Climbing The Nose in a Day

When Jimmy and I shipped down to Yosemite, I had two goals for my few weeks there.  The Nose with Ben and Lindsey, and the Nose in a day. Due to stellar planning and good luck, Ben and Lindsey we knocked down our 3 day ascent on this mega-classic without too much hassle. Objective 1 accomplished.  It was during our climb, however, that I became even more enchanted with climbing 27 pitches in a single day.  We were passed by several NIAD (“Nose in a Day”) parties and it looked like SO MUCH fun. At one moment, it would be the three of us, hauling our big ugly pig up this super-classic wall, then the next second, they would go shooting by.  Shouts of “OFF BELAY”, “LINE’S FIXED!” (….then a minute later….) “YOU’RE ON BELAY!” “OKAY, CLIMBING!”, would indicate they were approaching. Next, there would be an amicable moment where they would very nicely request to pass, we would oblige of course, praising these folks as gods, they might pull on a few of our pieces, and then they were gone.  Just like that, silence again. Just us and our pig.

Before even arriving in Yosemite I had been thinking about the NIAD for several months and the moments above just tipped the scale a little bit further.  At this point I knew I had to do it.  The pace at which even the slowest day-parties passed us was impressive and mesmerizing. Little did I know before my own undertaking of the route with my party Jimmy, the adventure becomes nearly aerobic – no move too hard (thats not that point), just moving and moving and moving.  Its almost like one of those 10,000+ days of vertical in the backcountry.  I knew that Jimmy and I were physically fit enough to take on the NIAD, the next step was to do a little bit more research “how”.

Research

Now that the Nose in a Day is becoming quite a popular objective for able climbers, a wealth of information is available online for willing suitors.  Some blogs to start with are John Middendorf’s (admittedly not the style in which most people are doing it today but interesting all the same), and Cory McLean’s (who did it with is brother in about 21 hours by short-fixing the whole route).  Maybe most useful is this very beta intensive post on the UK Bouldering site.

In addition to reviewing some of the material on-line, I made the following observations of the teams climbing past us during wall-style ascent:

  • Parties with 10-15 hr times were short-fixing the entire route, with the exception of Sickle, which I will get to later. Simul-climbing is not typically efficient enough.
  • The style in which the leader moves up generally depends on his climbing level.  Nearly every pitch can be aided very easily at C1, but this is obviously slow.   There do seem to be a few pitches where most folks do go into full aid mode.  These are the horizontal bit of the Great Roof and the Glowering Spot. Believe it or not, if you’re climbing Yosemite 5.11, just about everything else can be “french-freed” with a reasonable amount of energy.
  • In addition to deciding how much aid to employ, the leader typically chooses one of two methods for short-fixing. The first is to use of a Gri-Gri to manage slack in the system, and the second, the old school, or maybe new school, “Pakastani Death Loop” (PDL).  This latter method is less complicated than it sounds – just one big loop between you and the anchor. Don’t fall.
  • One party we witnessed used a short (40ft) tagline to catch up gear when the follower arrived at a belay.

Now originally, when Jimmy had proposed the idea of doing the Nose in a Day, I was skeptical, partly because I had a certain attachment to doing it in a reasonable time, not as an absolute suffer fast.  He had said to me several times, “Chris, its the Nose in a Day, not 14 hours, not 18hrs, but a day.”  I never liked that idea.  I had trouble coming to grips with the idea of beating the hell out of ourselves for 24 hours straight.  But, after a strong season of rock climbing, and watching these other teams, my stance changed a bit. I relayed the above observations to Jimmy.  With some intelligence, we would be able to put together a strategy that would make the day fast and fun.  Though we never explicitly decided on goal, I think that we were expecting to finish around the 16 hour mark.

Strategy:

There was a lot to be figured out for our first day trip up the Nose.  Unless you are doing it with someone who has done it before, you probably have a ton of questions and possibilities buzzing around your head. In the end, here are some of the strategy elements we discussed before our own attempt.

Jimmy leading up from Dolt Tower in the morning glow.
Jimmy leading up from Dolt Tower in the morning glow.  We started at 2am to pass folks in the night.

Managing parties on the wall

Save the rainy days, on nearly any other day during the typical season in the Valley there are bound to be several parties on the Nose.  The challenge, when deciding to go “daying”, is determining how many. Stop by the meadows each afternoon and take a quick count.  While there are bound to be a few parties, note those that might be fixing to Sickle or Dolt with their bags, before returning to the ground that evening, and those that are above the Great Roof.  Its conceivable these later folks may end up finishing the next day if they are fast. If there are more than six or seven parties, you should probably make an alternate strategy.  Let’s be honest: unless you are Alex Honnold or Hans Florine, folks won’t necessarily LOVE being passed.  One way to work around the crowds is to start in the afternoon and climb through the night.  Another is to start very early in the morning, say 2am, and pass as many folks as you can while they are pretending to sleep.

Make a strategy for the Stove Legs

EVERYONE seems to recommend doing a Dolt run.  The benefit is that you figure out how to deal with the complexities of traversing pitches with back-to-back lower outs in the Stove Legs.   As an added bous, there are a number of ways to optimize for time on the pitches below Stove Legs through better gear management and back-cleaning.  Someone with a lot of walling experience would be able to recognize these opportunities on-sight, but we aren’t all climbing gods and most of us can definitely benefit from a practice run.

The most common strategy for tackling the Stoves Legs seems to be as follows.  First, simul-climb up the fourth class terrain above Sickle.  When the leader reaches the set of anchors above the strenuous 5.9 flare that leads out onto the face, he or she clips the rope here, and is then lowered out as the follower continues climbing up to the aforementioned anchors.  When the leader has descended far enough, he or she should swing rightwards across into the low 5th corner.  From here, a confident leader can either run it out or back clean all the way up to the lone bolt on the face under the small roof out right (this comes after climbing through nice 5.8 cracks), and seems to be commonly annotated as “Option B”.   At this point, he or she should fix the rope briefly, allowing the follower to jug the remaining distance to the first anchors mentioned above, lower out to low-5th corner (now below the leader agin), and then jug another 15 feet to a set of anchors on the face to the right of the corner.  Here, he or she can put the leader briefly back on the belay  Finally, the leader can un-fix the rope, be lowered a few feet, and penji to the final Stove Legs Crack out right.  This crack is followed for 25 ft, before another anchor is reached.  From here, let standard short-fixing antics begin once again!

Planning the route

There are a myriad of ways to block out the route between you and your partner.  First, if you led the Dolt Run above, then obviously its best you lead it again day of.  There are two other complexities on the route that require some mandatory Yosemite 5.10 “facey” granite climbing, the Jardin Traverse and the Lynn Hill Traverse. Many people have climbed the Nose many times and never gone up Jardin.  This variation avoids the King Swing, which some folks won’t want to miss, but it should be considered as a fast alternative if you are a 5.10+ climber.  The Lynn Hill Traverse is tricky as well, but allows you to skip a pitch and to avoid a lower out.  While the taking a left turn onto Jardin Traverse seems to be a decision dictated by the number of parties on the King Swing, the Lynn Hill variation is more of a matter of whether you are up for the 5.10+ face moves.  Whichever way you decide to go at these junctions, keep in mind that either you or your partner might be more efficient at (or the only one capable of) handling these challenges.  Being honest and upfront about this might save you a whole lot of time.

In addition to segmenting the route to fit the strengths between you and your partner, its worth considering breaking the route into blocks by time.  In Han Florine’s audiotape on the Nose, he discusses why this, not number of pitches, is an ideal way to split it up.  Basically, some pitches just take a lot longer than others to lead. After watching the clock on some other “warm-up” routes, I’ve found that 3-3.5 hour blocks are ideal for me. I find its better that I leave a little in the tank so I’m hungry for more (and have some brainpower left for following) than to dig myself into depletion each block.  At ~3.5 hour intervals, if you are fast enough, leader 1 can fire to Dolt from the ground, leader 2 would bang it to the base of the Great Roof, and so on.

Efficiency is key – The idea of pulling on cams all day long might not sound enjoyable to some, but the efficiency gains over figuring out moves on any given pitch are innumerable. There are a number of other things the leader can also do to ensure they are burning as little energy as possible.  Lighten up your harness. For example, you won’t need the #4 or aiders for most of the pitches. Resting, waiting, cleaning of gear on your harness?  Clip into a piece. When climbing a consistent crack, you can connect your daisy to your highest cam then alternate between pushing it up and sitting on it and moving your feet.  Only carry enough food and water for your block.  Avoid placing nuts – they slow the whole train down.  Place little gear and back-clean where possible; this helps you and the follower.

Similarly, when following, consider that lower-outs take time.  More often than not, its faster, easier, and just as safe to just briefly unweight the rope, free the rope, and take a little swing (all the cool kids are doing it).  These lower-outs are some of the only times I take to really back myself up closely with a Gri-Gri.  When we all learned to aid, someone told us that you should always back up your Jumars.  This is true, but understanding how to prevent them from popping in the first place makes this pretty unnecessary most of the time (I’ve NEVER had a Jumar come off the rope).  Now although following can be a time to rest, be aware that the leader may be waiting for you mid-way up the next pitch.  Get up there quickly, pass up gear he or she needs, then take your moment to rest when you are belaying.

Food and water

Deciding how much water to bring can be challenging.  For instance is 5L is enough for a 15 hours ascent? Too much?  Another benefit to leading in blocks is that it makes this thinking easier. Say you plan to complete the route in 5 blocks – each about 3 hours in duration.  Well then 5L would be .5L per person every three hours.  I find it easier to think about how much water I’ll want every few hours, than for 15.

Food choices can be daunting as well, though typically less so, because some of the calorically and nutritionally dense space food available today.  For a climb like this where you’ll be working at a relatively hard pace, failing to replenish electrolytes as you go may mean you bonk half way up the route.  Plan on 150-200 calories an hour with an emphasis on foods that are high in easily digested carbohydrates.  Supplementing with gels, which often contain BCAAs, caffeine, and other high-performance ingredients, is a great way to go, especially given their size and weight. Figure out how much food and water you want, make a system with your partner to ensure you hit your goals for eating and hydrating as you go. Its easy to forget to eat when the climbing is never ending.

On the Nose, Jimmy and I each carrie a .5L water bottle on our harnesses.   Each time we switch out leaders (changed blocks), we fill our pockets with food for the next few hours (bars and gels) and the bottles on our harnesses. The leader can then ingest a little from when they are waiting for the follower (out of rope or gear usually).

Pre-stashing – As I mentioned above, one option to lighten your load is to pre-stash water and food midway up the route, perhaps at Dolt. If you really want to go light, you could throw a pair of shoes and water at the top too.  If considering this, first, don’t litter and make sure animals won’t touch it. Second, consider that unless you label it VERY VERY clearly, a thirsty soul may reach it before you do.  Tant pis.  Have a back up plan.

Play by play

Of course all of the above beta is a direct result of the many discussions Jimmy and I had while planning for the NIAD, and our experience on the route.  Our original plan was to do a run up Moratorium to East Buttress and a Dolt Run before hand.  Between these, we would stash water on top of Dolt, then more water and our shoes at the top of the East Ledges descent.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, our plan to climb the NIAD was accelerated by the well-needed rain that has been hitting California.  This foiled our plans for pre-stashing and forced us to commit to the route without doing a Dolt Run.

The day before we stopped by the El Capitan Meadows to check on the crowd situation – 6 or so parties as we could tell.  Most of these parties we lower on the route, and we figured the folks above the Great Roof would be finishing that day.  Given the number of the people on the route, we decided to wake up at midnight (yes, midnight) and go from there.  We returned to Camp 4, made a quick meal and hit the sack.

Jimmy’s phone buzzed silently at 12am.  He may have gotten a little more sleep than I did.  I wasn’t feeling tired when we originally laid down, and continued to replay sections of the route in my head. We got up and brewed a coffee at midnight – that felt weird!  After trying to use the bathroom one last time before heading up for what we planned to be a 15 to 16 hour day, we hopped in the car. Between the car and and the short hike to the base of the route, we were both pretty quiet, which I find typically on the approach to bigger climbs.  Upon arriving at the base of Pine Line, the 5.7 pitch that marks the start of the route, there were to two tents camped underneath.  At 2am, after racking up and a few jokes, I started the first block.

I was immediately in zone.  Flowing through move after move, I hit the top of each pitch, fixed the rope and kept going.  Jimmy followed quickly, jugging up in the dark.  Sometimes I would turn off my headlamp while waiting to enjoy the evening air and quiet on a route that is typically busy like a city block.  Eventually Jimmy’s headlamp would come bobbing into view below.  He’d arrive at the anchor, put me back on belay, and pass up the gear sling if I wanted it.  On these lower pitches, I used a death loop at each belay, which either meant stacking the rope on a ledge before heading up, or letting it hang between myself and the anchor down the blank face. Without the Gri-Gri to deal with it become enjoyably aerobic to just climb.  The simplicity and fluidity to it was amazing.

We managed the Stove Legs quite well, and within 31/2 hours had reached the OW pitch below Dolt Tower where Jimmy took over.  From here we began to pass parties, one just getting ready to go on top of Dolt, one after the Jardin Traverse at Eagle Ledge, and so on.  Jimmy essentially soloed the first pitch of Dolt tour as the horizon began to glow.  This pitch requires a short rappel before climbing back level with, and then above the height of Dolt, meaning that I had a large lower out to perform.  Jimmy set up for short-fixing as he got his first anchor, and once fix I began lowering out.  Due to my own ignorance, I didn’t ask him to leave me enough rope, so, after lowering out 10 feet or so, I had to unclip the loop from my harness, and take a big swing into morning light. After coming to a rest with my feet against the wall, I threw on the jugs and caught up to give Jimmy a belay.

 

Looking down towards Jimmy from Eagle Ledge. Note that I put a piece in the horizontal crack before entering the 10a layback/OW, then switched into the right crack.
Looking down towards Jimmy from Eagle Ledge. Note that I put a piece in the horizontal crack before entering the 10a layback/OW, then switched into the right crack.

And so our adventure continued, up and up and up.  I took over shortly for the climbing between the Jardin Traverse and the Lynn Hill Traverse.  We had decided to take a left turn due to the two parties waiting on the King Swing.  One of them were a set of girls, who kindly relayed to us their psych about being peed on by the party above them. Twice.  Seems to be quite the common experience on El Cap (it had previously happened to both Jimmy and I while on the Salathe).

At the Great Roof we ran into some old French men, where things got really fun.  Between my interest to try to communicate with them in broken French, and our agreement to climb the Great Roof at the same time, we were all having fun.  I had my good fun trying to carefully pronounce “dessouss” instead of “dessuss”, in my articulation of our plan to pass them, and before I knew it Jimmy was charging up the Pancake flake as I once again took a big swing lowering out the Great Roof.

The infamous Pancake Flake
Mr Voorhis on the infamous Pancake Flake.

Things really got fun as we approach Camp 5 and realized there were two parties jostling each other to be the first to the top.  In exchange for allowing us to pass, we tagged up a rope for the first party on the pitch above the Glowering Spot.  At the ledge above the Glowering Spot, I fixed our rope for Jimmy in the huge mess of an anchor the party had created, stacked my 70ft on the ledge, and climbed over them (after a lot of friendly banter!).  From here I knew the climbing well: strenuous hand cracks that vary between two inches two four, some gentle face climbing just below Camp 6, Changing Corners, and the three back to back pitches where all you need are reds and greens and a little 5.8 free climbing magic.

At Changing Corners, I short-fixed again, and to my joy and surprise, a Japanese climber hanging out on his portaledge threw me on belay Talk about friends! “I am on belay!”, “I love it, I am on belay”.  There is nothing like going from being 40ft run-out on 5.10 terrain to having someone throw you on a Gri-Gri.  Unfortunately I very shortly ran out of rope and had to wait for Jimmy, who was still on his way up to Camp 6.  Once moving again, I free-climbed the rest of the 5.10 glory hands on Changing Corners before yarding through the bolts, where I caught up Jimmy on an well-equalized anchor.

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Jugging the last few pitches on the road. Our biceps were not happy with us at this point

From here we continued on and on.  I led a few more pitches before handing it off to Jimmy for the final crack pitch and bolt ladder.  At this point, my biceps were cramping.  Each time I pulled on a sling I had to then straighten out my arm and let the cramps pass.  He led up the bolt ladder like a champ, leaving only the occasional draw for my to clean.  After some brief civilized communication about going in-direct to give Jimmy more rope, he made it to the top and I followed suit.  We both tagged the tree and set to revel in our victory.

Too tired to care to take a proper selfie.
Too tired to care to take a proper selfie.

Final kit:

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Our final kit, including the rack, our half liter Nalgenes, a wag bag, and a Ferosi
  • Water: Two .5L Nalgenes, one each for leader and follower + 4L water bladder (5L total)
  • Food:
    • 3 Probars and 3 smaller bars and a few caffeinated gels for my three blocks (about 250 calories every three hours)
    • Another 1500 calories of nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit, which I ate while waiting at belays
  • Rope:
    • 60M 10mm Sterling Marathon (really durable, feels thinner)
    • 40 ft 7mm tagline to pass up gear – this ended up being a great length AND size/weight.
  • Layers:
    • OR Ferosi pants, jacket (sun-shade and wind protection) and OR Astronman shirt.  The shirt is really light, and has a collar to avoids slings rubbing on your neck all day.  I did end up wearing the jacket a few times but would have survived without it.
    • Between us we also brought a LW synthetic jacket in case someone bonked or something.
  • Rack:
    • BD offsets .1/.2, .2/.3, .3/.4, .4/.5
    • 11 (3 single length slings + 8 draws) a few extra biners – Draws are easier most of the time because you aren’t putting that much gear in, and not climbing that far, the rope drag just isn’t that bad.
    • 3 lockers in addition to what we personally carried – when short-fixing, I was typically using a non-locker on one bolt, and a locker on the other
    • Set of RPs and #7, #8 and #9 DMM Offsets – Maybe placed each of these once.
    • Single set of Metolius Blue – Orange (.2-.4) – You don’t need a lot of small stuff
    • 2x BD C4s .5, 3x .75, 1, 2x#2  1#3, 1#4
    • 1 cam hook for the Glowering Spot
    • 1 BD gear sling for the follower, with a tiny locker that stays with the sling to connect it to the tagline
  • Other gear:
    • Two Jumars for follower
    • 3 ladders, as the leader often didn’t need any, but two are helpful for the Glowering Spot and the Great Roof.  We had big wide ladders but the follower would be better off with LW alpine aiders
    • 1 Wag Bag (leave the route clean!)
    • 2 headlamps
    • Helmets!
    • Small harness knife

Notes on training

As I mentioned, the Nose in a Day had been in Jimmy and my sights for quite a while. We had had some time to consider how we would train.  In general, for the last few months, I’ve probably annoyed him with my comments to “stop thinking so much” while climbing and, “you probably don’t need that piece huh?”  Luckily our partnership, despite my pushiness at times, has persisted through all that!

From a fitness perspective, Jimmy and I are both coming off a fairly substantial aerobic base.  He is a mountain guide in Denali in the summer and guides ice in NE during the winter.  My base training looked a bit different because I had a full time office job. I was biking to work 6-7 hours a week, hiking every week after work, and doing big ski touring days on the weekend.  After pausing work, I did a bunch of moderate and long days in Washington and Chamonix.

Once he and I got together, we started to focus on including a big day of climbing every week (15-20 pitches).  In Squamish, some good routes for this include link ups with the Grand Wall, and also then doing some combination of Borderline, Angel’s Crest, and High Plain’s Drifter.  On these days and others, we focused on constant movement, transitions, and efficiency.  On top of all that, through fairly constant climbing, I’ve pulled my on-sight grade up to mid-5.11, and did some of my first 5.12s.  I really think that the aerobic base, paired with a ton of long climbing days, and additionally a bunch of strength and technique building through hard cragging, made the actual climbing on the Nose feel fairly mild.

In addition to sharing our training background and climbing ability before arriving in the Valley, its worth talking about what we did when we got there there.  Jimmy and I climbed the following valley classics as practice days:

  1. Rostrum – Stacked, strenuous granite climbing to warm-up after arriving to the Valley.  A lot harder than the climbing on the Nose, but great to build strength and confidence.  That, and its really good climbing.  (6 hours or so)
  2. South Face of Washington Column in Day – This climb is very representative of the rating distribution on the Nose, just a lot shorter.  Because it is so crowded, its good chance to learn how to pass people too! (10.5 hours)
  3. Moratorium to East Buttress (16p or so) – I led the entire Moratorium, when mildly wet at the crux, in about 3.5 hours, then Jimmy then led East Buttress in 5 hours or so, on which we simul-climbed for 4 or 5 pitches.
Jimmy on the clock on the top pitches of the East Buttress of El Cap -literally, I am timing him.
Jimmy on the clock on the top pitches of the East Buttress of El Cap -literally, I am timing him.

Now, our times on these routes weren’t incredibly fast, which goes to show that it there is a huge potential here to improve your speed and do well day-off.

Here are four important things you can do while training:

  1. Time each route on phone or watch.  Watch how long it takes to go come off-belay, lead a pitch, and put your follower on. Also time the follower, when either climbing or jugging. This kind of feedback is invariable in that it forces you to be brutally honest about how fast you are climbing.
  2. Understand where you are spending time and what can be improved.  Once you have these times written down, its vital you discuss how to move faster AS A TEAM.  For example, you might get frustrated as you wait an hour for your party to clean a roof.  A discussion between the two off you might both provide your partner with new advice on how to aid the roof, but also help to identify where placing protection differently would have made it substantially easy to follow.  In one case on Washington Column, I had totally blocked Jimmy from any upward progress because I double clipped a piece to lower-out sling.  This required about thirty minutes for him to work through.
  3. Try leading long blocks.  Maybe 3 hours is right for you, maybe its longer.  Watch your times on each pitch as you hit 3 hours.  Does it start to take you a lot longer to get up?  Are you slowing down without realizing it?
  4. Focus on speed short-fixing with a Gri-Gri AND with a death-loop.  Both of these seem fairly necessary to me to hit sub-15 hours times.  See what you are comfortable with, and make sure you can set up the anchor quickly when you get there and keep moving.  It should take a two minutes or less.

Reflections:

All the beta aside, the Nose was one of the coolest climbing experiences I have ever had.  As someone who loves long enduro-fests, this one was the ultimate – it takes you up one of the most classic rock climbs in the world.  The rock on the Nose is stellar, and generally, passing parties is pretty simple.  I would highly recommend the route to folks that are up to the challenge which, upon reflection, is somewhat agnostic to whether you climb high 5.10 or 12+.  The more important skills required are 1) to be able to move all day long and 2) a high level of comfort with being short-fixing, jugging, and maybe being runout on easy ground.

We ended up finishing the route in 14.5 hours, faster than I believe either of us imagined.  We had certainly slowed down a bit for the last hour or two of climbing, as both of us were beginning to cramp. If we were in better condition, those last few pitches could probably have gone even faster.  The amount of food and water we brought also seemed perfect (5L, about 2500 calories each).  I was never completely parched, but definitely a bit thirsty towards the top.  Bringing more would have felt like overkill, but then again, if we had done the route in 16 or 18 hours, I am sure I would have felt differently.  At the top we both had a bit of food left to enjoy as we relished the afternoon sun. I think Jimmy even had a Snickers bar….

It was a big climb for Jimmy and I both us, and we both took advantage of some well-earned calories and rest days afterwords.  On the way out of the valley, he and I talked about how being able to do the Nose in a day turns the wall into a crag. Pretty cool idea!

2 thoughts on “Climbing The Nose in a Day

  1. E W

    again, nice work fellas!
    So how close were you guys to your 16 +/-hour estimate?

    1. chris

      Oops…should probably add that. 14.5 hours. Probably nothing compared to your long days on the Hose!

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