It's 4.00 a.m. We take off on the initial pitches, rehearsed a few days before, but this time under the light of headlamps. Darkness still engulfs us as we hit Sickle Ledge, although the false dawn begins to lend a hint of light. John assumes the lead and tackles his section of the route. Our plan is to have each of us lead approximately the third of the climb best suited to our own capabilities. John, the most powerful climber to come to the Valley since Jim Madsen, has the important task of setting the pace to Boot Flake, where I'll take over and lead to Camp 5, with the anchor leg going to Bridwell. Sacrificing the usual amenities of climbing in the name of speed, we tie figure-eights and clip them into locking 'biners for a quick rope-end exchange. As soon as John finishes a lead, Jim and I hit the jumars, racing to the next belay. In no time we are in the Stovelegs, where John, puffing under a full head of steam, blasts pitches off before we can smoke a cigarette.
Cramping hands quickly begin to affect us. We make a brief stop to pry them from the jumars and massage them open, then it's back to the vertical sprint; we can't afford to waste precious time. On Dolt Tower, we arouse another party from their dreams. Checking the clock, it's only a little past six. We're cookin'! The total commitment by each of us seems to bring the energy level to an unbelievable pitch. From an oblique corner of my mind, I perceive this energy flow to be seen and felt equally by the others.
Standing on the toe of Boot Flake, I wait for John to finish hauling my pack and put me on belay. Time seems almost suspended for us this day. Our rhythmical upward motions are the ticks on our clock. When the call comes, I lean back, kicking in to the King Swing. Pitches fly by, as we reach Camp 4 by 11.00 a.m. It feels like nothing will stop us. Sweaters and non-essential items that might make a bivouac possible are jettisoned. Watching the gear float through the air, an uneasiness moves me. A check for thin spots on our three nine-millimeter ropes shows them to be okay, yet this doesn't block out completely my memory of the guy who, last year, set the record for the fastest descent from the summit overhangs. But the bundle disappears, along with its mesmerizing effect, and I get back to pushing my leg to Camp 5, which we reach at 1.15 p.m. The furious pace we've set begins to have a tolling effect. Continuously vertical to overhanging pitches are draining Jim and John on the jumars. We're slowing down, and it's a struggle to gain a second wind.
After 2200ft. of jumaring, the bird finally takes the lead. He had been on a dawn-to-dusk rescue the day before. With plough-horse persistence, he begins hammering away to Camp 6, getting there at 3.30 p.m. Hoping to find many fixed pins in the upper third, Jim is disappointed to find few. It means a lot more work, and energy is scarce. The final pitches find us running short of large babies, 3/4" angles, and patience. All of us are overtired and edgy, which seems to create mistakes and problems. At one point the free rope hooks behind a large flake, and a rappel looks like the only way to free it. Working up a real frenzy, I manage to get it loose with much mad jerking, yanking, and cursing. Another screaming curse from Jim soon follows. Looking up in time to see a mass of slings flying toward us, I instinctively reach out and grab Jim's ladder before it plummets into the abyss. Tempers flare, and communications are reduced to shouts and anger. These erupting emotions reflect our frustrations and anxiety to finish. Somehow, energy and luck sustain us on the final pitches. El Cap in a day!
"7.00 p.m. Three weary bodies stand on the summit of El Cap. Beginning an epic descent in E.B.s, they return to the Valley floor seventeen hours after leaving it. Dumping their gear, the three pass slowly beneath the trees of street-lit Yosemite. Still wired, they ramble on, oblivious to the surroundings, and adjourn to the bar to share the hospitality of friends."