Climbing The Nose in a day (NIAD) has been on mine and John’s radar for several years. Finally schedules aligned allowing us the opportunity September 14th – 18th. John left Wenatchee after work on Thursday driving 2 hours to the Tri-Cities transferred gear and hammered down with the goal of driving until vision blurred then sleeping a few hours in the back of the truck. After ~14 hours of mind-numbing driving we rolled into The Valley driving straight to El Cap Meadow to check the crowd status on the route. To our surprise there was only one party on El Cap ledge – barring teams with a similar 4 a.m. start time and potential teams jugging up the fixed lines to Sickle Ledge we were looking forward to smooth sailing. Yes! We decided to lead in two blocks with John taking the first to the base of the Great Roof pitch and my block would take us to the top.
After forcing down breakfast we made the 15 minute approach and launched at 4:20, missing our planned 4 a.m. start time. This would be John’s 7th, my 2nd, time climbing TN and with an amazing memory he knew what gear was needed for each pitch. John smoothly brought us to Sickle Ledge and upon my arrival I felt the urge to peek at my watch strapped on the outside of my pack. According to Hans Florine Sickle is 1/10th of way, in regards to time, for a NIAD. Oh boy, I thought, we dispatched the first 4 pitches fairly quickly but 2 hours and 15ish minutes was going to put us a couple hours over 24… My thoughts started whirring as I thought about going non-stop for over 24 hours – after all we deliberately went light on water, around 14 hours worth, since the second had to climb with a pack…
Early morning light hits El Capitan as John leads us off Sickle Ledge on The Nose El Capitan
It was smooth sailing all the way to El Cap Tower and we seemed to be making great time, although it was apparent our top out time remained 24+ hour mark. I could hear John chatting with the team we’d spotted the day before from the meadow and as I pulled on to EC ledge I was met with a friendly greeting and a 1 gallon jug of water in my face – which after saying “are you sure” a couple times and the reply being an insistent, “we have way more than we need,” I chugged some down – I handed it back but the friendly chap pushed it back into my hands and said, “drink up”. Wow! What a blessing! Then he insisted I top off the 23.7oz Smart water bottle clipped to my harness at which I gladly did. (Kinda weird that I know off the top of my head that the Smart water bottles John uses and got me hooked on are 23.7 oz – probably since I’ve punched a calculator so many times figuring out how many ounces per hour/per person we need on a climb like this. Also, BTW, an empty 32 oz Nalgene bottle weighs 6 oz compared to an empty Smart water bottle, including the 3 mm cord clipping loop, weighs in at 1 oz. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you consider 1 gallon per day per person requires eight 32 oz Nalgenes – that’s 48 ounces, or 3 pounds, of plastic!) Sorry for the rabbit trail.
The 4 person team between EC tower and the top of Texas Flake were Andy Kirkpatrick, his wife and a couple who were celebrating their 25th (?) wedding anniversary by climbing El Capitan! So cool to meet members of the international climbing family in such an awesome place on Earth! What a treat! And, of course, Andy “forced” me to top off my water bottle before casting off Texas Flake on my way towards Boot Flake.
When John and I were both landed on Eagle Ledge our stoke was nearly off the charts! Allow me to explain. The standard NIAD method of executing the King Swing requires the leader to climb the pitch off Eagle Ledge all the while back-cleaning their gear risking a huge fall. We did the other method which as far as we know was pioneered by John (at least we haven’t seen it described anywhere else). It goes as follows: the leader does the standard King Swing onto Eagle Ledge then pulls in a single armload of slack and fixes the rope. As soon as the rope is fixed the follower clips a quickdraw from belay loop to the fixed rope side and belays/rappels down to Eagle Ledge on the GriGri. With John nailing the King Swing first go and using the Plotz Boot to Eagle method maybe 6 minutes passed for both of us to move from top of Boot Flake to Eagle Ledge.
My block/lead started with the Great Roof pitch and finished with the top out. Darkness settled in around top of Pancake Flake/pitch 23 so the remainder was lit by headlamp and I aided onward for the next ~14 hours arriving at the summit as the dawn greeted us.
The most dangerous part of our Nearly NIAD experience was driving out of Yosemite Valley with no sleep for the past ~32 hours. After snapping awake, swerving back into my lane and avoiding the oncoming car John was jolted awake by my swerving as I blurting “OH SHIT” – he suggested we catch some shut-eye in the next available parking lot.