Toby and I took four days to complete the Nose last week, hauling a massive bag up with us and setting up hanging camps as we went. The style was adventurous and a novelty for both of us but didn’t exactly feel fast and liberating!
Therefore I decided to head back up the wall with New Zealand strong-women Mayan Smith-Gobat, to see what a fast and light ascent could be like. Climbing with Mayan was very inspiring to say the least. She is currently attempting to free the Salathe wall on El Cap and she treated the nose as a fitness day squeezed between attempts on her route.
Mayan styling the Great Roof. Photo courtesy of Tom Evans and the El Cap report
In order to avoid other parties we set out at 3am in the morning, climbing the first 13 pitches in the dark with our headlamps. Unfortunately, this caused us a delay of about 20 minutes as we missed the entry point into the stove-legs, our only real slip-up on the route (and not a bad one considering Mayan was doing the route for her first time in the dark!)
The night was warm and sweaty providing unusually greasy conditions on the lower pitches and making for one or two scary moments as fingertips and climbing shoes slipped and caught again on the polished rock.
Me heading up some thin aid before the Glowering Spot
We alternated leads in blocks of about 6 pitches, short-fixing our 70 meter rope on every anchor and simul-climbing short sections of the route. Short-fixing means pulling up all the slack in the rope at the end of a pitch and tying it off at the anchor creating a big loop of slack affectionately known as a “PDL” or Pakistani Death Loop (at times the PDL can be up to 40m long, implying a potential fall of 80m!) Once tied off, the leader sets out again, belayed by the loop until his partner reaches the last anchor and puts him on belay. Of course, using this technique means a single rack of gear must last 5-6 pitches so placements are used sparingly!
Simul-climbing implies both climbers ascend simultaneously using the other as a counter-weight in the case of a fall. We didn’t do too much of this given our limited knowledge of the route, but the super-quick ascents are achieved in this way.
All-in-all, our 1,000m ascent went smoothly, clocking in at 11 hours. Not bad for a first speed effort, and much more fun than four days of back-breaking hauling! But are the additional risks worth it? Possibly not…