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Wild Yosemite A4 – Atlantis – Repeated

The second ascent of El Cap’s Atlantis took place in 2022 - a feature story will appear in Gripped's April/May issue by "Pass the Pitons” Pete Zabrok

Photo by: Pete Zabrok

In October of 2022, Tom “Tabarnac” Canac, Luke Antonia [nickname thus far unbestowed] and yours truly by “Pass the Pitons” Pete Zabrok made the second ascent of Dave Turner’s El Capitan route Atlantis in Yosemite. Despite a continual series of mishaps which included ice storms [a.k.a. rest days], disco music, near starvation since it took six days longer to climb than expected, and catastrophic rope failure, our determination, tenacity and sheer stupidity saw us through to a successful summit. No holes nor enhancements were drilled on lead, and zero fucks were given.

In the fall of 2005, I had watched Dave Turner solo his first ascent of Atlantis from the nearby North America Wall, enjoying nightly banter with him and other teams over his “El Cap frequency” of channel 4-20. All of us wall rats were petrified at the thought of repeating one of Dave’s routes – not only because of their intimidating names like Block Party, House of Cards and Taste the Paine, but mostly because Dave is 6’5” tall with a positive ape index of don’t-even-ask.

Atlantis El Capitan
Tom Canac on a wild traverse pitch. Photo by Pete Zabrok

Atlantis has several long sections of hooking across blank rock, and my bollocks would shrivel in terror as I imagined standing in my top steps, desperately trying to extend my reach with a sharpened skyhook duct-taped to the end of my hammer, scratching around blindly to find the micro divot that Dave had used. “It’s really not that reachy,” Dave told me in apparent sincerity, though while wearing his distinctive big shit-eating grin. Yeah, right, I thought.

In September 2008, the late Richie Copeland – another tall bugger! – and Manley Feinberg II made a strong attempt to repeat the route. Dave had drawn his topo of Atlantis years later, and it turns out there were some – shall we say? – historical inaccuracies caused by partial memory loss, perhaps because of too much of the aforementioned radio chatter? After knocking off the crux, Richie had climbed off-route where he blew a hook, took a fall, and fractured his ankle. An epic self-rescue ensued, requiring the hobbled team to rappel half the height of El Capitan which is mostly overhanging from this point downward. I was halfway across the wall climbing KAOS at the time, when the walkie-talkie crackled to life with Richie’s voice: “Hey Dr. Piton, we need to bail. Can you tell me again how we ride the pigs down on rappel?” You’ll never guess which radio channel he called me on.

This past season I was attempting to climb my 65th different route up the Big Stone but had been experiencing diminishing returns to scale since I’d done all the easier walls, not that any Grade VI is ever easy. The ones left to do were all “involved” in some way: arduous uphill approaches, jungle chopfests through long-ignored crack lines, extensive hardware replacement, yer-gonna-die aid pitches, or {shudder} hard free climbing. At least Atlantis has a short approach, and the name isn’t scary, either.

Tom Canac was feeling fit and fresh after his three-year-long solo first ascent of Le Temps Suspendu on Cap Trinité, and since he hails from France not Quebec, I could usually understand what he was saying, though he still talks funny. “I like ze idea of ze second ascent, but we can’t take too long because I only have one month.” “OK,” I agreed. “We’ll make a speed ascent.” Clearly, Tom had the requisite mentality for a proper big wall camping expedition up a hard El Cap nailup.

After months of trying – and for unfathomable reasons – Tom and I had not yet succeeded in recruiting a third victim to enlist in our multi-week sufferfest, until I was accosted at the Yosemite Lodge shuttle bus stop by a keen and strong-looking youth. “Hey, are you Pete? Are you still looking for a third climber?” asked Antonia. “Actually, yeah. Have you done many big walls?” I replied. “Not yet, but I’m young and strong, and very keen,” he said, “and I drink beer.” So, with that, our team was formed.

To follow the further misadventures of Dr. Piton and his minions, watch for the full story in the upcoming spring edition of Gripped. Do we forge our characters in the mighty granite crucible of El Cap? Or do we flail our way up the wall as we whack our peckers? Regardless, you’ll need an extra beer or two when you sit down with your favourite magazine, and join us on our portaledges for what is certain to be a ripping yarn. Cheers, eh?

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Lead photo: Pete Zabrok