El Capitan’s “The Nose” with Amazing Friends

A few months ago, when I was in the initial stages of planning my fall, Ben and Lindsey Kunz and I decided that we wanted to descend on Yosemite together. Obvious objective:  The Nose on El Capitan as a party of three.

I was super psyched for a few reasons:

Who wouldn't want to climb the Nose with these two??
Who wouldn’t want to climb the Nose with these two??
  1. Objectively, the Nose could be called the most famous rock climb in the world.  With the Dawn Wall coverage, everybody and their mother seems to know about El Capitan and the amazing granite walls of Yosemite Valley.  The Nose, unlike the Dawn Wall, offers a ton of 5.8-5.10 climbing, which ends up being hard enough to keep things interesting when you consider all the weight that will be hanging off your harness on the three-day fashion in which the route is typically done.
  2. I had already done the Salathe Wall on El Capitan a few years ago with Jimmy.  Although we made it to the top, I would dare say that we were unprepared.  It was a long 5 days (4 nights on the wall), and I was wiped for the next two weeks afterwards.  Climbing the Nose wall-style offered a great chance to experience El Capitan again, more prepared than the last time around.
  3. More important than the route were the people. Ben and Lindsey have been amazing friends and mentors, in both climbing and life, since we met a year and a half ago.  They helped me rationalize taking time off of work to spend on the road.  They have been influential and super positive people in my life as I have continued to figure out how climbing fits into my life. The Nose with them was a dream come true.

Research and narrowing down on a strategy:

Timing/ nights on the wall

Once we established the Nose within our sights, the three of us spent a lot of time going back and forth about how to climb it.  Times to complete the objective range from 2-5 days (wall-style), and this timeline tends to dictate how much crap you haul up with you.  Of course, its a chicken and egg situation. The weight of your haul bag ends up determining your speed, but the speed at which you can ascend the wall affects how much food and water you’ll want to bring with you, which ends up being a substantial fraction of the weight of the bag.

Here were some of the decision factors we considered:

  • I had been up El Cap before, but this would be Lindsey and Ben’s first major wall.  In general, this meant some of the systems might feel a bit complicated when all thrown together (even with a lot of practice).  As complexity goes up, speed goes down.
  • Hauling two bags, on a route that is already hard to haul, would make the experience a whole lot less pleasant.  We wanted to aim for one bag.
  • None of us really had the intention of spending more than a few days sleeping on the wall.  While a novel experience, fatigue adds up, and we didn’t want to prolong what would already be a tiring effort.
  • We had access to a portaledge, which meant we could camp anywhere on the wall.  Despite this, if there were a number of other parties on the wall, we might get stuck behind one, no matter how fast we were.

In the end, we decided we would try to pre-haul to Sickle or Dolt and sleep on the ground; this, followed by three days (two nights) on the wall. In the haul bag, we brought 3 days of water and food total.  Sleeping on the ground the first night would allow us to hydrate beyond the water supply we had in the haul bag, and additionally to bring water with us on day 2 when we climbed back up to our stashed bag at Dolt.

Sickle versus Dolt

Be prepared to do either, but look for fixed lines up to Dolt, as this will make life really great.  We got lucky and these were there.  Having seen the terrain, I would definitely recommend avoiding hauling to Sickle via the climbing route, or by fixing ropes down from there.  Aim  to haul to Dolt Hole instead.

The hauling was so easy that Ben was goofing off. Oh wait, no, he is always goofing off. In all serious, compare the steep slabby terrain below him to the Sickle Ledge you would have to drag bags across.
The hauling was so easy that Ben was goofing off. Oh wait, no…., he is always goofing off. In all seriousness, compare the steep slabby terrain below him to the Sickle Ledge you would have to drag bags across.  Hauling to Dolt Hole is pretty stellar.

Number of ropes

We received mixed advice on how many ropes to bring.  Some folks suggested bringing a second dynamic line. The arguments for this included avoiding the risk of getting your only climbing rope stuck, and having another rope for the second follower to jug should it be too complicated for he/she to lower out on the bag for a particular pitch.  We decided to take only 1 60M lead rope and 1 60 M static line.  We couldn’t justify the extra weight and mess that is added by managing a third rope.

Jardine Traverse versus King Swing

Hans Florine turned Ben and Lindsey on to the idea of using the Jardine Traverse as a way to avoid the logistics of the King Swing.  We took this variation, and I think given that we had three, this was much less complicated than the King Swing would have been.  The climbing just below Eagle on the Jardine variation does require a #5 to protect, but I stuck my knee in the OW and grunted my way up.  Next time, it would be smart to swing into the crack on the right (5.9), which would make the variation even more  trivial.

Gear list:

Hauling gear/bag

  • 1 big ass pig (125L?)
  • Rope protector (top of plastic bottle) + small string to keep rope protector in place (tied to upper locking carabiner on the bag)
  • 25ft tie-off coordelette/lower-out line
  • Double length sling to back up the bag when docked
  • Swivel + 4 lockers for bag (2 on bag haul handles + 2 for docking)
  • Big traxion pully + 2 revolver biners
  • BD Cabana 2-person ledge
  • 2 lockers for ledge
  • 15ft coordelette tied to bottom of the ledge bag, in order to facilitate setup and takedown.
  • 3 Sleeping bags and pads

Climbing gear

  • 1 60M 10.1 Sterling Marathon (awesome, its second trip up the Captain) and a 60M static
  • 3 Gri-Gris
    • 1 per-person
  • 5 Jumars
    • Leader only takes one up at most
  • 5 aiders/ladders (leader and first follower split 3 depending on pitch), often left at belay.
    • Lindsey had “Speed Stirrups” and really liked those.
  • 1 BD gear sling for cleaning and quick short-fixing transitions
  • Rack
    • 6 slings, a few with both lockers
    • 6 QDs
    • 2 double lengths
    • a few extra lockers
    • Single Red X4, doubles .2, .3, .4,, triples .5 -> BD #2, Doubles #3, #4
      • Probably don’t need the second #3, we led more than half the route without it
      • If doing the Jardin Traverse, you may want a #5 for the section just below Eagle, though apparently you can penji into the right side and climb the 5.9
    • 1 Cam hook
    • 1 set of offset cams from smallest to .4/.5
    • Set of small and medium DMM offset nuts
      • Didn’t use nuts too often, don’t need more than singles of any size if you bring smaller cams
    • Small piece of coordellete and wall knife for the followers harness

Food and water

  • Brought 27 liters in the haul bag for 3 days on the route
    • 3 L per person per day – perfect amount, even had a bit of extra at the top, but would have need this if we took longer than expected.
  • Breakfast: Lindsey’s awesome homemade granola and powder milk each day.  Alpine Start Coffee for breakfast.  I love Alpine start because the packages are a bit bigger than other brands, and it tastes awesome.
  • Lunch and snacks: Bars and the occasional shot-block or Stinger gels
  • Dinner:
    • Night 1: I filled my coffee mug with veggies and quinoa, then aid this with a can of sardines.  Ben and Lindsey did cans of chili and some sardines as well.
    • Night 2: we ate an awesome curry dinner that Lindsey made

Clothing/layers

It was an Outdoor Research type of adventure, where all of us were fully fitted with stuff from our favorite brand.

  • OR Ferosi pants and jackets! + either Cathode or Incandescent jackets
    • We were more than warm enough on October nights with the above layers.  No need for extra base layers.
  • I had a OR Astroman T-shirt, which I love for its collar to keep slings and the sun off my neck.
  • Lightweight beanies and buffs.
Belaying in my Incandescent at sunset. Perfect set of layers between this and the Ferosi , which I climbed in nearly all day.
Belaying in my Incandescent at sunset. Perfect set of layers between this and the Ferosi , which I climbed in nearly all day.

Personal items and extras:

  • 1 headlamp each, plus an extra small headlamp in case anyone dropped one
  • Wag bags, 2 per person per day was enough
  • Dry, tough, stuff stack for the used wag bags
  • Leatherman and duct tape on a few bottles in case of repairs
  • Personal mess kit (spoon + bowl)  – I brought my coffee mug instead
  • Baby wipes, sunscreen, chapstick are key
  • Reactor stove + 1 can of fuel (enough for coffee on 2 days and dinner on night 2)
  • Walkie-talkies – optional but useful in a few places to avoid yelling up and down the route in a few places
Ben and Lindsey figured out how to fit all this stuff in one big bag, which was a big freaking deal.
Ben and Lindsey figured out how to fit all this stuff in one big bag, which was a big freaking deal.

Day breakdown:

Our day by day, including some notes on a few things that I like to think are important (food, blocks that Ben and I led, etc)

Day 1 (Saturday):

Ben, Lindsey and I got together on Saturday morning.  They had pre-packed most of the haul bag, other than my gear and food, such that we could make a quick hop onto the route if the crowd situation and weather obliged.  To our luck, when we approached the walls with our gear in the early afternoon on Saturday, we found fixed static lines all the way up to Dolt hole.    We pre-hauled our bag all the way to Dolt Hole, then went and slept in El Portal that evening.  After hauling in the afternoon, Ben and I had enough daylight to fix our own two ropes halfway up Pitch 3.  Boom!  This meant that the next day we had easy climbing (no hauling) up to Dolt Hole, and already had three or so pitches done.

At the end of our day on Saturday, after hauling our bag up the fixed lines to Dolt Hole, Ben led up to fix our own ropes up to Pitch 3 of the Nose.
At the end of our day on Saturday, after hauling our bag up the fixed lines to Dolt Hole, Ben led up to fix our own ropes up to Pitch 3 of the Nose.

Day 2 (Sunday):

We started day 2 with an early wake up in El Portal, real coffee, and food on the drive over.  After our 3am wake up, jugging our own fixed ropes on the first few pitches, then more climbing and jugging, we reunited with our bags at Dolt Hole.

In terms of blocks, I led up to the end of the 5.9 above Sickle, then Ben took over at the beginning of the lower-outs at the Stove Legs.  He led up through two pitches below Dolt Tower, where we swapped again. From there, I led up through the Jardin Traverse, at which point he and I swapped up to Eagle, where we spent the night. At Eagle, we set up the ledge and I fixed the next pitch before a good night’s rest.

Ben hauling up to Dolt, Lindsey below
Ben hauling up to Dolt, Lindsey below

Spent the night at: Eagle Ledge, and used the portaledge to create enough space for 3. To call Eagle a bivvy for two is generous and the ledge was nice to have here.

Food on day 2 (my favorite subject):

  • Breakfast: Lindsey’s awesome granola
  • Lunch: Bars all day!
  • Dinner: I stuffed my coffee mug with quinoa, shredded carrots, broccoli!  Ate this with a can of sustainably caught sardines (the perfect recovery food) the first night.  Healthy as it gets!  Some quality chocolate for dessert.

Day 3 (Monday):

Ben leading up nasty flakes on the second pitch off of Eagle ledge. Be careful on these ones!
Ben leading up nasty flakes on the second pitch off of Eagle ledge. Be careful on these ones!

On day 3, we woke up on Eagle ledge, ascent the fixed line that I put up the night before, and Ben led up to Camp IV.  Here we were passed by two NIAD parties before I began to lead through the Great Roof.

Beta on the Great Roof: if you back clean through the roof, your partner will only have to perform one big lower out, just don’t blow it on lead!

After the roof, I continued to short-fix up the Pancake Flake, and then up to Camp V, where we would spend the night. As Lindsey setup up camp and put some dinner together, Ben and I continued to fix up the next pitch and a half (as long as our static line would go).

Ben lowering out on the Great Roof, which is midway up the wall. When I led the roof, I back cleaned everything so that Ben could do big lower out.
Ben lowering out on the Great Roof, which is midway up the wall. When I led the roof, I back cleaned everything so that Ben could do one big lower out.  Slightly scary but definitely manageable and made things faster.

 

Ben and Lindsey at the base of the Pancake Flake pitch, above the Great Roof.
Ben and Lindsey at the base of the Pancake Flake pitch, above the Great Roof.

Spent the night at: Camp V – very plush! No ledge required.

Food on day 3:

  • Breakfast: Lindsey’s awesome granola
  • Lunch: Bars all day!
  • Dinner: Lindsey made an awesome curry dish.  Detailed here.  More quality chocolate for dessert!

Day 4 (Monday):

On day 4, we woke up at Camp V, with the intention of getting to the top.  After jugging the static line, that Ben had fixed to the second set of bolts above Camp V the night before, just above the Glowering Spot pitch , we continued short-fixing up through the top.  The pitches on this last day were super high quality, in particular the crack climbing just below the changing corners bolts.

Beta on Changing Corners:  Take the bolts as high as you can on the Changing Corners section, then swing into the corner.  This allows you to skip some ugly aid climbing lower in the corner.  You can also short fix off the equalized highest two bolts, which I did, allowing Ben to get started.

Lindsey near the very tippy top, all of the exposure of the Nose below!
Lindsey near the very tippy top, all of the exposure of the Nose below!

 

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It doesn’t count unless you get a summit photo with costumes that you hauled all the way up!

Food on day 4

  • Breakfast: Lindsey’s awesome granola
  • Lunch: Bars all day!
  • Dinner: An awesome dinner out of Lindsey’s van and pizza in the meadows the next day.

Route Breakdown and beta for next time:

  • Overall, walling as three was awesome because everybody in our party was able to do move at the same time (either climbing and belaying and doing stuff in the bag, or short-fixing, hauling, and cleaning).
  • Ben and Lindsey did a ton of research on the route.  This included both talking to Hans Florine personally (an experience that not everyone might have), but also through listening to his audiotape on the Nose (a must do).  Some pitch specific beta that precipitated out of that research:
    1. There are some variations to the route worth recommending:
      • Option B on the Stove Legs traverse was easy and fun. This seems to be a better option than taking the bolt ladder higher up. On the Stovelegs, Ben did a tension traverse/pendulum into the first corner, then climbed up and built an anchor off of the one bolt and a fixed cam under the small roof.  As followers, we lowered out and jugged to here, before he lowered out again into the Stovelegs crack.
      • The Jardine Traverse provides a fast way to pass parties if you are up for some 5.10 climbing.  The 11c corner goes fast if you can avoid full aid mode by pulling on gear between free moves.  When starting up the 5.9 pitch after the Jardin Traverse, moved down, left, then back up and right above the anchor.  Watch for loose blocks on this pitch.
      • The Lynn Hill Traverse seemed much faster than continuing higher up and then lowering out.  It again requires some 5.10 free climbing.  Save a small cam for the top of the pitch (.1/.2 size).
      • At the Great Roof, if the leader avoids leaving any gear in the roof, then the follower job is much easier.  They jug the vertical section, then just do one large lower out.  To make this a bit safer, the leader can equalize the pin with a bomber cam before heading into the roof, and also use/back-clean small cams near the end of the roof when the fall would be very large.
      • On Changing Corners, take the bolts all the way up to the top (3 of them) before moving into the corner, this allows you to skip any C2 aid moves lower in the corner.
    2. As a party of three, there were many places where the second follower lowered out with the bag.  These were:
      1. Above Dolt Tower to the top of the Jardin Traverse – Careful here! Make sure you lower the bag out so you don’t take a big swing across the down-sloping ledge*
      2. On the Lynn Hill Traverse
      3. Through the Grey bands to underneath the Great Roof*
      4. Up through the Great Roof
      5. Through the Glowering Spot aid pitch
      6. The Changing Corners Pitch* (we short-fixed this into two pitches by fixing a below to the highest bolts on the pitch)
      7. Through the last crack pitch and bolt ladder.
    3. In some cases, we short-fixed and linked several pitches before lowering out and hauling the bag.  This often made hauling easier. I’ve noted these with a “*” above.  In these situations, the second follower would remain by themselves with the bag (the two other climbers in the party have taken the dynamic line with them).
    4. If you take the Jardin Traverse, climb the 11c corner until you reach the horizontal crack that takes .1/.2 sized cam.  From here, swing around to the right side of the tower, and climb the 4″ crack.  This is a trivial way to avoid the “10a” layback/offwidth above which requires a #5 to protect.
  • As competent 5.10 climbers, and 5.11 climbers on good days helped a lot to ensure we didn’t have to aid every pitch.  I would estimate we free-climbed (and pulled on gear) for 75% of the route. This was key, as we made up time here where we lost it in other areas.
  • We did a few practice routes where we wore rock shoes, climbed as three, and hauled a pig.  These were University Wall and Freeway in Squamish.  These practice days were in addition to the small days where Lindsey and Ben practiced jugging and hauling at Index on Town Crier or otherwise.  Practicing in rock shoes was key, as it gave Ben and I confidence to step out of the aiders.
Ben, Lindsey and I climbed University Wall in Squamish , with a bag in tow. This provided good practice aiding, short-fixing, and hauling as three. Here is Ben on the last pitch of UWall.
Ben, Lindsey and I climbed University Wall in Squamish , with a bag in tow. This provided good practice aiding, short-fixing, and hauling as three. Here is Ben on the last pitch of UWall.
  • Short-fixing is key.  We self-belayed ourselves with Gri-Gris when doing so, but I found myself paying out larger and larger loops of slack as I got more comfortable.  Heading into days 3 and 4, I was able to make it up 75% of the next pitch before anybody arrived at the belay beneath me.

In addition to some Nose specific stuff above, I’ve captured some of the overall advice for climbing a wall successfully here. Hopefully these are helpful!  Pretty psyched to share this one with others, and I hope some other people are as lucky as I was to climb such an awesome route with great friends.

 

 

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