Tuesday, June 2, 2009

14:06:22 !!!

Yeah, I'm super excited!! Yesterday my friend Scott (of Canon city, CO) and I climbed the best rock climbing route in the world, the Nose on El Capitan. We climbed it pretty fast, starting at 2:45am, working hard through sun-up, all morning, and into the afternoon, and topped out at 4:51pm.

Climbing the "Nose in a day" was our main goal for the Valley this season, and it's a big goal for many climbers (those of us in the know just call it the NIAD). Scott and I had climbed the Nose last year for my second big wall (Scott's third) in a more traditional style: We spent one day climbing the first 8 pitches (to the base of the Stoveleg cracks) and fixing ropes down to the ground. The next day we came back and "blasted off", ascending our fixed lines and climbing another 6 pitched to El Cap Tower. One more day took us to Camp Six, then the next brought the summit. The climbing was super-enjoyable, and I loved camping out on the ledges, but the task of hauling all of our gear for a multi-day trip was physical and draining. We figured that, if we didn't have to haul any stuff, we could climb much faster.

So this year, we went back with a much different mindset. Instead of a huge bigwall that would take a protracted effort, we looked at the route as simply another long day climb. We took one day to go up to Eagle ledge (about 14 pitches up) to relearn the first half of the route and work out a good system for climbing fast. We rappeled back down after our "practice run", confident that we were moving well enough to try the big push.

After one rest day, we were psyched to start, but the weather was iffy and we delayed one more day. So, Monday morning, mega-early but not yet bright, we woke up and committed ourselves to getting up El Cap!

The first 4 pitches were my leads, and they felt much trickier by headlamp than they had a few days previous. There's a bunch of slippier 5.10 climbing here that's pretty hard to aid, to I just had to commit to the friction and get moving as fast as possible. The system we were using, called short-fixing, has the leader lead up a pitch, and upon reaching the first set of anchors (usually about 100-150' up), pull up all the slack and fix the rope. The second can then start to jug (using mechanical ascenders) up the fixed line, while the leader leads out again on the remaining slack (usually quite a bit, since we were using a 235' rope). The leader belays himself with a gri-gri, which is kind of awkward, until the second reaches the previous belay, unfixes the rope, and puts the leader back on belay.

By short-fixing, we were able to partially eliminate all of the wasted time spent sitting at belays and enable both climbers to be moving most of the time. It's way more fun, since as the leader you are continuously climbing for 4-6 pitches.

So, the pitches were flying by, and sunrise saw us working our way up the Stove legs. It was now Scott's lead, so I could relax a bit and simply enjoy the position and beauty of the sun hitting the Cathedral rocks, across the valley. Scott quickly got us up to Dolt tower, and it was again my turn to lead. Another key to short-fixing and climbing fast is going as far as possible between gear placements, both to speed up leading and following, and also to conserve gear. When the terrain was easy, I would try to go entire pitches without leaving any gear, which wasn't as scary as it sounds since you can always aid through harder moves and backclean your gear.

Near the end of that lead block I was in the Grey Bands approaching Camp 4. The Grey Bands are the chossiest section of the Nose, where the normally immaculate white granite is intruded with less desirable grey crap. Since the climbing was loose, I was already on edge. I decided to try and run out the entire pitch, since it follows a C-shaped path, first traversing left, then up, then back right. I figured that if I could skip enough gear, Scott could simply jug staight up to the belay and avoid following the tedious traverses. So, I fixed my rope at the anchor, left out a huge loop of slack (not even bothering to clip in my gri-gri) and begain traversing left. It's easy for a while, and then you have to go straight up. It gets hard here (maybe 5.11), so I started aiding. Having already led 4 pitches, I was pretty low on gear, and I didn't have the right size cam (green alien) for the crack in front of me. I plugged a yellow alien a bit lower, and then tried to work in a stopper up high. I got one in (the wrong size) and pulled on it. It popped immeadiately, and I came off. Luckily I had placed the yellow alien below, and it was at waist level, but I still had a good bit of slack in my rope and no belayer. My instict was good though, and I reached out with my right hand and grabbed the rope, quickly stopping my fall. It wouldn't have been too bad if I'd taken the fall, since there was only 20-30' of slack out, but I was shaken up regardless.

Starting back up, I took my time, worked in a better piece, and finished the section, ending my lead block. Scott quickly joined me, and took off up the Great Roof. (Nice work on that, man!) Our progress at this point was a bit slower; as the wall got steeper, much more aid was needed (not to mention we were pretty tired). But steadily we moved upwards, and Scott took us all the way to Camp 6. My turn to lead again, and this would be the final lead block. The Changing Corners pitch, which is the free crux of the route at 5.14a, went really quickly on aid, and from there it was only 3 pitches of amazing 5.10 climbing leading up to the final bolt ladder. I especially enjoyed these last pitches, free climbing when I could (and the limits of short-fixing allowed). The very last pitch is the perfect ending: a bolt ladder up and over the ridiculously steep final roof. Though I was tired, I monkeyed up it with a draw in each hand. Pulling onto the slab at the top felt wonderful, and I let out a huge yell. I fixed the rope and Scott started jugging furiosly, spurred on by my calls of "Double the Power!" (imagine a Schwarzenegger accent). The last frantic run up to the tree at the top and a rush to stop the clock: 14:06:22 !!!

Scott moving quickly under the Great Roof. Note that this was the one and only use of the stick clip, and it wasn't really necessary. We won't bring it next time.

Photo by Tom Evans, a super rad dude that has a telescopic lens and a love of the Big Stone. Check out his page: http://www.elcapreport.com/

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