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(Half of) The Nose In (Way More Than) A Day
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By Phill T
Oct 5, 2012

Sept 8th, 2012

A week after our successful and relatively uneventful ascent of University Wall in Squamish, I picked Gabe up in the Sacramento airport and we headed to the valley for the big show. This trip had been on the docket for over a year after my first free climbing trip to the Valley. The weather was a bit questionable -- some forecasts gave us mid 70s, while others showed mid 90s for our week in the valley, quite the discrepancy! We forged ahead and planned for something in the middle, which is exactly what we got: Mid-low 80s and sunny, so a touch hot in the sun, but really, quite ideal temperatures for this time of year.

We got a spot in Camp 4 after spending a brief night on a forest road outside the Valley and spent the rest of the day organizing gear and checking out the potential crowd situation. A trip to the base of the wall showed us one party starting off of Sickle Ledge (4 pitches up). We casually talked about our plan as we watched them prepare to haul their bag off of Sickle. The pitch goes about as far horizontally as it does vertically, so can be a little complicated and involve a long lower out. But they didnít lower it out... They just pushed the thing off! It swung wildly off the ledge, spinning and bouncing violently back and forth until it finally came to rest plumb under the anchors 180 feet up. Wow, that was quite a show, wonder if all their stuff was OK...

Our game plan for the Nose was to climb the first four pitches up to Sickle Ledge, then fix and rappel three 60-meter ropes to the ground, get the the pig/portaledge/etc from the car, hump it to the base, and then ascend and haul to Sickle. Then we'd rap back to the ground and spend a final night on the ground before blasting off for the next 2-3 nights on the wall.

The plan for the actual climbing was that Gabe, being far and away the stronger crack climber, would free climb all of the pitches 5.10 and under, while I would aid everything harder. The breakdown of free to aid pitches in this system was roughly equal, but the lion's share of the first half of the climb was up to Gabe, while the second half was mostly up to me. This is definitely not a typical approach to climbing a wall, but we figured it would maximize our strengths and give us the best chance of actually getting up the thing in the time frame we were hoping for of 3 days and 2 nights on the wall.

Day 0, pitch 0. Gabe leads up Pine Line, as there was a NIAD (Nose In A Day) team ahead of us, so we had a bit of time to kill. A nice little 5.7 warmup. No issues. Gabe then sets up on the very rough wake-up call (as it was around 7am, I think) of p1 which goes at 10d. It went pretty damn well, and while he did french free a few times, he got up it fast. My turn. The next pitch goes free at 12a, or C2 aid. I thought nothing of it. I start up the thing and am trucking along, having fun with the challenge of finding the right piece for the highest bit of crack I could reach and making it work. The rock is really good and I'm happy with my placements so I'm back cleaning about half of my gear to help with rope drag and to conserve gear for higher up on the pitch. About 30 feet off the belay, the gear gets a bit trickier. The options dwindle, and all you have to use are a variety of pin scars of different sizes and depths. Pin scars are what is left over after someone has pounded in a piton and then removed it, so its kinda flared and uneven. They are notoriously tricky to get gear into. I get one #5 BD (about the size of an M&M) nut into a nice slot below the first pin scar, test it, and stand up on it and look up. Pin scars pin scars pin scars. It's all there is! But they don't look that bad. I place an orange Mastercam in the first one, I'm sure the back lobes are more cammed than the outer ones, but they all look bomber. I stand on it, super confident. I look up and spot the highest pin scar I can reach, pick out a yellow C3 for it, stand up and slide it in. Its not the best piece of gear I've ever placed, but Its kinda already stuck so I figure I'll test it and move on. The thing is solid for some quick bounce testing, so here we go. I stand up, no problem. Looking up, hmmmm ok I can reach that big one if I stand way up in my aiders here...I bury a red alien in it. Deep. All of the lobes look perfectly cammed. Bomber! Stand up. Ok wow, that next one looks perfect for a blue mastercam. Stand up, place it, clip it. I didn't even test this one, it looked so good, and I was so confident in it. Looking up, ok sweet there is a fixed nut one more move up, all I need is one more move to get to it. Hmm my foot hurts from standing in this damn aider, I'll switch to my other foot.

  • POP* "WHOA!!!" *TINGTINGTING*

Suddenly I'm 30 feet closer to the ground, tight on the rope holding my shoe with four little backstabbing bastard cams jumbled on the rope at my waist. My thumb hurts like hell and my elbow is gushing. Holy crap that just happened! I'm about 6' above Gabe at the belay after being a good 35-40 above him. That little nut that I almost didnít place saved my ass after 4 of what I thought were all bomber cams ripped out like weeds in Martha Stewart's garden.

Somewhere in the fall, my heel clipped a feature and tore my shoe off. It then either just landed in my lap, or I somehow managed to catch it in flight without noticing. After a little systems check (nothing seemingly seriously injured), I try to comprehend what just happened. How the fuck did all of those cams rip out? I feel like I've been betrayed by a girlfriend with my three closest friends. You know, the guys you expect to have your back in any situation? Yeah, fuck those guys. They don't have your back, at least not when they are stuffed into pin scars.

I'm still not quite sure how I convinced myself to head back up to the nut and finish the rest of the pitch, but I certainly changed my approach and used about 90% passive gear from then on out. The pendulums went fine (a purple Totem cam works wonders in the horizontal pin scar in the middle of second to last one!) and we got to Sickle in pretty good time. Bonanza!!! Remember that team that just launched their bags off of Sickle? Yeah, turns out they had to bail because they exploded half of their water in that rookie move. They left the rest of their water (6 gallons or so?) on Sickle for everyone else to enjoy. I enjoyed about a gallon of it right there. We tied our 3 60 meter lines together and rapped to the ground. Next was the hard part, jugging and hauling. We hike down to the car and get the rest of our gear- haulbag, portaledge, food, water, sleeping bags, emergency clothing etc. Hiking with all this stuff seriously sucks, getting it up the wall sucks even more let me tell you. This is where I re-found out that my set-up for jugging lines sucks ass. Seriously. I do twice as much work to move half as fast as Gabe. Most people use two ascenders and a set of ladders and kind of walk up the rope. I decided to go with the 'frogging' set up where you use one ascender and a grigri and kind of hump your way up the rope. I feel this system is superior when you are cleaning really tricky pitches that are overhanging or traversing as you cannot possibly pop off the rope with the grigri attached (as is possible with ascenders), but good god it sucks for pure jugging.

It takes me roughly 180 'frogs' (a weird combination of a crunch and a half pullup/pulldown with a squat thrown in) to go 50 meters. We have 150 meters to jug. and then haul our roughly 100lb pig (which sucks, especially on hanging belays, all of which these were). Nothing interesting happened, but it sure was a pain in the ass. We finally get back up to sickle ledge with all of our crap around 9:00pm. A bit later than we would have liked, but whatever. We head down our ropes again and are on the ground around 9:30, time for some pizza in curry village!

Yosemite sucks. Turns out everything is closed by 9. Except for the ice cream stand (wtf???). We have ice cream for dinner along with some cold Chef Boyardee we have stashed in the bearbox at camp4. Day 0 complete around 11:30pm. I'm freaking exhausted. we set our alarm for 4am to start things for real the next day. I try to convince myself that this is the most work we will do in a day, HA! I try to convince myself that my head will be back of the game and that big fall won't affect me. I also kind of try to convince Gabe that we should leave our shit up there, take a rest day, and then start the day after. Neither of us are convinced this is a good idea with the potential crowd situations we saw on our raps down (3 teams of 2 on their way up to sickle!).

Camp 4 sucks too. earplugs are huge, I'm glad I have them, but it's still loud and obnoxious. Might have gotten 2 hours of sleep when 4am rolls around. We head back to the cap'n to make it hap'n. Jugging sucks. I think I said that before, but we had to redo that 150m jug again. The rest of the day is kind of a haze. I remember having to retie the haul line to give Gabe enough slack to get to the top of p6 after combining 5 and 6. I remember doing some lower outs. I remember watching Gabe spectacularly running and jumping across my belay on a pretty freaking big penji to get into the stove legs. I wish I had recorded those, it was a pretty cool angle. I remember it being REALLY windy when we were in the stovelegs and wishing we had brought the ropebag to help organize things at those shitty hanging belays. I remember being absolutely terrified on my 2 leads for the day (out of 9). Normally my stress is about a 2/10 while doing c1/c2. I was at about a constant 8 with peaks to 11 occasionally when things were a bit tricky. I was convinced that every piece, no matter how bomber it was, was gonna rip out along with the 6 below it. I didnít back clean a single piece. My head is officially shattered. FML.

We had hoped to make it all the way to El Cap tower on day1, but it just wasn't going to happen. We stop at Dolt (a 8'x 30' rocky ledge) just as the sun is setting (around 8pm?) and set up camp, quickly joined by Steve 'Shipoopi' Schnieder and his client Chris. Steve was full of information as this was reportedly his 227th trip up El Cap (!!!!!!!!). I ask him if he has any constructive criticism for us, as he has kinda seen our systems. "yeah dude, your jugging system sucks!". Thanks. I know. We settle in for the night and gaze up at the stars on this gorgeous night. Its amazing how clearly you can hear everything going on in the valley below. There was some weird lightningish flashes coming from the direction of Half Dome. Not sure exactly what was up with that, wasnít a cloud in the sky. It gets a bit windy at night, but overall pretty comfortable, except for some awkwardness as Steve was moaning loudly in pain for about 20 minutes from some vicious leg cramps.

We had made a game plan with flowcharts and options for variations in how high we made it from day to day. We were definitely on the 'slow' track on our diagram. In my book, if we didnít make it to El Cap Tower (4 more pitches beyond Dolt), we were pretty much sunk for summitting in 4 days. Gabe was still optimistic, but I kinda knew we were screwed at this point, especially with my lead head being shattered and most of my pitches yet to come. We don't really talk about it, but I think both of us were more or less along the same lines of 'ok well lets see how far we can get'.

We wake up and set off from Dolt. I start the day feeling about as low mentally as I have ever been, but now the physicality of the whole thing is definitely starting to catch up, even though most of the work up to this point has been up to Gabe. The next 4 pitches are all his. The one memorable one is described as '5.9 fisty'. Yeah wow, so normally on a 'fisty' crack you take 2-4 big cams to protect yourself. We had a single #4 and then a 3.5 that would fit OK in this 'fisty' crack. At one point Gabe yells down to me 'if I fall its gonna be a big one....donít tell my wife how I climbed this!'.... what do you say to that? 'uhh...ok!'. He had to run it out a good 30 feet before he could get any more gear to fit after he burned the big cams. Scary. The last pitch before El Cap Tower involved a lot of traversing 'easy' terrain. So instead of me jugging and self belaying up the pitch and having to deal with snarls of rope under me, we decided that Gabe would belay me as I free climbed it, while he simultaneously hauled the pig. Not nearly as sketchy as it sounds, but good lord free climbing in approach shoes (glorified tennis shoes) with all of that aid shit hanging off of you is a royal pain in the ass. It gets caught on every freaking little rock it possibly can! That pitch was way harder than it was supposed to be. I flop myself onto El Cap Tower, a gorgeous 20'x4' perfectly flat ledge and just sit, trying to judge what I have left to give.

I'm shattered. Mentally, physically. I look up at the 16 pitches that remain, and know that about 14 of them are mine to lead. I cant really think of a word for it, but the closest I can come is despair. I was really hoping that my head would be in somewhat better condition after 2 day of 'easy' work, but its right back where it was after finding my shoe in my lap. I think I could maybe hold it together for a little bit more, but the added stress of the sheer physical exhaustion pushes it over the top. I really don't want to disappoint Gabe, I know how much he wants it, his investment the trip in both time and money. I think I almost cried a little bit, I was done, conquered by 3200 feet and countless millions of tons of granite. I don't remember the exact conversation, but I convinced Gabe the condition I was in, and after about a 20 minute break we started down.

15 full length rappels. Fun. The first four were severely traversing and very tricky. Normally this isnít such a big deal, but we have a 100lb pig to deal with. We worked out a system where the first man would rap down on the lead line but have the tail of the haul line attached to him, with about 30' of slack and then attached to the pig. The second man would lower the bag at about the same rate as the first man rapped, so when the first man secured himself to the anchor, he would have control over the pig via the attached haul line. The pig would get lowered out plumb to the now secured first man, he would set up a short haul while the second man rapped down the lead lines. It worked pretty damn well, except for the last of these 4 raps where our 60m lines were not long enough to make it to the next anchor (the topo lies!). We had to make our own anchor and would have had to leave gear behind if Steve and his client had not been descending down their lines to spend another night on Dolt after fixing a bunch of pitches. (they took an alternate path up, the Giardine Traverse, rather than heading up to El Cap Tower.) With some teamwork and shenanigans we were able to recover all of our gear and get set up for the 10 raps straight down from Dolt. We left Steve and Chris the rest of our water and some bonus pudding snacks and headed down. The rest of the raps were luckily uneventful, although somewhat windy. We were back on the ground around 7:30. Pizza and 'we survived' beers later, we crash out back in camp4.

We didnít really talk about it much, I could tell Gabe was struggling with wanting to go off on me, blaming me for the whole debacle, but still wanting to be a nice guy. I mean really it was my fault one way or the other that we couldnít make it up. I don't know if that fall on pitch 2 was the cause of failure, or if it was just a catalyst that just hastened the whole ordeal. Hard to say. I think something like 50% of parties first attempting El Cap have to bail. I am now a statistic, yay.

I can say that after 3 weeks my head is still not where it was before the fall. I am usually pretty timid climbing above gear, but now its agonizingly slow going. Every piece I put in I am convinced will rip out, I'm basically in freesolo 'mustnotfall' mode the whole time. Bolts on the other hand seem to be fine, so I think I'll be sticking to those for a while, onwards to Bishop!

Advice for anyone doing the nose:

Dedicated lower out line, at least 30'. 70m lead and haul lines. Watch out for pin scars, they are tricksy little bitches. Wait for someone else to fail ahead of you so you can scavenge all the water they will inevitably leave behind. Don't use the shitty frogging system of jugging. Do lots of cardio to prepare. Be comfortable on fist cracks and/or bring multiple #4s.


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By Brian Prince
From morro bay, ca
Oct 5, 2012
The Seward Highway is really beautiful.

Hey thanks man. Very entertaining. Sorry it didn't work out.. haha that shoe in your lap.


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By Wally
From Denver
Oct 10, 2012

Wow, great write up Phill. You bested our first attempt on the Captain. We didn't even make it to Dolt! Yeah! - first time up there is a big wake-up call. Takes an unbelievable amount of effort to get up the big stone. Sounds like you guys both learned a lot and will be stronger and more knowledgeable, if there is another attempt. I hope you keep this on your bucket list - climbing El Cap is a huge accomplishment that not a lot of climbers, for one reason or another, have done.

Wally


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By Mark Lewis
From Salt Lake City, Utah
Oct 10, 2012

Thanks for the trip report Phil - I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself hoping you'd summit. I definitely was pulled in. Good luck on your next attempt!


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By GabeO
From Denver, CO
Oct 11, 2012

Thanks for posting up, Phil. Hoping your head improves. Give it time. And I'll add one thing - those nuts you placed in the pin scars that the cams ripped out of, on your second time up P2, were absolutely bomber. Dunno if that helps, but there it is.

Cheers,

GO


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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Oct 11, 2012
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3

sounds like you coulda used some ballnutz for them pin scars.


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By Phill T
Oct 11, 2012

thanks for the replies guys. Yeah I was happy with the nuts afterwards, I just like using cams because they are quick and easy to clean after being bounced/weighted etc! We had some ballnuts, I just have never really used them and know they can be a major PITA to clean after being weighted, which is inevitable in aid. definitely changed my tune with any kind of flaring placement now, makes me wonder how many times I sunk a non offset cam into a pinscar and climbed past it relying on it to keep me from decking thinking it was totally bomber when it was actually total crap. Lesson terrifyingly learned, luckily without too much bodily harm.


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By GabeO
From Denver, CO
Oct 11, 2012

LOL on the ballnutz. Whole separate story there...

Regarding the blown cams:

Phill T wrote:
...makes me wonder how many times I sunk a non offset cam into a pinscar and climbed past it relying on it to keep me from decking thinking it was totally bomber when it was actually total crap. Lesson terrifyingly learned, luckily without too much bodily harm.


Yeah, well... the past is the past. Don't spend too much time circling that particularly dark thought. Better to give yourself a "Most Improved" grade card, shake your head, and climb on.

Cheers,

GO


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By Rob Dillon
Oct 11, 2012

" there was a NIAD (Nose In A Day) team ahead of us, so we had a bit of time to kill."

Tee hee.

Good effort Phill. Dragging big bags up big cliffs will tell you something about how bad you really want it.

Perhaps look into some offset cams.


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By Greg Howland
Oct 11, 2012
The Nose

Rob Dillon wrote:
good effort Phill... Perhaps look into some offset cams.



+1 the second pitch is C1 with offsets the prime sizes for granite are the smallest three or four by metolius. I can't imagine climbing without them. The rest of the route is can be done at C1 with the exception of the great roof but that is fixed.

The corner that you fell out of goes free at 10b so you may want to try freeing or French freeing it next time.

Consider leading in more evenly spaced blocks 3-4 pitches a block worked well for my partner and I wall style doing about 10-12 a day. If you're leading 14 of 16 or 2 of 9 things are out of balance and the leader will typically lose steam and slow down.

Space hauling will help a lot on a route like the nose. Faster and more efficient when the bags are heavy.

Definitely get the jugging down. It's about 70% of a wall. When you're hauling you end up jugging the same length as the pitch, just is shorter segments. You need to be efficient in this or else you will wear out or move too slow. The only time you "need" to go foggy style on the nose is changing corners and the summit bolt ladder.

Don't get discouraged. Everything is amplified up there and can be really hard to deal with. Things that seem mundane on the ground are shit your pants scary sometimes. You adjust though.


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By Brian Sadowsky
From salt lake city
Oct 11, 2012
Royal Arches

Great effort guys! Sounds like you had some type 2 fun up there. Sometimes the best learning experiences are from failure and poor decisions/planning. Very entertaining write up and thanks for sharing! Do you have plans for your next wall already?.....it will go much better!!! Keep the psyche!


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By Nick Zmyewski
From Newark, Delaware
Oct 11, 2012
the frozen topout during a winter ascent

Hey, I didn't have nearly as bad a fall as you but I was still a little unnerved by mine. I was leading a pitch and had a 3C cam blow on me, but the RP below (which I had thought not great when I placed it) held a daisy whip. My partner and I were totally shocked when I didn't keep falling. Needless to say the rest of that pitch was a bit slower. The moral of the story, trust nuts. And you'll be fine if you just keep leading and use the experience to improve yourself.
P.S. bring 2 jumars


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By coop
From Glenwood Springs, CO
Oct 12, 2012
Indian Creek Climbing

thanks for sharing, very entertaining trip report


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By Calvino
From Bellingham, WA
Oct 12, 2012
getting ready for the final roof series

This is a very fun report. Amazing how much this matches my trip up on el cap. That run out on the fist crack may be the scariest lead of my life. Who thinks one #4 is at all reasonable?


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