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A Mere Mortal's Guide to Climbing the Nose. (Including my experiences with the rockfall on El-cap)

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Alex Saunders · · Des Moines, Iowa · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 0


After climbing Moonlight, Spaceshot, Southface of Washington Column, and North-west Regular on Half Dome, I decided it was time to set my sites on the Nose. A year of training, 3 days, 2 nights and 50+ hours of climbing later, and we finally touched that tree.      I am just a regular guy from the midwest with a 7 year old daughter and a semi-normal job who dreams about living in a van with my smokin’ hott climber girlfriend and being a #dirtbag #vanlife. Since that would never happen, I had to train my butt off, literally, because at this time last year I was about 30 lbs overweight. My climbing partner, Matt, a chiseled 6 foot 160 lbs, laughed at me when I told him I wanted to climb the Nose.
     First, I started dieting. I was not really sure how to do that and I knew that buying some pill off an infomercial was not the answer so I decided to stop eating. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it does not do much for your energy levels. I dropped 10lbs in 2 weeks! Matt’s wife just happens to be a doctor and when she found out about my diet plan she told me I was and idiot and took me through the proper way to lose weight. For the next 2 weeks I increased my calorie intake until I got to 1200 making sure that everything I ate had more protein than carbs. (Minus fiber carbs because those don’t count) being a pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish) this was a little complicated but I made it work. I also stayed away from dairy as much as possible. I started running about 15 miles a week, and 4 months later I was down to my goal weight!
     Being from the midwest I don’t have access to much climbing outdoors without putting in a lot of windshield time. I joke with people that my local crag is Devils’ Tower, an easy 11 hour drive! Luckily, we have a great climbing gym in town so I started going there at least 3 times a week rotating between strength, power, and endurance workouts; I like to finish a day at the gym doing laps on a 5.7 until I fall off and have to drive home holding the steering wheel with my wrists.
     The  whole time I was calling Matt, who lives in Billings, Montana and giving him updates. “Wow I like the dedication. If you are serious then I’m in! Let's do this!”
We set a date for the first week in October when we would go to the valley to see if we have what it takes. Before that, we decided to make a weekend trip to Vegas to practice our systems and see how fast we can actually climb. Plane tickets to  Vegas are cheap and if you rent a mini van you don’t have to get a hotel so, we decided to see how fast we could climb Epinephrine! (a Red Rocks classic, 13 pitches of first class 5.9)
     I normally take my daughter to utah/colorado for spring break and the only time that worked for Matt was 10 days after I got back, but it takes what it takes.
I was feeling great after my trip out west, crushing it on the mountain bikes and doing a bunch of hiking, this is going to be a great trip to Vegas! Then I got a fever of 103 that didn’t go away for 3 days. After some blood tests we found out I had rocky mountain spotted fever.
     “It will be gone in about 2 weeks, don’t do anything strenuous” the doctor told me.
     “No problem doc” and 1 week later I landed in Vegas.
     I made about as shitty of a climbing partner as a guy could ask for but I could operate a grigri and, with a little help from the top rope fairy, I could still climb 5.9! Matt was disappointed in my performance, to say the least, but he didn’t show it.
      “For a guy on death's doorstep you don’t make a half bad belayer" he told me when we parted ways at the airport. I knew I was really going to have to step it up.
     I added hangboard workouts into my routine at home and there didn’t seem to be any shortage of manual labor opportunities available on the fixer upper house we had just purchased. 6 months went by of running, Climbing gym workouts, shoveling dirt, and memorizing the Topo.
     My girlfriend (Hänna) really wanted to come with to Yosemite and I reasoned could use an extra week warming up on that famously unforgiving valley granite. Looking over my gear, I realized I had some seriously outdated stuff. My helmet was from 2001 and my ascenders were gifted to me almost 20 years ago so I thought maybe it was time to upgrade. I reached out to my friends at Petzl and they sent me the New Sirocco helmet with a black and orange scheme and a new set of Ascenders. They also Included a bunch of goodies in the care package that really dropped some pounds off my rack. New gear in hand, we headed out to see how we fared on leaning tower.
     Pulling into the valley around noon, we had planned on fixing the first two pitches and blasting off the next day but since camp 4 was full, we just went for it. Made it to “The Majestic Yosemite hotel ledge” (formally the Awannie) before dark with another fun couple, who already had the route fixed to pitch 6, and spent the night. The climbing was fun, exposed, and mostly straight forward.  Getting to the top around sunset the second day, we came across a perfect Bivy (camp site) and figured it would be silly to pass up just to sleep in the car. After dinner, while we watched the sun set below the valley rim, Hänna looked at me a with her big blue eyes and said,
      “Check out this necklace I wore up here, I don't mind wearing jewelry on a big-wall. You know, Just in case you were thinking about giving me some jewelry, I would be happy to wear it right now.”
     “Like earrings? That would be silly, they would get caught on everything” I replied.
     We have been talking about getting married for two years now and she has been dropping increasingly less subtle hints as time has passed but there is only one rock on my mind right now so her blonde locks and moonlight smile we're
going to have to wait.  

I cant post the entire story on here. If you are enjoying it, check out the full thing including photos on my website!

Follow me on instagram @alexrsaunders

Jon Frisby · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 120

Damn dude this is really good

Jplotz · · Wenatchee, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 1,205

I read the whole thing!  I love Nose TR's.  Love the description of your paychological hurdle of Texas Flake. That pitch is a free solo.  The bolt only protects you for a portion of it, and not at all if you climb it on the easier (West) side of it.

Congrats on your climb!

Tianyu Yao · · San Diego · Joined May 2017 · Points: 15

That shit was amazing. Just wanted to let you know. Even though you never went into the details of each move, it really felt like I was there because of your writing.

Chris Reyes · · Montclair, NJ · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 40

Went looking for more and couldn't find it. That's your first entry? On point - loved it.

Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 255

Great write-up, Alex.  

ChristopherH · · Portland, OR · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 26

Great, great read.  Thanks for your time on this!

kevin deweese · · Oakland, Ca · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 520

I read the blog. Is good. 

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 662

Very good report, congrats on the great trip!  The part about Texas flake sounds so familiar - I think we've all had moments on successful climbs where we had to make a choice on who was going to lead.  Declining a lead like that will mar the memory of the experience - way to step up to the challenge!

kck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 85

Really good writing. I'll admit I didn't finish reading but you were there for a lot of big events in the valley (facelift, rockfall, speed record). Thanks for sharing!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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