Julie and I climbed The Nose on El Capitan, over the Juneteenth 2022 long weekend! Here’s an informal trip report, which I’m writing up for friends and family who are curious about what we did and how it went.
Julie and I have both always dreamed of climbing El Capitan, but we thought of it as something only “real climbers” do — it seemed like too big and intimidating of a project to seriously consider. However, sometime in late 2021, we started discussing climbing The Nose together, in earnest, and we got really stoked as the idea became more concrete. We read up on how to big wall climb, put together a training plan, studied the details of the route, and blocked off weekends for practice runs and skills training leading up to the Big Push.
Our friends Mel, Dan, and Alex climbed The Nose together last year as a party of 3, in 3.5 days. We thought the way they broke up the days made a lot of sense, so we planned to follow their itinerary up the route:
Normally, Julie and I mostly free climb — meaning, we use our hands and feet to get up climbs, with protection from gear and a rope. However, in order to efficiently climb The Nose, we used a mix of french free and aid climbing. French freeing is when you free climb, but occasionally place gear and pull on it (it’s basically free climbing with some cheating); aid climbing is when you place gear and put ladders on the gear, and step up on the ladders. No matter what form of climbing we did, though, we were always protected by our gear and ropes — we are team “safety first”! (For more details on the logistics of big wall climbing, VDiff has a great explanation.)
Day 0: Fixing to Sickle Ledge, 7am — 4pm
Update from the valley: today (day 0) we fixed to sickle and hauled our bag up, as planned. We’re sleeping in a campsite tonight, and will jug the lines up tomorrow morning.
We got a permit for sleeping on the wall, and the ranger said we’re the only party on the nose with a permit! There is another party who did the same thing as us today though (fixed to sickle, hauled bags) — so we are going to get a really really early start tomorrow to try to beat them! (They have two EXTREMELY heavy haul bags and a separate portaledge bag and a huuuuuuge poop bucket — they are climbing siege style and can’t be very fast, so we don’t want to get stuck behind them…)
We had a small fiasco with fixing ropes, because it turns out that the second rap (from sickle) requires a 70m rope (though the guidebook says 60m… Lies!). But the rope we saved for that rap was 60m. And our haul line was 65m! Thankfully Harry brought in my 70m rope, as well as some ice cream ;) (and poor Julie hauled the bag on a dynamic rope). Also squirrels got to our sandwiches, so we didn’t have lunch but had a really early dinner on the pizza deck, yum! Julie would like to add that she successfully tricked Cathie with egg/no egg 3 times today! Harry was not fooled, he was 2 for 2.
Egg/no egg is a game where you take a hard boiled egg (or a tea egg in our case — my mom made us a bunch of tea eggs for wall snacks) and put the entire egg in your mouth (or don’t), then turn to your partner. Your partner has to guess whether you have an egg in your mouth or not. It’s an ideal game to play while snacking at belays. And really, it’s harder than it sounds!
Because we fixed lines to Sickle Ledge, we could sleep on the ground for the night— which was nice because we got to enjoy some nice “ground” amenities before spending the next few days on the wall!
In the evening, Chongo paid a surprise visit to our campsite (Harry had spent the afternoon discussing quantum mechanics with him, and had invited him over). He gave us some tips on hauling systems and wished us good luck on our climb!
Day 1: Ground to El Cap Tower, 5am — 5pm
Hello dearest friends and lovers!
We just wrapped up a very successful and eventful day 1 (please note the zero indexing of the days). We got a 4am wakeup, and harry was gracious enough to get up before the asscrack of dawn with us! We jugged up the ropes we fixed yesterday, and dropped our extra rope which Harry picked up. Despite our early wakeup, we weren’t the first one the wall — some whoops and cheers were exchanged with a NIAD (nose in a day) crew who were past sickle before 5am (wow)!!! We beat mega haulbag party though, phew.
At the top of the first pitch, Cathie decided to pull a tommy caldwell and yeet her fanny pack (containing her phone and headlamp) off the wall, whoops. Luckily we have an oh shit kit containing an extra headlamp. Unfortunately her phone may be a goner though, all future updates will come from Julie (who will hopefully not yeet her phone).
Julie got to lead the stovelegs, declaring them the best pitches ever (so far). Cathie got redemption on the wide fists / offwidth pitches, and got her first correct egg / no egg of the trip. We forgot the haul line once, but otherwise the hauls went pretty smoothly. Hauly the haul bag has been serving us very well.
We made it to El Cap tower around 3pm and fixed the next two pitches (Texas flake and the boot flake). Julie sort of freed the calf of the boot. We wrapped up around 5 and are now enjoying the view from the v v plush bivvy on el cap tower, while warming up with hot Pad Thai.
Fingers crossed for a big smooth day tomorrow. After jugging our fixed lines, we’ll kick it off with the king swing! The weather today was a little cloudy and chilly, but altogether quite nice (sending temps!) Hoping it stays more or less the same through the next few days!
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Cathie + Julie
That night, we slept on top of El Cap tower which is a very spacious ledge, with enough space to sleep 6 people — and we had it all to ourselves! The view of the valley was gorgeous, especially at sunset and sunrise. While eating our hot Pad Thai dinners, we video called our partners (there is great reception once you’re high up on the wall) to say hello.
We stayed anchored into the wall at all times while cooking, setting up camp, and sleeping (safety first!) Since the ledge was so large, we could just sleep on our sleeping pads — no portaledge needed.
Side note: where’s the bathroom?
Since we were spending multiple days on the wall, of course we had to use the bathroom at some point. We’d go #1 off ledges (preferably away from the climbing route), while keeping our harnesses on. Going #2 is a bit more involved — you have to poop in a bag, and bring it with you! We bought really nice “wag bags” from my friend James Huang, who runs niceclimbs.com:
Next, we put the used El Crap bags in an air-tight “poop tube”, which my husband made for us out of plumbing pipe. We named ours The Poopmaster:
I will admit, though, that my body had a difficult time relaxing enough to make #2 happen… which Julie mentions in our next email update.
Day 2: El Cap Tower to Camp V, 6am-7pm
Day 2: questing into the unknown
We got up at 5am, Cathie tried to poop and sadly no luck. We saw beautiful stars last night and enjoyed the sunset views. We had a leisurely and delicious breakfast watching the light slowly filter into the meadow.
We jugged up to the boot flake, then Julie set up for the king swing. She snagged it first go, so fast that Cathie wasn’t even set up yet to give her a boost. Woops and delight ensued. We had some rope shenanigans with the lower out off of the boot, but with ingenuity, safety, and good ole fashioned struggling we made it.
Julie running for the King Swing, during our practice run to Boot Flake a few weeks ago. She got it after a few more tries.
Harry was in El Cap Meadow with a telescope and watching / taking photos of us, and he captured the rope shenanigans as I lowered out from boot flake:
Julie led the Lynn hill traverse and it was AMAZING! LYNN HILL IS OUR HERO AND INSPIRATION!!!! after the traverse Julie led a pitch with a crazy step out that required full faith that good things were happening around the blank corner (there were good things). Cathie followed and got to experience the terror/joy as well. We swapped, then Cathie brought us to the bottom of the great roof!
Cathie CRUSHED the great roof, she credits the danfi hook and DMM offset nuts. at this point we caught up with a party above us, and were caught up with by a niad party below. Slight chaos ensued. We tried to let the niad folk pass, but they got their rope stuck and had to fix it for a while. Julie cleaned the roof and continued.
Harry got this great timelapse of me leading the great roof:
Cathie led the pancake flake and describes it as “fucking insane, it’s like 110ft of continuous liebacking”. Side note we have been french freeing most pitches and have been really enjoying the actual climbing on the nose (shocker).
At this point the niad party caught us again and we let them pass, they were pretty cool and had heard of us!! They were both climbing stewards and had heard from the other steward who issued us our permit that we had climbed all the planet granite cracks in a day. We exchanged weird asian nuts for gummies from Berkeley bowl west and all rejoiced.
Cathie took us to camp 5 via an “awkward pitch” which she thinks is just a misunderstood pitch. Someone dropped a black totem on Julie’s head, booty??? Julie fixed the next pitch, catching up with the party ahead once more. We came down and were done around 7pm. It was a 12.5 hour day!! Woohoo! We’re now fed, watered, peed, and portaledge is set up.
Shout-out to Carson for letting us borrow his inflatable portaledges which are crazy nice.
Tomorrow our goal is to stay on our A game, be safe, smooth, and have fun!! We plan on waking up around 6, moving by 7/730, and we’ll go from there!!!
Love you all, we’re hoping we get to see you all at the top!
Because Camp V was a smaller ledge than El Cap Tower, and slightly sloping, we decided to use the G7 inflatable portaledges so we would have a larger and flatter surface to sleep on. They were really easy to set up, though it took a little bit of getting used to sleeping on them (you have to keep your weight centered, or you will slide around). Here are some exhausted smiles after a long, fun day of climbing:
Day 3: Camp V to the top! 7am-4pm
WE MADE IT!!!!!!
Hello from the top of El cap! Today was a good day. In continuation of our trend of waking up one hour later each day we woke up at six, broke down the G7 pods which worked ok. Julie slid a little bit at night and Cathie was bunked under Julie and was quite cozy. Cathie had her first ever successful wall poop in her life!! The camp 5 ledge has a nice little private pooping area that we used for our WC.
Once we broke down camp we jugged up our fixed pitch from the day before. Cathie kicked off the leads with a tricky aid section that turned into the most beautiful hand crack known to man kind. She felt so guilty aiding the hand crack that she felt morally obliged to put on her crack gloves and free the rest. Then the changing corners pitch came up. First off, Lynn Hill is a boss and we cannot imagine anyone thinking that that pitch could go free. Cathie quested hard, and a piece blew on her resulting in a lost brassy and squeals (there was a bolt and a good nut under her and she took a 2 ft fall). Cathie crushed it but her brain was mush at the end so Julie took over the next leads.
First pitch was a beautiful hand crack that Julie kind of aided at the beginning then freed. Next was the sort of tricky roof, Julie sang to herself “just keep climbing” and extensively used our four black totems. The stance at the end of this pitch was wild!! Cathie was too nervous to look down but Julie loved the exposure and the stance. The final two pitches were the bolt ladder, the roof was unexpected! It was a good thing we had gotten practice on the kor roof three weekends ago so we felt really good on it. (We really crammed for this exam).
The final belay was the most insane hanging belay over a roof with no feet. All of El cap extends below you and the wind was going crazy. We felt so nervous, excited, tired, relieved, drained, optimistic, and felt something adjacent to proud, more like the feeling you feel when you’ve worked really hard for something and are kind of sad it’s coming to an end (note: Julie felt this way but Cathie was shitting her pants).
Julie topped out, saw friends then the rope got stuck, and she had to go back down to the anchor and haul and fix from there. Julie and Cathie had a beautiful little moment together before joining the others at the top ❤. Cathie took us to the top, we got an assist on the belay and the haul from Marty and Harry. Cathie watched and commanded from her high horse.
We feel so lucky that Adam, Kenny, George, Wen, Harry, and Marty came to meet us at the top. Kenny and Adam brought a two burner stove and cooked a deluxe mushroom pepper and onion stir fry. The boys brought us fresh pineapple and watermelon and everyone brought tons of water. We feasted, we hugged, and we were so so happy, feeling all the feelings.
We set up camp at the top of El cap to sleep and watch the sunset, which was stunning both to the west and to the east over half dome and Tuolumne. We popped champagne (thank you George, Adam, and Filippo)!
We have el capped, el crapped, and now we el nap!!!!!!!
Lots of love,
We ran into Connor and Jim Herson on the top of El Cap, they had just finished climbing the Salathe — and Connor had freed the whole route (it goes at 5.13c!!!). Jim took one look at Hauly and told us, “that haul bag is way way way too big.” We don’t fat shame our haul bag, but their haul bag was about a quarter the size of ours and I will admit, it looked way more pleasant to haul!
Day 4: Back to civilization
Now that we have successfully completed our adventure and are safely home, it’s time to thank our sponsors (aka the friends and family who made this all possible) -
Our summit support crew — Harry, Marty, George, Wen, Adam, Kenny — who hiked the grueling upper Yosemite falls trail to the top of El Capitan with 9 gallons of water, a full cooking setup, fresh food (watermelons, pineapples, beer, champagne), and hugs! Also Harry set up a telescope in El Capitan meadow to watch us and take photos of us on the wall, which did a great job of documenting our second day on the route.
Carson, who lent us his G7 pods — they were such a pleasure to sleep on at camp 5, and were so light and easy to set up!
Alex Lenail for gifting us a haul bag! We affectionately named her Hauly, and she was our constant buddy on the wall.
Dan, for lending us his proprietary DanFi hook — that made aiding a much more pleasant experience (we got away with using only one ladder instead of two, reducing tangles).
Mel, for all the beta and aid knowledge transfer. And for our amazing practice run up Washington Column together!
Milde, also for aid beta and inspiration. We collectively called Dan, Mel, and Milde “the elders” (e.g. “the elders set up a Tyrolean here when they climbed it”). Thanks for showering us with your knowledge!
Our super supportive families — Julie’s mom said she was proud of us for dreaming so big! And my mom’s way to show support was to made us a ton of tea eggs for snacking on the wall, which were so tasty (and perfect for playing egg / no egg ;) )
We love you all so much, thank you for coming along with us on this journey!
Julie + Cathie
Side note (optional reading): Preparation
Julie and I have been climbing for 8 and 10 years respectively, so we were already fairly comfortable with multi-pitch trad climbing (including skills like gear placement, rope management, and endurance for long days on the wall). Things we actively worked on to prepare for the Nose:
- We wanted to be comfortable enough to on-sight 5.10c in the valley, so we could free or french free most pitches on the Nose. So, we trained in the gym and in the valley until we felt comfortable at that grade. This training included “heavy bottom girls” gym sessions, where we would climb with a double rack on our harnesses and/or several liters of water, to simulate the weight we’d be carrying while climbing on the Nose. We also did a “tour de craque”, where we spent a day climbing every single crack in every single Planet Granite gym in the bay area, totaling about 52 pitches.
- We learned big wall skills — how to aid climb, haul and dock bags, fix and jug lines. This was the biggest step for us, since neither of us were very experienced big wall climbers (I had climbed Moonlight Buttress many years ago, but my skills were rusty). We practiced aiding bolts in the gym, at least until we got in trouble for it. I set up a fixed line on a tree in my backyard, where I practiced jugging and hauling/docking Hauly with weights in it — I timed each lap, and was able to get about a 2x speedup! Chris McNamara’s books and videos helped a lot with learning aid skills, and Bryan Bornholdt gave us some great advice for dialing efficiency.
- We also practiced our big wall skills in Yosemite itself. We practiced jugging by ascending the fixed lines to Heart Ledges, and hauling Hauly (with 4 gallons of water) the whole way. This is how we decided we really wanted to stick to a 1:1 (instead of 2:1) haul! We climbed Washington Column with Mel 4 weekends before, did a Nose practice run to Sickle 3 weekends before, and did another Nose practice run all the way to the Boot Flake (sleeping on Dolt Tower) 2 weekends before our final push. The Nose practice run to the Boot Flake felt smooth and efficient, so we were confident enough with our skills to go for the full route!
- We studied the Nose topo extensively, including reading others’ pitch-by-pitch breakdowns and tips. We annotated the topo with our most critical notes, and split up pitches (red = Cathie, blue = Julie, purple = ?).
- We got all our gear together and packed! We ended up bringing: a triple rack, 2 ropes (lead rope and haul line), personal climbing gear (harness, ascenders, etc), 2 G7 pods, 2 sleeping pads with ground sheets, 2 sleeping bags, headlamps (including a backup), 4 gallons of water, backpacking dinners and a jetboil, sandwiches and a LOT of fun snacks, the Poopmaster and several El Craps, clothes, toiletries, a first aid kit, and of course Hauly. We had a follower pack which contained warm layers, the first aid kit, and food for the day. We each carried a fanny pack with a phone, printed topo, tape, headlamp, and snacks — at least, I did until I yeeted mine off El Cap.
- We picked the Juneteenth weekend for our big push, since it looked like a surprisingly cool weather window. We blocked off vacation days at work, got unreasonably excited, and then had the experience of a lifetime!!!
Thanks for reading, and happy adventuring!
❤ Cathie + Julie