One time is not enough on the Best Rock Climb in the World, so my Friend Scott E. and I decided to go for another run up the Nose of El Capitan. You can read the report of our last ascent a few weeks back here. That was our first NIAD (Nose in a day) attempt, having already done the route in three days last year. That run went super well, and we finished in just over 14 hours. Having accomplished the "In a Day" goal, we were motivated to try again with a few simple goals: Be safe, have fun, and kick ass!
Yesterday morning at 4:30 our alarms went off and we awoke from our bivy in the Pines campground. Before that happened, though, some hilarity had ensued:
One of our preferred dirtbag camping options here in the Valley is to find nice tourists with a reserved campsite in the Valley campground (the Pines) and ask ever so nicely if we can bivy (basically just lay down our mats and sleeping bags and crash) in the corner of their site. We often embellish our request with epic stories of having just descended from El Cap and not having a place to stay (did we mention we climbed El Cap...). It's a good plan, and it's always worked for us.
Anyway, Friday night, the night before our Nose attempt, we were just looking to get some good rest, and we found a really nice guy who had a site all to himself. He said of course we could stay. Come 1:30am, we're asleep, and we're awoken to yelling and banging. I'm still pretty much dreaming and/or asleep, but Scott jumps up quickly. As there often is, there's a Black Bear in the site. I guess some friends of the guy we were camping with had arrived late, and were in the process of stocking their bear box (big metal food storage lockers located in every site). They weren't paying enough attention, though, and had left the box open, and so the local bruin seized the oppurtunity to grab a free snack.
So we wake up to a woman screaming "Hey Bear!" and clapping her hands. I guess someone had told here that's what to do to scare away a bear. It wasn't working. Scott jumps up, and in a much more aggressive tone, starts cursing the bear. Still nothing, he's going to town on the tasty contents of the box. Scott runs up, and with only the bear's butt sticking out of the box, proceeds to kick it square in the ass. (I probably shouldn't write this, since I'm sure it's against a number of Federal laws to assault a bear in a National Park, but it's too hilarious not to). The bear, however, is still too enthralled by all the free food and ignores Scott. He finds some rocks to throw, and eventually gets the bear to back up our of the box. Only then does Scott actually decide to back away, since this bear's no little baby and it looks pissed off. Finally, more rocks and much banging on the metal box convinces the bear to wander off, probably to find another open bear box to raid.
To top it all off, though, the woman who had been incessantly yelling "Hey Bear!" and clapping this entire time, also had a can of mace (!?), and I guess she wanted to use it on the bear. I think she must have pointed it the wrong way, though, because she caught herself full on in the face with it, and spent the next half hour sobbing and coughing.
So, we didn't get an awesome night's rest, but we still dragging ourselves out of bed at 4:30am, ate a quick breakfast, and headed down to El Cap. We timed it perfectly, and it just became light enough as we approached the base. This being our third time on the route, the second in just a few weeks, we now have the first bit pretty well sussed out. Regardless, the first few pitches always feel hard, and I take my time working my way up the slippery, pin-scarred cracks. No one is on Sickle Ledge, so we move quickly past that and into the Stovelegs cracks. One minor change from our last attempt: I would lead us all the way from the ground to Camp 4, what had been 3 lead blocks. Hopefully this would save time by eliminated lead change-overs. I think it worked well, and the experience of leading 20 consecutive pitches (only having to tag up gear twice) was pretty cool.
Passing Dolt tower, we find a party of 6 Korean climbers just waking up. We knew there were a lot of people on the route, since we had looked with binoculars the previous day, and we were relieved to be able to base 6 people at once without even slowing down.
Soon came the highlight of the day for me: the King Swing. We had avoided it on our previous ascent, opting to use a more straightforward new variation (the Jardine Traverse), but there's tons of appeal in sticking to the original route and doing the Swing. For the non El Cap savvy, the Nose route goes up the wall about halfway following various crack systems, which are essential for making progress. When the route reaches a spot called Boot flake, all of the cracks above blank out, and you must traverse 40' left across blank rock to gain another crack. To accomplish this, one climber lowers down about 100' from the top of Boot flake, and then runs with all his energy back and forth across the face until he can lunge and grab the elusive crack. Here's a few pictures from our King swing last year to give you an idea:
Scott and I atop the Boot last year. Note the haul bag, since we were doing it "Big-wall" style in three days. Do it in one and you don't have to haul that heavy bag!
Me about to stick the King Swing
Anyways, the Swing went pretty well for us. I lead it, and I was able to fix the rope atop Boot Flake, and lower myself down for the Swing on my GriGri. I thought it was pretty slick when I lowered down to Scott, who was jugging and cleaning the bolt ladder pitch above Texas flake, and was able to tag a bit of gear from him. Then I had to start running hard, and caught the faraway hold on my first attempt. Unfortunately, I had swung a bit too high, and I couldn't lower myself down on the GriGri while still gripping the holds. I had to let go, swing all the way back, lower a few more feet, and then stick it a second time. This time I grabbed some bigger holds and was able to get a hand free to ease off the GriGri and into the crack. With a giant war cry cheer, I was off up to Eagle Ledge, as Scott quickly finished cleaning the Boot. The whole sequence worked really well, and I'm psyched we were able to climb the route in the original fashion.
Soon we were at Camp Four, and it was Scott's turn to lead. After a short delay waiting for a party of three to finsh the Great Roof, Scott raced off up it. We passed that party just below Pancake Flake, and they were really nice, and I was soon at Camp 5, belaying Scott on maybe the most time-consuming pitch on the route: the Glowering Spot. The belay was another highlight of the route for me, though, since I got to chill out, enjoy the Valley view, rest up for my coming leads, and enjoying my huge sandwich! Fresh baked bread from the night before with salami, mayo, mustard, and cheddar; it's the perfect wall power sending food!
We reached Camp Six around 3:30, and it would be my leads all the way to the top. We could see one party (two really nice British kids) just finishing the Changing Corners lead, and I led off just behind their jugger. Having memorized the intricate climbing on this pitch, it went super quick, and I reached the next belay just after the British party's second. They let us pass, and so I fixed the rope and led up the next 5.10 thin hands pitch. Another pitch fixed, Scott jugging furiously behind, and then I was done with the Alcove also. One short 5.10 pitch to the base of the bolt ladder, fix the rope there, and then sprint up the over hanging bolts. Scott opts to simul this part, as opposed to jugging, and while I cheer him on he blasts up it. Another final sprint to the tree and we've done it. We check the watch, it's 4:54pm, our final time is 11hours and 24minutes. Yeah, Nose in half a day!