Trip Report
Max Jones and Mark Hudon climb the South Seas on El Cap. OCT 2011
Wednesday December 14, 2011 10:38pm
Mark Hudon (L) and Max Jones on the summit of El Capitan after...
Mark Hudon (L) and Max Jones on the summit of El Capitan after 9 days on The South Seas/Pacific Ocean Wall route.
Credit: Mark Hudon

You never know when your life is going to change. Everyday you wake up and make decisions and those decisions lead to other decisions. You may have plans for the day but then something happens and you change your plans. Sometimes that change of plans is significant, other times it’s not. In May of 1976, a random introduction, a decision and a change of plans together changed my life.

I woke up in Camp 4 on a beautiful spring day. I had been working as a maid at the Ahwahnee Hotel all winter and now that is was climbing season, I was back to being a C4B (Camp 4 Bum). A friend from New Hampshire, Paul Boissonneault and I were discussing plans for the Direct North Buttress on Middle Cathedral when someone I had met a few days earlier walked into our campsite. It was Max Jones.

“Hey, my Nose partners just crapped out on me, are you still looking for a partner? Do you still want to do the Nose?” He asked.

I really didn’t know Max from Adam, as Spencer Lennard had only just introduced us a few days before. “You guys ought to climb together,” Spencer said. Max and I shook hands, and each mentioned our plans for the Nose later in the month, and didn’t think too much more about it.

In spite of planning for the DNB with Paul, Max and I decided to drive down to the El Cap Meadow to see how crowded the Nose was, and get an idea how soon it might be open. Even back then, it was still a popular route, and you often had to wait your turn. We saw that no one was on the route, but that there were ropes fixed to Sickle Ledge – P4 of the Nose. Since we had both climbed to Sickle recently we didn’t feel the need to climb those pitches again, and it was our eventual plan to just jug those ropes. It was common back then for semi-fixed ropes to be hanging from Sickle all season. For some reason we decided to gather some gear, pack a bag and spend that night on Sickle. We drove back to camp and I went off to the grocery store for some wall food. Along the way, I ran into my girlfriend, Peggy (now my wife). “I’m going up on the Nose today with a guy named Max”, I told her.

She asked me all the usual questions. “Who’s that? Do you know him? Is he safe? Is he any good?” I had no idea of the answers, so I guessed: “Yeah, he’s good, he’s safe, he’ll be fine.” I didn’t really know about any of those things, but for some reason though, I felt it would be all right.

The rest, you could say, is history.

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On top of the Nose in 1976. Max (L) was 18 and I was 20.

We both had the same love for long free climbs and it wasn’t long before we had climbed early free ascent of routes like the Rostrum, Astroman, Crucifix and others, all among the hardest routes of the day. We developed the “free as can be” attitude and went up on routes like the South Face of Mt Watkins and Salathe Wall with only a free climbing rack. We treated those routes like long free climbs by leading and following every pitch.

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On top of Mescalito in the Fall of 1977. Mark (L), Max (R)

Aid climbing was a different discipline that we both enjoyed and we climbed early ascents of the Mescalito and Zodiac together. An early attempt on the Pacific Ocean Wall ended when a large flake I was nailing fell off, crushing a finger on my right hand.

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On top of the Zodiac in the Fall of 1977. Max (L), Mark (R)

We drifted apart after 1979, and I was starting to feel that “I had sort of done it” in Yosemite. I spent a few years climbing, but nothing compared to what I did with Max. In the early 90’s, he and I independently got into sport climbing, but after spending fifteen days to redpoint a single pitch, I realized that I needed to get back to my roots and climb long routes with gear, even if those routes were considerably easier than my sport climbing ticks.

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On top of the Salathe after our free climbing attempt in May of 1979. Max (L), Mark (R)

I never had a partner like Max again. Climbing with Max was like climbing with your dream partner – he never got sewing machine leg, never took too long on a pitch, never backed off a pitch, never bitched or moaned or wanted to bail. We both had the same level of commitment and desire, and we got along really well.

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On top of Devils Tower in Wyoming in the Summer of 1979. Max (L), Mark (R)

In 2009 I felt inspired to start climbing in Yosemite again, and was soon drawn back to El Cap. I discovered that whenever I was telling someone about my rock climbing, I was really telling them about climbing El Cap. I figured I should just go climb El Cap, and of course my thought was that I should give Max a call to see if I could get him to climb with it me. Initially, he didn’t seem too interested, but I kept sending him photos and links to my trip reports. I was sure to emphasize the “fun” and “comfort” part of my ascents. After my solo of Grape Race/Tribal Rite, I was surprised to hear that Max had been in the Valley with his family while I was up on the wall. I knew Max loved being up on El Cap as much as I did, and was happy to hear that Tom Evans had pointed me out to him. I hoped Max would feel at least a little bit jealous. Of course, after climbing the route, I bombarded him with photos heavy with comfortable ledge shots, a hanging stove brewing coffee, warm sleeping bags and me smiling and having a lot of fun. I sent him even more photos after I climbed the Shield in the fall of 2010, and I told him that I’d totally take care of him on any route he wanted to do. I’d supply all the group gear and give him a list of things to buy and how to prepare. He wouldn’t even have to drive; I’d pick him up on my way to Yosemite. All he had to do was to be psyched and be in shape, which is not hard if you’re Max Jones. Anyone who knows him says he’s a friggen animal, and that once he puts his mind to a project, it’s as good as done!

Finally late last fall, I got the email I had been dreaming of – Max agreed to climb El Cap with me again! He wanted to do the South Seas, to sort of finish off our vendetta with the Pacific Ocean Wall.

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South Seas Pano (I have many route panos for sale, PM me)

I immediately started sending Max “tutorials” and lists for anchor building, hauling, clothing, food, and equipment. Max had never clipped into a 3/8” three-bolt belay, had never slept in a portaledge, and had never climbed an aid pitch using only cams and nuts. I knew it was going to be a steep learning curve for him, but I was confident in his ability to figure it out. Max and I always got along so well because we both share a “can do” attitude, and are pretty sure we can figure out what to do when we need to.

My plan was to drive to Max’s home in Carson City from Hood River, load his gear into my car and then get up early the next morning, drive to the Valley, hop out of the car, march to the base and fix the first three pitches, Max leading the first and third, then hump, haul and blast the next day.

Max was psyched and had been doing some research about the climb, and he sent me some questions about the first pitch: How hard is it, how overhung is it, would he be able to place pins on it or is that not allowed any more? I was beyond totally psyched, and was viewing that pitch through the prism of my three recent El Cap routes. I am fully comfortable in my steps these days and fluent with my multi-colored, multi-shaped, and multi-size rack, a rack that was barely a gleam in an engineer’s eye when Max had climbed his last El Cap route in 1979.

It took me a while to realize that my excitement might mean our downfall. I started remembering how I had pushed John Fine almost to the point of exhaustion on our 2009 Shield attempt. I started doing the math of driving to the Valley and hiking to the base, then factored in the short days of the fall season. I don’t know why I felt the need to climb the route so quickly, I had come to enjoy a modest level of “big wall camping” but here I was, planning a virtual speed ascent of the route. I came to realize that I was planning too much work for the first day and that I shouldn’t rush it. I wanted it to be fun for Max and so I tried to relax the schedule.

Max and I hadn’t spent too much time together since 1979. I’d see him at Donner or Cave Rock when I’d go down for a climbing trip and he came up to Smith Rock once, but the last time I saw him face to face was at his sister’s wedding 11 years ago. At the time, his daughter was seven and mine was four. Interestingly, we both seemed to have followed similar paths in life. We both lived for our sports, both worked for ourselves with our wives, both have beautiful and wonderful daughters, and both had lives that could only be described as “casual”.

The years of my life I spent climbing with Max have always been a special time for me. I was young, I was fit and I had a little bit of talent that allowed me to look at any line, and think “Wow, that looks cool, let’s go climb that! I know Max felt the same way and we were always amazed and appreciative that we had the freedom and ability to go live our dreams.

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My traditional gear line up in the garage.

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On Friday morning, I left Hood River for the ten hour drive to Carson City. Patti and Caitlin, Max’s wife and daughter had to be at a soccer game in Fresno early on Saturday and were planning to get up early for the drive. Max and I would get up along with them and leave for the Valley.

On the drive down the East side to Tioga and we talked about our business, our daughters, our wives and our lives.

Whatever my feelings were when we rounded that last corner and El Cap came into view, they were probably quite different from Max’s. I felt excited and ready to go. I wasn’t thinking for a second of gear placements or trying to remember how to set up my jugs, or how hard it would be or how I would react to being way off the deck with a tiny rack of pins (compared to a ‘70s era rack of 65 to 90 pitons) and an incomprehensible cluster of spring-loaded widgets of all shapes, sizes and colors. Max was probably worrying about how much he knew of big wall climbing would be obsolete and useless.

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We reached El Cap Meadow, hopped out of the car, talked to Tom for a bit, then grabbed our packs and headed up to the base of the climb. Of course, I had sent Max a photo of the first pitch. The only trouble was that my photo had made the pitch look far less overhung than it actually is! Max had done some research on it so he wasn’t too surprised by its steepness. He was putting on a good game face.

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Max at the base getting ready.

We got into our harnesses and I handed him the suggested rack. He looked at it like I had just given him a camel tongue and then told him that if he put it between his butt cheeks, it would give him super powers. After a few minutes of wandering around the start he got on it, placing a beak, a cam, then clipping a few rivets and a fixed pin. The time stamp on my photos show forty minutes for the first five or six moves, and for the first time I was questioning my wisdom of sending him up on this pitch. But he was sounding happy up there, he’d look around every now and then and I could see him working with his aiders, trying to get the hang of it again. I could see him gather the whole rack up in his arm and stare at it as if someone had just given him the Dead Sea Scrolls and expected him to read aloud from them. He was making progress – it wasn’t fast but at least it was progress – and I tried to be upbeat and encouraging. Every now and then I’d tell him he was doing great and how cool was it to be back together on El Cap. Ranger Ben came by and mentioned that the first pitch was the steepest and most awkward on the route and that if Max got up it, every other pitch on the route would pale in comparison. I was so glad for Max to hear Ben’s words of encouragement that that if Ben had been closer, I might have been tempted to give him a big hug and kiss on the lips. I could tell Max was having a good time when he stopped to photograph some kids who were trying out the Alcove rope swing, and at about 4 o’clock – after about five hours – he reached the anchor.

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Max on the first pitch.

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I knew the day was getting short, so I tried to clean the pitch as fast as I could. I took off on the second pitch – it only took me about an hour to lead – but by the time Max started cleaning, it was already dark. I was so mad at myself and sorry for this hellish day I was putting Max through. First of all, he was leading on a totally unfamiliar rack, most of which hadn’t even been invented the last time he climbed El Cap, and now I was forcing him to clean an overhanging pitch that traversed diagonally off to the side, in the dark, with no headlamp.

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Max cleaning the second pitch, with no headlamp.

Max seemed calm though. I repeatedly told him that I was sorry and that the rest of the route would be different. When he arrived at the anchor, I had the brilliant idea of having him clip his Grigri into the lower of the two ropes that I had tied together to reach the ground. That way, I’d lower him on the upper rope till it came tight to the anchor, and then he could lower himself the remaining distance to the ground. I hoped it would save him the effort of dangling on a free hanging rope and trying to pass a knot in the dark. My plan worked perfectly, and soon we were stumbling our way down the trail and driving to Upper Pines for dinner with our families.

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I wished I had called it a day after the first pitch. After all, I had told Max that it would all be fun and that I’d totally take care of him. Yet I sent him on a hard task the very first day. What was I thinking? Clearly I was failing as a “big wall host”. I resolved to be more aware of our fun to suffering ratio and to err on the side of fun for the rest of the climb.

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Caitlin, Patti and Max Jones, Me, Peggy and Ellen Hudon

My modified plan was to casually hump loads to the base, jug to the top of our ropes, haul, and then either camp there at the top of 2, or else climb one more pitch and camp at the third anchor whichever Max wanted to do. Peggy and Ellen had to leave early to drive to Reno and catch a flight home to Hood River, but Patti and Caitlin carried some gear up to the base for us, and then left when Max and I started up with our second load of the day.

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He looks like he's saying "Hudon, this better be good!"

The weather report was for clear weather for the foreseeable future, and although the day before wasn’t exactly an auspicious beginning, I could sense that Max was determined and positive. He got started on the 230-foot free-hanging jug as I packed the bags. We hadn’t gotten an early start but I wanted the day to be casual with plenty of sitting around for Max. After I jugged the line, I hauled and set up the ledge. We were well settled in when the moon rose over Sentinel Dome. I could see Max start to relax and get comfortable with his new surroundings. His next pitch in the morning lay recumbent above us – an easier ramp – everything that the first pitch wasn’t. I made it a point to show that to Max.

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Max jugging the 230 foot free hanging rope to the top of the 2nd pitch.

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The morning breakfast menu was cereal and hot coffee. BIOD (Back In Our Day) waking up on a wall was always uncomfortable; more often than not the cold had seeped through the thin fabric of your hammock and through the compressed insulation of your sleeping bag. Coffee was not on the breakfast menu nor was cereal with milk. Breakfast usually consisted of Pop-Tarts, cheese, and cookies, whatever you could find in the haul bag. Your hips were crushed from the hammock tight around you and from lying against the rock all night. You probably had slept in your clothes since taking anything off was near to impossible. Everything was pressing against you, your harness, the hammock, and you against the rock until you climbed to even the tiniest ledge or were off the climb. Max and I shifted our foam pads, pillows and sleeping bags so we could sit up, backs against the cliff and face the Valley, then we ate, shot some video, talked about life, climbs in the past, and pitches in the near future.

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First morning.

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Max is "all in" but it doesn't look like he is all convinced yet.

My plan was to have Max lead both the third and fourth pitches. I wanted him to have a good experience and get a few more pitches under his belt. He would have to set up his first wall anchors and then use my 2:1 Hauling Ratchet. We had gone over hauling the day before, but he had never set it up and made it work by himself. I wasn’t too worried because I knew Max was quite like me in that regard. If it wasn’t working correctly, he’d look at it and simply figure out how to make it work. He led the third pitch in much better time and was soon up on the fourth pitch. We had noticed earlier that the weather report had gone from “clear and sunny for the next five days” to 20% chance of rain that day and 40% that evening. We could see the rain moving in from the east, so we both suited up in rain gear and got ready for some wet climbing. I guess it might have been wet if the wall didn’t overhang so much above us, because we stayed totally dry. I couldn’t really see a rain line, but I could easily see the climbers next door on the N.A. Wall getting soaked.

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It's raining, but not on us!

Max worked diligently on the pitch and I don’t think he ever even turned around to notice. I was glad that although we would only climb two pitches that day, Max could enjoy some more reasonable climbing that was different from the first pitch.

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Max leading the 3rd pitch. Photo by Tom Evans

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A two shot pano looking down the 3rd pitch.

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Max leading the 4th pitch in the rain.

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At the anchor on top of the 4th pitch.

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In the clouds

As I was setting up the ledge, the clouds completely enveloped us. It was eerie sitting there, not being able to see anything further than seventy-five feet in any direction, and it felt as though we could have been on the moon. It had stopped raining for the time being, but since the forecast was still calling for rain we hung the ledge under the fly.

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We were surrounded by clouds.

The next morning I silently laughed at myself while I arranged the rack for the crux of the route, the 5th pitch. Years ago, looking up at the South Seas from its base had been a factor in the termination of my first rock climbing career. I had still been freaked out about the flake on the Pacific Ocean Wall, and looking up at the overhanging South Seas, looking up into the unknown, to hidden flakes behind every corner, was more than I could handle.

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The Cathedral Rocks and El Cap Meadow the morning after the rain.

Now on a perfect sunny day, I was eager to climb it and moreover, to see if I could climb it with no fixed gear at all. But that dream died a quick death. The first move was an unavoidable circlehead driven up underneath an overlap, and the second move was a beak I had to hammer.

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Starting up the 5th pitch.

After that though, I had a great time, I avoided all of the fixed heads on the pitch and climbed it sans fixed gear. Max was having a little problem with tangled ropes and his jugging set up, so it took him a while to clean this diagonaling 5th pitch.

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Bomber cams right next to useless copperheads.

Max’s next pitch was straight up a beautiful clean orange corner, and I knew he would enjoy it. It ends in the middle of a bolt ladder, and we were set up on the ledge and eating by the time the moon came out that night. But I was becoming a bit concerned about our water supply. I had planned for six nights on the climb, plus one on top and then one additional day’s worth in case of emergency. At our present pace of two pitches, a day it looked as though we could spend nine days on the climb, and unless we really started to conserve water we would run out. I didn’t make my concerns known yet; I was just hoping we would speed up a little.

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Setting up our bivy for our third night.

By now we had established a rhythm to setting up and taking down our vertical campsite. I’d set up the ledge and get it arranged to the correct height relative to the haul bags. Max would arrange the rack for the next lead and stuff the ropes into their bags. My technique is for the haul bags to always be on the left of the ledge, and then have the ledge so it hangs about six inches below their bottoms so that I can easily stand on the ledge and empty them. We each had our own haul bag, hung side by side, to make things easy to find and put away. After getting the bags unpacked, we would then take off our harnesses and put on a loose swami clipped into a dedicated “night sling” hanging from the ledge anchor. After that, we pulled out foam pads, clean socks, sweaters, sleeping bag liners, iPod and speakers for music, a bit of gorp as a pre-dinner snack, Advil for the pains of the day and cell phones for checking the weather and calling our families.

I’d then get some water boiling for dinner, which usually consisted of a backpacking dehydrated meal, far better than the cheese, crackers and fruit cocktail we would have had BIOD. Then we’d settle back to talk about the day and the route while we watched the light fade from the Valley and waited for the stars to appear. Frequently at that time of day, Max would get a faraway look in his eyes. It was like he had gone back in time and was looking at an old scene he had never expected to see again, and he didn’t understand how or why he was able to see it now. It was old but it was new, something he had said goodbye to, but now here it was back. Maybe he was thinking, “is this climbing going to grab ahold of me again? How is this going to work out? Am I going to want to do this again? Hell, am I going to even be able to finish this one?” I knew he was considering all the angles, like the water issue and how slow he was going how he could he pick up his pace. I knew he could feel it all coming back, but that it was sort of like hiking through knee-deep mud – you knew you could do it but every step was a struggle.

Max and I always had a good, friendly level of competition between us; it’s what pushed us to be the great team we were back in the 70s. On South Seas, Max told me that he had timed me when I reached an anchor and that one minute after getting there, I yelled down that I was off belay and that the lead rope was fixed for jugging and cleaning. One minute later, I would be pulling up the haul line, ready to haul. He therefore set these times as a goal for himself when he reached his next anchor. He also told me that as he was nearing the anchor, he’d review in his mind what he was going to do as soon as he got there.
When I was leading, Max would focus on leaving the anchor as soon as possible. I’d give him a “25-foot warning,” and then he’d start putting stuff away, getting his rack on, and being ready with his jugs. He also remarked on how I hardly ever used a daisy, and that he felt he wasted too much time untangling and adjusting them. I reminded him of the “rest step” where you put one foot in a high step, drop your knee and tuck that foot underneath your butt. This puts you in a comfortable, secure, hands free position. I then described how I try to “free climb” in my aid slings by staying balance and climbing right to their tops every time and getting into my rest step, leaving me locked in quickly and easily.

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The days in the fall are certainly short and the pitches on South Seas, for the most part, are long. The route is a connection of fairly large features that seem to go on and on. My first pitch the next day – the “Great White Shark” – is 150 feet long and the next one – the “Rubber Band Man Pendulum” – was billed as being 130 feet although it seemed a lot longer with the penji. The initial climbing is a beautiful and easy bolt ladder and The Shark, a corner that leads up through a wide crack to the belay. I yelled down to Max that if I were Tommy, I’d free climb it, but that since I was not, I was going to have fun aiding it. It was on this pitch that Max and I solved his jugging and cleaning problems. It was funny having to explain to him the basics, because I knew it would immediately become second nature to Max the instant the words came out of my mouth. He had about 25 feet of the Shark left to clean after we talked about the proper setup, and this was the last time he ever mentioned it.

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Max cleaning the Great White Shark.

The topo mentions A2 arrows on the pendulum pitch, and Max thought that having them would maybe speed him up a bit. Since he was unfamiliar with the newfangled gear, he was getting a bit frustrated looking at the rack and trying five or six different pieces before finding the right size. I didn’t mention that I frequently go through as many choices but only faster. The section above the anchor shows C2 and then A2+ knifeblades but Max climbed it all clean on tiny nuts and cam hooks.

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Starting off on the Rubberband Man Pendulum pitch.

He was happy to have climbed that section fairly quickly and was soon lowering down for the pendulum. He ran back and forth as I lowered him, and then easily stabbed a flake and started to climb back up to the pendulum point, back cleaning as he went. I was comfortable in the Belay Lounge, a sort of full body belay seat that supports your back and neck, when all of a sudden the rope came tight and I realized that Max had fallen. He had fallen down almost even with me, but told me that he had had the foresight to leave some gear as protection before getting too far above the pendulum point. He figured he went thirty feet, but would have gone sixty if his pro hadn’t caught him.

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3 of Tom Evans' shots of Max on the Rubberband Man Pendulum pitch.

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He climbed, placed a couple of beaks, a couple of Lost Arrows, and many dicey small nuts and cams. When I cleaned the pitch I was amazed at all the gear I took out of it. He hadn’t placed more than normal, it just seemed the pitch went on forever and he had placed a lot of gear. I didn’t notice it right away, but it seemed like Max almost came back to 100% of his old self on that pitch.

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The top of the Rubberband Man pitch.

Off to the right of the anchor were two bolts with thin welded rings as hangers that looked better suited to hanging plants from then for an anchor. We laughed at them, but I equalized them with two slings and we hung our ledge off them anyway.

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Plant hangers

That evening we stayed up late talking about our businesses, our families, and our lives. It wasn’t uncommon to have long pauses in our conversation. I’d look over at Max and he’d be staring out at the stars, the wall and the Valley, still looking like he hadn’t yet quite come to believe where he actually was.

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The South Seas-Pacific Ocean Wall blend by Hood River Coffee Co.

Waking up on a wall used to be the worst part of the day, but these days it’s like waking up in Disneyland. Hot coffee, breakfast in bed, a room with a view and once you’re ready to go, an E-ticket ride for the rest of the day! I led a 140-foot pitch and then Max combined two pitches, one supposed to be fifty feet and the other supposedly a hundred. Basic math will tell you that 50 and 100 add up to 150 but the linked pitch took 90% of my 65-meter rope. I don’t know how it did that, it just did. The pitch was certainly as involved as any I’ve climbed in my latest El Cap climbing craze, and it kept Max’s interest right till the very end. It was the classic “take everything and use it all” kind of pitch – tiny nuts, giant cams, hooks and everything in between. Max was beat by the time he finished it, and given that the next day was forecast to be hot, we inventoried our water and formulated a plan.

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Max looking happy and relaxed below the Black Dihedral.

At only two pitches climbed a day, it looked like we might have five days left on the wall, but a couple of the pitches were short, and three others were mostly free or all free so we figured they would go quickly. At best, we could finish in three and a half or four days and hopefully find water on top. At worst, Max had purifying tablets and we could run down to Horsetail Creek for water.

The lower part of the Black Dihedral loomed over us that night. We could see a few copperhead wires on the skyline and were excited to get up there.

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Belaying from the portaledge.

We got our earliest start the next day, as I wanted to link two pitches that would total 170 feet. Both pitches were rated A3R so I was ready for a good fight. Right off the anchor was a sad collection of welded and buried RURPs, some with wires, others without, and no way to avoid or remove any of them. Next was an easy blocky section that I was able to free/aid quickly. The topo showed “bad rope drag” when combining the two pitches, so I lowered from the intermediate belay anchor and cleaned most of the pitch. Turning the corner onto the Bearing Straights and clipping the fixed heads was fun but seriously lacking in any challenge.

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A photo of Tom (in the red shirt) from high on the route.

I thought back to when Max and I had attempted the P.O. in 1978 and how fun it would have been to have placed those heads myself. When Max cleaned it, he said clipping fixed heads had all the fear of using them but none of the fun of placing them. With all the fixed gear, Max was able to clean the pitch fairly quickly and it looked like we might be on schedule for a three-pitch day. Max, noting the “C4 or A2” of the next pitch, grabbed some pins and commented before taking off that “any pitch rating that has a ‘4’ in it is your pitch, Hudon.” Further up, after placing three of the pins, Max came up with the line that pins are just like crack – once you start using them, all you want is more. It seemed like having the pins really relaxed him. He had been getting frustrated trying to find a nut or cam that fit, and figured it was legit that after five or six attempts he could place a pin. Even so, he didn’t place more that four on that pitch, and no more than ten in the entire route.

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Max leading the 2nd Bering Straits pitch.

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Max and clouds.

The evening before we had tried to figure out how long the third Bearing Straights pitch was. The printing on my shrunken topo was a bit soft and it could have been 100, 120, 160, or 180 feet. We laughed at each other trying to read it; we’d polish up our glasses, give it a serious look, and take our best guess. Max even took a photo of it with his iPhone and then zoomed in on it to try to decide. We agreed that it said “120”.

It was just three in the afternoon when I started up the third Bearing Straights pitch. This would be our first three-pitch day, and we were doubly happy that the forecasted 80-degree temps had never materialized. In fact, some high clouds had blown in and it was quite nice. Max and I joked at how long the pitch would really turn out to be – it didn’t look too long but I couldn’t see the anchor either. I told Max to time me on it and that I was going to speed climb it, but the slow burn of the heat and the long burn of the pitch, all one hundred sixty feet of it, did me in. It was one of those pitches that required a lot of gear, and although it’s rated only C1 or 2, it seemed like there weren’t too many “gimme” placements. I was pretty beat after hauling and was glad that we had flagged the ledge all day, since all I had to do was clip it into the ledge anchor (this time a plant hanger bolt and a rivet) and then flop down on it.

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It was a long day and I was beat.

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Max was a happy guy up there!

That night I told Max it was a bit spooky how easy and relaxed I felt being up on El Cap with him again. Max and I had always been naturally efficient on any climb we did. Our El Cap ascents in the 70’s were usually the fastest ascents of the day – not because we were trying to go fast, but more because we were so efficient. Here we were, 32 years since our last El Cap route together, but that efficiency was still there. Max was rusty, but the communication between us hadn’t changed.

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Max texting to his family.

Max’s first pitch the next day was billed as only “60 feet” but we laughed that it could be anywhere between fifty and several hundred feet long. It ended at the only ledge on the route so far, and below the Black Tower. Looking up at the wide crack behind the Tower I stripped down to free climbing mode, grabbed only a few cams and then took off. The topo shows “5.8 R” with ledge fall potential but all the holds seemed big and it didn’t seem to be any big deal. Our large cams fit into the crack well and I diligently tried to keep myself out of the clusterf*#k that wide cracks can be. I was happy to climb the 140-foot pitch in 20 terror free minutes, guaranteeing another 3-pitch day and relieving the stress on our diminishing water supply a little bit more.

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A five shot pano of me belaying on the Black Tower.

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A two shot pano of the Cathedral Rocks and El Cap Meadow.

By now, Max was feeling at home in his aiders and getting more familiar with our rack of cams and nuts. On just about every pitch he led, I found some ingenious or novel nut or cam placement he’d made. I thought to myself, “Dang, it’s nice to be climbing with Max again”.

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Max leading high on the route.

He took a normal amount of time to lead the pitch and we again set up our hanging camp, this time from four solid 3/8” bolts and a couple old ¼ bolts, one of which we removed in an attempt to clean up the area. Again it was a beautiful night and we found ourselves talking about life till late in the evening.

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A five shot pano looking down on Max at the Highbrow Bivy.

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The next day I led off a fun C3 pitch that I climbed clean-clean aside from one hammered beak at the beginning, and I avoided three or four heads which Max took out. I easily linked the next pitch since it involved only connecting a wandering bolt ladder and a long horizontal ledge. Max led a slightly diagonal, slightly dirty but not bad pitch to an area named the Highbrow Bivouac. We thought the area had been misnamed since hanging a ledge from the bolts or sleeping on the jumbled area below the anchor would be awkward at best. I free/aided the next pitch, happily using the holds cleared out of the grass by Levy, Jordan and Adam a few weeks before. The pitch ends at a flat wall with a two-foot-wide, twelve-foot-long ledge below it. We were sure this spot was what should have been named the Highbrow Bivy. It was the perfect spot to spend our last night on the wall.

On our last day I led a fairly long, grassy but not un-enjoyable free/aid pitch to a rare, totally climber-built anchor. There was a 3/8” bolt and three plant hangers (with elongated rings) about ten feet off to the side as an alternate anchor. If I had had the time and the tools, I would have removed that whole anchor. Max’s last pitch was an awkward affair up a steep corner and then up and through some overlaps to the top. Dreading horrendous rope drag, he went to great lengths to ensure the rope ran smoothly, at one point clipping ten biners together since he had run out of slings.
He hauled and after cleaning the pitch we began to ferry everything far from the edge to a nice bivy spot.

I don’t know about Max, but I was feeling quite emotional right then. I was looking at Max, looking at all the gear, looking at the top of El Cap and the Valley and seeing all the other times we had been there, after the Nose in 1976, Mescalito and Zodiac in 1977, the Salathe free attempt and West Face in 1979, and then the Nose again in 79. I had grown up on this cliff, and I had grown up on it with Max.

Max and I had the tradition of shaking hands and taking a team photo after every major route. At the top of the South Seas we diligently moved all the gear well away from the edge and removed our harness before shaking hands and taking the summit photo.

We had only a gallon of water but Neil and Callum, fresh off Reticent, walked by and told us they had left five gallons on top. We headed up there and ran into Tommy T and Jenn finishing New Dawn, and we talked as Tom ferried gear from the last anchor to the summit.

At one point he was rapping back to the anchor but stopped and looked at Max. “So Max, you said it was great, but do you want to do it again?”

I froze, because that was the question I had been burning to ask him for the last two days.

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“Oh yeah, I sure do”! Max replied.

Overjoyed, I uttered a silent YES!

Sometimes you don’t know when your life is about to change, sometimes you do.

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Mark Hudon (L) and Max Jones on top of El Cap after climbing the South Seas Route.

More photos HERE
More videos HERE

Both Max and I want to thank Pete Zabrok for his time spent editing this trip report. It may have been good without his help, but with it, the TR is far better. Thanks Pete.

[Editor's note: This story is about more than just an El Cap climb, it's about the reunion of one of Yosemite's and indeed the world's most influential free climbing teams from back in the day. Mark and Max were among the first to attempt to free climb some of Yosemite's biggest walls, culminating in a ground-breaking attempt on Salathe Wall in 1979. To better get a flavour of Max's and Mark's significant accomplishments, I suggest you read States of the Art and Long, Hard and Free - Mountain magazine articles from 1979 and 1980 uploaded here on McTopo. Cheers, eh? -Ed.]

States of the Art
Long, Hard and Free

  Trip Report Views: 18,297
Mark Hudon
About the Author
Mark Hudon is a climber from Hood River, OR.


Social climber
Joshua Tree
  Dec 14, 2011 - 11:12pm PT
groovy. well done.

  Dec 14, 2011 - 11:15pm PT
Great TR! Congrats to Max, and to Mark.

Trad climber
Sacramento, CA
  Dec 14, 2011 - 11:25pm PT
Another awesome trip report Hud! Not sure if you're a better climber or better at writing these trip reports - because this is your best one yet. Having climbed big walls with both of you, it's super-cool seeing you and Max back out there doing it again. Nice work!

Eric Barrett
More Air

Trad climber
  Dec 14, 2011 - 11:41pm PT
Wow! Thanks!

  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:03am PT
Awesome MArk and Max - well written and sure captures the fun of it all, and the awesomeness of being on El Cap - as I always say - it's all about location, location, location - and good friends.

Super cool!!!!


PS See you guys up there in the spring eh...!!!???
tom Carter

Social climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:23am PT
Great tribute to your friendship and the greatest stone on the planet!



Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:23am PT
Thank you!

So refreshing to see a climbing thread, not to mention one
with historical perspective.

You guys are a real inspiration!

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:42am PT
Mark, that was a fantastic trip report - best ever in my opinion and your pano's are amazing. Very motivating.


P.S. - Do you also have a coffee shop as well as roasting biz in HR? Where is it?
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:34am PT
What a great story mark.

Trad climber
Santa Fe, NM
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:49am PT
Thanks so much for sharing Mark and Max. What an amazing time it must have been for both of you. Favorite line "Sometimes you don’t know when your life is about to change, sometimes you do" . Kudos.

  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:57am PT
Great stuff, thanks for sharing it Mark. Has it all. great writing and photos. Best to both of you!
Double D

  Dec 15, 2011 - 01:03am PT
Great TR Mark and Max! Dang, you guys make me want to go up there again!


  Dec 15, 2011 - 01:09am PT
Thanks for sharing with us in such great style! I thought your TR and climb was top-notch. Cheers!
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Dec 15, 2011 - 01:12am PT
Wow. Amazing trip report. Thanks for all your efforts to share



Trad climber
Sydney, Australia
  Dec 15, 2011 - 01:23am PT
That was a beautifully written and quite moving TR.
Thanks M & M
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Dec 15, 2011 - 02:25am PT
super awesome TR, loved it. Wish you guys to do more together. Good partners are hard to find.

Big Wall climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 02:53am PT
adventurous one

Trad climber
Truckee Ca.
  Dec 15, 2011 - 04:22am PT
Thanks Mark and Max for putting so much effort into writing this for all to enjoy. What a great story. One of the best written trip reports as well. What a great read and very inspiring for those that aren't still "Spring Chickens". This story has motivated me to contemplate contacting some old climbing partners that have not climbed in awhile. Maybe not El Cap for a reunion climb (though the photos got me stoked to think about it) with someone that has not climbed in decades, (not everyone is a Max Jones) but sure got me thinking how cool a weekend of cragging would be with good friends that I have not climbed with for many years. (How the time flies by when you are living life) Thanks for the inspiration!


Trad climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 03:14am PT
Amazing when life comes around full circle. You guys rock.

Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 06:01am PT

  Dec 15, 2011 - 06:45am PT
Sitting here grinning in the dark at this, another masterful TR. The shot of Max leading into the clouds is GREAT, as is the syncopation of your perspectives.

Nice job bringing your friend back into the fold.

Trad climber
Portland, Or
  Dec 15, 2011 - 07:59am PT
Best trip report yet on this site. Thanks for putting so much into it and for inspiring us all (especially Max).
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Dec 15, 2011 - 08:14am PT


Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
  Dec 15, 2011 - 08:41am PT
That was awesome!!! Thanks for sharing.
Dos XX

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 09:24am PT
Mark and Max -- What an adventure, and what a beautifully-told story. It's got it all: human-interest, hard-core climbing, excellent visuals. This posting sets a new standard in digital climbing literature. Bravo!

Away from Walhalla
  Dec 15, 2011 - 09:42am PT
One of the best I've read. You guys are awesome!

Released into general population, Idaho
  Dec 15, 2011 - 10:46am PT
Your generousity for posting these TRs is equal to your passion and skill. And toy collection...

You guys live a charmed life, as we should all.

The Granite State.
  Dec 15, 2011 - 10:57am PT
I'm not surprised by this TR, as you're Mark Hudon, and a badass.

I do like it though, thanks!

Social climber
NZ -> SB,CA -> Zurich
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:29am PT
Excellent TR guys. Thanks for the inspiration.

Cheers, Roy

Trad climber
new england
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:35am PT
Another FANTASTIC trip report, thanks for the post.
John Mac

Trad climber
Breckenridge, CO
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:43am PT
Deserves to be on the pages of Alpinist ....

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:44am PT
Man, don't it bring ya back?! Thanks for putting so much work into this- it's an inspiration. I love those stitched-up panos.

Trad climber
pacific beach, ca
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:47am PT

i don't even feel worthy of responding.
very impressive, and entertaining.
lele honu

Trad climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:49am PT
You guys still got it! Great TR! Cheers!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:06pm PT
I gotta a say that I really enjoved reading this and it might have taken me longer to read this than the new issue of Climbing. The one thing that has disapeared from climbing magazines is writing. Pictures are a dime a dozen on here and in the magazines but actual writing and story telling is something that few are willing to do, and doing it for free no less is really giving something to the climbing community. I think Chris M. should pay people to write more. This must have taken the better part of a day or more to put together and it is very much appreciated. The photos you used went with the story well and it looks like a great route. I wish I had the energy to write more stories and edit them to an acceptabel standard. It is a lot of work and it is apprecated. Mike

Trad climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:15pm PT

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:27pm PT
What a great TR. Thanks a bunch.
Mike Lauria

Trad climber
On the road
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:31pm PT
Beautifully captured. Incredibly impressive.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:34pm PT
Nice TR and commentary. I like off-the-couch stories; they seem so improbable. Nice video ad for your coffee, too.

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 12:46pm PT
awesome!! thanks for all the work of sharing this experience with us. Way to stay motivated!

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
  Dec 15, 2011 - 01:25pm PT
So many great things about this TR! The patient friendship of the everlasting "bond of the rope", and the rekindling of those old feelings is the part that touched me.

It is special to be part of a group that has these types of bonds. When explaining the lure of climbing to non climbers, I've often said "I've established life long friendships with people I've only climbed a few days with, that are stronger than those I have with people I've known for years". (time to queue the Brokeback theme?:-)


Brian More

Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 01:51pm PT
Setting the bar for future trip reports; like a professional magazine article. Really liked the author's narrative with the photos and then the counterpoint in yellow from the subject; clever way to put the reader in Max Jones' shoes.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 02:36pm PT
What it's all about...
the goat

Mazama, WA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 03:00pm PT
Like most everything you seem to do, your attention to detail is amazing. Thanks for the TR Mark, it's great to see you both climbing together again, truly a blast from the past!

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 03:18pm PT
Wow! Superb TR of a superb climbing job.

Thanks very much.


Trad climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 03:44pm PT
Hell yeah! Very inspiring - thanks for putting the time in to make such a fantastic report!

Big Wall climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 03:54pm PT
Awesome TR Mark! Very well written, awesome photos and videos too!

Also, the pano's that Mark has are great! I got 3 pano's that all put together are the SE face with 3 routes on it! Its sweet! I'll post pics once they are framed.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 04:13pm PT
thanks Mark. well done.

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 04:33pm PT
Better than sweet!!!

Big Wall climber
Portland, OR
  Dec 15, 2011 - 04:45pm PT
Really excellent! I love the panorama pictures up high with Half Dome in the background.

Trad climber
Erik O. Auburn, CA
  Dec 15, 2011 - 05:14pm PT
Too cool! Nice! Great report!

Social climber
Butterfly Town
  Dec 15, 2011 - 06:35pm PT
Simply put: This is the most inspiring TR that I've ever read! Makes an old geezer like me REALLY BELIEVE that I could be back on the Stone again with a much loved partner and also to be able to create such an inspiring TR with the well integrated writing, pictures and video clips! Thanks also for providing us (me) with the historical perspective that helps to fill in the chasms of adventure that have occured since I last took a long look at the passage of time and the changes in technology since I last went up on a serious climb.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Dec 15, 2011 - 06:42pm PT
World class TR, Thanks!
Nothing better than climbing with a life long friend!!!
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Dec 15, 2011 - 08:26pm PT
NO WAY. I thought you guys knew each other way before then. Introduced by Spencer? That ain't possible.

I remember seeing you guys working the S. Face of Rixons while we did the West side (76?). I thought you knew each other forever.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
  Dec 15, 2011 - 08:32pm PT
Geez, I'm thinking I might have to have another go at the Captain . . .

Nice work, fellows. Great TR.


Trad climber
Hustle City
  Dec 15, 2011 - 08:57pm PT
Great as always!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Dec 15, 2011 - 09:19pm PT
I had read the story, of course, but what really impresses me is how well the photos are presented, and how clear the scans are on the old photos. I also love the way Mark presents Max's words in the yellow boxes.

[Don't forget that one touchup, Mark]

I laughed out loud at this one:

"This must have taken the better part of a day or more to put together and it is very much appreciated."

Let me guess - with writing, re-writing, sorting photos, photoshopping them, uploading them, hot linking them, etc etc etc, Mark's in at least 30 hours on this whole thing, maybe more.

I found the story very touching, the fondness that these longtime friends had and still have for each other. Not bad for a pair of decrepit old farts, eh? ;)

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Dec 15, 2011 - 09:26pm PT
Very nice Mark.

Thanks for the effort, south seas is hard work, and all that for some quality writing material? WHOOOOOP!

Cheers to Max, the hook is set DEEP.

Allen Hill

Social climber
  Dec 15, 2011 - 09:53pm PT
This needs to be published. Amazing and moving. You guy's have a lot of fans present and past who are full of glee for this ascent. Thanks so much.

Trad climber
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Marshall Islands atoll.
  Dec 15, 2011 - 10:01pm PT
This TR was put together very well! A great read. Good luck and great climbing to you both.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Dec 15, 2011 - 10:02pm PT
now that's professional grade!!!!!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
Author's Reply  Dec 16, 2011 - 10:28am PT
Thank you all very much, you can't ever know how much all your comments mean to me, thanks again.

Dee, that was the second climb Max and I ever did together, I believe Roger Breedlove was above us on the climb with what I thought at the time was a client of some sort.

All in all, writing (writing doesn't come easy to me, I think a lot about it before hand, make some notes and then dive in, thinking that it is mostly sh#t and drivel, hoping Pete will rescue me), choosing the photos, Photoshopping them, getting them ready to upload, working in Max's part, formatting his text, uploading and then correcting and fine tuning the whole deal took me at least 100 hours.

I must tell you that Max and I discussed a TR for the climb and it was decided that I should write it and that Max would contribute "notes" but the first time he saw my text and the first time I saw his notes were when we were both virtually done with them. We did not collaborate on each others writing at all. It was scary how closely some of the point we made individually mirrored the other's writing.

BTW Max's notes started off with the line "I am shattered" and then the paragraph that follows. I took one look at that and thought "HOLY SH#T!"

Again, many, many thanks.


black hills, south dakota
  Dec 15, 2011 - 11:37pm PT
That was awesome! Thanks for putting so much effort towards your TR's, which are so great to read. I like all the panos. The pano of the 3rd pitch ramp is really cool!

  Dec 16, 2011 - 12:00am PT

I love the line "I discovered that whenever I was telling someone about my rock climbing, I was really telling them about climbing El Cap."

Plus the whole depiction of getting back on the big stone with the ol partner. Gets me stoked to climb the beast again with my buddy, Mash.

Trad climber
Mental Physics........
  Dec 16, 2011 - 01:03am PT
Mark and Max, what can I/we say but...

thanks for the inspiration and reminding us to carpe diem!


Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Dec 16, 2011 - 01:14am PT
Wow. Those 3rd pitch photos rock.

Great stuff guys. Makes this place worth while.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Dec 16, 2011 - 01:48am PT
I knew it took a lot of time to put together and I do think Chris Mac. should consider paying for super good content like this even a nominal amount. It might spur an on topic writing bonanza.

Big Wall climber
  Dec 16, 2011 - 09:20am PT
Nice TR Max and Mark, reunited on South Seas...sweet!

Your TR's are always top-notch Mark!

Trad climber
Station Wagon, USA
  Dec 16, 2011 - 04:31pm PT
Thirty five year trip report down memory lane and up El Cap. We are lucky that you have decided to share it with all of us. That was a spectacular read!

Oakland, CA
  Dec 16, 2011 - 07:20pm PT
Trip of the mind to scroll back and forth between the 2011 summit shot and the late 70's summit shots.

Max, C3 as your warmup after a long hiatus... proud!
M Carville

Trad climber
Nevada City, CA
  Dec 17, 2011 - 02:19am PT
Captain...or Skully

Boise, ID
  Dec 17, 2011 - 02:39am PT
Whoa. Love the TR, Mark. If I may say so, that was Badass.
Gave me some Memory Lane there too, man. I loved that route. Even though we had floatey water at the Highbrow that we'd found. That's how it goes, I suppose. Cheers.
Hope to see you on top of El Cap one day soon.

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
  Dec 17, 2011 - 08:27am PT
Stellar job: on the climb, on the trip report, on being good friends.
Truly the best of climbing.

Trad climber
  Dec 17, 2011 - 09:34am PT
Thanks for the inspiration!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Dec 17, 2011 - 11:02am PT
A hundred hours?! Holy frig. I was a long way off, but I'm not in any way surprised. I'm pretty sure my Tribal Rite photo trip report took about 40 hours, and that was with Tom helping me.

So here's a bump for coffee in the clouds. I loved the clouds swirling below on your second bivi - it was like that when Mawk and I climbed South Seas. I think it rained for our first three days on the wall, we were almost the only guys on El Cap, and South Seas is so steep down below, that we didn't even need to put our rain flies on our ledges!

That photo looking down on the bridge made me laugh. When I was on the Drift this fall, I kept looking down at the bridge and seeing this big-assed orange pylon, you know, something they put at the side of the road to mark potholes? It was there every morning in the same place. I didn't realize until I got down that the "pylon" was actually Tom in his orange shirt!

Trad climber
East Coast
  Dec 17, 2011 - 01:08pm PT
Christmas came early with this excellent TR. Way to go!

Trad climber
Central Valley, CA
  Dec 17, 2011 - 01:19pm PT

Very inspiring!!

Mark, what camera were you shooting with? And what software did you use to stitch the photos together?

Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
Author's Reply  Dec 17, 2011 - 01:32pm PT
Thanks, again,

I have the Canon G11, Max has the G12.

When you take a pano, if you are shooting a vertical pano, hold the camera horizontally. Zoom in a bit to maybe to 50mm since wider will distort the edges. Overlap a third to a half of the photo and take lots of photos! Try to imagine a dead plumb or dead horizontal line and follow that through the pano, otherwise you'll end up with a stair stepped final image and no way to crop it.
I use Photoshop to blend the photo. Open the photos in PS and then go to FILE>AUTOMATE>PHOTOMERGE and sit back and watch the fun. Next, flatten the image and crop it.

Trad climber
New England
  Dec 17, 2011 - 01:46pm PT
Nice work, guys! Way to get it done Max, glad it was such a success!
David Wilson

  Dec 17, 2011 - 02:23pm PT
whoaa....that is an amazing TR Mark! you put some time into that one. you effectively capture the emotion of the renewed partnership in a way that i find very touching. looks like there will be more outings to come - great job

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
  Dec 17, 2011 - 04:23pm PT
Superlative TR, hits all the facets of why big climbs are so excellent to do: the climbing, the scenery, the friendships. But after all the work and editing, there's one typo that definitely made me laugh - or was it a typo? - in the part about the first bivy and relating that BITD breakfast would be "Pot-Tarts" etc. Yep, that sounds about right from what I recall.
Johnny K.

  Dec 17, 2011 - 04:28pm PT
What an extensive,impressive and beautiful TR!Thanks for sharing Max and Mark.Looking forward to seeing more from you guys back in action!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
Author's Reply  Dec 17, 2011 - 04:46pm PT

Ha! Thats' funny, no, it should be Pop-Tarts.

  Dec 17, 2011 - 08:30pm PT
Smooth sailing, guy's!

Trad climber
Carson City, NV
  Dec 17, 2011 - 08:43pm PT
Great job on the report Mark!!

Made me feel like I was there... oh wait, yea, that was sooo cool!

Outstanding job combining/editing/preparing the 700+ photos we took, video, your story and my rambling notes to really capture the feel of the climb (and to Pete a big thank you for your help as well).

More should climb that route. Really really spectacular part of El Cap!

Can't wait to get up there again.

Glad you all enjoyed the story.

Trad climber
Valles Marineris
  Dec 17, 2011 - 10:12pm PT
Do both families shop at the Puffy Jacket store?

Cain J Waters

Mountain climber
Ithaca, NY
  Dec 18, 2011 - 12:27am PT
Truly impressive. Thanks for the tremendous working putting that all together and sharing it with us. -CW
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
  Dec 18, 2011 - 12:47am PT
This TR is as awesome as everybody says, and also reads like the beginning of a new chapter of life.
Captain...or Skully

Boise, ID
  Dec 18, 2011 - 10:06pm PT
It's too good a TR not to include in the small fire's annals, don't you think, Mark? Just a thought.
Definitely appreciate the effort that obviously went into this, man. Really well done. You do have a dilemma for yourself, though. How high does the bar go? Hehehe. Cheers.
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Dec 18, 2011 - 10:16pm PT
I just now got time to read this tale..... OUTSTANDING!!!! Even as fossils, you guys are still an inspiration. Thanks!

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
  Dec 18, 2011 - 10:45pm PT
Great TR, thanks for sharing. Really liked the on route pano shots - gives a great perspective on the position up there. Very cool, makes me think about getting up on the Captain again someday when I escape cubeland... Pot tarts to Max for getting up on the big stone again, really liked his notes in the TR. Cheers!
John Fine

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
  Dec 19, 2011 - 12:18am PT
Wow...beautiful....peace to you both. -John

PS: Can't stand it...I'm sleeping in my portaledge tonight...hanging in my basement.

Big Wall climber
Durango, CO
  Dec 20, 2011 - 04:33pm PT
This is totally awesome and inspiring. Super glad to see the pioneers of the Free and Clean are at it again.

Trad climber
new paltz, ny
  Dec 20, 2011 - 08:12pm PT
who gives a f*#k about these old chest thumping clowns climbing el cap...i don't

Social climber
granada hills
  Dec 20, 2011 - 08:46pm PT
Great TR! Good times. Thanks for the awesome read.

Captain...or Skully

Boise, ID
  Dec 20, 2011 - 08:51pm PT
Gettin' into the area of Unheard Of for a TR.
TR's are good. GOOD Tr's are GEWD!!!!.
'Nuff said, eh?
Go, Mark & Max! I love you guys. Essence, eh? I think so...
Ripples, man. Dig it. So Cool.

Social climber
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
  Dec 22, 2011 - 01:20pm PT
I'm just learning to climb... this TR is so inspiring to a 55 year old neewbe that there's nothing else to say but....THANK YOU! You guy's are the bomb. I wish you many more good times together, whether they be on the wall or at the pub.... Cheers.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
Author's Reply  Dec 22, 2011 - 02:03pm PT

part of the whole point of my TR is that it's not about age but about attitude. A good and positive attitude will go a long way to accomplishing your dreams.

Nor Cal
  Dec 22, 2011 - 02:06pm PT
excellent set of pictures. you guys were and are such an inspiration. thanks for kickn arse

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Dec 22, 2011 - 11:14pm PT
Just wow. Thank you for letting us in on this!

Santa Cruz, CA
  Dec 23, 2011 - 02:05am PT
I really enjoyed reading this. Such a great story and so well told. Thanks for sharing it all with us.
Big Mike

Trad climber
  Dec 23, 2011 - 03:47am PT

You have once again raised the bar for great tr's here on the taco. Well Done!

John Moosie

Beautiful California
  Dec 23, 2011 - 03:52am PT
Wow.. Thank you Mark, that was a wonderful testament to friendship and a shared passion.

Max.. you give new meaning to the term "off the couch". Double Wow!

jamais, jamais pays
  Dec 28, 2011 - 01:01am PT
Congratulations on a great climb and great TR. That you guys are climbing together again is inspiring.

Big Wall climber
  Dec 28, 2011 - 04:40am PT

I met you guys on the bridge the day you came down. I'd just had the best 10 days of my life climbing on El Cap.
I'm already planning my next trip and reading TR's like this just make me want to bring that day forward.

Thanks guys.


Trad climber
SeKi, California
  Dec 29, 2011 - 12:35pm PT
Excellant Job! Nice layout and great photos and story. A bump for the elder bunch of us to go for. Thanks for making it real!

Boulder, Colorado
  Dec 29, 2011 - 01:00pm PT
Nice job Mark! Proud!
Ben Doyle

  Jan 4, 2012 - 01:35pm PT
Great trip report. You created a rich historical document. Im glad I was a source of confidence on that first day. I look forward to our next meeting in the valley.
I'm working on funding a "Climber Stewardship Program." Ill add you to my facebook group. Im going to run an "auction for good when I get back from SE Asia in March. I am soliciting donations for the auction, and I think it would be rad if you could create a Climber Steward Roast and a special bag with some historical snapshot from your experience as a Yosemite Pioneer. You have a story telling gift and so many stories that the Yosemite Climbing Community would salivate to read. Let me know what you think. A fundraiser slide show would also be very cool. Especially if you could get Max to come down and present with you.
Ill be back in Yosemite in April, and I still want to team up with you, and maybe Allfrey for El Cap adventure. We'll ghost ride the pig.
Feel free to email me at

  Jan 4, 2012 - 03:40pm PT
Wow. Finally got around to reading this. Amazing TR!!! Nothing like being on a wall challenging yourself with a friend to refresh perspective and nourish the soul. Really appreciate you writing it up and props to Pete for the editing!
Edward Cravalho

Social climber
Santa Cruz, CA
  Jan 4, 2012 - 10:43pm PT
Look out old timers, Bridwell and Eric Beck are right behind you and don't want you in there way, or dropping stuff on them :)

Social climber
somewhere that doesnt have anything over 90'
  Jan 5, 2012 - 06:52pm PT
What a great write up!I really like how you added Max's notes in the TR. and the videos were a nice touch.
Thanks for showing how it's done.
Time to go CLIMBING!!

Social climber
somewhere that doesnt have anything over 90'
  Jan 5, 2012 - 09:13pm PT
bump for climbing

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jan 5, 2012 - 09:45pm PT
Ok, this is geting old. I think you're just doing these routes to get the "Supertopo TR of the Year Award." Well you better look and Macronut just got off Half Dome and my soon to be posted trip report is gonna blow doors on your little excuse for some photos and text you got going on here.

Naw, this thing was amazing. Thanks for such a cool, thoughtful and time intensive TR. It had me drooling at word one. As always, amazing photography, sick climbing, and nostalgic friendship to boot. You guys are an inspiration to more than one generation. Thanks for sharing the stoke. I look forward to reading it again and again.


  Jan 6, 2012 - 04:10pm PT
somebody else already said it, but have to agree: reading this was more satisfying than 90% of the good climbing articles in press.

one more voice of great appreciation for sharing your trip.

Trad climber
  Jan 7, 2012 - 07:16pm PT
start with wow baby,,,time capsule,,the vacuum,the brothers of the stone,,greatful to the sharing,,narly for sure,hammers and sparks,,lifes blood,,vertical camping w/flutes/mandolins,,ah ,your timing was impecable,,have another hit of sweet california sunshine,chow for now,,

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
  Jan 7, 2012 - 10:20pm PT

You and Max have the right attitude brother!

This is a FANTASTIC trip report! I really appreciate your efforts to share the adventure. The photos are amazing and literally put the reader right on El Cap with you guys!!!


Trad climber
100% Canadian
  Feb 20, 2012 - 10:37pm PT
Simply awesome !
Michael Nicholson

Big Wall climber
Thousand Oaks
  Feb 21, 2012 - 03:56am PT
Awesome you guys! Christian and I (Mike) were are Mescalito from the 11th-16th..Although, we did not see you way above us. It was so hot during the day glad you made it with enough water...We almost did not! Great pictures and story! Cheers
Mike Libecki

the moment of now
  Feb 21, 2012 - 04:28am PT
Truly a testament that it is not only life, but the quality of life.
Thanks for sharing.
One of the best stories and visuals I have read/seen in a long, long time.
You have shared, created and caused joy, thanks.

  Feb 21, 2012 - 04:29pm PT
That was one of the better TR's I'v ever come across. Thanks so much for sharing. It's been way too long since I've been up the big stone, thanks for the inspiration to to get back on that proverbial horse.

dont make me come over there
  Feb 22, 2012 - 12:28am PT
Cant say anything that hasnt already been said.

Great work, from A to Z
the weegy

  Feb 22, 2012 - 05:57pm PT
Wow, what a tale. This story really moved me. It reminded me of the special friendship I carved BIOD with my old buddy Derek. Just like you guys I feel we can pick up where we left off even if the gap is nigh on twelve years.
Living in Scotland, the walls of El Cap are a dream for me, what with the constraints of family life. But hey, you gotta have dreams man!!

The Weegy has spoken.

Trad climber
Denver, CO
  Apr 11, 2012 - 12:47pm PT
Absolutely fantastic!

At forty-something, I'm in the starting stages of planning my first trip up anything big, and it will be El Cap. This TR stokes the flames BIG TIME!

Thanks for letting us in to share what was clearly a magical trip.

One thing though - I notice that you wrote the TR a while ago. You two do anything since? Or have anything in the works?

Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
Author's Reply  Apr 11, 2012 - 12:56pm PT
I'll be in Yosemite this spring for another El Cap solo and then another route but Max and I are planning on a route (TBA) for the fall.

Trad climber
Being held captive behind the Orange Curtain
  Apr 11, 2012 - 01:24pm PT
I ran into Mark and Max as they were getting out of the truck to do SS/PO. It got me thinking: If they're not too old, then maybe I'm not too old...Of course, they're bad-ass (still), and I never was.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Oct 29, 2012 - 01:16pm PT

Don't mind the politiocity, Mark.

I'm just BUMPING YOUR FABULOUS TRIP REPORT TO THE TOP OF THE FRONT PAGE! I will read it now that I have discovered it.

BUT, I need to go bait Donini some more, first.
yellow mzungu

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
  Oct 29, 2012 - 05:14pm PT
WONDERFUL trip report. very well written...
Woody the Beaver

Trad climber
Soldier, Idaho
  Oct 29, 2012 - 06:00pm PT
Donini's grouchy thread made me bump this. I do enjoy these a lot. I'm girding my mental loins to return to the great flatness of a big wall. Thanks; great reading. I've benefited from switching to Hood River Coffee bean shipments. You have the most eloquent photos of big wall anchor setups ever, too.

Trad climber
Punter, Little Rock
  Oct 31, 2012 - 10:44pm PT

Trad climber
Reno, NV
  Jan 11, 2013 - 04:09pm PT
I have read this report many times and every time it brings me incredible psych. TFPU this report as well as all the big wall tips that you have.

Social climber
  Jan 11, 2013 - 08:18pm PT
Still crazy after all these years.
This was one of the best things I've read ever in "climbing" and I've read a lot.
Mark, I stopped by to introduce myself about five years ago in HR--friends of Scott S. We talked about your States of the Art Art of the States article in Mountain from BIOD.
You were so gracious and this story really reflects that.
This was a powerful send in more ways than one.

Trad climber
Technically...the spawning grounds of Yosemite
  Jan 11, 2013 - 09:20pm PT
A great friendship is a treasure to be sure. Thanks for sharing so much of your soul in this TR -- incredibly inspiring and heart-warming. Going to go read it again!
J. Werlin

Social climber
Cedaredge, CO
  Jan 12, 2013 - 10:53am PT
Many thanks for the inspiration and all the work you guys put into this awesomeTR. Congrats to Max for getting back on the big stone.
lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Jan 13, 2013 - 12:51pm PT
Mark and Max-

I remember seeing your slide show at Outdoors Unlimited in San Francisco in the late 70's. I think it was called "5.13 Across America". You guys were always several grades harder than the rest of us. You still are!

Thanks for keeping it alive.


ft. Collins, CO
  Sep 7, 2013 - 11:11am PT
I also haven't climbed El Cap since the 70's but you've got me thinking...

  Sep 7, 2013 - 12:17pm PT
engaging ... real ... hard ...
beautiful route and beautiful photos... I love the old ones
TR very well done.