I don’t usually post trip reports, not because that I rarely take trips, but mostly because I’m a sport climber with the literary skill of a fifth grader. But once a while, I get on something so big and exciting that I feel compelled to write about, only to get swamped with work and actual climbing. Let’s see how this one goes…
Once a year, Scotty and I get together in the spring and rip Yosemite up. We leave no stone unturned, and no climb unsent – NOT. We usually just sit around in Yosemite Lodge debating on what to climb, how to climb them and hours and many cups of coffee later, we find ourselves sitting at the same table discussing the state of the US economy over a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Once a while, we reach a consensus and end up climbing something big the next day like Steck Salathe, NW Face of Half Dome or Astroman.
While rocking out to This American Life in the Central Valley, I suggested that we should go do The Nose in one push, if not in 24 hours. Scotty quickly shot it down saying it is too much work. Being a road junkie, I feel pretty strong endurance-wise, but I’m no Josh on rocks. Being a Nose virgin, the thoughts of 50-foot runouts on 5.10+ terrains frightened me, causing me to reconsider hauling as the last resort. Having left the portaledge in San Diego, our options for a multi-day trip up El Cap are limited. Our viable bivies are Dolt, El Cap Tower, Camp 5 and Camp 6. The upper bivy ledges are small, but few parties make it that far, so if we can get past the clusterfuck that is the start to ECT, we are golden.
After two days of recon from a secret spot across the meadows, we found the perfect window to get around the newbies (well, I had only done one wall before, but Scotty’s bigwall experience could be transferred by osmosis, and I could always pack John Long’s Bigwall book in the haul bag). There were several teams fixing to Sickle, all stuck behind a snail-paced team. We determined that if we get up early enough, we can jug up the fix ropes, thus bypassing the clusterfuck and bivy at ECT. The leading team was already approaching Dolt or ECT, so they would be well out of our way the next day.
The alarm went off promptly at 2:30am and we slowly slogged to the base with the pig and gear to find not 1 or 2, but 3 fixed ropes, with 2 bags one rope length off the ground. Hauling our 80lbs bag over a couple of fixed bags at the anchor was horrendous (who fixes bags one pitch up anyway?). To make the matter worse, there was already a team in front of us — apparently 1am is now the new alpine start. While napping on Sickle for the French-Spanish team in front of us to make progress, another team of two Germans and an American jugged up the ropes as the sun rose.
“We should have done this in a day,” said Scotty.
“I told you so,” I replied.
The day went on slowly as we waited for hours at each belay for the early birds to make progress while baking in the sun in 90-something weather. I had to hide my climbing shoes in the shade of the haulbag several times to keep my toes from overheating under the black rubber. Behind us, we saw amusing displays of how the bigger of the two Germans was not heavy enough to counter-weigh their two heavy bags. We quickly realized that we were in no danger of them bumping into us.
Arriving at Dolt, we contemplated on fixing the Jardin Traverse to pass the team in front of us the next day but it would leave us bivying on Dolt, which only holds 4, with the team of 3 behind us. Suboptimal, as Josh would say. Tucking my head behind a big rock and throwing Scotty’s parka over top of it, I was able to shelter myself from the blistering sun and take a nap. Trundling on through Brownian motion, we arrived at ECT to find the French-Spanish Duo fast asleep. Scotty quickly fixed Texas Flake before dinner (curry in a pouch and canned chili) to get a jump start the next day. I made sure to floss and brush my teeth before going to sleep.
Taking the pole position after asking for permission to pass, I got to lead the perfect hand crack of the Boot Flake, but managed to snag my daisy in the carabiner of my first piece of gear after a long runout. Indian Creek training paid off as I down-climbed to free the daisy and jammed my way up to the top of this strenuous overhanging crack. Hauling at this point has become a much easier and faster task than jugging since we have lost 2 gallons of water, some food and the route has drastically steepened up. Next, Scotty ran across the King Swing as though he was chasing a squirrel and linked the pitch after with the rope going horizontally across. The leader from French-Spanish team progressed up the bolt ladder but got stumped at the transition into the flaring seam. That was the last we saw of the team. Apparently, they bailed from the top of Boot Flake for some reason unknown to us and picked up a hitchhiker from the team of three behind them.
We moved swiftly up to the base of the Great Roof, while leaving the pig half way through pitch 19 before rapping down to retrieve it (thanks, SuperTopo!). We were now only one pitch behind the leading team, who had already spent 3 days on the wall and a night at Camp 4, a really bad bivy, only made possible by hanging their legs in slings. Compared to Camp 4, the no-frill ECT was like a 5-star hotel, complete with a flat sleeping surface for 6. With Scotty aiding the intimidating roof, I made myself comfortable on the small ledge and admired the clusterfuck at the start of the climb. Since the temperature has cooled down drastically compared to the day before, everyone and their dogs were out climbing the Nose. Several teams occupied the pitches to Sickle, while many congregated at the base of the climb. Scotty’s call to go off belay got me reenergized and jump-started the now familiar routine of releasing the pig, attaching my jumars and tearing down the anchor before starting jugging. Having seen the Great Roof from a few inches away, how anyone can free climb the finger-tip seam on a full on layback while placing gear absolutely blew me away.
The next two pitches leading to Camp 5 went by smoothly, although not before I dropped a .75 cam 2000 feet to the base when it became inadvertently unclipped from another carabiner while I desperately clung onto the Pancake Flake. Free climbing anything in the 5.10 range was now a chore maybe because of the exhaustion from two days of climbing and hauling. The amount of extra gear: hauler, jumars, aiders, extra sets of cams, did not help me ascending the vertical to overhanging pitches to come either.
Arriving at Camp 5, we found the leading team gunning for Camp 6 two pitches up, albeit slowly. We again contemplated and negotiated ways that we can pass them the next day, but our request was denied as they said they would fix Changing Corners, start early the next day and be out of our way. With about 6 pitches left to the summit, we decided to have a late start and take it easy the next day instead. Settling onto our bivy ledge, we detected a pungent smell of fecal matter, and there were some dark stains higher up around the crack. (The stains, as we found out later, were not from some bowel explosion, but from a climber falling 30 feet and cracking his head open a week ago.) While snacking on salami, Scotty managed to take a big chunk of flesh out of his finger, putting an end to Free Climbing Yosemite 2008. We employed the climber’s first aid kit, i.e. a roll of tape, to wrap up the wound. After dinner (chili for me, curry for Scotty), we settled into our sleeping bags while the other team climbed well into the night fixing Changing Corners.
The wind picked up overnight and dropped the temperature by at least 10 degrees. I woke up at 6am to the sound of leading team hauling their bag up Changing Corners but after sensing the cold air, I promptly tucked my head back into my mummy bag and slept another 2 hours for a post-modern interpretation of the alpine start. Getting our shit together (literally), we started climbing at around 9, carefully avoiding the brown stains on the rock, wondering how bad the diarrhea must have been. Aiding onward and jugging upward with one parka between the two of us, we arrived at the base of the infamous Changing Corners shivering, thanks to the cold temperatures and high winds. While pulling out the topo to scope out the next pitch, the wind picked it up and carried it to the summit, where it will be mostly appreciated. I reluctantly racked up and passed the parka to Scotty before my attempt of imitating Tommy Caldwell on this 5.14c pitch. After butchering the 5.9 hand crack, I traversed into the seam to the right of the big arête and aided my way up on bomber brassies. With the wind howling and my body temperature plummeting, I wanted the climb to be over there and now.
Luckily, the next few pitches were French-freed quickly and we were finally able turn the corner of the nose into the sunny side. Jugging up the last pitch on a free hanging rope turned out to be a challenging, if not freaky experience, but the anticipation of the summit overwhelmed the ideas of jumars unclipping and sending me into the abyss.
After 3 days, 31 pitches and 3000 feet of climbing, we finally arrived at the summit tree. Finally, after many years of waiting, I’ve climbed the Nose.