Free climbing on The Nose

Ok – so Oli Lyon and I arrived in Yosemite for what was to be a month long trip and we started out hitting up a few shorter valley routes, a bit of sport climbing and we were struggling to adjust to the style of climbing – we needed something to toughen us up a bit. So, more-or-less on a whim, we decided to climb The Nose – probably the most famous rock climb in the world – an incredible line up the prow of El Capitan.

El Capitan; The Nose approximatey taking the line of the shaddow

The next day we started getting things ready; food shopping, preparing water bottles and organising gear.

The gear for climbing the route was the usual generic stuff as in the typical-gear-shot picture below; and the other stuff we took was as follows:

Sleeping: 2x roll-mats, 2 sleeping bags + bivi bags, portaledge with fly
Living: Spare teeshirt, down jackets, synthetic jacket, rock shoes, trainers (for jugging), sun glasses, sun cream, camera (cannon g12 & oli’s pimp one), go pro, speakers/mp3, torch, lip balm
Cooking: MSR Reactor, two plastic spoons & forks, pen knife, lighter x2, 1 mug, 1 med gas canister (NOTE: CAUTION I would never use an MSR reactor again – they have a tendancy to break and be totaly unfixable – in some places this is game over!)
Climbing: Approx 40 cams (as we planned to free climb needed a few more), nuts, some hooks, mini trax, 1 set of aiders, jumar straps, belay device & gri-gri each, 2x daisy each (& other generic climbing hardware) topo, 70m climbing rope, 60m trail line/ab line (half rope), 100m haul rope (sponsor English Braids), tape (we accidently got shit stuff so basically didn’t use it), chalk
Food & water: 3.5ltr/day + a can of coke each per day, tea & coffee, mike cartons (free from deli), 1 pop-tart each/day, 5x lunch, 4x dinner, 4x breakfast
Shitting: Toilet paper, duct-tape for sealing it up

Breakfast (for two): 2 pop tart, 2 sachets of oats
Lunch (each): 2 cliff bars, half a bag of dried fruit/sweets
Dinner (for two): Packet of cous-cous, half jar of sause, 1/4 block of cheese (or 1/2 a salami sausage or tuna can).

Our mighty 52 cam collection (thanks to friends!)

So – we planned to spend 5 days on the route – but fixed ropes to Sickle Ledge the day before to make it even easier. We were going to aim to free climb as much as we can so we were in no rush to do the job. My first trip to Yosemite we only speed climbed – it was awesome – but now to get a flavour of hauling and doing it the slow way.

The other aim was to get some cool photos for supporting brands Rab & English Braids Ropes.

The next morning we got up – geared up – and got to the base of The Nose ready to free climb the first 4 pitches. We roshambo’d for the lead – Oli won and fancied leading second – so I got the first two pitches. The first pitch was actually pretty tough compared with the 5.10d grade – although early mornings and first lead of the day is never that great. The pitch is up a crack/pin scars – which have been ground smooth by countless aid placements. I messed up one sequence and took a small fall on a RP.

My climbing improved after this – less sloppy – and the 2nd pitch – which goes around a corner and up a steep crack was burly, a bit harder, but went really well – feeling more ‘in to it’ and climbing with a much better style the rest of the pitch went well. Oli lead the second two pitches; generally pretty easy so he was on cruise mode – although jugging up the craggy ground with trailing ropes was a bit of a faff.

We got to the rap point, fixed the lead line, rapped, fixed the half rope, rapped and finally the 100 haul line took us to the ground. The half rope had a bit of damage – and for the whole trip it was just a bit uncomfortable rapping off or jumaring up it.

We got down – and got the rest of our stuff ready. We went hunting for water bottles – rather than buy a load of new ones & add to the waste. This basically meant searching through the many recycling bins throughout the Yosemite National Park (apparently a federal crime – each bottle is worth 2cents – it was pointed out that we should avoid being caught by the notoriously arsey Park Rangers).

After collecting a good selection of bottles – ranging from 4ltr to 0.5ltr we were good to get them cleaned and filled up ready for the route. Parking in a campsite by a good tap we went to work although the site attendant did warn us that if a Park Ranger caught us parked in there we would be fined – so much for being ‘free’ – America is probably the most anally retentive place I have ever been.

Once filled & food shopping completed (total of $86 including gas) we got our stuff together, sorted out the gear and packed the haul bag ready the next day.

We went back to the Ahwhane bivi Lodge – had a civilised evening in the louge before heading off to bed.

The next day we got up – had some breakfast & drove to where we could park – not too far from base of The Nose.

Nathan Murphy
Resting while walking in the Haul Bag

We roshambo’d for walking the haul bag in to the route – probably about 1km from the car with a good part of up hill. I have to admit I was not overly pleased with losing this one for the following reason;

A couple of months before I had a bike accident where I ended up flying 20 ft (over a car that cut in front of me) and landing on my spine leaving 3 bloody bruised patches where my ‘spine-lumps’ hit the road. At the time I did not really think much of it – as I was fine – however after replacing my bike that weekend things were not quite as right as I hoped – I was getting ‘weird things’ happening – which I put down the the set-up of my bike (which I changed). One day cycling home about 5 weeks before we flew out – my back totally went – I could hardly move and it took ages to get home & carrying my bike into my house was a serious challenge. The next day I was due to work at the London Dive Show for’s launch but my back was so bad that I had to get Catherine, the MD, to come to my house first to help me put my socks on – it was basically impossible for me to do.

I am 99.99% sure I herniated a disc (slipped disc in common terms) – I guess the accident caused micro tears, weakened the disc, and the pressure from cycling did the rest. I spent the next week off work trying to re-hab it – putting up with really painful spasms, pain down my buttocks and legs and taking about a minute, and a carefully planned sequence, to get out of a chair.

I researched the f**k out of it online & after finding that normally with rest people can be up and about in 6 weeks; I figured being young(ish) I would be able to be trip-fit in time for Yosemite. I did not want to goto the doctor incase it would invalidate my trip insurance should something happen on the wall – or worse it could could mean that I couldn’t go and 6 months of both mine and Oli’s training would have been wasted.

Anyway – so I was pretty cautious about my back. It was still giving me general discomfort & I was acutley aware of the weakness in my lower back. Carrying a bag which weighed almost as much as me – was not an ideal start – but roshambo is roshambo and you deal with what you get. After a slow and very careful walk to the base of the route I jumared up first – waited at the top of the 100m static line and, as the bloated haul bag weighed about 60kg, I waited until Oli arrived so while one person hauled the other could space haul.

Despite climbing 3 big walls before – I had never had to haul. First impressions; hauling is an absolute bitch. So slow and hard.

We hauled, jugged tentatively up the damaged half rope (it was fine really), and hauled, and jugged, and hauled. Now we were back on the the climbing.

Oli lead first – he wanted to climb some of the stove leg cracks – and it generally went well – Oli climbed the next few pitches in great style dispite a general consensus that we were getting spanked considering the grade. Each belay I jumared up and space hauled with Oli/wiggled the bag over edges. After a few pitches we swapped leads and I lead until it was getting towards dark – so we stopped and set up the ledge in a reasonable spot (somewhere around pitch 9). The belay was not great so we stacked a bunch of big cams and hung the haul bag & gear of that and used it to back up the ledge.

While we were getting ready to set-up suddenly my face got splashed with water – and something – wet landed on Oli’s helmet with a splat. We thought the worst at first – but it turned out to be a frog – somehow jumped down the cliff to land on Oli’s helmet. If it missed it would have continued to the bottom. It then proceeded to jump on to the sheer rock face – and up. Amazing what you see in places like this.

Tired looking Oli & a 5:13d climbing frog..

We woke up to another awesome day, and knowing that we only had a few pitches to go to get to El Cap Tower – we had a liesurely breakfast – got up and I got on the lead. I aimed to link the next two pitches in one (anything to make hauling more efficient). The first section was fun & easy – but then there was an long, maybe 120 ft crack which took around 4inch gear for it’s entire length.

The climbing was not too hard, even if we were still getting used to crack, but the problem was we stacked a lot of the 3.5 to 4 inch sized gear to back up the belay and hang the haul bag on it. It meant that only had two cams for the entire section making it fairly scetchy – Oli offered to send some up – but the reality was it would be a pain to lift the bag & extract the cams – considering how equalised they were. I climbed through and left one cam about half way up, and ran-out the next 60 feet, climbing for a few moves, getting stable and bringing the second cam up with me. On top of that I had pretty bad rope drag, carried most the rack as couldnt place it and carried 60m of haul rope – I was weighing significantly more than I would have liked. I was pretty relieved to hit the top of the crack and place some gear (!) before getting up on Dolt Tower.

Nathan Murphy leading off from Dolt tower
Nathan leading off from Dolt tower

From there it was great climbing all the way to El Cap Tower – the worlds best bivi spot.

Nathan Murphy on El Cap Tower
El Cap Tower

The first few days of climbing  was pretty thirsty work – and our bodies had not got used to the lack of water so every drop was drank every day. At El Cap tower we were joined by another couple of Brits who were doing the route in 3 days and with a light bag and a strong free climber were moving fairly fast. We decided to let them go ahead the next day. However they switched leads and the second guy was not quite as fast – it took half the day of waiting for them to move off the king swing and up the route; but we had loads of time to play with so we did not really mind.

Nathan Murphy Catching the King Swing
Catching the King Swing

I lead boot flake & the King Swing – which was great fun although it is hard to appriciate the exposure as your pretty focused on figuring out where to run. This went pretty well although ended up a bit low as was aiming for the wrong part – but it worked out.

After this we kept on going – the team ahead of us switched leads and they started to make better time. I climbed the pitch after the King-Swing without placing any gear meaning that Oli could quite easily rappel in from the top of Boot Flake and I could haul both pitches in on go – a nice efficiency.

After this Oli took the lead again – and had some exciting penduluming trying to get back on the route (in face Oli did quite a few pendulums throughout the climb which were generally entertaining filming wise). He led efficiently and well to bring us up the next 4 pitches where we set up our ledge.

Annoyingly, hauling was starting to cause significant pain in my back – to haul I generally took my gear off – put the harness around my rib cage and tried to haul from there – or hauled in an awkward sideways motion. This was slower – but my back was playing on my mind as well as causing pain and I knew how totally disabled I would be should it go again.

I probably was not making my discomfort clear enough – and my slowness was irritating Oli. Not having set up many hauls – I was slower there too – something that by the end of the wall I had wired – but before then it was not really perfect. Oli being good at attention to detail and having strong professionalism in the mountains, was getting a little comment in at each belay – and despite doing what I could I would be lying if I said I was not getting pissed off.

A little later on – I pointed this out – and his response was that I should suck it up; on pointing out that I already was and if I say ‘my back is hurting’ that is what I mean – I was not really communicating it that well. From that it was good – I notice Oli held his tounge at my not quite perfect haul set-ups and with a lighter bag I was getting the bag up at a similar time to him climbing – getting stuck aside. Odd spinal things were happening though; a large area in my upper back that lost sensation and tingled.

The rest of the wall went fine – we ate well – drank well – it is amazing how your body changes in to a hydration efficiency mode and means you only really feel the need for as little as 50% of the water you desperately needed on Day 1. I lead (aided) the great roof, changing corners (due to stopping too early the pitch before it was touch an go to make it in one pitch) and Oli freed Pankcake Flake. Great climbing, great views and great company.

Another cool thing on the wall was the presence of swifts and Peragrine Falcons. The swifts zip past so fast at first you think stones are falling – and you can see a Peragrine fly past you, down, its wings close up once as it accellerates, and again as it goes in to the strike out of view.

Oli seconding the great roof

The rest of the route pretty much went without a hitch – until the I was to jug the last pitch – as I started up – hanging in space above a 3000 ft drop a loop of rope caught on a peice of jammed gear. Bloody totem cam – who buys those things anyway?  I ended up having to untie – thread it out and tie in. Then as Oli did not have enough quickdraws so I basically had to re-aid the last section to avoid sliding the rope over a long sharpish edge. I got over the edge feeling totally knackered. We hauled the bag up -made a fire near by – drank (and stashed spare water) and ate the left-overs.

Climbing the nose was awesome – the route was more convoluted and in some places chossier than I imagined – but great fun.

Getting down the East Ledges was the most painful part for me – my back felt like it was going to collapse so, by the time we got to the car, I was pretty trashed.

At the car we noticed that there were a lot of muddy marks one it, and a massive muddy hand print on the window. It seemed that our car was attacked by a bear – and sure enough along each door there were scrapes where a bear had tried to rip our doors open. Luckily we hired the cheapest car and with thin rubber seals the gap was too small for the bear to make purchase. Seems our car was bear proof. Winning.

We cooled down, packed the car, showered & changed, chilled out for a while and hit the pizza deck before going back to bed by the Ahwhane Lodge.

General pics below:

Author coming out to the last couple of pitches
Cooking on the ledge – the unreliable MSR Reactor
Cilling on the ledge
Oli & his piss
Oooh what a nice rope!

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