When Yosemite legend @hansflorine calls you and asks you to climb The Nose El Cap the next day, you obviously pack your car and book it to the Valley as fast as possible. Yesterday, Hans made a dream for @ryanpace and I come true by taking us up the daunting and exposed 3000-feet of El Cap granite in a single day (NIAD!!). I should mention that Ryan and I had virtually no jugging or aiding experience before this; making it a big wall onsight adventure of learning by doing. We made it to the top in 15hrs 44min; and while a much longer time than what speed master Hans is capable of, it was a lifetime tick that I will never forget. Feeling blessed and thankful, totally wrecked, and absolutely stoked for the many Yosemite adventures to come. ?
Do hard things.
Perhaps this, at least in part, helps explain why he’s climbed El Capitan over 170 times, with 106 of those ascents on The Nose—the most famous rock climb up the most beloved big wall in the world.
I should add that he also holds the speed record on this route with Alex Honnold; managing to climb this beast of a wall in a mere 2 hours, 23 minutes, and 46 seconds.* If you’ve ever laid eyes on El Capitan, you know that’s a terrifyingly fast ascent. Needless to say, Hans knows how to try hard.
For most of us mortals, climbing The Nose over a span of a few days is a lofty-enough endeavor on its own. El Cap, a staggering 3,000-foot wall seemingly exploding from the Valley floor, catapults a potent mix of shock, awe, splendor, inspiration, and fear among even the most capable climbers in the world. Yet with such easy access (just a 12-minute stroll to the base), it beckons us with its irresistible lure of commitment, risk, challenge, and reward.
How can you not want to climb it?
So when Hans—maybe one of the most approachable and generous climbers I’ve ever met—casually invited me and my partner to climb El Cap with him the very next day, we did what any sane climbers would, and packed up the car and busted ass straight to Yosemite Valley … Nevermind the fact that our big wall aid experience was next to nothing.
While trying to wrap my head around what we would embark on in less than 24 hours, I was taken back to May of 2014, when I was—for the first time as a climber—en route to the mystical land of Yosemite: the proverbial center of the climbing universe.
It wasn’t long into that humbling trip that I realized the climbing in Yosemite was way out of my league. For one, I had no trad climbing experience, nor did I know the first thing about crack climbing—let alone off-width (… still working on that one). Add the massive and seemingly impossible granite walls, and I—an East Coast-bred sport climber—felt completely out of my element.
But holy shit was I inspired. I knew I wanted to climb those walls someday.
Coincidentally, on that trip, fellow travel comrade and climbing mentor, Kevin Boyko, had committed to attempting the 31 pitches of The Nose in a day (NIAD). Not only would it be an onsight attempt for him, but also Kevin’s first time ever climbing in Yosemite—a bold endeavor, to say the least. I vividly recall him and his partner sorting gear the night before in Camp 4, eagerly taking topo notes under headlamp while listening to Hans’ audio guide to climbing The Nose. It was a classic scene to a Yosemite right of passage.
The two managed to pull it off in just under 24 hours and their tattered skin and bruised bones showcased the try hard they had shed. To me, it was heroic and romantic beyond belief; a commiting test of technical skill, mental fortitude, and suffering that I could only dream of experiencing.
I mean, what could be better than climbing over 3,000 feet in a single day?
I thought to myself; quietly adding NIAD to the lofty end of my bucket list and vowing to learn to trad climb henceforth.
Fast forward a few years, and I, thanks to a few incredible mentors like Kevin, learned to plug gear, climb cracks, develop a love for long days on walls, and at least slightly grasp the burly grace demanded by Sierra granite. Ultimately, the acquisition of those skills came down to being given the tools and trust to learn by doing, and embracing the fact that before I could ever be great, I’d have to be a gumby first.
And that is precisely what my first ever big wall experience up El Capitan (in a day) with Hans Florine was all about …
5 lessons learned climbing El Cap with Hans
1. There’s no better piece of pro than a knowledgeable, patient mentor
I’ll be the first to tell you that had my partner and I headed up The Nose for a NIAD attempt that day without Hans, we would have failed miserably.
For one, prior to climbing El Cap that day, both of us had jugged a rope a total of once before, never performed a lower-out, and essentially had french-freeing as the extent of our aid climbing expertise. While we knew how to climb plenty of pitches in a day, we were more or less total gumbies when it came to the technical skills needed for The Nose.
We were, however, prepared to listen, learn, and move as fast and efficiently as possible.
Thankfully—aside from the fact that Hans could easily climb The Nose with his eyes closed—he also bears a remarkable amount of patience and adeptness in explaining technical maneuvers that you don’t want to screw up thousands of feet off the ground. By truly embracing the spirit of learning by doing, Hans presented his knowledge as we climbed; allowing my partner and me to learn the necessary skills in real-time on the wall.
Want to climb El Cap, too? Put in the time to find a trustworthy mentor or guide to show you the ropes.
2. Study the route and topo, inside and out
When you aren’t climbing with Hans, the quite literal human encyclopedia of The Nose, you want to be as prepared as possible for what you’ll need and encounter along the way.
Hans—thanks to over a hundred laps to the top—knows every variation on every pitch as well as precisely what pieces of gear can be placed at every spot in every crack along that 3,400-foot climb.
Naturally, this enabled us to greatly limit the amount of gear we brought and allowed us to prepare the right pieces for each subsequent pitch. Moreover, knowing the quirks, as well as where (and of course, how) to lower-out on The Nose is crucial to moving quickly, because you’ll encounter plenty.
Thankfully, Hans’ knowledge is available to all climbers with a quick download of his NIAD Beta. We listened to the audio guide on the way to Yosemite the day before climbing it, and it honestly helped a lot. The download also comes with annotated topos, images of specific pitches, some stories, and plenty more to get you geared up to tackle the NIAD.
3. Monitor your efficiency by climbing with a watch
Really, in any long multi-pitch endeavor, time matters.
Hans, a compulsive time measure-er and master of speed, puts it something like this: for every extra five minutes spent at a belay on a 10-pitch climb, you lose 50 minutes at the end your day. That loss of almost an hour could mean the difference between having to pull out your headlamp to rappel or navigate a treacherous descent in the dark. For obvious reasons, you want to avoid that scenario when possible.
By keeping track of your progress and setting time-driven goals, you can keep yourself accountable with your level of efficiency and make adjustments when needed.
Is one partner taking considerably longer than the other on lead? Consider allowing the other partner to lead a few more pitches to catch up. Are you optimizing time by constantly doing something?
Because if you’re not dealing with ropes, racking gear, climbing, jugging, chugging water, or belaying when chasing a NIAD, then you’d better hope you’re prepared to face a shiver bivy on the wall. (Even if you’re not planning for an overnight on the wall, bring an emergency blanket).
Throughout the 15 hours and 44 minutes it took us to reach the tree at the top of El Cap that day, there was hardly a minute where we weren’t moving. A watch will help to keep you and your partner(s) on your toes.
4. Stay hydrated, eat frequently, and make sure your partner does, too
Ironically, climbing The Nose might have been the most hydrated and well-fueled I’ve ever felt when on an all-day climbing adventure—primarily because we were frequently reminded by Hans to eat and drink along the way.
While food and water needs are different for everyone, Hans advised us that we’d want about a gallon of water each, as well as 100-200 calories every hour or so. So, we planned accordingly. Typically, I bring enough food (usually not enough water) but fail to actually consume it until I’m at the point of hanger or bonking. Turns out, it’s not that hard to avoid this.
By having partners who consistently remind you to eat and drink (or by simply paying attention to the time), you can make the last pitches and final grueling hours of the descent a far more enjoyable, cramp-less experience. Also: I’ve found that electrolyte tablets with caffeine are an incredible addition to help keep me alert and moving.
5. Safety first, fun second, speed third
Last, but certainly not least, be safe. Whether you’re a novice or a full-blown big wall badass like Hans, ensure you have a full grasp of your systems and gear before putting them to use.
It can be tempting to cut corners when speed is on your mind, but when you’re thousands of feet off the ground, failing to ask questions or taking unnecessary risks is simply not worth it. The consequences of mistakes on El Capitan should not be taken lightly.
Hans continuously reminded us of our priorities: be safe, have fun, climb fast.
Take that extra second to double (or triple) check your lower-out, short-fixing, and jugging systems, and make sure your partners are on the same page as you are when it comes to your group strategy … even if that means taking an extra five minutes at the belay.
And of course, don’t forget to have a blast. Amidst the inherent suffering of the NIAD challenge, (like the knee-blasting East Ledges descent that culminates the adventure) you’ll have the time of your life. Because after all, if you’re signing yourself up to climb 31 pitches of granite in a day, I’m pretty sure you like to do hard things.
With absolutely breathtaking views, mind-numbing exposure, and truly some of the most high-quality climbing I’ve encountered, climbing The Nose of El Capitan in a day was a dream come true that I can’t wait to soon repeat. Maybe next time, I’ll even be able to leave the not-so-secret weapon behind.
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