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NOSE Rappel

El Capitan, Yosemite

Story, Gear list, Picture gallery

Author: Henry Wurzer (58) – Munich, Germany
2nd : Paul Crosby (46) – BoulderCity, Nevada
Date: late June 2004

The trigger

It was the last week in June 2004 when I was hanging around in Camp4, tired of wall-climbing and hiking the last weeks, when after some rest-days and chill-out I wanted to go for some adventure different. Standing at the bridge with Tom Evans, the El Cap photographer, who was shooting excellent pictures of El Cap climbers all day long in the best angle and became a friend of mine, we looked up the sea of granite and there was almost none climbing today. The entire walls on the big stone were empty, only one solo-guy was doing he way up the nose with the goal to finish Tribal Rite. He was on El Cap Tower in the blasting heat. The beautiful rock features of the upper dihedral of the Nose and the Muir wall were fascinating me and all of a sudden I got the idea to investigate the rock there – since I never climbed the Nose. Mainly because of the constant traffic there and my incapability to free-climb 5.10+ to 5.11, which is essential to enjoy the Nose. So like a bolt from the blue I had the idea to rap the Nose. I knew the stations had good bolts and down from camp4 was a newly installed rap line straight to the ground. The idea did not get out of my mind. Back in Camp4 I asked some to join me, but the idea to rap a bigwall was strange to the climbers minds there, which were only focused of bringing themselves up. So I decided to do it alone and I was asking some friends to lend me a static line. The first one I asked gave me one. This is the thing, what I love the Americans for: they help without hesitation - even an alien, if there is a good reason. The Germans don’t do that generally, their thinking is more property-oriented and their first fear is what damage could happen to their belongings and how difficult it will be to regain orginal value. Well, while talking to the guy with the static rope, some other man – it was about 20:00 p.m. came by and asked, if someone need a partner for climbing. In the fading-away daylight his face made a sinister looking. So I replied to him that if he wants to go for some rock adventure he can join me in rapping the Nose. Well, by this time, he did not know what this means and what it is about. He informed me voluntarily about his climbing records in the Red Rocks and I was convinced he will be able to manage easily the technical aspects of this undertaking. We arranged to start tomorrow morning early at 4:30. My little red A5 haulbag with the necessary gear was already packed in the afternoon. And just at this evening someone near my tent (it was Erica, the speed-climbing beauty of this season, and her friends) had at his disposal an endless number of sixpacks and lots of fire-logs.

Going to the top

I woke up more than 10 times this night and at 4:05 a.m. I got up and crawled out of my tent in the dark. I made coffee and ate bear-claws. It was now 4:35 as I saw car lights and Paul came thru the trees to my site. While driving to the meadows he told me that he had almost no sleep because ….. Anyway we were on the “road”. From the Ranger Rock parking area we ascended the way up to the East Ledges which is the normal descent of El Cap. Going up on this small trail Paul told me a lot of this adventures with some friends here and there. Arriving at the 2 ropes hanging down on the left side to the bushes we prepared for jumaring up, took the harness on and clipped in the ascenders. Paul started first on the better rope, on which I wanted to follow. But he was not the fastest so I took the other rope and near the anchors I overtook him and after clipping in I hauled the daypacks. Paul had a video camera and this was really a good idea, we filmed during the day and an unforgettable video (for us) was created. So from time to time we made a break for filming. Coming to the end of the ropes we repacked and started the hike up to the top of El Cap. After the slabs we dived in the manzanita and finally came to the rim where Eagle’s Way tops out. From here we had a grand view in the morning sun into the dawn wall (wall of early morning light) and some polish friends of me were cruising up their second ascent of Central Scrutinizer (FA by Grossmann). It was their 8th day on the wall. On the way up we found many water bottles, had we known this we could have spared our own. Near the level of the Zodiac top out we met some guys just coming from Tangerine Trip. We talked a little bit and then he asked me if I were “Henry”. I said yes and then he reported me that he had read my trip report (here on Tuan’s site) and he enjoyed this route. We finished our hiking up and on top we met one of the “Cavers”. They had set up just now one single rope of 3.000 feet hanging down the entire dawn wall, only once touching the rock. They were a bunch of 14 people and rappelled and jugged up for more than 2 weeks. It is said to be the highest rap in the United States. We talked to the guy there and then headed to the Nose exit, which is found at alone tree. When looking you don’t see anything of the Nose, just manzanita bushes which hide the exit slab. We made a little rest and then prepared (rigged up) ourselves for the rappel. It was a bit windy up there.

The Rappel

10:30 a.m. The rope was set up around this tree and I went down on the ropes thru bushes until I reached after 60 feet the final anchors of the Nose. One good bolt and one old bolt. Well, for the most climbed route on El Cap a shame, the bolted stations on Zodiac or Tangerine Trip show better quality. Well, Paul came down to me. He did not speak that much anymore – the heigth most probably impressed him. I threw the ropes over the rim – they vanished in the void. The steepness of the route could be felt in the bones. I looked down to the valley floor, saw the river, the trees and the Cathedral Rocks and decided not to wait but rather go. So hanging in the rap device I moved over the rim and looked down the whole route – the long upper dihedral, then the leaning rock at camp4, saw the Dolt tower and at least the bottom. I knew this will be 22 or 23 rappels. The ropes (1 static 9mm and 1 dynamic 9mm) hung in the air and did not touch the rock. It would frighten anyone if he did not knew that the anchors can be reached with a bit swinging in. So I came out of sight for Paul and I was alone on my way down. Hanging in the air the wind turned me around and I had some strange feeling in my stomach when my eyes were looking down to the river and the trees and one second later to the wall and again. Well, after having done a rappel earlier on Tangerine Trip with 500 feet out in the air far away from the rock – no rap bothers me much anymore. And all of a sudden I saw a helmet blinking in the sun on the dawn wall side, it belonged to one of those polish friends – they tried to make their way up over the big A4 slab just below the top. We waved each other and promised to have a party after their return. So I had more fun and when I reached the level of the anchors (2nd last belay to the top) I had problems to reach them – the wind always blew me away and turned me off. But after some attemptes I clipped the bolt with a biner on a sling attached to me. Rapidly I set up my belay and release the ropes. But before letting them go into the air I clipped them into a biner on a sling, so the cannot get out of reach. After some time I saw Paul’s bum appearing on the edge and down he came. Turning around and repeating “holy shit, holy shit”. By this time I still did not know that this was the greatest thing he had ever done so far. Well, he was a little bit slow in rapping down. Later I detected he used to seek contact to the wall with his left shoulder and the locking prusik knot was not set up smoothly, so his ride on the rope was a little bit tensed. However, for his experience, he did a good job and he relaxed the more we went on. We started making jokes and the mood was good now. From this first exposed rap anchors on the wall we descended now pitch by pitch until we reached camp6. We enjoyed the beautiful rock features, paused for filming and drank water/Gatorade at this place. Everything went fine so far. We looked down and saw a party climbing up (they took the Jardine traverse variation). So after a while I reached camp5 (upper ledge) and Paul followed on the rap as usual second.

The Unforeseen

When he stood on the ledge, like on all stations before I started to pull in the rope as it happened: somehow he unclipped the upgoing rope from the biner and it swung off out of control in the corners. I did not notice that, but I did notice this one minute later when the end of the rope higher up showed a knot on the end - the wind and the twisting rope caused that. I did not believe what I saw. The rope-end was about 45 feet above me (over the glowering spot) – no way to reach it. We shall not be able to pull the rope down in order to set up the next rap ! We were stuck ! Hell – never since long time I felt my heart being crunched by something invisible like now. Let’s not write down the *@#* talking which followed. Eventually we cooled down, discussing our possibilities. One was to wait until the lower party reaches us, it could take 2 days. We did not know who it was. Later – after our situation was clearead - we meet them on their one-day-almost-free-ascent – our waiting time would have been reduced to 2-3 hours. The next option was to climb up, but we did not have climbing gear with us (friends or nuts), so the remaining option was to pull the rope up to the anchor and try if it slips or holds. When it then stuck we pulled with all our strength and both weight and it did not move – it seems to have a solid hold. So we decided, someone has to jug up, belayed by the other dynamic 9mm rope. Higher up on the glowering spot were 2 fixed nuts/heads – the only protection on the pitch. And who has to go up? The one who weighs less. This was Paul – he took on this mission and inside I prayed to God that nothing will occur to him. On the upper end of the ledge he clipped into a fixed rope-sling and then started jugging up the blank wall. He did what I suggested: making small steps in the aiders, no bouncing and steadily going. He clipped in the first fixed gear. We felt better. Then he clipped in the second one. The rope seemed to be solidly tightenend. Above the second pro he stopped once but I insisted of keeping on going. So he reached the little ledge with the anchors and yelled down: “man, this is the best tight-in rope I ever saw”. All the tension now fell away but high spirits did not show up. The rope made by itself a figure 8 knot and this caused a perfect stop at the rap ring. We used the rap rings on the stations and secured them with short prepared 8mm rope-pieces. Well, as an experienced climber, I added some more experience now. So my advice: doing a thing like that, always keep a 3rd, spare rope in your pocket and some protection gear (cams and 1 nutset).

From the Roof to Ground

When Paul arrived again at camp5 we did not speak much about that instead we kept ourselves busy on going down. I prepared the next rap as usual, clipped in and vanished behind the rock on the way to the Pancake-Flake belay. Here then I saw a good friend of camp4 free-climbing it up. Well, we wished each other best luck and we then headed for the roof-belay, where his partner was. Here we met strong winds, the ropes turned horizontally around the corner, so the rapping came close to sailing. Opposite of the roof I threw the ropes down, which disappeared around the corner to the dawn wall. Hell – where are the rap anchors down there on the blank wall ? A swing to the belay under the roof was impossible. I had to trust the Supertopo topo. Gliding down on the rope for about 140 feet I saw some old bolts and a blade on the wall on my left, levelled higher than the under-roof-belay. Where are the rap bolts as shown in the topo 180 feet below ? There are none !!! I had to jug up some feet and to take this rotten anchors. Standing there – being tossed around by the wind Paul seemed to need an eternity to come down. I examined his system before and showed him what I used to do, but he did not want to change his system now in this (to him) perilous situation. I understood this. While I was in the anchor within a minute, when I reached the belay, and could free the rope for the next one, it took him always at least 5 to 8 minutes to rest in the anchors. Well, I was pressing on time now because I wanted to get off of this bad station. The Supertopo is wrong here and a new bolt would be great. If I had one, I’d have placed it. Ahhh – what a beauty the next station I reached. A good comfortable ledge below camp4 with 2 brand-new bolts! We really enjoyed this place here and the inner tension changed to relaxation – the touchdown was in reach and now I knew we make it in time at daylight. Paul showed also a happy face now and in good cooperation we took the rap route. The unforeseen took away about 2 hrs in all, so we were a little bit late on the schedule, but from here we could make it in 3 hrs. At this place the Dolt Tower could not be seen. Blank rock led our way down, I cannot imagine where Grape Race leads up. Leaving this good place I rapped down over blank rock arriving at good new bolts with a chain in the nowhere. And another rap on the blank wall. Looking up I could see a party under the traversing to the left to camp4, they were 1 pitch up over the King swing. They looked down to us – most probably wondering what we are doing here. The strong wind made communication impossible. Anyway, the next rap over this long blank section brought us to Dolt Tower. Ahh – fine, to have a stand on a huge ledge and not hanging all the time in the aiders on the anchors. A really hang out place, this Dolt Tower. From above the Stoveleg cracks look quite steep. The sun now was going away behind the Sierra Rim and in the last sunrays I took on the first rap from Dolt Tower. The first 3 raps from Dolt Tower are about 160 feet long . Good stations with chains. From Dolt Tower the rapping goes perfect and easy. The 4th rap than caused a little problem because the next station is invisible and an old station far left lures you in. I tried for 10 minutes via giant swing, 140 feet down, to get it. Again old bolts – o holy shit, not this again. I clipped in and trusted in God. On the next rap I saw then the good rap station to the right – situated under a bulge. Oh man, I could have saved one rappel ! So the 4th rap from Dolt Tower needs 200 feet ropes to reach this good station ! While waiting for Paul I looked around the Valley and down to the ground. I saw a bear on the ground slowly strolling downhill along the face. Well, I thought – this is the only thing what I still missed today and here it is. Perfect ! Three more raps brought us to ground. Recalling I think the first rap pitch, the one opposite of the roof and the last one to the ground were the most impressive ones. Paul came down the last one, singing and filming. A real happy guy touched the ground. He was so happy to be on solid ground, all the time he misjudged the height and always concluded only a few raps more, but now we decked. Not knowing the El Cap – from the view high up down to the ground, the rockfeatures tend to fool you in estimating distance. It was 20:00 p.m. as we packed our gear and went to the car. The experience of a great day layed in our hearts by daring something different. Not many people rap the Nose just for fun. But I tell you – it was worthwile. Perhaps in my old days I do it again.


The day after Paul showed a broad grin on this face - he was happy and satisfied. And what makes this trip unforgettable is the video what we made. From now on I believe a good video is better than pictures. You only have to make a little plan in advance, the video gets than better, especially the spoken words and the focus-angles on action. Later Paul made DVD of it and I am very grateful for that. Enjoy the pics we made …..

Gear list

2 x 60m 9mm static ropes, different colors
Rap devices, 10 lockers, 20 normal biners, 10 slings, 
prusik-slings, aiders, ascenders, knee-pads, gloves
to reduce rope-heat: use to 2 lockers in the rap device
use solid metal lockers – no hollow biners, the ropes shave off !

Recommended additional gear : 
1x 60 m 10mm climbing rope 
12 cams (more small – medium), 3 bigger cams, 
1 set offset nuts, 1 set normal nuts
1 drill, 1 hammer, 1-3 bolts


Henry on the way to the top (here finishes Zodiac) Happy to find leftover, gased water from the Huber's speed attempts

Paul’s first airy rap from top over the rim (“holy shit, what the heck where am I going to …?.”)

Paul on his 2nd rap of the day ( … still 20 to go, Paul !) , oh I really would like to climb up this C1-beauty

Henry on the way down to camp6 (it makes fun ….)

At camp6 – looking up where we came from and admiring the fantastic rock features above

Henry approaching camp5 ……

Paul on the way down between camp4 and Dolt Tower (see right someone with a helmet looking down: she is on the belay one pitch above the King Swing – but looks same level) Have a look at those grand dihedrals (Muir Wall left and Nose) ……….

Near the ground (still 3 raps to go). This station is invisible from higher up (takes 180ft) ……

Paul coming home (only one more rap to go ….)

Henry’s touch down …. uuh fine to sit on something solid and just walk away … hey I cannot find the beer …..

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