On a random hot weekday in early August 2019, having all of El Capitan to ourselves, Brian and I started up the first of 28 pitches of The Nose. This trip report will detail our first experience on El Cap and our strategy to climb the Nose in 3 nights.
After initially immediately rejecting the idea after getting a text from Brian asking if I wanted to climb the Nose in August, it slowly dawned on me that although Yosemite valley had day time highs of 95, that also meant that El Cap would likely be devoid of any climbers. The possibility of not having to wait behind parties, be pressured to stay in front of parties, share bivy ledges, get peed on, outweighed the experience of climbing in the oppressive heat of the valley.
We planned to spend one night on Sickle Ledge (pitch 4), one night on El Cap Tower (pitch 12), and one night at Camp 5 (pitch 21), which meant we needed about 3-4 days of water. We decided to bring 1 gallon per person for four days which totalled 8 gallons or 67lbs of water.
We used a combination of regular 1 gallon water containers from the grocery store, gatorades, and also reused a 1 gallon Arizona Ice Tea jug that ended up breaking around pitch 8, leaking out 1/8 of the valuable water we brought.
All in all, we probably could have drank double the amount of water we brought. I remember on day 3, I peed once in the morning and then once before bed. We were definitely slightly dehydrated, but one gallon a day was tolerable.
We brought a triple rack of regular cams, a single rack of offsets, a bunch of nuts, and a couple cam hooks. We also brought a bunch of alpine draws and free biners for the bolt ladders.
We free climbed a lot less than we thought we would, and though the rack was quite big, some of the pitches are very long and sometimes at the anchor I would notice I used up almost all the cams. Maybe you could get away with fewer cams by back cleaning more or free climbing more.
Brian and I are pretty seasoned climbers, but it was really hard for both of us to transition from aid climbing to free climbing. First, the rack is absolutely ginormous and so damn heavy. Then you also have a fat haul line attached to you. Then you have two ladders swinging right wherever you want to step. We ended up barely free climbing anything.
Highly recommend a belay seat and a big wall harness, or at least a comfortable harness. I had bruises on my hips for a week after the climb.
We met at the meadow at 11am on a Tuesday and after packing and repacking a million times, we finally set off to Pine Line (pitch 0), the 5.7 that gets you to pitch 1 of the Nose. The approach probably only took us about 30 minutes, but it felt like an eternity with the 90lb haul bag on my back. We started climbing at around 1:30pm and arrived to Sickle Ledge (pitch 4) around 5:30pm, less than 1 hour per pitch, pretty good I thought.
Having some day light left, we fixed the next pitch as well. (Fixing a pitch means to climb it, secure your rope to it, and then rap back down. This allows you to use ascenders to quickly jug up the rope the next day and continue on.)
I’m sure it was hot but I can’t even remember if it was honestly that bad. It’s obviously a dry heat, and El Cap is always windy, I really don’t even think it was too uncomfortable. I climbed the whole thing in pants and a t-shirt. I had a bandana to protect the back of my neck as well. At night, we definitely needed the sleeping bags we brought, after learning the hard way on Leaning Tower the week before. The lows were probably in the low 60s.
After dinner we got to watch a party do a Sickle run without knowing how to lower out. I asked how they were dealing with the pendulums and he just said “oh we just take the swing”.
We started climbing on the second day around 7am and arrived to El Cap Tower (pitch 12) around 4pm. After relaxing on the best bivy ledge on El Cap for an hour, we fixed the next two pitches, Texas and Boot, and came down to have dinner at 7pm.
This was our first full day of climbing and we were pretty beat by the end of it. We basically climbed all day, leading in blocks, and never stopping for a break or lunch, just eating and drinking when we had a free moment.
So far no hiccups with stuck haul bags or rope management messes, everything was going quite smoothly, to our surprise.
We left the plush ledge of El Cap Tower around 7am and after jugging the fixed ropes to the top of Texas (pitch 13), I slightly lost my balance for a split second and ended up knocking the Micro Traxion (a progress capture pulley vital for hauling the haul bag) out of Brian’s hand as he was setting it up. This would have been catastrophic for our climb and we probably would have had to bail, but fortunately it had fallen inside the chimney which only required a short rappel to retrieve.
We continued to the top of Boot (pitch 14) and I got lowered to get ready for the King Swing. The King Swing is a giant pendulum swing you must do to access the next crack system on the Nose, which is 50 feet to the climber’s left. You actually run across the rock like Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible. I had heard stories of the swing taking 30 minutes or more, but surprisingly, I made it to Eagle Ledge (pitch 15) after only two swings, probably because I’m awesome.
Our next hiccup occurred as Brian lowered the haul bag to me from Boot on the fixed lead line. He connected it with a non locker, and of course it unclipped from the rope as I pulled it into the anchor, resulting in him having to re-haul and then re-lower. All in all, no big problems so far!
We continued up past Camp 4 (pitch 17), through the Great Roof (pitch 19) and all the way to Camp 5 (pitch 21), making it there around 5pm. We fixed the next two pitches to Camp 6 (pitch 23), just in time for dinner at 7pm.
Again, we were off around 7am and with just two pitches to jug and 5 pitches to lead, we cruised to the summit and arrived around 1pm. We spent an hour enjoying the view and then trotted back to the valley which surprisingly only took 2 hours. The descent trail is well marked with cairns, and the raps required two ropes (no fixed ropes).
It’s really not as bad as I thought it would be. We went with two small poop tubes mainly because we couldn’t find a suitable container that could hold up to 6 poops, but it ended up working out well. It felt less gross knowing I was only smelling my own aromas as I shoved the morning’s deposit into my poop tube.
We also shoved both poop tubes inside the haul bag alongside our everything (sleeping bags, layers, food) which I initially was pretty against, but again, it wasn’t that bad. I guess our containers were pretty air tight. I think most people hang theirs below the haul bag, but that seemed inconvenient and risky.
In case you don’t know, and I didn’t know the first time, but you can unbuckle your leg loops and then slip them off your legs before you pull your pants down which allows you to stay tied into your harness as you do your business. Not knowing the correct procedure, for my first time, I took my harness totally off on the two foot wide ledge of Sickle, and wrapped it around my left hand as I wiped with my right hand 400 feet off the ground. Surprised anything even came out.
I recommend our NiceClimbs El Crap Wag Bags, they are excellent!
We considered for a bit to just bring some pre-made PB&J sandwiches with us so we could forgo bringing a stove, but realized it just doesn’t make sense not to bring a jetboil to make nice hot dinners like Mountain House meals or whatever. Dinner time was by far the most exciting part of every day. We were absolutely starving by dinner and our hot meals tasted heavenly. The additional weight and bulk is negligible compared to the bathtub sized amount of water you’re bringing anyways.
Sickle Ledge is not great for two people, El Cap Tower is excellent, and Camp 5 is excellent too. We brought sleeping pads and bags and no portaledge. Dolt looked ok too, Camp 4 not too great and Camp 6 not too great either.
Another great reason to climb it during the summer is that I heard all these bivy ledges with Camp 5 in particular smelling really strongly of piss during high season. We didn’t experience any of that.
What to do next time
So it’s always fun to push yourself to move faster and more efficiently. Brian and I talked a lot about what we would do next time, or maybe what we should have done this time. Although three nights makes for a nice time with a reasonable amount of climbing each day, I think for sure we could and most competent parties should be able to knock off the Nose in two nights instead of three. Here’s how.
Start as early as possible, possibly climbing the first few pitches in the dark. The aim is to get to El Cap Tower in the first day. Twelve pitches will probably be pretty tiring but with no major snags and consistent movement, I think it’s reasonable to get there by 7pm with around a 5am start?
Then day two would be to get to Camp 5 (21) which would be 9 pitches, and day three to the top (7 pitches).
Anyways, that’s how I would try and do it next time to reduce the amount of water we would need to bring and the number of nights needed to sleep on the wall. I also would definitely try and climb it during a weekday in the summer again to avoid the crowds.
Did you know that only seven people have freed the Nose since it was first climbed in 1958? If you’re going for it, be sure to pick up one of our climbing coffee mugs, and you’ll be eighth in no time.
One thought on “Trip Report: The Nose of El Cap”
Nice write up.
Sounds like you guys make up for experience with tenacity.
If you drop your ONLY pulley that’s a major fail, but not knowing how to do without ( set a 3:1 and body haul using biners only and no pulleys using ascenders as the capture ) is pretty rare, and having only one of any mission critical piece will eventually get you in trouble.
Two gallons a day in summer is spot on and I agree the lack of crowd pressure makes up for the sweat.