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ARTICLE: Things I Learned While Climbing (and previously failing on) The Nose of El Capitan

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 UKC Articles 17 Nov 2022

Tom Ripley shares some nuggets of wisdom from his experiences of attempting and finally climbing the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

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In reply to UKC Articles:

Fantastic read, thanks for this. 🙂

In reply to UKC Articles:

Some great advice in there - especially getting the basics wired before you leave home! I served my Big Wall Apprenticeship in Hobson Moor Quarry and have enjoyed passing the experience on to future generations since. Here's a blog post from the latest installment. https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2022/10/02/big-wall-apprenticeship-where-better-than-hobby/

Meanwhile, sounds like you've got the "Big Wall Bug" - what's next on your list? Cheers, Dom 

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In reply to UKC Articles:

Having done it this season, my biggest advice would be to do something else. I found it really busy and pretty overrated. It’s not adventurous if you’re in a queue the whole way up and there are far better walls in the valley with fewer trash filled cracks. You can’t free climb as hard as you think you can on it, which is annoying, whilst the aid climbing is entirely unchallenging (We never placed anything other than bomber cams).

It’d probably be a much better route if people stopped romanticising it and saying it’s such a good route…

Post edited at 20:22
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 Rick Graham 17 Nov 2022
In reply to oliver_tippett:

To be fair to The Nose, it is a very good route but as you say, spoilt , possibly ruined, by its popularity.

To Tom, recommending walking off rather than using  the east ledges, I surmise you have not done the walk off, it takes ages.   We also had chest high snowdrifts to content with , early June. The east ledges must be three times as quick. Easy to find and follow.

Have a like for the rest of the article 

 Tom Ripley 17 Nov 2022
In reply to Rick Graham:

> To be fair to The Nose, it is a very good route but as you say, spoilt , possibly ruined, by its popularity.

We saw one other team on day one, who we shared El Cap Tower with. There was another team behind them who stopped at Dolt. They bailed the next day.

On day two we let the other team past, as they were moving faster than us. They bivied at Camp VI. We were also passed by two NIAD teams.

On day three we saw no one all day, other than an exhausted German couple who topped out in the middle of the night, having climbed Triple Direct in a day.

> To Tom, recommending walking off rather than using  the east ledges, I surmise you have not done the walk off, it takes ages.   We also had chest high snowdrifts to content with , early June. The east ledges must be three times as quick. Easy to find and follow.

I'm only recommending walking off if it's dark and you've not done the East Ledges before. I think onsighting the East Ledges in the dark, with a Haul Bag, and in a state of post El Cap exhaustion, would be extremely slow at best. 

Glad you liked the article.

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In reply to Tom Ripley:

You did have to bail the first attempt because of queues though

Good article, not sure I'd agree about cam hooks being knacky, we found them pretty straightforward to use and going light isn't always the best option imo.

 Max factor 18 Nov 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great. Wisdom there - liked this, so true.

Take big cams. The topo says only take a #5 cam if you suck at offwidths. Remember: you're a Brit and you probably suck at offwidths, 

1
 David Coley 18 Nov 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great stuff.

I'd add, learn to do a chongo 2 to 1 haul and buy exactly the right kit for this. Once the water is drunk, switch to 1 to 1 using a trax and grigri.

There are 30 pitches on the nose, so a reasonable training for those planning an aid ascent would be to lead, clean, haul, belay build 30 pitches each back home. And set your ledge up and pack it down many times. Six of which should be whilst hanging from a bolt at a climbing wall.

Do not over back clean. Stay safe 

In reply to Rick Graham:

> The east ledges must be three times as quick. Easy to find and follow.

Despite having aready been down the East Ledges (in the light) I came nearer to killing myself than I ever want to be, descending in the dark after doing the West Face. I think unless you know the descent/raps really well, my advice would be definitely stay put and have a comfy bivvy on the top.

 Tom Briggs 18 Nov 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Some interesting replies on this thread.

Just goes to show it's not the rock per se, but the experience you have.

We climbed in July and whilst it was hot, there was no-one else on the route after Day 1. If crowds are now such an issue I'd recommend summer. More water to haul, so a heavier bag of course. 

 duncan 18 Nov 2022
In reply to Tom Ripley:

It’s great you two got up it; all the more satisfying after the work and effort involved I would think.

Excellent advice from everyone here for someone; as always, consider the advisor before deciding if you are that someone.  

My first cent: climbing in Yosemite in general is much, much, much, much more likely to be enjoyable and successful if you can climb cracks of all widths with reasonable efficiency. Brits. are not bad crack climbers but many of them have not practised enough! Some might like a number 5 for the Curbar 5a sections around Dolt and El Cap. towers. Time at Curbar - or Fairhead - is time well-spent and will tell you if you need one. Time in the US is even better, if you can manage it. 

My second cent: perhaps it is too obvious but no-one has mentioned the importance of partners on routes like these. With the wrong partner you can follow all the advice on this thread and not get off the ground. With the right partner you can ignore it all and still have a fine time climbing the route. I've had some great partners.

 seankenny 18 Nov 2022
In reply to duncan:

Fairhead is the nearest thing to US style “5.9+” crack climbing that you’re going to find in the U.K. Well worth a trip if you’re contemplating some New World cracks. 

 JR 18 Nov 2022
In reply to duncan:

> My second cent: perhaps it is too obvious but no-one has mentioned the importance of partners on routes like these.

You’re completely correct! My general reluctance to aid climb was well matched by Tom’s general reluctance to free climb. You just have to pick the right pitches. Tom is an excellent partner.
 

Being generally very hot on rope work and collectively anticipating problems are also as helpful skills as being able to climb efficiently on routes like that.

Post edited at 15:42
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 Rick Graham 18 Nov 2022
In reply to jon:

> Despite having aready been down the East Ledges (in the light) I came nearer to killing myself than I ever want to be, descending in the dark after doing the West Face. I think unless you know the descent/raps really well, my advice would be definitely stay put and have a comfy bivvy on the top.

Good advice.

At least if starting the walk off in the dark you would probably finish in daylight.

Other advice, do not arrive at the top of El Cap and have neither climber with a description or knowledge of any way off. Speaking for a friend.

East ledges. Go right and follow the only ledge  above the void.  Starts off very wide and narrows to nothing. The abseils start after a short very exposed downclimb. I could never understand why this section  did have a fixed rope , maybe it does now.

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In reply to Rick Graham:

The latest guidebook has very helpful photos of the final section of east ledges descent.

Knowing the difference between a rivet and a bolt is another good one

Some more tips here I wrote down a few weeks ago https://www.moelwynmountaineering.com/post/10-tips-for-climbing-el-capitan

 Kemics 18 Nov 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Slightly paradoxical advice to 'go light' and bring full waterproofs (good ones), a big synthetic belay jacket, a synthetic sleeping bag, bivi bag, a bothy bag or portaledge fly (better). and gallon of water each a day! 

if you wern't still space hauling that bag by day two you must be an absolute machine or have some very cunning pulley system you need to share   

Id be interested to know what went wrong on the times you failed and what caused you to turn around? I think there's probably a lot of value in that rather than the very true but fairly generic "free climb when possible, aid in trainers etc". 

Our first attempt failed because we got psyched out trying to endlessly do the math of "we've got X water left, used Y water today and have Z pitches to go" and trying to predict ahead but trying to keep a redundancy margin. Basically we were overthinking/worrying. I think you could you easily rap the entire route in a day. So basically keep a days water ration, keep pushing and dont feel there is a "point of no return" till really you get above changing corners. As a wise man advised me "just bail up". 

 dan gibson 19 Nov 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

The Lynn Hill traverse. Is this the new name for The Jardine traverse?

 Tom Ripley 19 Nov 2022
In reply to dan gibson:

> The Lynn Hill traverse. Is this the new name for The Jardine traverse?

No they’re different. 
 

The Jardine by passes the Texas Flake, Boot Flake and King Swing,  about a pitch above Dolt.

The Lynn Hill Traverse is a free variation of the pitch before across the Grey Band. It’s quite facey, a bit like Time for Tea. 

 Moacs 19 Nov 2022
In reply to Tom Ripley:

Tanks Tom - that brought back some memories

 Misha 19 Nov 2022
In reply to JR:

> My general reluctance to aid climb was well matched by Tom’s general reluctance to free climb.

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

 Tom Ripley 19 Nov 2022
In reply to Misha:

> 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

I look forward to reading your write up of the Nose, Misha!

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 Misha 20 Nov 2022
In reply to Tom Ripley:

Oh no, not me, I’m mostly an indoor boulderer these days, occasional bolt hanger and very occasional trad bumbly. 

Well done for getting up the thing and a good article. I liked your comment that if you want an easy time, go Alpine climbing. I just go to the Depot these days.

 Crest Jewel 20 Nov 2022
In reply to oliver_tippett:

To climb Yosemite 5.9 cracks comfortably you have to be a solid 5.10 Yosemite crack climber. 

 Crest Jewel 20 Nov 2022
In reply to duncan:

I climbed the Nose in October 1977 with Bill Price. He was 17 years old.  He first climbed the Nose age 15. We alternated pitches with waist belays and Price wore a Swammi belt. He climbed every 5.11 pitch free. I free climbed to 5.10. We took 2.5 days. Price said he would go free climbing with me again but not aid climbing because I was too slow. He went on to do multiple FA aid routes on El Cap. He did the first free ascent of the West Face of El Cap with Jardine. The 1st ascent of Cosmic Debis 5.13b (fist in USA) and many more. No cams and no wag bags. Tube chocks, hexes and stoppers only. No other party on route.

In reply to Tom Ripley:

> The Jardine by passes the Texas Flake, Boot Flake and King Swing,  about a pitch above Dolt.

> The Lynn Hill Traverse is a free variation of the pitch before across the Grey Band. 

But are they both ways of avoiding the King Swing ? I've always assumed Lynn free climbed the chipped Jardine traverse. The layout of that bit of the crag escapes me...

In reply to jon:

The Jardine is pitch 12, Lynn Hill is pitch 16. The king swing takes you to the start of pitch 15.

In reply to Alex Riley:

Thanks. So the Jardine avoids the King Swing and the Lynn Hill avoids some aid further up ?

 Enty 21 Nov 2022
In reply to jon:

Yes, Jardine Traverse goes left just below El Cap Tower and avoids the bolt ladder which links the Texas Flake to The Boot. It also avoids the King Swing. Two things which Jardine couldn't free climb. That's why he got his chisel out.

After the King Swing, at the top of P15 there's another lower out to get onto easy ground and the Grey Bands. Lynn Hill Traverse avoids this lower out. She also had to do a variation 12C boulder problem to avoid the bolt ladder on the last pitch.

E

 Enty 21 Nov 2022
In reply to jon:

I've just been googling this to find more info as it fascinates me. Apparently in her book Lynn Hill says the Jardine traverse would go free without the chips so that sounds interesting.

E

 Fellover 15:06 Fri
In reply to UKC Articles:

Nice one Tom and John.

Did you take a #5 with you? I did The Nose 5 years ago without a #5 and honestly had no need of one whatsoever, #4 was big enough to aid all the offwidth bits. A couple of my friends did it this year and didn't need a #5 either, they also didn't recall ever wanting one and don't think they freed anything #5 sized. I was really not very good at offwidths back then so I'm pretty sure I didn't just free #5 sized sections.

I can't really actually think where you'd place a #5? I know Duncan mentioned the bits around Dolt and El Cap tower, but I definitely recall aiding/french freeing those with a #4.

Just bringing it up because I know I'd be pretty annoyed if I hauled a #5 up 800m of climbing without placing it!

 Tom Ripley 15:14 Fri
In reply to Fellover:

We didn’t take one on our first attempt, but the Spanish climber we were climbing with had one and leant us it for those pitches around dolt. We bailed due to feeling I’ll, but brought one on our actual ascent. It wasn’t essential, but made those pitches around Dolt feel easier for sure.

I also placed it a couple of times higher up, and JR placed it after the King Swing IIRC. 

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 Fellover 15:47 Fri
In reply to Tom Ripley:

Thanks Tom - interesting to know.

 Offwidth 16:21 Sat
In reply to Tom Ripley:

Almost forgot to comment on this:

"The Stove Leg Cracks are 5.8, but do not expect this to bear any resemblance to VS."

The crux sections are 5.10a ow on the first pitch (Nose pitch 9) then 5.10b fist on the second (Nose pitch 10) in the modern big wall guidebooks.

 Rick Graham 17:24 Sat
In reply to Offwidth:

Just looked at a 2011 YBW guide.

Also has pitch 11 as 40' 5.10c ow 4.5".

Rack list has 1 or 2 4.5" cams.

At least adding a tape measure to your rack is easier than remembering all the colour/ manufacturer size combos

In reply to Offwidth:

In the latest guide it's pitch 7, 5.9 into 5.8 for the stoveleg cracks.

 Offwidth 10:32 Sun
In reply to Alex Riley:

Which latest guide (there are several)? The numbers I gave are the crux crack grades from the Supertopo big walls guide for the two Stoveleg pitches (which also indicates most of it is 5.8). The 5.8 overall free grade for Stovelegs was a longstanding climbers joke as far as I could make out but I haven't been on them (and haven't been back to Yosemite since covid).

In reply to Offwidth:

The latest supertopo guide.

 Enty 08:48 Mon
In reply to Offwidth:

I have the 2014 Sloan / Putnam guide and P8 and P9 both have 10b sections which sounds about right to me. Definitely E1 or E2 in their own right.
People saying the Stovelegs are 5.8 is a joke.

E


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