I took a long-overdue extended trip to Yosemite Valley last summer. It was something I had been thinking about for awhile, and this time I had a partner in mind — someone who could also take the time off from work and would have ample psyche for similar (big) goals. Around early Spring I called up Eric and mentioned my plans — he was pretty excited from the get-go and we planned for four weeks in the Valley: mid-May through early June.
On May 14 we took off from Salt Lake in my car, filled to the brim, and squatted camping in Tuolumne, planning to arise early to wait in line to get into Camp 4. The plan was to stay in Camp 4 for our allotted week, then go big-walling, then find camping outside the Park. We were in line by 6am and got a spot quickly. Once we were moved in I said, hey, let’s go climb the Central Pillar of Frenzy! Eric was a bit surprised, but it was only five pitches, so we gave it a go. It was a stellar warm-up to Valley climbing — technical and a bit stout with excellent cracks the whole way up.
We spent the next week or so ticking off multi-pitch routes: E Buttress of Middle Cathedral, Glacier Point Apron, Reed’s Pinnacle. After a particularly strenuous day of cragging we decided to focus on what we had come here to do: El Cap!
The Nose and Half Dome’s Regular Northwest Face were the two big routes we had our eye on. At first we had planned to do Half Dome, the smaller of the two, but the weather was still quite cool, so we set off for El Cap instead. We spent a day or so packing the haul bag, shopping, and cleaning up camp on our last day at Camp 4. The next morning we packed the pig (haul bag) to the base of the route — a rather horrendous endeavor as it weighed well over 100 pounds, even though it’s only a quarter mile walk!
We were disappointed to see two parties on the first few pitches — not only that, but they were hauling and moving incredibly slow. We had heard that the fix-n-fire method was the way to go on the Nose: climb the first four pitches to Sickle Ledge, rap down some fixed lines, and haul the pig(s). The hauling was supposedly easier (hauling a heavy bag sucks no matter what, though) and cleaner directly to Sickle.
Our options seemed to be either wait a day and let them get ahead, or push forward anyway and hope to pass. The latter seemed unlikely, so we opted for the former, and hauled the bag up a pitch to avoid any bear encounters overnight. While Eric hauled, I ran into Jim Donini at the base of the route, who had just come down from a little practice session on the route with George Lowe and Hans Florine. Distinguished company! They (Jim and George) were practicing to set the record for the oldest team to climb the Nose in a day. We chatted a bit — he was pretty beat up after getting walloped by a haul bag from another party so they bailed mid-day. Soon after, we retreated back to Curry Village for pizza and beer, aiming for an early start the next day to beat any other potential parties to the route.
The next day dawned clear and cool, and by 8 or so we were on the first pitch. We had discussed leading in blocks for efficiency, and the first four were mine as they contained some of the more technical aiding on the route. I set off full-on aid-style, happy to have offset mastercams for the copious pin scars. The climbing was enjoyable on perfect rock, and I soaked in the sun and warm granite, very happy to finally be climbing again after so many rest days. We moved pretty quickly (well, relatively anyway) without needing to haul, and were at Sickle by 12 or 1PM. One of the parties we had seen from the day before was still on Sickle — I think they had spent the night there, and were in the midst of passing the party ahead. We talked to them for a little while before rapping straight down to our haul bag. They were a team of three from LA, and, like us, were fairly inexperienced wall climbers. We took our time working out a haul system (1:1) and had the pig up at Sickle by 4PM or so. The two parties ahead hadn’t made much progress, and we were a bit worried about their pace. After getting (more) pizza and beer and driving back to El Cap Meadow at around dusk, they were both still around the Stovelegs! They had climbed about 3 pitches in 6 hours. The Nose is a 31-pitch route. At this point there was nothing we could do, so we headed back to the Sand Flats for a good night’s sleep before committing to the wall the next morning…