Marek Raganowicz solo climbs Plastic Surgery Disaster on El Capitan

From 5 to 20 October 2016 Marek Raganowicz made what is believed to be only the second solo ascent of Plastic Surgery Disaster, the A5 aid climb put up in 1991 by Eric Kohl on El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
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Marek Raganowicz repeating Plastic Surgery Disaster on El Capitan
Tom Evans

Plastic Surgery Disaster was first ascended in 1991 during a solo climb by one of the best big wall aid climbers in the history of Yosemite Valley - Eric Kohl. The word ‘sandbag’ is often associated with climbers like him, which means that the grades of their routes tend to be extremely strict and, as such, the adjective 'modern' or 'new wave’ is often used to further define their climbs.

Since the ‘90s, i.e. during the peak of Eric Kohl’s activity, his routes are widely considered to define the Yosemite’s highest standards of aid climbing ethics and style. Eric ‘Klaus’ Kohl’s routes are relatively short, but almost every pitch is packed with difficulties, that requires great hooking skills as well as mental toughness.

A few weeks ago I repeated one of the hardest of Eric Kohl’s line - Plastic Surgery Disaster on El Capitan. This aid climb contains are two A5 pitches, six A4/A4+ pitches, two A3/A3 + and three easier pitches. The first A5 section is a long sequence of sky hooks moves with a risk of falling onto steep slabs below the overhang. When you start the hooking section there is virtually no possibility to return. The second A5 pitch is called "Suicidal Failure" and this requires skill placing the hooks and cams, while dealing with the pressure of a potential fall that would make you hit a diagonal ledge. Some sections of the route that are rated A4 or A3 are extremely technical, but thankfully they are less risky than the A5 pitches.

On PSD an absolute minimum number of holes for rivets and bolts has been drilled, so you must be prepared to set up natural belays and for a level of risk that, for many of today’s climbers, is unacceptable.

During my ascent I made some mistakes that I will remember for a long time. Probably because of stress I ate and drank much less than I should have, which made me very weak. The second major mistake was that I didn’t take pointed hooks with me, so those I used almost slipped from them holds. This is why I fell, thankfully only once, on the A4 section of pitch 8.  I am sure that I will not repeat those mistakes and I want to warn everyone before they commit to this climb to make sure they have just the right gear.

During my ascent I endured a pretty bad storm that trapped me under the Devil’s Brow roof. In theory, sheltering under the roof had to be dry and pleasant, but 15 minutes after the rain began one of the cracks transformed into a fire hydrant. The water poured directly onto the portaledge fly and that would have been just about bearable, had it not been for the incessant noise, which stopped me from sleeping and I became more and more tired. When the sun came finally out I had to wait until the water disappeared.

Before starting the climb, I intentionally did not ask for any information about the route. As on all my previous solos on El Capitan (PSD was the tenth) I climbed without fixing from the ground.  The route is very beautiful and on the list of my previous El Cap climbs it lies just behind another Eric Kohl A5 - Surgeon General.

Of course, it is difficult to recommend a route whose crux pitch is called Suicidal Failure but I would nevertheless like to emphasize its unique beauty and natural character.

My solos on El Cap:
2006 - Zodiac, C3+/5.7, hammerless ascent, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
2007 - South Seas, A4/5.8, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
2008 - The Shield, C4/A3+/5.8, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
2009 - Tangerine Trip, A3/5.8, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
2011 - Mescalito, C3/5.7, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
2011Zenyatta Mondatta, A4-/5.7, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA
2012Native Son, A4+/ 5.9, El Capitan, Yosemite , USA
2013Kaos, A4+/5.9, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA (4th ascent)
2014Surgeon General, A5/5.9, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA (4th ascent)
2016 - Plastic Surgery Disaster, A5/5.8, El Capitan, Yosemite, USA (10th ascent, second solo)

More details: and

Thank you for my climbing partners and their support: Patagonia, Zamberlan, MBC ltd (Grivel UK, Edelweiss UK, Sea To Summit UK).

by Marek Raganowicz

FB Marek Raganowicz

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