Tuesday, May 7, 2013

El Capitan - Nose In A Push

After climbing the Nose for a first time, just a few weeks ago, I was proud of my achievement. Three years after I went on my first scramble in Sierra, I had scaled the most sought-out big wall route on planet Earth. It took my partner and I four days, not fast, but not at all slow for a first attempt. After moving on my mind wandered off to different heights, those way above my head. Can I possibly do it in a day like some of the people whose skills are far more superior, like those who inspire me, and like that video I find hilarious suggests? Even though I do not climb 'hard,' I sure am stubborn, and like testing my limits. Why the hell not?

The Nose is a prominent prow separating SW and SE faces
I got an opportunity to test myself when my friend Hamik and I picked a day to attempt it- April 13th. "I been looking at the Nose for too long driving into the Valley on 140," Hamik said, "It is now time to climb it!" To prepare we did not do Dolt runs, did not practice short fixing, Hamik never climbed the route, and I was going to lead majority of pitches I have not led on my first trip up the Nose. This can sound foolish to most, but not to us. We did not want to work the route like a boulder problem, or cruise it, it was now time to face El Cap, and likely get our asses kicked. Hamik's explanation bellow describes our reasons really well:

"I had done three big walls before attempting the Nose-in-a-day: West Face of Leaning Tower, The Prow, and Southwest Face of Liberty Cap. The latter two were done in a day with Vitaliy without short-fixing. As far as free climbing, I onsight 10d in the valley and can squirm my way up harder routes. Most climbers would agree that this isn't the glittering resume of a NIAD climber, and I agree. Our attempt was premature and overambitious, but it was that which made it romantic and enthralling. It's sterile and spiritless to wait to do something until success is assured; why not do it when success is unsure? When the unsureness will throw your brain into insomnia-inducing loops of unease and apprehension; when it will strain your friendships and romances; when it will push you into the furthest corners of your character and strength? One of our friends told us, “I'm going to wait to do the Nose-in-a-day until I won't flail.” Fine--if the point of climbing is to progress via carefully crafted pyramidal progressions, each step neatly rewarded with MountainProject onsight ticks; or if the point is to spray about running the PDL and really going for it and to collect laudatory comments from sick brahs; or if the point is to woo glitzy sponsors and score Youtube views--maybe then it would make sense to wait. After all, the first ascent of the NIAD was in 1975 and in merely 17 hours, 45 minutes, and we were destined to take much, much longer than that. But like I said, we wanted a bona-fide adventure, and if we waited another year we would cruise the sucker way too fast to claim we really suffered. So voila, we undertook The Nose."


After I placed a cam this frog jumped on top of it, I was surprised..frogs on El Cap are brave
About to pendulum into Stovelegs
View of Cathedrals in the early morning
After working all week, and not sleeping for couple of nights prior, it was finally Saturday, 2 am - we were psyched to start our journey. High on coffee, I felt pumped and ready to tackle the 'Big Stone' - literally! Yes, it did help that in the dark of night I could not see it towering 3000ft above me. To avoid bailing, we brought a single rope - if we had any desire to quit we wouldn't be able to. By 3am we started on Pine Line. We made ok progress through first four pitches. Since I knew the way through Dolt Hole variation, we went through that section. Free climbing there was very enjoyable after which I reached a bolt ladder, and followed by a wild pendulum into Stove Legs. This was not as fun as King Swing, but had a cool twist - you make a final leap and sink a perfect handjam into Stovelegs crack in a dyno-like motion. Awesome.

Does anyone want some crack?!
Happy monkey
Hamik following a pendulum
Hamik on 9th pitch
It was unreal how perfect Stovelegs crack is, but to be honest it gets a bit boring after 60ft of perfect hands. Hamik took over and was rewarded with great varied climbing all the way to El Cap tower. Part way up one particular wide cracks he overcame a considerable run out after leaving our #4 down low on that pitch. It was easy for me to jug, but hard to imagine self having as much composure, well done!

Hamik on pitch 10
Hamik on pitch after Dolt Tower
Looking down from top of Texas Flake
 At the top of El Cap tower we were reaching an end to our high. I led a fun chimney in the back of Texas Flake and we caught up to another IAD team that passed us earlier, unfortunately for the last time - they put their foot on gas after this pitch. After the bolt ladder I free climbed, and aided to the top of Boot Flake - one of the most iconic pitches of the Nose. I threaded the rope through the rings, back cleaned my gear as Hamik lowered me, and performed the coolest pendulum I have done - the King Swing.

 King Swing is accomplished by running back, than forward, jumping across a large gap, sprinting some more and lunging for a hold - with 1500ft of air bellow. This time I surprised myself and got it on second try. It was much less epic than few weeks prior, but still exciting. Hamik rocked the swing as well, even in his approach shoes. This is where it went down-hill for us. I took longer than I would want leading the next two pitches. After which our rope got stuck behind a flake when we pulled it. This screwed us for about an hour and delivered a blow to my psyche.

Me on pitch 17 or something
View across the valley
Hamik leading the Great Roof
This location is incredible
When we got the rope unstuck and started aiding we moved at a slow pace. After I followed Hamik on The Great Roof  he started Pancake flake as the sun was going down. I got up to the next belay after the darkness has settled. We tried to do our best and keep moving, but lack of short fixing on aid intensive terrain really hurt us. I took over leading from pitch after Glowering Slot to the top of 28. Few of these pitches were covered with water, which made 5.8 free climbing before Changing Corners real tricky. That belay station was running with water and constant drops were coming down at me as Hamik cleaned. I was really happy to get away from that belay ledge. I tried my best to make good progress, but pace I set was slowed to a crawl when I changed the corners a bit too quickly. Instead of going to the end of the bolt ladder I transitioned at the first bolt. Immediately I found tiny insecure placements - after a whole day on the move I was faced with difficult problem solving. Some of the micro cams held my body weight on two lobes, and it was a miracle they didn't pop. Somehow I managed to get up this section to a fixed cam (where you are supposed to transition from the bolts), after wasting what had to be 20 minutes clusterf*$&#g up 20 ft, if that.

Looking at the Great Roof
Hamik on Pancake flake
Still having fun with my shadow
40 gu packets and a liter of water
At least it felt good running up a short pitch after in good time. Hamik took next two pitches and I finished our climb with the final pitch. Highlight from that section was when just before 30th pitch we realized it was actually getting light - sun was coming up. Prior to our climb I was kind of disappointed we were not going to experience all the exposure from the top - turned out I worried for no reason. When you are climbing something in a day and see the sun rise twice, you know you are not setting a speed record!
Belay ledge bellow Changing Corners was a mess
Sun is hitting the upper pitches as I finish the last pitch
Cathedral Spires and Upper Cathedral Rock
29 hours after we started our climb we both collapsed on top - two tired bodies bathing in the sun. We took a 40 minute nap before deciding it was time to get down. I was thirsty, hungry, filthy, sleep deprived, sore all over the place, but in the same time happy about picking a climb that challenged me in so many ways.


  1. you crazy b*stards! how did the patented V-diet of Gu work for you? nice and extremely impressive work, Gentlemen!

    1. Haha, I brought only 2 GU packets - so I can pose for a photo and apply quotes from 'Walls in a Push" video! Aside from that I brought a bagel with nutella/honey, pack of shotblocks, chocolate bar, protein cliff bar, and a regular cliff bar. Also had a liter of water supplemented with electrolytes (we brought 2L each).