Shortest Straw Speed Record

The following trip report is from Edelweiss athlete, Cheyne Lempe.

At 4 a.m. my alarm went off... I'm nervously sweating. This climb would be epic blah blah blah.

I’m not going that start his post with a generic starting that sets an eerie mood for my tale of swimming in a sea of granite uncertainty. To be honest, I'm over it. I've climbed more than ten big walls this season, carried way too many haul bags, and don't want to suffer any more.

The nylon roof over my head that has been my 'home' for the past 6 months had begun to wear on me. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Yosemite, but most people need to leave at some point. I ignored text and Facebook messages about some friends wanting to climb El Cap one last time before the season ended. Pushing an El Cap route was the last thing I wanted to do.

A black mixture of aluminum and dirt embedded my swollen fingers from handling gear and ropes over the past week. Just as I got off the Native Son route with Mark Hudon, my friend Skiy Detray hunted me down and found me hiding behind my bear box in Camp 4.

"Let's go push The Shortest Straw with Dave Alfrey!!!" Skiy said.

"Uhhhh yeah...uhhh…I have to go...I...can't because I have to…Ok that actually sounds pretty fun." I replied.

"Cool, see you at the base of El Cap at 5 a.m.," said Skiy.

Between the three of us, we had a total of 65 ascents of the captain under our belts. With me being the youngest in the team, I had the least experience in speed climbing. Skiy Detray and Dave Alfrey have climbed some serious routes, and I was psyched to have the opportunity to learn from the big guns.

Pounds of metal and nylon clipped onto gear loops armed Skiy with all the tools he needed to climb the first 6 pitches of his lead block. The clock hit 8 a.m., Metallica blared through a portable speaker, and the game began.

"Beak - Beak - Cam Hook - Free Move!" I yelled up to Skiy as he flew up tenuous aid placements without any hesitation.

"This guy is nuts!" I chuckled over to Dave at the belay.

A while later, I heard Dave hoot and holler as he swung across the face cleaning copperheads and beaks. Sometimes it's faster to clean gear 'dynamically' as long as you don't hit anything or your rope doesn't run over any sharp edges. This optimistic style of climbing resulted in a core shot rope, but we believed that the damage was minor enough so that we could finish the route. Not to worry, we solved the problem by pulling the sheath tight and then wrapping the affected area with a piece of athletic tape.

For six pitches, Skiy clipped the anchor bolts. Dave eventually took over the lead, and we continuously climbed together as a well-tuned machine.

"Off belay! Rope is fixed!" Yelled Dave.

"Yeeeaahhhh buddy!!!" I replied.

I loaded the lead line with my body weight to ascend the rope that zigged and zagged through fragile rock. I heard the sounds "POP! POP! POP!" resonate as I dropped 3 feet and looked up to see beaks and small cams rip out of the wall. Dave was safe at the belay, but the 'body weight only' placements used to make upward progress were useless as soon as he moved on to the next piece of gear.

Ten hours into the route, it became my turn to tie into the lead rope. Exhaustion, muscle cramping, and nervousness concerned me. It was up to me to take us across the finish line. I set off climbing the Sun and Steel pitch, which featured a steep rivet ladder that climbed up immaculate blank rock.

"Uhhh, hey Cheyne." Dave yelled up at me, "I think I sandbagged you. The end of this pitch is some of the hardest hooking on the route. Sorry! You can do it!"

"Ok. No worries. I'll figure it out!"

I balanced a hook on a flake of rock no more than 3 millimeters thick, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. I subdued my fear, stepped up in my ladders, and repeated tenuous hook moves until I could nail a piton in a large expanding feature. As soon as I reached the safety of a well driven lost arrow, the route joined up with The Zodiac. All the hard climbing was over, and I steadily made my way towards El Capitan's Summit. We hit the top after 12 hours and 20 minutes from leaving the ground, setting a new speed record on the Shortest Straw.

I had previously climbed the route this past spring over 3 days with Mark Hudon. At that time I never imagined myself climbing the route again, let alone climbing it in just over half a day’s time. It was a great way to end the season, and now I'm headed to Huntington Beach to go surfing.

Shortest Straw Route info:
Previous Record: 17:52 hours by Russ Metrovich, Eric George, and Brett Dodds.
Avg. time to climb route: 6 days
Number of pitches: 16
Height of route: 1800’

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