Need for Speed!

Hi everyone! It’s now less than two weeks until Niall and I depart for our big Greenland expedition and the planning and preparation is reaching a state of fever pitch! This is going to be the first of two blogs that I write over the next week; my aim today is to introduce the third and arguably most exciting component of our upcoming expedition… speedflying.

Before I describe what exactly speedflying is, I quickly want to explain why it is that I’ve decided to introduce a new discipline into my trips away at all. So, I can basically attribute it all to picking up an injury seven months ago, not an exciting injury as such, but one that meant that technical, tips of the fingers climbing, has been out of the question. Basically, I trained a little too hard and developed acute tendinitis in my right hand which resulted in severe pain whenever I tried to use one finger in particular. On picking up the injury, I was immediately aware that it was going to take a while to recover, so I decided that I could either sit at home doing nothing or I could learn a new skill.

As it was, because of the awful weather we’ve had, I pretty much did just sit at home doing nothing… but in between work and bad weather I have managed to get out enough to feel that I’m now ready to use my new found skills in anger!

So, speedflying is basically paragliding, but with a wing that has just a fraction of the surface area.  The result of this is that a) it weighs next to nothing, and b) you go really fast. Basically the perfect combo for descending off a mountain that you’ve just climbed. The speedwing can be launched on foot, or on skis; the latter allowing you to rapidly descend terrain via a combination of skiing and flying. Awesome!

My training started by sneaking around the Shropshire hills, hurtling off the slopes and trying to avoid getting caught by land owners. By far the most valuable training though took place in the Chamonix valley under the incredibly capable supervision of my good friends Tag and Elling from Norway.  These guys are helicopter pilots by profession which basically gives them loads of free time to get outdoors and scare themselves silly; they are both incredibly experienced skiers, climbers, windsurfers, BASE jumpers, sky divers and most importantly… speedflyers!

Below are a few shots from the trip courtesy of Tag, and some screen grabs from my head cam.

          

Tag and Elling  Tag skiing the Midi Ridge

Muzz Skinning in the Vallee Blanche  Muzz and Tag on the Midi

Finn 'skiing'  Finn giving a perfect demonstration of how to descend a slope with skis

Elling launching  Finn flying towards the Mer de Glace

Finn flying in the Vallee blanche  Screen grab from Finn's Vallee Blanche flight

On returning to the UK I immediately downsized to a smaller wing, basically so that I can go faster, and hooked up with Niall to have a play back in the hills around Shrewsbury.

Niall leading the way  Finn on the new smaller wing

Finn (green) and Niall (orange)  Finn (green) and Niall (orange)

The wing is currently in the repair shop as a result of a frustrating incident that occurred last week on the summit of Snowdon, but will be packed up and ready to rip up the Greenlandic skies in two weeks’ time!

I once again want to draw everyone’s attention to the fantastic charity ‘Climbing Out’ who I’m raising money for in memory of my Dad. Please donate what you can for a fantastic cause at www.justgiving.com/Finn-McCann.

Huge thanks must go to Tag and Elling for being legendary mentors, Muzz for his awesome company as always, and lastly UK Airsports and NEO for their flying kit contributions.  Stay tuned for a short film documenting Niall’s and my training over the past few months.

Mammut

‘Climbing Out’ in memory of my dad

It’s been a tough six months to say the very least. Our Dad passed away in late November, just six months after topping out on El Capitan; an enormous achievement for anyone but a feat of superhuman strength and determination for someone in such an advanced stage of a terminal cancer.

His life was more of an inspiration to me than I could ever express in words, and his inspiration will live on in the countless individuals that he impacted during his lifetime.

Alongside my mum, he gave us boys a real appreciation for how amazing life and the world around us can be, and instilled a strong passion for adventure which brings each of us massive fulfilment. Although it’s felt like life has been somewhat derailed over the past few months, it’s time now to get back on track as I enter into another year of expeditions and adventure.

The year has gotten off to a rather cushy start as Rory and I were asked to speak on a cruise ship in the Caribbean; we reluctantly obliged and spent a week sailing around the Eastern and Southern islands.

I’ve just had a great weekend filming the last few bits and pieces for our Cirque of the Unclimbables film with my fantastic team mates Wilki, Sam Hamer and Murray Smith. The film is due to be completed by mid-March.

The BIG trip of the year will be taking place in April when Niall and I will be combining a number of different disciplines in the remote, rugged, and relatively unexplored mountains of Eastern Greenland. Mammut, the official kit sponsor for the expedition, have pulled out all the stops once again and provided me with an insane selection of cutting edge equipment from -35 degree sleeping bags to ultra-lightweight ropes, top of the range avalanche rescue technology, Mammut Eiger Extreme mountaineering boots, and much more.

Watch this space for more updates about our upcoming Greenland Adventure…

Lastly, I want to use this upcoming expedition as a vehicle to raise some funds and awareness for a fantastic charity that I’m now involved with. ‘Climbing Out’ does invaluable work with young people who have suffered from life changing illnesses, mainly cancers, running residential programmes aimed at enriching these young people’s lives through adventure in the outdoors.

Please do visit my JustGiving page www.justgiving.com/Finn-McCann and make a donation in memory of my incredible Dad.

Some of the new kit that's recently arrived for the upcoming expeditions.

Mammut

Unclimbable Trailer

Here’s the first trailer of our Cirque of the Unclimbables trip. There’ll be another teaser coming soon before we release the full length film. Don’t ask me how long the final cut will be… I’ve had no role in the production of these films! A big thumbs up to Muzz and co. for all their great work! If you have any issues with playing the video follow this link to the vimeo site: http://vimeo.com/73786253

Mammut

Cirque of the Unclimbables

A little over ten years ago, when I first started leading rock routes, my dad bought me a climber’s log book to record my various ascents. Unsurprisingly (based on my lack of effort with keeping diaries in the past) I’ve been diabolically bad at updating it. However it has been far from a wasted purchase as the photos that are scattered throughout the book have been a huge source of inspiration to me. The photo that caught my imagination more than any other was an image of a silhouetted hiker dwarfed by a gargantuan wall of granite, bathed in sunlight and rising countless hundreds of metres into the sky behind him. The description underneath read: “Cirque of the Unclimbables, North West Territories, Canada”.  The seed was sown.

In March this year, my friend Wilki discovered that he currently has a condition which precludes him going to extreme altitudes. This news forced us to re-think our proposed trip to climb high altitude peaks in Peru and got me thinking about some potential low-to-medium altitude destinations where we could find adventure in abundance.  It wasn’t long before I was researching how one goes about getting to the Cirque of the Unclimbables. “Not easily” was the answer!  But that wasn’t going to put me off.

I put together a four man team consisting of a sports climbing super-star (Sam Hamer), a highly experienced alpinist (Wilki), and a world class kite skier/ kite surfer (Muzz).  Despite not being a climber I had no doubts that Muzz would be a fantastic addition to the team due to his general competence as a highly experienced expeditioner, and his boundless enthusiasm.  I wasn’t wrong. We met up in Vancouver airport and drove straight up to Squamish (Canada’s answer to Yosemite) for a quick training hit on the immaculate granite which it has to offer and spent two days getting to know each other properly and consuming copious amounts of pancakes and syrup. The highlight of our trip to Squamish was climbing ‘The Grand Wall’ on the Chief, Squamish’s most impressive cliff, which is generally considered to be one of the most coveted routes in the world at its grade (approx. E4). We climbed in two teams, as we would in the Cirque, Sam with Wilki, and Muzz with me, and ascended the route in around eight hours with only one awkward moment when Wilki emptied his bladder down a crack, unaware of the fact that someone was climbing up said crack just five metres below. Wilki made a swift exit, thus avoiding being beaten to a pulp by a steaming Canadian (literally and figuratively) three hundred metres up the Chief!

Below are a few shots from Squamish including two shots that I’ve stolen off the net which shows the crux pitch of ‘The Grand Wall’ of which we failed to get any particularly good photos.

Wilki climbing 'The Exasperator' in Squamish  Wilki leading on the 'Grand Wall'  'The Grand Wall' Split Pillar pitch

Finn McCann climbing 'The Exasperator' in Squamish  Sam Hamer leading on the 'Grand Wall'

'The Grand Wall' Sword pitch  Muzz climbing 'The Grand Wall'  Muzz on the descent route off 'The Chief'

On returning to Vancouver we spent a fantastic evening with my great friends from uni days Joe and Polly, before flying up to Whitehorse which is the biggest settlement in the Yukon. A fantastic fact about the Yukon is that it has a population of 30,000 people; 27,000 live in Whitehorse itself and approximately 1,500 live in each of ‘the other’ two settlements. What’s important to note here is the Yukon is approximately the same size as Spain! That leaves a huge amount of wilderness. I had arranged to be flown into the Cirque by a float plane pilot based out of Watson Lake which is a four hour drive from Whitehorse so the morning after arriving in town we found ourselves optimistically stood on the south exit with our thumbs stuck out attempting to hitch a lift. Seven hours later we traipsed back into town with aching thumbs and tails set firmly between our legs! We finally made it to Watson Lake by bus a day later and began the next challenge of our trip which was to track down our pilot who didn’t use computers and never picked up his phone. This took a further twelve hours! It wasn’t without a small amount of relief that the following day we found ourselves taking off from Watson Lake, finally on our way into the wilderness that we had come so far to explore.  We landed on a glacial lake an hour or so after taking off and after a brief sort of our gear and food set off on what was to be a seven hour hike in to our base camp with as much as 40 kilo’s on our backs. Having poo poo-ed all the locals who had assured me that if we didn’t carry a gun we WOULD be eaten by bears and/or wolves I was slightly disconcerted by the ubiquitous bear and wolf droppings that we passed on our hike in!

Attempting to hitch out of Whitehorse  Glacier Lake

The team ready for an adventure  Heavily laden for the walk up to the Fairy Meadows

The Cirque of the Unclimbables is a cluster of sheer granite towers in the Ragged Range of the Mackenzie Mountains (not a bad address). We had set our sights on the most famous peak in the Cirque called the ‘Lotus Flower Tower’, a 750m (2,500ft) monolith which stands out from the rest of the peaks as being particularly beautiful. We set up our base camp in the idyllic meadows known as the ‘Fairy Meadows’ an hour’s hike from the base of the Tower and spent our first day bouldering and organising gear for the climb. A heavy rainstorm in the night and the need to allow the face to dry delayed the start of the climbing for twelve hours till 14.00 the next day. The first ten pitches of the Tower climb up amazing flakes and chimneys, at a relatively moderate grade, to a substantial ledge which is located at the half way point of the climb. I was chuffed to bits at how well Muzz climbed these pitches despite his lack of climbing experience and he ended up only having to jumar two of the pitches up to this point and free-climbed everything else with a big grin on his face!

Sam Hamer bouldering in the Fairy Meadows  Wilki bouldering in the Cirque of the Unclimbables

The Lotus Flower Tower  Sam Hamer and Wilki on the approach to the Lotus FlowerTower  Finn McCann leading on The Lotus Flower Tower

Sam Hamer, Muzz and Finn McCann low down on the Lotus Flower Tower  Muzz climbing a chimney on The Lotus Flower Tower

We arrived at the ledge just as the light was beginning to fade, it never really got dark as we were so far north but it got dark enough that you wouldn’t want to climb, so we set about failing to make ourselves comfortable and warm and spent the next six hours shivering. That is, everyone but Muzz, who put no effort into making himself warm or comfortable but proceeded to sleep as though he was lying in a hammock in the tropics! He even slept through a few snow showers that passed through. By 04:30 I’d had enough of the shivering and decided that the best way to warm up was to start climbing so I set off up pitch 11 with freezing water running over my fingers and clouds looming above that didn’t inspire confidence. By the time Sam was leading out on pitch 12 a full-on blizzard had set in and after a brief wait to see if it was going to be short-lived we made the difficult decision to retreat off before we really got caught out.

Finn McCann leading pitch 11 of The Lotus Flower Tower  The team huddled on a ledge contemplating waiting or retreating  Muzz abseiling off The Lotus Flower Tower

We then proceeded to have three  days of diabolically bad weather confirming that we certainly made the right decision in bailing off the Tower. We decided to spend these days back down at the lake where we’d left the majority of our food in a shed and could entertain ourselves by going out canoeing, fishing, rock throwing (boy there was a lot of rock throwing) and chatting with a team of Canadians who had hiked in from the nearest settlement. This is a very impressive feat given the unexplored terrain of glaciers, high passes and dense forests.

The Lotus Flower Tower a day after our retreat  The Cirque of the Unclimbables in serious conditions as seen from Glacier Lake

Out canoeing on Glacier Lake  Canoeing on Glacier Lake

As soon as the weather improved we raced back up to the meadows with the remainder of our food. By this stage we had been joined by a second team who were hoping to climb the Tower, Young and Tag from Norway, who proved to be fantastic company for the remainder of our time in the Cirque and have become very good friends indeed. With the new weather window we faced the conundrum of attempting the Tower again immediately but potentially finding it still very wet, or alternatively climbing it a day later when it should be drier but risk missing the weather window for a second time.  With a good forecast coming through on the sat phone we opted for leaving it another day to dry out. This gave us an opportunity to climb some of the boulders and routes around our base camp which we found to be incredible themselves and made for a fantastic day of fun.

Sam Hamer leading a yoga session in the Fairy Meadows  Sam Hamer climbing near our base camp in the Fairy Meadows

  Finn McCann climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables  Finn McCann climbing near base camp in the Fairy Meadows  Wilki bouldering in the Fairy Meadows

Sam Hamer climbing in the Fairy Meadows  Sam Hamer climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables

This time around we woke to clear skies when our alarms rang at 00:30 and we enjoyed a pleasant hike to the base of the route. On pitch two, with headlights still necessary to find holds Wilki took what looked like an unpleasant fall. It’s always horrible watching someone fall; hoping with your heart in your mouth that nothing’s going to snap, be it the rope or their ankles. We could see that the fall had knocked Wilki’s confidence but he reassured us that he was OK and proceeded to dispatch the pitch without a word of complaint. As Muzz set off following me up the second pitch the Norwegians arrived at the base of the route and started gearing themselves up. They took a few shots of us which put the route somewhat into perspective.

The first few pitchs of the Lotus Flower Tower with Muzz visible bottom right  Our team on the first few pitchs of the Lotus Flower Tower  Muzz climbing on The Lotus Flower Tower

The first half of the route went without a hitch and before we knew it we were climbing on new ground. From the ledge to the top we decided to climb as a single team with Sam and myself taking it in turns to lead each pitch. The Lotus Flower Tower,  although not known to many, is considered to be one of the most beautiful climbs in the world and it’s the second half of the climb that gives it this reputation. The headwall which forms the last three hundred metres of the route would be nigh on impossible to climb if it weren’t for the small diorite inclusions which protrude from the granite giving it the feel of an artificial climbing wall with screwed on holds! The headwall itself gets steeper and steeper the higher you climb but the diorite nubbins or “chicken heads” as some call them keep on appearing whenever you need them. It is undoubtedly some of the most enjoyable and aesthetic climbing I have ever done and it certainly deserves the reputation it has gained.  We had a bit of route finding difficulty in the last thirty metres of the climb which came as an unpleasant end to an otherwise immaculate afternoon of climbing but finally found ourselves stood on top of one of North America’s finest peaks as the sun dipped low on the horizon, lighting up the amazing ‘Ragged Range’.

Sam Hamer leading out on The Lotus Flower Towers headwall  Wilki climbing on the headwall

Finn McCann leading out on the headwall of The Lotus Flower Tower  Sam Hamer climbing on The Lotus Flower Tower  Finn McCann climbing the headwall of the Lotus Flower Tower

Sam Hamer pulling through the roof on the crux pitch of The Lotus Flower Tower  Wilki climbing the crux pitch of The Lotus Flower Tower

The Ragged Range  The penultimate and best pitch of The Lotus Flower Tower

Sam Hamer climbing high on The Lotus Flower Tower  Looking down from one of the last pitches of The Lotus Flower Tower  Sam Hamer reaches the top of The Lotus Flower Tower

With darkness preventing us from beginning our abseil immediately,  Wilki, Sam and I found a comfortable spot where we sat shivering whilst Muzz lay down on a spiky rock and slept like a baby…

Our abseil got off to a terrible start when Sam’s and my rope got snagged so badly that we were forced to cut it, but was uneventful thereafter and by 09:00 we were hiking back into basecamp to a chorus of high-pitched whistles emanating not from an adoring crowd of people but from the marmots who sat at look-out points throughout the meadows. Quite an experience! The weather broke three hours after we returned to our tents but luckily the Norwegians, who topped out a few hours after we started abseiling back down, beat the weather and got down safely later that afternoon. We ended up only having one more day of climbable weather in the remainder of our time in the Cirque, but that was just long enough for us to climb some more amazing routes in the meadows and for Sam to make an incredibly impressive ascent of ‘The Cobra’ an 8a route on one of the most amazing pieces of rock I’ve ever seen! Nice one Sam!!!

Wilki climbing in the Fairy Meadows  Finn McCann in Lotus position at the Lotus Flower Tower base camp  Sam Hamer on 'The Cobra' 8a

We said our farewells to the meadow and its marmot inhabitants fifteen days after first arriving and headed back down to the lake where we proceeded to sit for two days waiting to be picked up by our float plane. This is pretty prompt by Yukon standards… back in the day when hunters and trappers were dropped in the wilderness by pilots they’d simply agree on a season to be picked up in! The Norwegians, who got picked up a day after us, made a rather impressive entrance into our lodge by jumping out of the plane from 11,000ft wearing wing suits! The two of them are currently in Yosemite where they’re hoping to climb some big walls and base jump as much as possible. Amazing guys!

The team along with the Norwegians in our kitchen at base camp  Glacier Lake at the end of our trip

Finn McCann canoeing on Glacier Lake with the arriving float plane just visible behind him  Time to go home

So we discovered that the granite towers of the Cirque are indeed climbable, but only for very brief periods of time! Given that people only ever attempt to climb in the Cirque in July and August it’s no surprise that these mountains get very few ascents. What made this trip so special was that we were visiting an area which is truly remote and pristine. The Lotus Flower Tower, which I’ve been dreaming about for over ten years, is as beautiful as I could ever have imagined and certainly ranks as one of the most amazing climbs I’ve undertaken to date. All in all… a great adventure!

I want to thank my three team mates for being such fantastic company and such competent and reliable partners on the rock.  Many thanks to my mum and Niall for their role as the ‘home team’ in keeping us up to date with forecasts. Huge thanks to Lucy for the texts that she sent through daily on the sat phone brightening my days and infuriating the others who appeared to have been forgotten by the outside world! Thanks to Warren LaFave of ‘Kluane Airways’ and ‘Inconnu Lodge’ for his incredible hospitality and generosity. And lastly, a huge thanks to Mammut for their support and amazing kit which couldn’t have performed better.

Mammut

Swinging in the rain!

It feels like I’ve only just arrived back from Yosemite but the time has come for me to head off again….

I won’t give away too much about this next expedition for now. All I’ll say is it’s VERY remote and I’m heading out with a kick ass team!

In no particular order we have:

Andrew Wilkinson (Wilki)- my companion for many adventures over the past few years including our ascent of the North face of the Eiger.

Murray Smith (Muz)- star of  ‘Last Man Standing’, world class kite skier/surfer and all round impressive outdoorsman.

Sam Hamer (Sam)- one of the UK’s brightest climbing stars and one of my oldest friends. When the climbing gets really extreme we’ll unleash Sam.

The last few weeks have been very busy so I’m afraid I can’t relay any climbing antics as there haven’t been any. We did manage to fit in some swinging antics though (that is rope swinging…. not the other kind of swinging). Check out the video below produced by my good friend Will Copestake who joined me along with my brother Niall and friends Dave and Tom on a micro-adventure to the North-West of Scotland. Enjoy!

See you in a months time!

El Capitan McCann

Good day all!

I’ve just returned from a two week trip to the States accompanied by my Dad. Dad has stayed out longer and should now be somewhere in the region of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming having already visited five other States over the past two weeks. I’ve made a very short video of us on our climb which you can see below. Make sure you set the quality to at least 360p otherwise it looks awful!

For those of you that don’t know, Dad was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a form of terminal lung cancer, back in 2004. The statistics for this cancer aren’t good; in fact they’re about as bad as they come.  Less than 40% survive the first year, less than 20% survive to live a second year, and less than 10% make it into a third year beyond diagnosis.

When Dad received his diagnosis nine years ago he had no illusions of trying to ‘beat’ the cancer, the statistics can’t be ignored, but as Stephen Jay Gould said “The median isn’t the message”.  Just because the cancer has a median mortality of eight months does not mean that you will probably die in eight months. Dad is a scientist, and therefore very familiar with how statistics work and what they represent. Rather than focussing on the median, Dad was much more interested in the variation surrounding it.

Attitude matters in fighting cancer. Those with a positive outlook, a strong will and desire to live have been shown to live longer than individuals with the same medical conditions who lack those attitudes. Dad is positive to the core; in fact he takes great pleasure in the fact that his blood type is B positive! Nine years ago when he got diagnosed he didn’t sit down and give up, he decided to do his utmost to cram as much into his remaining years as he could. I think we can safely say that he’s been successful in achieving that.

It would take way too long to list everything that he has done since 2004 so I will just mention a few of the highlights.

He has undertaken four major cycle tours, India (highest road in the world), Outer Hebrides, Madagascar and Turkey. On foot he has walked the GR20 Corsican high-level route, the Routeburn track in New Zealand, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, and the Tour of Mont Blanc. On home soil he has completed the mid-Wales 100 miler in 32 hours and taken part in the Long  Mynd  50 miler four times with a best time of 10hrs 59mins. He has had seven overseas mountaineering trips including an ascent of Stok Kangri 6,153m in the Himalayas and an ascent of ‘Motorhead’ a world class fourteen pitch E2 in Switzerland. All this and more whilst also going under the knife three times, receiving radiotherapy, participating in drug trials, and undergoing two courses of chemotherapy.

I asked Dad if he’d like to join me in climbing ‘The Nose’ on El Capitan almost two years ago. He was surprised that I asked but after a brief moment of consideration decided that he’d like to take on the challenge. Our original plan was to attempt the route in May-June 2012 but Dad’s health deteriorated and he ended up taking part in a drug trial and later received chemotherapy. The therapy had a fantastically positive affect on him and in autumn 2012 we started thinking again about planning our trip.

We arrived into the valley late on Friday the 17th May and began climbing the very next day as the forecast looked good and we didn’t want to waste time. There is a very prominent feature about 150 metres up the route called ‘Sickle Ledge’ and on the first day we climbed unencumbered by a haul sack up to this ledge before abseiling back to the ground leaving our ropes in situ. This is a common practice known as “fixing” which basically means that when you decide to finally set off for good you can race up your fixed lines (using rope ascending devices) to your highpoint, effectively giving yourself a head start on the rest of the route.

Finn McCann on pitch one of The Nose  Seamus McCann low down on The Nose  Seamus McCann on The Nose

Yosemite is an absolute phenomenon.  A paradise for me personally, and everywhere you turn you’re met by yet another mind-blowingly beautiful sight. Following our day of fixing lines we spent the next two days relaxing, taking in the sights and preparing ourselves for our 1000m climb. Unfortunately, no matter how beautiful your surroundings are, it’s very hard to fully appreciate them when you have something as large as an ascent of El Capitan literally hanging over your head! By the Monday evening I was raring to go and didn’t feel I could possibly spend another day on the ground.

Setting off early on Tuesday morning we made quick work of the fixed lines, ascending them in well under an hour, before heading on up into the crack system known as the ‘Stovelegs’ which lead all the way up to El Cap ledge, our target for the day. We had decided to take our time over the route and climb it with three nights on the face so we could really enjoy the experience without feeling too rushed. Three nights however does mean that you have to carry four days’ worth of water and food on top of all your other kit, this amassed to somewhere in the region of 40-50kgs in the haul bag (over 30kgs of water alone). As the leader it was my responsibility to do the hauling and after a few hundred metres of climbing I was beginning to resent the decision to go slow and “enjoy” the experience!

Finn McCann hauling gear on The Nose  Seamus McCann in the Stove leg crack on El Capitan  Finn McCann climbing to Dolt Tower on The Nose

We chilled out for about three hours in the afternoon on ‘Dolt Tower’ eating food and playing the ukulele (we’re inseparable) before climbing the final 80 metres up to ‘El Cap ledge’ in the cool hours of the early evening.  ‘El Cap ledge’ is a luxury bivi if ever there was one.  It’s less than two metres wide but it’s perfectly flat and about eight metres long. We were disappointed therefore to arrive to find two climbers fast asleep right slap bang in the middle of the ledge forcing us to sleep in a cramped spot at its far end. You get all sorts climbing big walls, usually very interesting folk, but not always particularly nice or considerate! We were lucky however to be accompanied for the first two days of our climb by a couple of lads, Corey and Nate from the University of Arizona who happened to set off at the same time as us and climbed at a similar pace making belays wonderfully sociable.

Seamus McCann on El Cap ledge

We woke on our second day surprisingly well rested, and relaxed on the ledge eating and playing ukulele until Corey and Nate (who were aiming to get further than us that day) had departed from the first belay. This meant we didn’t set off until 11:00am, much later than I would have liked but fortunately my aim for the day was to get to a ledge underneath the ‘Great Roof’ which was only a few hundred metres away, up and diagonally left. The most exciting part of the day was the ‘King Swing’, a huge pendulum which is required to reach a series of cracks which are the key to progressing onwards. It feels very strange lowering down a full 40m from the belay, losing the height that was so hard earned, but it’s all worth it for the incredible exhilaration of running like a mad man across the blank face, 500m off the deck, to reach the security of a new crack system.

Seamus McCann on Texas Flake, El Capitan  Finn McCann climbing up from Texas Flake on The Nose  Finn McCann on the King Swing of The Nose

Dad discovered on this day that being the second, rather than the leader, isn’t always the easier job! Following or “cleaning” a traversing pitch requires a huge amount of care and exertion, especially when the haul bag needs to be lowered out to prevent it from swinging wildly, and inevitably gets caught up in the crevices and flakes that it’s been hauled over. By the end of the second day Dad was exhausted and the bivi ledge we reached offered little in the way of rest and comfort. That night it reached 2°C in the valley and we were shivering on our tiny ledge 600m above!

We had the ‘Great Roof’ pitch for breakfast on our third day. This is a pitch I’ve been looking forward to climbing for years and it didn’t disappoint. My most heart stopping moment of the climb occurred as I was traversing towards the end of the roof. I had stopped placing runners behind me to make Dads life easier but this meant that if I came off I was looking at taking a big fall. With just a few metres left before reaching easier ground I was hanging off my smallest camming device (a size zero) which fits into cracks less than a centimetre wide, at that moment in time that tiny device was the only thing keeping me from plummeting. I had to really stretch to reach for the next cam placement, a 0.5, and I cringed as my efforts caused the tiny cam holding me in place to creak and slip. At the exact moment that I placed the 0.5 cam, the zero broke out. For a split second all that I was aware of was that I was off and falling. It was with immense relief that a moment later I came to a stop hanging precariously off the tiny 0.5 cam which by some miracle had caught me. What incredible inventions they are!

Seamus McCann climbing the Great Roof on The Nose  Finn McCann climbing the Pancake Flake on El Capitan  Seamus McCann stopping for a bite to eat on El Capitan

We made steady progress the rest of the day and reached our ledge in the mid-afternoon allowing plenty of time for lounging, indulging and needless to say… ukuleling!

Seamus McCann at bivi three onThe Nose of El Capitan  Finn McCann playing the ukulele on The Nose of El Capitan

With only five pitches to go on the last day we were excited to be getting going after a chilly breakfast sat in our sleeping bags and a toilet stop for Dad. This is something that I’m sure a lot of you have wondered about… basically the prospect of going to the toilet is awful but the reality isn’t that bad, and yes, we do then have to carry it all up with us!

The exposure on the last few pitches is outrageous. As you can see from the photos it’s hard to figure out which way to orientate the camera, all you’re aware of is that there’s a lot of air beneath your feet. We reached the final pitch quickly as I only had to aid climb one or two harder sections and free climbed everything else making our progress rapid. By this stage the haul bag was significantly lighter too making hauling much less of a chore.

Finn McCann climbing high on The Nose  Great hauling on the steep ground at the top of The Nose

Seamus McCann on the Changing Corners pitch of The Nose  Seamus McCann near the top of The Nose  Seamus McCann on the last pitch of The Nose

I had mixed emotions climbing the last few metres towards the top of the cliff, I was obviously elated at having reached the top but part of me didn’t want it to be over. As it has been said, ‘The Nose’ is the proudest line up one of the greatest pieces of rock you’ll ever see, and it’s a climb that’s always been in the pipeline for me. I now have a Nose shaped hole in my life! Seeing Dad coming over the top to meet me ousted all those feelings though… he had put absolutely everything into the climb and there were times when he wasn’t sure he’d make it. I’ve done lots of great things with Dad but climbing ‘The Nose’ together trumps them all. We gave each other a hug at the top and sat down to try and let it all sink in. I say we sat down… I squatted to relieve myself for the first time in three days…

Seamus and Finn McCann at the top of El Capitan

I’m a firm believer that you can turn any negative experience into a positive if you just have the right attitude. I can certainly say from my own experience that some of my biggest successes have come directly off the back of failures. As for Dad, would he have achieved everything he has over the past nine years if he hadn’t fallen ill? It’s impossible to say, but I doubt it. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that this last decade has been one of his most incredible, in a life packed full of incredible decades.

I’ve written this article in the hope that some of you, cancer sufferers or not, will be inspired by my dads’ story as I have. This isn’t a tale of hope, this is a tale of action!

I must say a huge thank you to my sponsor Mammut who supported the trip and provided both of us with amazing kit. There’s been more than one comment about how well dressed we were on the climb! Also I must thank Tom Evans of El Cap Report who followed our progress and photographed us from the ground.

Below are a few shots from our road trip through California, Nevada and Utah at the end of the trip.

Seamus McCann in Zion  Finn McCann in Zion Canyon  Desert Shaddows

Bryce Canyon  Delicate Arch

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