Between May 26 and May 30, 2009 my friends Heinz and Walter and I climbed The Nose on El Capitan. For me it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and the climax of my climbing "career". I am only an average middle-aged lime stone climber. But since I first saw pictures and read a story about Big Wall Climbing in the early eighties in a book by the late German climber/mountaineer Reinhard Karl, whenever I was in Yosemite Valley I mad a pilgrimage to the base of the Big Stone and touched it reverentially with my hands and looked up at all the famous granite features. Never ever had I imagined to climb anyone of these features. But my wife (which is the best wife in the world!!) gave me this opportunity as a present for my fortieth birthday a couple of years ago. In the end all the time and money devoted since then resulted in an unforgettable experience.
Because we had some exceptional and memorable experiences I wanted to share with the community. I have no superior narrating skills, but I hope you will enjoy the trip report nevertheless. I also aks you to apologize any English language flaws.
After we picked up Heinz and Florian (who would later hike to the summit to resupply us with beer and Coke) from SFO airport, we drove to the Meadows to check out the traffic on the wall. It was pretty light so that we decided to start our climb right away the next morning by fixing the first pitches to Sickle Ledge.
By the time we arrived at the platform below Pine Line the next morning it was surprisingly crowded with at least 15 people. Our concern regarding heavy wall traffic was relieved when we learned, that all these people were part of a climbing class and had no intention to occupy more of the wall than Pine Line. We jugged their fixed line up to the base of the first pitch and began our journey into the vertical. After we arrived at Sickle Ledge we fixed another 60m , hauled the pigs up and rappelled down to the ground on some fixed lines. We had no worries regarding these lines, because there weren't any bags deposited on Sickle. To avoid more than necessary rappelling over knots we added and fixed the other of our ropes in the middle of the rap route. Some guys who bivied at the base told us, that the fixed lines were there for a few days already.
The next morning we started at around 6:00 am and hiked to the base of the Big Stone to regain our high point by jugging up the fixed lines. We were quite surprised when we realized that the owner of the fixed ropes must have decided to get up even earlier than we did, obviously had already jugged up his lines, hauled his bag up to Sickle and of course retrieved his fixed ropes. Our rope which we had added the day before was hanging solitarily in the middle of nothing on the blank wall. What to do? We knew we had another rope in the vehicle. In a hurry we switched on the cell phone, praying for a signal to call Florian back with the vehicle in order to retrieve our spare rope. Only by luck we had some gear on our harnesses which we had forgotten to deposit on our high point the day before. And only by luck there were fixed ropes up the first three pitches, which had been offered to us for jugging the day before by the climbing instructors (thank you Steve!). We jugged up the first three pitches and Heinz, with his superior skills and experience (it should become his sixth time on the Nose, with his first ascent completed 30 years ago), managed to climb the fourth pitch with the little gear we had and so we arrived at Sickle without much delay and only to learn that the solo-climber whose ropes we had relied on and who was only speaking very broken English, was already retreating again.
There was a lot of water cached on Sickle which we used to refuel ourselves. A lot of head shaking was caused by a bottle of Trader Joe's water from New Zealand: who needs water imported from New Zealand????? Doesn't anyone purchasing such water bottles contemplate about the ecological balance sheet of such nonsense?????
The rest of the day went smooth and despite the heavy pigs we reached El Cap Tower in the evening and prepared our bivy. We frequently brought up the fact that obviously we had the whole route for us alone, no one in reach above us and no one below us. You may imagine how comfortably we slept that night, having the whole tower only for the three of us.
The second day on the wall saw Walter magnificently leading the Boot Flake pitch and Heinz managing the King Swing in an effortless manner at first try.
After a bivy on Camp 4 (which was rather painless because we carried a double Portaledge, which granted a good night's sleep, I started of the day with leading the Great Roof pitch. I was rather nervous, but after a few meters my mind switched in working mode and slowly I made my way up. I was especially concerned about the 5.7 part at the end of the roof to the belay bolts. After all I found this part effortless as you lower yourself down on the last (fixed) piece under the roof to a nice little ledge, make two or three easy moves up and right and quickly reach the three belay bolts. Having lead the Great Roof pitch was the greatest experience I ever made and will remain unforgotten to be told to my grandchildren....
After fixing lines up to Camp 6, we bivied on Camp 5, again making the night more comfortable by using the Portaledge. Next morning Walter and I began to feel the work of the previous days and "generously" left the sharp end of the rope to Heinz, who accepted without hesitation.
Weather had been rather unstable the last two days with occasional rain showers and thunderstorms. Because we sensed that another thunderstorm was coming we tried to hurry up the last few pitches. After I had hauled up the pigs, Heinz decided to lead the short second last pitch to the base of the final bolt ladder without waiting for Walter having finished cleaning the previous pitch using the slack of the lead rope. When Heinz and Walter reached the belay they picked up the slack of our haul line, I clipped the jugs in the haul line. By the time I weighted the jugs all of a sudden I was torn by the bags and the haul line in direction of the alcove beneath and fell down head first for a few feet. For a couple of seconds (it felt like minutes) I did not know what was happening, but only had the frightful sensation of falling down, looking down nearly 1000 meters to the base of El Cap. I thought to myself: "So this is how it feels like falling down a cliff...". I found myself hanging on my jugs on the haul line in mid air, realizing that the shoe on my left foot was missing. I yelled up to my buddies, what the f... they were doing up there, if they wanted to kill me. After I regained my senses I gladly found my shoe still stuck in the loop of the Easy Aider I used for jugging. I quickly jugged up o my Walter and Heinz, my heart beating heavily. I learned that the leader hat not secured the Petzl Pro Traxion, which we used for hauling, with a carabiner at the lower hole and that by an incident still not completely clear to us the Traxion had opened, the haul line slipped out and was gladly caught by the back-up knot at the belay anchors.
By then it had started to rain again. Another thunderstorm was approaching, lightning and thunder closing in fast. We were all three trying to avoid the splashes of water from the sky and from the rock as much as possible. The third thunder was incredibly loud and suddenly we were all paralyzed by the lightning. We were struck by lightning which obviously hit the top of El Cap and raged down the wall along the water streams on the rock. It felt like putting your finger in a plug (at least how I imagine it must feel), having I don't know how many Volts flow through your body. After a few seconds of shock and silence we regained our senses and everybody was checking itself for burns or other injuries. Walter didn't feel his feet for about an hour, I was slightly disoriented. There was no damage to the gear. During the remainder of the thunderstorm we told ourselves repeatedly, that the likelihood of being hit a second time would be absolutely low.
Everyone in our party now just wanted to get off the wall. When the rain began to lighten Heinz picked up some quickdraws and the two etriers and headed up the final pitch. Walter cleaned the pitch and I jugged up the haul line. For me, hanging in free space after the fall experience and after the lightning experience all within a period of a few minutes, was not as "comfortable" as I had imagined in my mind before we started the climb, when I had actually looked forward to this last pitch. We all triple checked all that we did and hurried up to the top.
There we met Florian who had waited for us with some supplies for a good three hours, also enduring the thunderstorm. He recounted that he tried to seek shelter beneath some rocks and that the slab he sat underneath shook by the force of the impact. We all hugged each other, glad we were all well and uninjured.
After another bivy on top of El Capitan we hiked down into the Valley the following day, successfully completing our adventure. Days neither of us will most probably ever forget. We used up quite a few guardian angels especially the last hours on the wall. Down in the Valley it seemed our lightning adventure was a main topic among climbers. We were more than once approached by fellow climbers, for example standing in line at the pizza parlor in Curry Village. Some experience are "interesting" if you live to tell, but not at all indispensable.
We had the following gear with us:
60m dynamic lead rope
60m static haul rope
20m 6mm lower out line for the pigs
6m 6mm lower out line for the cleaner
2 ea. Camalot C4 #0.3 - #0.5 and #3
3 ea. Camalot C4 #0.75 - #2
1 ea. Camalot C4 # 3.5 and #4
2 ea. Camalot C3 #000 to #2
1 set of Metolius Offset TCUs
1 set Wild Country Rocks
1 set DMM Peenuts
1 set DMM Micro Wallnuts
1 set DMM Alloy Offsets
1 ea. HB Brass Offset #1 - #3
one carabiner on each cam and about 20 additional free carabiners
about 20 locking carabiners (you can't have enough of these)
1 Rappel Device (ATC/Reverso) each
1 Nut Remover
about 5 shoulder length slings and the same number of double length slings
1 pig 145l
1 pig 70l
1 BD Rotor swivel
1 Petzl Pro Traxion
1 Poop Tube plus wag bags
1 A5 Double Portaledge with fly
1 pair of (Petzl) jugs each
1 pair of etriers
2 pairs of Metolius Easy Aiders for jugging
3 lightweight down sleeping bags
1 Ridge Rest mattress
1 Therm-a-rest mattress
1 Exped Down mattress
2 Bibler bivy sacks
1 lightweight rain jacket and 1 pair of rain pants each
12 gallons of water, granola bars, Power Bars, Clif Bars, Beef Jerky, Nacho Chips, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Cans of Spaghetti, Ravioli, etc. for Dinner, Cans of Fruit with some granola for breakfast, beer and Coke
First Aid Kit
Leather Gloves with cut fingertips
2 Day packs with 2l Camelbak bladder
Head lights with spare batteries
Most of the gear was used, with the exception of the bivy sacks and the Portaledge fly and the first aid kit.
I would have loved to include some pictures to the report. All of our pictures were taken in the RAW-format and I can't convert them in a way that the resulting jpgs will fit the size requirements of the forum (and my own quality requirements). I will continue to experiment and maybe add some pictures in a later edit of this post.