The wall is sopping wet and I can’t feel my toes.
What’s our time?
Adam’s response faintly echoes off the granite.
Knuckles wedged in the constriction, I lean back as far as possible to let the sound of my voice travel below me. Checking Adam’s morale I yell: “Think we’ll make it?” Certain that we will, we have to …
Dude, people climb the whole thing in 3 hours. We have 4 for the three final pitches and a bolt ladder.
How long have I been on this pitch?
Over an hour, possibly two? I hope not two … By now the hours seem to just blend together. I stand thousands of feet above darkness, it must be between 1 and 4am. I’m so exhausted. I just want to be off of the wall.
The whole climb is a blur. Even thinking back now, I can only remember bits and pieces, fractured images and situations of the climb as if it were something from my childhood.
The back knuckles of my index fingers have holes so deep you can stick a bead in. A toenail is completely ripped off. The off-width we decided to jump on yesterday (two days ago now) and the twenty hours on this climb have left my elbows skinless. There’s blood everywhere, and I’ve given up trying to find the source. Why do I keep getting the wide sections? Why do I never seem to have the #3, 4, or 5 piece of protection that I need? I have no option but to charge the 40 to 60-foot run-out. I’m having the time of my life … right? I just need to keep moving.
Climbing in the dark sounds terrifying, but it’s really not. It’s overwhelming. There is no exposure, just blackness.
I could be two feet or two thousand feet off the ground. The world has shrunk to a small cone of light. Unfortunately, a headlamp is a poor substitute for the sun. Nothing is obvious. My depth perception is totally different, making it a struggle to recognize the shadows of holds and features. I’m on the infamous Changing Corners pitch. It’s dark and I’m climbing El Capitan for the first time (hell, climbing in the valley for the first time), and going for a speed ascent. Why am I doing this again? The topo isn’t clear, and I’m feeling desperate.
Up, just go up. Stop thinking and just climb.
I just want to be off the wall.
I try three futile approaches. The bolt ladder ends too far to the left, and I can’t cut right low. I’m confused and frustrated. I feel a weird tug on the rope. Adam is doing jumping jacks, staying warm while belaying. I’m somewhat annoyed that he isn’t just belaying. But I realize I’m just feeling utterly defeated, so I bite my tongue. Got to keep moving.
Finally it opens up.
I got it Adam! I know what to do!
Jubilation and exasperation simultaneously flood my brain. Why didn’t I find this before? I literally can’t think straight. Some professional could have a field day with my current brain chemistry. The rush gives me a second wind: Charge. I just want to be off the damn wall. Adam heroically leads my last three pitches to the bolt ladder. I struggle to stay awake belaying him. I’m wrecked and embarrassed—only hoping that my previous lead didn’t really take me two hours.
Including the time we lost passing other climbers, tangled ropes, and stuck gear, we hit the mid-point of The Nose in 9 hours—great time. But we slowed down from a combination of fatigue, darkness, and playing it safe by deciding not to short-fix (a form of simul-climbing). Nevertheless, we did what we set out to accomplish. We topped out the N.I.A.D. (Nose In A Day) in 23 hours and 46 minutes. Finishing with only 14 minutes left to spare, a Hollywood performance. We were hoping for a better time, but the relief of topping out the monstrous cliff shadows any disappointment. I still need to hike off this wall, drive to Tahoe, pick up my dog, and enjoy Cinco de Drinko Mayo with my friends. The night, well actually the day (considering it’s 7am), is young.
As we start our decent I gaze at the beautiful sunrise over the Valley shinning 3,000 feet below us. Those last 5 hours I hated that wall; I hated rock climbing. However, looking upon the peaceful valley as cars start moving and people begin their day the loathing disappears. All I can think of is my next attempt.
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