The Nose – Trad, Aid, 5.9 C2, 31 Pitches, 3000 feet, Grade VI – in 3 days

After many years of dreaming, scheming, planning and 2 other attempts (for me), my friend John Plotz and I climbed “The Nose” of El Capitan in 3 days – spending 2 nights on ledges!  In sharing this amazing experience I’ll do my best to keep the words short and let the pictures speak.

John and I scheduled our trip with the intention of adjusting 2 or 3 days prior based on the forecast – we canceled our May 6th departure and rescheduled for May 27th – 31st.  The Sunday preceding we checked the forecast and we decided to go for it!

I must include this part – my angst compelled me to have my son drop me at the pre-agreed rendezvous of Safeway in Toppenish.  We got there at the hour of 2 p.m. thinking and hoping that John would get an early start.  And upon arrival checked in with John and he hadn’t even left work in Wenatchee, which means he still needed to run by his house etc. etc. etc. Lesson learned – optimism doesn’t change a persons schedule.  Funny looks will come your way when you sit with a fully packed haul bag, portaledge and camping gear in Toppenish Safeway, BTW.  On a positive note I met and 2 lengthy discussions – 1 with a Hispanic gentleman that was on his way to the Deschutes National forest, to live for the next 4 months collecting Ponderosa cones to sell. Oh!  And he said the grey squirels are really good eating… The 2nd discussion was with an Indian (no not from India) who was a really nice guy.  I nearly became intoxicated from the discussion but did discover that we had mutual friends (one of them being my best friend in elementary school).  John arrived at 9:30p.m. – do the math, that’s a very long time to hang out at Safeway in Toppenish!

We drove til 2ish a.m. swerved into a campground in southern OR tossed our sleeping bags on the ground to catch a few winks and were back on the road by 6 a.m.  The rest of the drive was sheer torture and that is not an understatement.  I typically set my cruise at 8 mph over, minimum (8 your fine 9 your mine, the officer said) John set his cruise on 55 mph maximum and no A/C.  I’ve been shopping for a new “cragmobile” ever since, the muscle-car type – just haven’t found one with 2 turbos yet.

We arrived in The Valley sometime Thursday afternoon and headed straight for the campground so that we could eat a good dinner and pack our haul bag. We set our alarms for 4 a.m. and attempted to sleep… I kept checking my watch, 3 something…4…4:15…:20 then I got up walked over and whispered “John” – he awoke and after a short discussion decided 5 a.m. would be better – so back to the bag I went.

Day 1 – Pitch 0 (p# from now on) “Pineline”  – started climbing at 7 a.m., after “patiently” (NOT!) waiting for a couple guys to clear the pitch.

Geared up and ready to make the 1/4 mile approach (the worlds best big wall approach)


John shouldered the ~90 lb. haul bag like a boss! Thanks John!

"Pineline" pitch 0

John took the next p1, which he has dialed!

John leading p1 of "The Nose"

The team of 2 ahead of us, from the ground, gave us the green light to pass at p3 and we made great time up through “Sickle Ledge”, through the lower-outs and into the “Stoveleg” crack where we bumped up against a 3 man team.  They said that we could pass them on “Dolt Tower” but didn’t keep their word.


Me leading the first pitch in the stellar "Stoveleg" crack. p8

Looking down p8

"Stoveleg" crack - I'm waiting patiently for the anchor to clear to anchor in. We kept bumping into this team all day which is why we stayed the night at "Dolt Tower" instead of "El Cap Tower". This is to be expected when climbing the worlds most famous climb. photo credit Tom Evans

Night 1 on “Dolt Tower” was uneventful except for the wing suit base jumper that flew by – now that is crazy!

First night bivi sight was quite nice having it to ourselves even though we were slightly bummed to stop short of our goal of "El Cap Tower". Oh well, the view made up for it!

Morning day 2 dawned hot! As soon as the sun hit my bivi sack I was sweating and didn’t stop sweating until that evening.

p12 First pitch off of "Dolt Tower" - John's finishing his lower out and I'm docking the "pig". The beginning of day 2 echoes, "we should have brought more water..."


John beginning to lead p13 - approximately the 1/3 mark of the climb

We arrived on “El Cap Tower” and sat there being slow cooking in the sun…if the “bail” rap route was readily available we would have likely bailed.  This was the lowest point for us on the route – too hot, not enough water (no bootied water – usually one comes across water from other teams that have bailed by this point and we were kinda counting on that) And with slow teams ahead we had our doubts about being off in another day and half… We decided to do “Texas Flake” and the “King Swing” / “Boot Flake” and re-evaluate once we landed on “Eagle Ledge” since that is where we would intersect the bail route.

John snapped this of me on "Texas Flake" as he was hanging on the "Boot Flake" bolt ladder

John on the "Boot" bolt ladder.

John and I on top of "Texas Flake" which John did a great job leading! photo credit Tom Evans


John and I on top of "Boot Flake" in the very bottom right corner of the photo. If you look closely you'll see 5 other climbers. Photo credit Tom Evans

Once on top of “Boot Flake” I lowered John and he did the “King Swing“.  The method, we coined the “Queen Swing”, to get the haul bag and myself to “Eagle Ledge” was efficient and safe (John came up with it and we wonder why every “Nose” team doesn’t do it).  It involves using the haul-line as a rap cord…(ask me if you want beta) Once we hit “Eagle Ledge” we found shade and renewed enthusiasm to push on!

Wonderful climbing above "Eagle Ledge"!


John topping out p17

I lead the “Lynn Hill Traverse” which goes at 5.10 AO and it was exhilarating!  This took us to the “anchor of decision” where you need to decide if your stopping at Camp IV or climbing into the night – after a couple minutes of discussion I told John it was his call, since this was his 4th time on route. He decided we needed to push on since the decent sleeping ledges were taken by a 3 man team and it would put us ahead of them the following morning.  John lead the next 2 pitches taking us to the bottom of the “Great Roof” pitch and I followed until I was plumb-line, rapped back to un-dock the haul bag then jugged back up to John at top of p21.  From there I got the to lead the “Great Roof”!  It was stellar and even had the grand experience of falling when a piece popped out of the roof crack sending me for a ride in the dark!  Sweet!!!

John taking us to and past Camp IV p20


The 3 man team setting up for the night at Camp IV

We climbed until around 1 a.m. and stopped at Camp V.  John pointed to my ledge and I thought “are you crazy!?” but when I laid on it the length was exactly matched to my height, the width was kinda  unnerving since there were 10 inched to the edge of a ~2000 foot drop – non-the-less I slept quite well.  The next morning I lead the “Glowering Spot” pitch which had my full attention, one reason being the blood covered starting ledge that was the scene of a tragic death 4 days prior.

In full aid mode on the "Glowering Spot" p25


Looking down on Camp V and the "Glowering Spot" pitch p25

John took p26 and graciously gave me the “Changing Corners” pitch!

Amazing "Changing Corner" pitch! p27

John styling p28 another beautiful pitch!


Looking up p28

A short video from the “Wild Stance”

"The Wild Stance" belay, one pitch from the top.


Much of our time climbing “The Nose” had the look of the following picture….hanging out.

"The Nose" provides many lessons, the foremost being developing patience. John and I waiting to climb the last pitch....and waiting....and waiting...

We topped out just after dark bummed some water from the Brits then wandered off to find a sheltered spot to heat up a meal.  Oh, and by the way, I went pee – the last leak I’d taken was over 36 hours earlier. A new record in my 44 years of life! (sorry no pic.)

Upon discussing we decided to forego sleeping on top and hike down – the parking lot was a welcome site at 2:30 a.m. after ~18 hours of being on the go.

Thanks for reading and climb on!

2 thoughts on “The Nose – Trad, Aid, 5.9 C2, 31 Pitches, 3000 feet, Grade VI – in 3 days

  1. Thank you for sharing this with our IMAC group when you got back, and in this detailed story of your climb. It is well written, vivid, always interesting, and your climb was quite an achievement.

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