half hour. Now 5pm we decided to fix to Dinner Ledge and summit tomorrow.

Marco leading the slanted P6 overhead crack

Rappelling down to the ledge I realized that I couldn’t really walk or weight my right heel. This wasn’t a problem in aid ladders were I used the front or mid section of the foot. Taking off my shoe revealed a 5 inch dark purple bruise on the outside of my foot, multiple dark bruises though the thick skin on my bottom of my heel and an ankle twice the size of my left. I wrapped it in a compression bandage and ate dinner with Marco and Max (a soloist caught up in all us aid newbs trying to send South Face).

No photo shop or weird angle, my ankle really is that swollen

Day 2: Blast Off

Waking up to Yosemite Valley on a ledge, warm in my 20 degree sleeping bag was fantastic. I wanted to lay there forever, but unless we wanted to get back to the bay area at midnight we needed to start up. My foot was slightly less swollen and I could hobble around a little better so we decided to test it out and bail if it got bad. Max joined us as a party of three which I was happy about since I couldn’t lead any free climbing sections.

Marco waking up on the ledge

30 minutes jugging up the two fixed lines (240 ft) to the top of P6 brought us to 7:30am. I led the 150′ P7 aid pitch a little faster and a lot more confidently than Kor Roof in an hour and twenty minutes.

Nothing like a morning jug

The 12b thin crack on P7 took nuts and offsets in many really good placements. I even used a micro nut and cam hook move on it which were super secure. The second 11d crack was also pretty straight forward that ended in a super fun 5.7-10a crack. I was able to just focus and churn out this pitch, it was fun. I used all my cams except 6 from my double rack + offsets!

5.12 crack off belay

Next we were going to do three free pitches to the top (linking 10+11). Marco confidently lead the next pitch slowing down in the awkward ”chimney’ that was more like off width as it hourglass bottlenecks to smaller than my hip. I really struggled to follow this section as my heel-knee leg bend couldn’t fit in the flair. I also couldn’t use my right leg for these counter pressure moves since I couldn’t weight the heel.

Max working the offwidth

The next two  pitches had some nice crack climbing that I couldn’t enjoy since caming or locking my right foot sent waves of pain through my body. I struggled constantly, my feet slipping on bare granite since I was avoiding the crack, falling and yelping in pain internally from those sudden forces on my heel. Everything felt insecure without the use of one foot and I was very afraid of falling and landing on it again, even on a short followers fall.

Crowded P9 anchors

The wild 5.8 move over the roof was certainly wild and probably really enjoyable, but dynamic moves were not something I was into at the moment. The next gulley that would be P11 was complete choss.

Choss gulley. Pebbles shear off a lot.

Fighting through the pain, we made it to the top at 4pm and sat in a depression for an hour looking over the valley. Marco and I were exhausted and each drifted to sleep a little.

Resting, looking down at El Cap.

Finally we could start the rap down. The six rappels took 2.5 hours and were a cluster. Partially why I don’t like climbing in threes. First off, there are two rap trees, a first one and one higher up. Our rap off the top tree didn’t make it to the next rap anchors at the top of P9 so I had to jug back up my 60m to the bush above the gulley traverse on P10 to some rap chains. It was sort of windy so we kept the ropes in saddle bags for the next two raps, but ropes got tangled frequently.

From the bush we rappelled into the tight P8 anchor station and then to the two bolt facetless rap station to the right of P7.  I overshot by three feet so had to do shenanigans while on simul-rappel to get back up to the bolts. I would highly suggest going to the three bolt anchors on a ledge to the left of this rap station because managing two ropes in the wind with no feet and three people was a mess. The final two raps to Dinner Ledge luckily went without incident. Touching down at 6:15pm Max took off quickly ahead and Marco and I rapped the route shortly behind ‘riding the pig‘ in three double rope raps to ground. Passing one party going up on P2.

Marco riding the pig!

At the top of the scramble we set up one more rappel for Marco to take the haul bag down and then I cleaned the anchor and descended. Down climbing on my foot was mostly fine because I could use the front of it and luckily Marco took the still 75 lb haul bag the whole way. However, on level terrain it was harder to avoid heel strikes and I hobbled my way back to the van, exhausted at 8pm.

After an Xray and CT they confirmed that I had only a small fracture that I could manage with a boot. I was much relieved since they talked of surgery earlier.


Thought it would be helpful to include a play-by-play of each day to share how long everything took. On average for every 30 meters it took 1 hr to aid lead, 40 min to aid follow, 40 min to free climb (lead and follow) and 12 min to jug a fixed line.

Day 1 – Fix to 7

Day 2 – Blast to summit