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The Nose: beta

The Nose of El Capitan, Yosemite, is one of the most long, beautiful, classic, and sought after, rock climb in the world.

This page contains some precise information useful for climbers attempting the Nose route on El Cap. Written by Tuan.

This page gives some advice for climbing The Nose, and contains normally enough information to allow a party to complete the climb on their first trip. I reused partly a post by Charles Carlson (chuckc@crl.com, Chuck in the text). Some precisions were added thanks to George Bell's (bell@advtech.uswest.com) comments as if 9/96 climb.


From May to September, the chances of being hit by a Pacific storm are very low. April and October can be very fine but the weather is less certain. It was not crowded this April. In summer, it gets real hot in the Valley, and consequently on the bottom part of the route. Up high, there is usually a thermal breeze which helps a lot. On Labor day the temps are fine (Chuck). I would recommend a gallon of water in summer plus some extra water (better not to run out), and three quarters otherwise.


Two climbers joining their racks have enough. It is always useful to have plenty of free biners. Think about the number you'll need, and then add 10 or 20 more. There are kilometers of crack climbing, so be sure to bring plenty of cams (two full sets). The camalot #4 is not required (several were fixed in the Stovelegs were it is not actually needed 4/94). However, George Bell had one and found it very useful on pitches 12 and 14. He thinks that the important thing is you need 2 pieces that are either #4 Friends or #4 Camalots. On the other hand, you'll need the RP's for the glowering spot and maybe also above Camp 6. There is normally no need for pins. Fixed gear includes bolts, stuck cams and nuts, pitons, and heads.


You need three full ropes, and one 30m rope to fix to Sickle Have a friend pick up any ropes you leave below Sickle. Several climbers had their rope stolen before they could pick them up after the climb. The day when we fixed, some guys dropped one pack. Then we saw two climbers asking us if it was ours. After we said no, they seemed to be heading towards the direction of the impact. If you have to leave your rope, it is probably safer not to drop it. Most parties take three ropes, because it is necessary to lower out for the king swing. However, Bill Wright has done The Nose and recommends some interesting strategies. He recommends taking only 2 50m ropes. He said all the traversing pitches are short enough that you can tie the haul bag in short and lower out on the end of the haul line. The advantage of 2 ropes is less chance of them getting all tangled together, stuck under flakes, etc. After the pendulum into the Stovelegs, Bill says the leader should begin leading on the haul line. And on the King Swing(s), Bill recommends tieing the pig in as short as possible, with the second keeping hold of the end. After the bag is hauled, the leader lowers the second on the haul line which is clipped into the anchor at Boot Flake. The second then clips his jumars into the lead line and swings over to it as he is lowered. This method has been found to work very well by George.


The belays are mostly shiny bolts and are all bombproof. They can be used to rap down the route in need (some belays are used only for rapping, some belong also to the climbing route). Using fixed belays and a 165' rope, pitches 10 & 11 can be put together (Chuck) as well as the two pitches before camp 6 ( = above the "glowering spot") and the two pitches after camp 6. It is a good idea in the last two cases because the intermediate belays are not too good.


For my partner and me this was the first big wall (we did before 7 pitches on the South Face of Washington Column, but we had no haulbag and tried a speed ascent strategy). However, I would not necessarily recommend the climb as a first big wall. The well-establised progression is to do first the South Face of Washington Column, then eventually the Regular Route on the NW face of Half-Dome. If you are a big-wall beginner, you will find Paul Brunner's tips very useful.

Collectively, my partner and me had a considerable alpine experience, and we were used to spending days on mountains and long climbs in a more hostile environment. We have found that the route is extremely sustained, compared to most alpine routes but that there was nevertheless no exceptionnal technical challenge or risk, the main problem being that you tend to be worn by the succession/alternance of hard free and aid, pendulums, traverses, manoeuvers, stuck ropes and haulbags, hauling and jugging, lack of sleep, food, heat and cold, unconfortable stances, etc...

The four first pitches are delicate, in the sense that there are not always good placements and you have to do some free (or french-free) between aid moves. Other than this, the crux aid of the route is the "glowering spot", where you climb a steep and thin crack on small nuts, RP's, and TCU/Aliens. The only part of the route which as to be freed is the Texas Flake at 5.8, but the route would be more enjoyable if you can crack climb at 5.10. Nevertheless you don't need to be a good climber to complete the route. At the time I did it, I was just able to lead 5.8 or 5.9. The free ratings in the guidebook are not very consistent (but most of the time on the severe side). I am not good enough to judge them objectively, but I've been told that those of Lynn Hill (in French magazine Vertical) or of her partner (in Climbing) are more accurate. There are numerous pendulums, but most of them are not difficult. There are no expanding flakes.


The only good sites on the route are Sickle, Dolt, Towers, Camp 4,5 and 6, the best sites being Towers and Camp 5. On the left and below Camp 4, there is a huge ledge, but it is part of the Muir route, not the Nose. There are a couple of places where you could sit (on Texas flake, Boot flake, under camp 4). If Towers are full, there is a place for two near the base of the chimney on the next pitch (Chuck). Camp 6 seems to smell as bad as John Long describes it in fall (Chuck), but in April it's fine.


The route can normally be done in four days (two nights on the wall): fix the descent from Sickle ledge (4 ropes, from the lowest belay station to the ground it is about 30m so you don't need four full-size ropes), and get the haul bag up to the top of 5th pitch on the first day. Then get an early start the next day, (be jumaring just before first light), and you can make it to El Cap Tower. Early start the next day and you can make Camp 5. If you have opportunity, fix a pitch or two above each bivy.

In these times, the "crowd factor" is not included. It can take longer if crowded. Often it can be hard to pass and if the climbers ahead of you are slow you may be reduced to their speed it can mean an extra day. George writes: " To get an idea of the crowds, here are our bivuoac sites and the total number of climbers sleeping on them that night (including us): El Cap Tower (7 people), Camp 4 (5 people), Camp 5 (7 people). A party of 3 very slow Japanese ahead of us caused many problems because it took them 6 days to climb the route. Everyone was snarling below them. For example, we reached Camp 4 fairly early, but the Japanese were at the great roof (having started that day from Camp 4!!) and effectively blocked the way ahead. Incidentally, they failed to reach Camp 5 that night and spent (another) night in slings. "

Specific route beta:

The pendulum to Stovelegs: it is best not to get too high in the crack system before this pendulum, ie use the belay marked with a dashed circled 7 on the Meyers/Reid. This means that when you are at the belay below the "burner" you are already too high. We met two guys who said that the burner is something to avoid. The Stovelegs are first perfect hand size and get wider as you are climbing up (lots of spots to have the rope stuck).

The Texas Flake: a chimney, it is the only part of the route which cannot be aided. I thought (I let my partner led it :-)) that the chimney is not that bad, the tricky part being getting inside. George reports (9/96) that there is a brand new 3/8" bolt two thirds of the way up this chimney, which makes the pitch much safer, BUT he still mananged to fall while leading this pitch. The next pitch is bolt ladder and then a perfect hand crack.

The King Swing:

Under Camp 4 (Pitch 20): you'll find a fixed traversing rope. By daylight, what to do is fairly obvious. Not so by night. For god's sake, DON'T follow this rope until its end (you would find an unpleasant "surprise") but leave it as soon as you get to a vague ledge.

The roof is easy because it is entirely fixed. It is a long pitch. I had just a couple of meters left with a 165 feet (55m) rope. The Pancake flake is nice to climb, but the pitch under camp 5 is nasty.

The death flake at the top of pitch 31 is still there, as of George ascent (9/96), hanging by the same piece of crappy webbing. As Scott Ghiz mentions in his beta, there is another suitcase sized death block on pitch 32. With a 60m rope, he believes it is possible to combine pitches 31 and 32, thus avoiding the "death block belay" (the party behind them did this).

" Got the word that the death block on the Nose is gone. While the park was closed it seems that 2 famous climbers who shall remain nameless rapped in and booted it. Finally, the block that has raised many a tu-tu is gone. Now get up there! Russ Walling, Sat, 29 Mar 1997 "

The last pitch: no difficulty (shiny bolt ladder), beware of rope drag, it can turn the final (easy) slab into an unpleasant experience.

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