Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's Climb the Nose!

The Nose of El Capitan is probably the most famous rock climb in the world. For many people it is the pinnacle of their climbing career. For good reason, the 33 pitches of granite up the middle of a gentle arete in the middle of a mile wide vertical rock is about as spectacular of a setting as any on earth. The best part is that it is so popular that it has dozens of bolts, beat out cracks, almost no loose rock, and it's warm! I was talking with a friend who was far too amazed with my partial solo ascent of the Nose in August. He was inquiring what it would take to climb the Nose and I told him, not much.

There are a whole range of ways to approach a big technically demanding but strait forward climb like the Nose. Four examples in order from shortest to longest amount of preparation:

  • Hire a guide. It is quite possible that for enough money a guide would spend one day climbing with a complete novice to teach him some basic things and then they would go spend the better part of a week climbing the route. This would be an expensive option, but realistically the whole trip could be done in nine days so that you would only miss one week of work. It would also be an expensive trip, with a price of more that $200 per day, probably closer to $300 per day. Also, you would not do any leading, just jugging and help hauling. If your goal is simply to get up the thing, this is the way to go.
  • Convince an experienced climber into taking you. All of the climbers that I know have non-climber friends. This method would take a little more time, in terms of preparation, and it would likely involve more work during the climb. Most experienced climbers would probably make sure that whoever they were taking with them had good enough belay and multipitch skills. A short introduction would likely involve some time top-roping with the novice to teach the very basics then some time spent multipitch climbing with the novice, likely including jugging up a fixed rope and even hauling. If your goal is to get up the thing with the feeling that you contributed to the climb this is the way to go.
  • Build up the experience to evenly distribute the work load between two or three climbers. This would take months of experience learning to lead climb and deal with the intricacies of placing artificial protection, anchors, and (non-bolted hanging) belay site management. If your goal is to climb the Nose with the sense that you did your fair share of work on the climb this is the way to go.
  • Do something extraordinary like solo the route or do the Nose in a day (NIAD). This would likely take years of practice. I gave my friend the number of about 100 days of climbing experience. That range would give a dedicated climber enough time to confidently approach the Nose with big goals. To do the NIAD it usually requires advanced skills like traditional rock climbing at 5.11, short roping, simul-climbing, previous route experience, and a similarly competent partner.  However, if this was your one goal it is easily definable and thus is strait forward to train for.
Of course there are other routes to get to the Nose. In general, I have learned that on just about every route you can group all of the climbers into one of those four groups. I have been in all of those groups at one point or another and depending on the route that I am climbing I might still fit in any one of those four groups.

After spending two days alone tearing my knuckles to a bloody mess it has left an impression on me. I want to climb it! The whole thing not just the first 500 feet. However, right now I am about 2300 miles away and unemployed so it may be a while before I get back there.

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