Yosemite – A lesson on Granite

“AGHHHHHHHH!!!! What is happening? I can’t hold on!? It’s IMPOSSIBLE! How on earth do you do this!?”

This was my first experience of Yosemite cracks… The second experience was much the same. And the third. And so forth…

I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life dedicated to getting better at climbing. In the beginning it was on plastic. Then it was on bolts. Traditional. The cold stuff. Now it’s Big Wall! To me climbing is all the same… It’s mostly upwards, occasionally sidewards and with much reluctance, downwards. That last bit I try to avoid. The simple truth about climbing which holds no matter what type you’re doing is that it requires focus, dedication and heart! Without these three ingredients, no amount of apparent talent will get you up there.


Getting scraped up in the "Generator Crack' Offwidth

Getting scraped up in the “Generator Crack’ Offwidth


Yosemite highlighted one MASSIVE flaw in my climbing; that much like the character Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones”,

I knew nothing…

I came to Yosemite fresh from a Catalan sport climbing trip, 8c fit and ready to bring the AMUERTE mindset to the Yosemite Big Walls. All expectations I had were then obliterated in the first week after a complete and utter spanking on the granite. And yet it didn’t affect my motivation negatively; if anything it made me more determined!

The trip was not goal-orientated anymore, it had become a training camp!

Everyday I was throwing myself on Granite cracks, offwidths, corners and aretes! The grades don’t really matter but it’s funny to note that they weren’t 5.13 (7c+), they weren’t even mostly 5.12 (7a+), they were largely 5.9 – 5.11 (4+ to 6a+) and I was still flailing about on them as if I’d only just started climbing last week. I am reminded once again that you are never truly a master of climbing rocks; it is just too varied to ever master the skill wholeheartedly. The best you can do is try your hardest and accept that you’ll always be at least a little bit shit at some aspects of the sport…


“El Niño” – What a bitch!

Realising that I was a Yosemite punter, I decided to try one of El Cap’s harder free climbs. That’s just the kind of guy I am… an idiot!

“El Niño” was first climbed back in the 90’s by two of the badass legends of Big Wall Free climbing, Alex Huber and his brother Thomas. It was made even more famous when just after they made the FA, a young Leo Houlding and Patch Hammond made a quick second ascent in great style! It has since been climbed by present day climbing heroes Alex Honnold, Jacopo Larcher, Babsi Zangerl, Dan Mcmanus and James Mchaffie! The route takes a blank section of El Cap right of “The Dawn Wall” leading up to one of El Caps most prominent features, the famed “North America Wall”. This is home to some of El Caps gnarliest AID routes! “El Niño” climbs through the “North America Wall” onto it’s left side and then straight up attacking the wild overhangs of “The Black Roof”, an intimidating and frankly terrifying section of upside down madness 500m off the deck!

Free climbing on big walls is hard work. The process is much akin to working on a building site. You spend all day hauling heavy loads, being cold, hot, wet and dirty! Then you have to throw your builders hat aside and become a rock climber again; deal with the exposure, shift all feelings of fear and anxiety as far back as you can and move up as fast as possible. I’m not very good at it, but I’m getting better. I’d say my main strength comes with being quite naturally energetic; I just don’t get tired, I don’t need a lot of sleep and I can handle heavy physical and mentally draining work for long hours. If you were to ask me to sit in a room solving mathematical equations for 5 minutes, I’d burst with boredom, but working hard with a goal in mind I can handle.

My weakness is that I’m pretty poor at dealing with the unknown. I can handle much harder climbing with known “bad” consequences than much easier climbing with unknown “but potentially OK” consequences. My weakness on “El Niño” was highlighted in bold when I was climbing the much easier 5.11/5.12 terrain (E3-E6) and struggled to move at a pace fit for hard big wall free climbing. My mind was in an almost constant state of anxiety-driven panic; over-gripping, sweating and mental exhaustion were common and I felt totally out of my depth. But I didn’t back down… That’s the important bit for me. In the face of real mental hardship and doing something that just doesn’t come naturally to me at all, I climbed with a mock confidence head on into battle.

Climbing “El Niño” with Jacob showed me how powerful real teamwork can be and indeed how powerful it has been in my past. My greatest achievements in climbing have always occurred when I have been with friends, working together and having fun. Me and Willis for example; last summer we had such a great time; every moment was as unforgettable as the last. Despite the number of moments of total panic, fear and exhaustion, we just kept on going with a smile on our face. This is key for me; because if I’m not having fun then I can’t try my hardest! Especially when I’m on these walls where fear and anxiety are such a prevalent fixture for me.

Sitting down after a successful lead of the final 5.13a pitch on "El Niño" - It was soaking wet!

Sitting down after a successful lead of the final 5.13a pitch on “El Niño” – It was soaking wet!

Jacob and I had our up’s and down’s but thankfully more up’s than down’s. This is good for climbing because going down always feels less progressive. We may not have been running up “El Niño” but we got to the top; not because we were fast, bold or heroic but because we just didn’t give up and we never stopped trying!



  • Tony

    Good read Robz and nice one getting El Nino done too!

    • Robbie Phillips

      Thanks Stoneman 😀

  • A Yosemite Schooling: "I Knew Nothing" - SCARPA North America

    […] On Saturday, May 14, SCARPA athletes Jacob Cook and Robbie Phillips topped out on one of Yosemite’s test pieces, “El Nino” (5.13c). For Phillips, the funky granite cracks and corners of El Cap proved a serious test. Below is a reflection on his experience (read: butt kicking) from his blog. Read the full story his Yosemite experience and the ascent of “El Nino” HERE. […]

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