Ammon McNeely Hardman!
by Donald Perry
AMMON MCNEELY HARDMAN On Wednesday August 21st 2002 Joshua Perry (my son who is 14 years old) and I, Donald Perry, arrived in Camp 4 looking for someone to help haul gear and supplies to the base the Zodiac. Zodiac is an approximately 1800 foot giant overhanging and vertical wall on the El Capitan. We planned to climb it in under six days. Eventually in our search for help we found Ammon McNeely through the grapevine. A climber we were talking to said there would be no one better for the job. So, he went and got him. Ammon holds the world record with Alex Huber for climbing the Zodiac in the shortest period of time, 6 hours 15 minutes (if you don't count that they jumared the first pitch). Presently he is thinking about climbing it in a time closer to 5 hours, the last "speed record" was just a warm up. A friend of ours has previously climbed Zodiac in 7 days (but he had to place all the aluminum heads and pins); this should give you a point of reference for Ammon's accomplishment. However, Ammon said our amount of time on the route would not be based on any amount of fixed gear now on Zodiac. Ammon said we could plan on doing Zodiac in three days regardless of what condition the route was in, as our large assortment of equipment and Ammon’s experience would verify. By the time we were ready for our departure from the Yosemite Valley floor just before dark, and after talking to Ammon McNeely's friends, I was convinced that there was be a much better chance of completing the route with Joshua smoothly if we invited along a second partner who was experienced. And after spending a relatively short time talking to Ammon McNeely the night before it became obvious that there was no one better suited on the planet to climb Zodiac with. Ammon believed it was necessary to start our sherpa team off with a few beers so we could get them in gear to carry the loads, and by the time we were on the trail Ammon and his friends were in high spirits hauling all the supplies we needed to the base. When we reached the base of Zodiac we saw it to be so overhanging that the thought of falling debris was not a concern, provided a whole pitch did not detach itself from the face of the cliff, which has happened in previous years. After we reached the base Ammon was reluctant to have me provide a way to haul all the food off the ground. Later he and his friends changed their minds as they watched in some amusement as I aided a few bolts for that purpose. Ammon was much less concerned about bears as I, even though there was one that was a frequent visitor here according to Ammon. And there were some rattlesnakes too somewhere, but we did not see any. In the dark there was another party on Bad Seed, an A5, who came to join us five for some more beer. I found a way to consume some beer as well, just to use up the supply. I did not know how much beer we had but wanted to eliminate as much as I could find. I did not know how much we had. Ammon friends did not believe Joshua to be 14 years old since he is presently small for his age and they made some cracks, they probably thought he wasn’t telling the truth. It was about that time that Ammon came to the rescue and created a diversion by going to bed. He fell backwards 12’ down a steep slopping rock and then straight down vertically 3’ on his head. On the way he shouted with a few calls for help (Help me I'm dying!, Help me I'm doomed!, Help me I'm dead!). But apparently he was not hurt, still making jokes after he hit the ground, and he still had his beer. Thankfully he fell over less jagged pile of scattered boulders by a snake pit. I would never have believed such a scene, had I not seen it with my own two eyes, Ammon was fine and fast asleep in a few minutes. Maybe Ammon was Superman? I gave up trying to figure Ammon out and decided the morning would reveal the truth, we were not disappointed. The next day before the crack of dawn Ammon was still working out the boulder problem in his sleeping bag. I decided to solo the first pitch, and when I reached the half way point our three fat pigs were near ready for their trip thanks to Joshua and Ammon. I was surprised how easy it was to climb with the new cam hooks we were using. They did not exist in the days when I had done the Salath'e or Half Dome. Good thing Ammon left behind most of the pitons or I would not have been forced to utilize these new cam hooks I thought to myself. Using them upside down under overhangs was really a lot of fun and quite a thrill, because they were real time savers. Ammon led the next pitch after Joshua jummared up. On this second pitch Joshua's rope was on the wrong side of the haul bags and although Ammon said he would fix it I fixed it myself, this involved a little more time than we anticipated as I had to clip the rope through four anchors. When Joshua set out on the second pitch I insisted on not having him tied into the end of the 200' rope. In the past I never tied into the end of the rope or used any kind of a backup in my tree business or on big walls. Ammon was accustomed to backup with a Grigri as well as tying into the end of the rope, so we obliged. The first pitch was a little confusing, but nothing more than what we usually expected. Everything was straightforward and repetitive after leaving the first pitch. Since all the pitches were about the same difficulty I let Ammon lead the rest of the days pitches, which were uneventful due to Ammon's smooth climbing and gear handling. At the end of the day we set up the ledges a long way off the ground. Joshua preferred the spot next to the wall on the double porta ledge and listened to the radio, which as he said later kept him awake to some extent. The next day I starting packing up the gear and Joshua arose with a battery of complaints which seemed to be somewhat cured by his taking a crap. But afer a little while it became evident that Joshua had come down with just a touch of *whimp*. (Wall Hysteria with Involuntary Mind Paralysis). I had seen enough of it in the past in other climbers to immediately identify it. Although I had never come down with the disorder myself, it is not uncommon and will completely paralyze a new climber so that he is incapable of doing anything at all. It can be very annoying and dangerous. But, we had three days of food which afforded us the luxury to postpone our project, one way or the other, up or down. Being that we had these extra supplies we assured Joshua that he was not "under the gun" but could start relaxing, after all, this was a vacation! Nevertheless, in a short time the sun began to shine and Joshua was ready to get out of his sleeping bag and climb, but not before he took another dump. It only took about two hours. After one pitch Ammon was again leading on and up to The Gray Circle. At this point Joshua remorsed leaving the only suitable natural ledge we had found on the climb so far. Assuring him that climbing is all the more safer on overhanging rock dispelled his fears, and he did not complain again for the rest of the climb. As the darkness approached I let Ammon lead on and we jummared around The Nipple pitch, and into our portaledges set up just below a wonderful roof with some interesting dark gray conglomeration rocks in it. The next day we hung out all morning just listing to music and trying to use up some of the mountain of food which we were making Ammon haul for us. Ammon did all the hauling, and I supposed that if he was going to do all the hauling that he could do all the leading, if that was really what he wanted to do. After some time we felt quite at home, and I asked Joshua that if we did this climb again should we try and install a ceiling fan in the overhang and we started making jokes (back at home in NJ I had left a job of installing a ceiling fan halfway competed because we were in such a hurry to leave). We were the only people on the route and were all just hanging around, we were no longer climbing at all. It felt more like we were in Ammon's house then on a big wall. Listening to some Country Gospel music made us feel close to God, and a few tears came to my eye. Happy to be away from the city with all its hustle, bustle, and confusion a few birds flew past, and one, a bird, dived bombed past us. The birds were pretty curious, including a humming bird, which I had seen on the ground before I got out of my sleeping bag on the first day. The humming bird also managed to visit us again, at over 1000 feet above or below any flowers, there was nothing much for him to do here that I could imagine. Perhaps he was looking for some flies. Past noon it seemed it was about time to do something, according to Joshua. I lead the next pitch around the roof and combined part of the next pitch to belay on some of its great fixed bolts in the traverse. Joshua came up and found a natural ledge he could stand on where I could finally take a turn on the belay seat. Although by this point Joshua had began to grow quite accustomed to prefer the belay seat over natural ledges, which I thought was kind of funny considering his former complaints. Two more pitches with Ammon's swift leads brought us to Peanut Ledge. We could have gotten further that day, but my slow lead on the pitch out of the gray spot (due to my lack of activity for the past few years) made us fall behind completing the climb before the end of the third day. But, no worries, there was really no hurry. The next day Ammon was asleep while I gathered up the climbing gear and soloed the next pitch. Ammon was surprised to awake to find me half way up the route. I apologized to Ammon and promising not to surprise him again, he got a little gruppy. Joshua thought this was amusing and remarked that it would be impossible for me to do that again. I thanked Joshua for his insight and moved on to finish the job of switching large cams up the long crack. My solo proved to make up some time. By the time we were ready to haul all the gear was packed by Ammon and Joshua, and they were able to eat their breakfast in peace and we were ready to go at it. The next two pitches were combined and went very smoothly, climbing to arrive on top was almost as consistent with walking to the base. The crux of the climb turned out to be hiking down, as it always is for me anyway. Ammon McNeely's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Ammon McNeely as well organized and insightful gentleman, Ammon is awesome! We will NEVER forget him! Below are some photos of the climb and our leftover food. I had to take a photo the food, since my buddy who did the Zodiac before us ran out. The last photo is one of me and my son Joshua Perry finally doing a big wall together again over 10 years later, we have a video of the climb on youtube.com under Redirectionalsim. The video was not supposed to be about climbing but about living on ledges, but as it turned out there is a fair amount of climbing in it.