El Cap nailing routes - Shield/Sunkist/Magic Mushroom?


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Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 27, 2012 - 01:07pm PT
Hi guys,

Happy Christmas! My first post here.

I'll be heading out to the valley in early September for the fist time and looking for some advise on routes.
As a team, we comfortably free climb around 5.10+/5.11- on granite and have experience on long (12 pitch 400m) one day routes in South America and Norway.
We are in the UK and will be learning to haul and clean aid before heading out. Will probably warm up on something like El Cap Tree and maybe Lost Arrow Spire Tip before going for the main event...

I want a fairly classic route as we will only have enough time for one big one, and don't know when we will be back to the valley. Also, I want something which requires some nailing. I know this isn't popular and that the more that goes clean the better, however, I want to learn for the future. Ethics don't allow nailing in the UK, and I'd like to get out to some more remote big walls in the next few years where we will need to know how place angles, beaks, copperheads etc.

From what I've read so far, the Shield is a strong contender, with Magic Mushroom looking good too but harder by the sounds of it.
I don't want to over commit and go for something stupidly hard, although can't really tell how much harder routes are than others and why...

Any tips on other routes that may be suitable, differences between routes like the Shield/Sunkist/Magic Mushroom in terms of difficulty and amount of nailing required etc?

Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Dec 27, 2012 - 01:20pm PT
I wouldn't recommend the El Cap Tree at all and anyone should be ashamed of themselves if they climb the Shield and hammer more than ten pieces.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Dec 27, 2012 - 01:23pm PT
Do Sunkist. Shield has very little nailing and has gone clean in the past AFAIK. Mushroom has gone free and for that reason alone I wouldn't nail on it.

Trad climber
Dec 27, 2012 - 01:25pm PT
First of all, the el cap tree and LA spire tip will not prepare you for an el cap route. I suggest the west face of leaning tower. You should be able to do this in 2 days if you plan on doing el cap. The aiding is easy and goes fast, the hauls are easy (steep), and you will be able to dial in your systems on a shorter route.

I have not done magic mushroom but the Shield is not really a good first nailing route. You are likely to nail things you should not and it is not trivial in the places where you do have to nail. I would say Zodiac or Mescalito are better choices. Both go clean often but most parties place a few pins on them.

I would recommend doing a non-nailing route or at least one with minimal nailing for your first trip up the Capitan. There is going to be enough new things for you to deal with without having to learn to nail on top of it all. After you have done a few routes you will understand what I am saying.

Oh, and . . . .

You're Gonna Die.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Dec 27, 2012 - 01:36pm PT
Unfortunately, on the routes most often done, certainly on their first four or five pitches, "nailing" would be a real travesty. Sure, go up the first four of the Sea of Dreams or Wyoming Sheep Ranch and you'll get nailing but those pitches certainly aren't the place to learn nailing.

Until you get up half a dozen El Cap routes you're not really going to get up into any considerable nailing. I don't know about Sunkist though, I've never done it. It might be your best bet.

+1 what Texplorer said.

Trad climber
Northern California
Dec 27, 2012 - 01:45pm PT
Maybe check out something like Dante's Inferno or a less traveled grade V. With a good arsenal of cam hooks, hybrid aliens, and beaks you can probably do the Shield clean - at most you'll put in a couple sawed offs.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Dec 27, 2012 - 01:51pm PT
Cosmos, Heart Route, Pacemaker are all considered moderates.

Parts of the Heart Route serve as sections of multiple free routes, so again, please don't go up there nailing on it.

You might look at Lunar Eclipse as a much less traveled, relatively short alternative. Nature, or more recently HoiPolloi (speed record a few months ago IIRC?) could probably fill you in on how much nailingm, rack etc.

Trad climber
Hankster's crew
Dec 27, 2012 - 03:59pm PT
Traveling that far and wanting to go for it, you should hop on Space. There is nailing and coperheading, and it's nice and steep.
But I think the big point is that nailing when you have to nail is much more fun than pounding in some sawed-off angle into a big hole where the right gidget would make it a clean placement(and more scary). Just make sure that going up there you have the right gear. Read Mark Hudon's trip reports as he is really detailed about the whole affair.

Big Wall climber
The Bear State
Dec 27, 2012 - 04:00pm PT
Shield goes without the hammer!

Dec 27, 2012 - 04:32pm PT
native son has much nailing. it's going to be very tough to do this as your first el cap route.
you should the nose. it's the best line, an incredible, historic, and most of all super fun route and it's still going to be challenging.
and then do a harder route with nailing on your next trip, which will before you do a FA of a remote big wall anyways I bet...
oh and don't go climb the shield because you want to pound iron!!!!

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 27, 2012 - 05:02pm PT
Thanks for a good response! Nothing like some personal advise to help planning.

El cap tree and LA will be off the cards.

I think some of those route suggestions, Luncar Eclipse (A4), Squeeze play (A3+?), Cosmos (A4) Space (A4) etc could be biting off more than we can chew for our first aid trip. I'm up for going in hard but A4 is pushing it.

Erik - thanks for the suggestion on Ribbon Falls, the East Face of the Column, Wall of Ages, ect. I much prefer climbing away from the crowds.

Elcap - I won't be digging the hammer out on anything without getting up to speed on the ethics first :)

Nopantsben - regading the Nose: we will not have time for more than one grade VI unfortunately as want to get in some other free routes too, and also want to do something involving nailing. Save the nose for when we have systems sorted good and can do it in less than 5 days.
And no plans for FAs just yet, just want to get on some walls in more exotic places that see less traffic.

dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Dec 27, 2012 - 07:46pm PT
Mushroom goes virtually clean.
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
Dec 27, 2012 - 08:34pm PT
How about the PO, or the NA for a lesser slice of the pie.... Lunar sounds like a good one... or maybe ZM? Those must have a majority of nailing still left in them without completely loading your trousers.

Dec 27, 2012 - 08:55pm PT
I recommend the Muir start via Moby Dick to Mammoth Terrace to the Majic Mushroom finish.
This was my first El Cap route make it yours.
Need any info I may remember some it was only back in 1984 LOL:)

Have fun and TOP OUT!



Toyota Tacoma
Dec 27, 2012 - 10:57pm PT
New Dawn to Tribal Rite was direct, sustained (at A3), and had a whole lot of sweet nailing once you got past the Boot. Good anchors and no veg would make this a pretty damn enjoyable El Cap nailing route. The RURP pitch...oh yeah!

The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Dec 27, 2012 - 11:14pm PT
Son of Heart.. Blades and arrows in a straight-forward manner with some wide-type groveling for the free. Choose your approach route to the heart ledges/mammoth terraces...

Dec 27, 2012 - 11:30pm PT
Virtually EVERY El Cap adventure is a good one - aid or free, nailing or clean. Jumping on a seldom traveled route, or hard nailing route would be quite the adventure for a first trip up the big stone.

As far as specific route beta:

The Shield is one of the coolest places on earth - just don't nail on it
Sunkist is somewhat of an adventure route, and not done much
I'd second Walleye on Son of Heart as seldom traveled, and an adventure with the wide free / grovel pitches.
Other good first routes would of course be Zodiac or Mescalito.
The North American Wall would be good - also an adventure route
I'd second New Dawn, or New Dawn to Tribal Rite
Lastly, you may want to consider the Muir, which is a great route, and except for the "approach" pitches, I don't think it sees that much traffic.

Whatever you do, no matter how hard, I guarantee you it will be a memorable trip of a lifetime!!


Social climber
An Oil Field
Dec 28, 2012 - 01:34am PT
Too bad. Nailing was super fun before all of the cams, then micro cams, came out.

I did Zodiac pre-cams and a surprising amount of it was expanding. Not hard expanding, but when it came to cleaning that last piece after the flake had shut, it was a bitch.

Rurps, heading, it was all fun while it lasted.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 28, 2012 - 06:27pm PT
Consensus so far seems to be to get on one of the more obscure routes if I want to get some nailing in which makes sense.

If one of you guys were going to do one of these walls, how would you go about getting beta? I'm not fussed about 'spoiling the adventure' by getting beta, especially on my first few trips out on valley walls. So far, most of the route info I have found for more traveled routes has been on here as topos, TRs, or on biwalls.net/yosemitebigwalls. Is there something I am missing, or am I just overthinking it and maybe you would just ask around camp 4 a few days before you set off?


Dec 28, 2012 - 06:53pm PT
There's a wealth of experience here - just ask for beta and you will probably get more then you expected.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 30, 2012 - 12:07pm PT
Thanks Gagner, dropped you an email.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 30, 2012 - 01:07pm PT
I've got tons of beta I can share on like 48 different routes, so can probably fix you up with what you need. But it might cost you a few beers on the bridge, eh?

Magic Mushroom is one of my least favourites. It has deep deep corners that you have place gear into at arm's length, after which you clip your aider to it, try to stand up [think about this] and then you find yourself only a foot or two higher after the placement. So it is hard to climb, and not fun. There are many pitches like this on the Mushroom, and accordingly I didn't much like it. It is a stunning natural line, visible from the ground easily, yet why does it knott get climbed much? That is the answer.

Since you guys actually know how to climb, and will have sussed your wall systems ahead of time, you should go climb a classic nailing route. How about South Seas to P.O. for instance?

Or why not Cosmos? That is obscure, seldom climbed but really quite good. I liked it. We trundled a huge enormous hunk of rock from up there, and I have knott known of anyone climbing the route since. That was quite a few years ago.

Son of Heart will not give you what you want, unless you like grovelling up "classic" offwidths and chimneys. I hated it, even with Valley Giant cams to cheat with!

Sunkist could work as per the other post. Some nailing up there.

Virginia has a great nailing pitch about three pitches up.

I know one absolutely superb all-time nailing practise pitch, the all-time pecker pitch, right off the ground, on an obscure route that nobody does. It is hard to find the pitch, even, but it is great for practising. I haven't told anyone because I don't want it to become "known".

I am full of ideas. And other stuff. And getting thirsty as I think about it.... ;)

Dec 31, 2012 - 02:14pm PT
I'm no wall master having done only five, but saying that ANY nailing is necessary today on The Shield is disgraceful. I did it in 1987 and we placed only a handful of pins and I regret it to this day. We had two TCUs and rigid stemmed Friends besides the available nuts.

Several Euro parties have reported doing it clean and it should be kept that way. NO excuse to continue ruining those beautiful cracks! Climbing has never been easier with the gear available today. No need to ruin the placements for future climbers on probably most of these walls.

Jan 7, 2013 - 10:17am PT
Tribal Rite is an excellent suggestion actually. It's got nailing, you start on something easy for about 10 pitches to get everything figured out and you can decide halfway up if you want to do the nose or tribal. it's also got a little ledge on every bivy, which makes the logistics considerably easier!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Jan 7, 2013 - 11:28am PT
Tribal Rite can be climbed easily with only 10 hammered pieces. It's an excellent route though.

Same for South Seas to PO, certainly less than 18 pieces hammered. All in all, another excellent route.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jan 7, 2013 - 01:10pm PT
I did it in 1987 and we placed only a handful of pins and I regret it to this day. We had two TCUs and rigid stemmed Friends besides the available nuts.
I did it in '91 with I believe four or five sawed offs, courtesy of Tucker Tech. We used all of them though sparingly. Like you, I found the TCUs worked pretty darn good and eliminated the need to nail much. We definitely nailed more than a "handful" of pins, but not by much.

It's somewhat sad that, in all the time since, you still have many climbers who believe if they don't have aliens, etc., they have to resort to nailing.

To the OP, if you can't nail in the UK, why are you so hot and bothered to come here and nail? What benefit do you hope to derive from it if it's a skill you can't employ at home?

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 15, 2013 - 05:08pm PT
Thanks for all the advise - sounds like some of you guys have a lot of experience to draw on. I'll do some more research on some of the suggestions and keep reading through trip reports. There are some awesome writeups on here.

To the OP, if you can't nail in the UK, why are you so hot and bothered to come here and nail? What benefit do you hope to derive from it if it's a skill you can't employ at home?

I think I mentioned it in the first post. The reason being, its my intention to head on out to some more remote big walls after learning things in the valley. Places where there wont be lines of fixed gear ready to clip or alien-eating peg scars. Yosemite seems like a place where there will be lots of helpful and knowledgable people about. I would be surprised if I climb more than one pitch of aid in a year when I get back to the UK.

Pete - you've got a deal. I'll look forward to sharing some cold beers in September.


Trad climber
Bristol, UK
Jan 16, 2013 - 08:42am PT
Hi Phil,

I have done 6 walls (three on El Cap) over three visits during the last 2 years.

Nailing is really something that with current ethics is what the world is trying to get away from. Using clean gear, even on old nailing routes is now seens as a lot more ethical in that it damages the rock a lot less.

If you have never done a wall before, you should really come out and try and get on the nose. If you manage a warm up wall and the nose in 2 weeks you will have done well.

Nailing is one of those things that seems cool and fun from the comfort of the armchair, and I guess it is cool to a certain extent, but it slows you down. I would much rather wake up on day 3 knowing my pitches will go clean for the day.

You will have enough to learn on the hauling, cleaning, cam hooks, sky hooks, setting up the bivi etc on your first time.
Captain...or Skully

Jan 16, 2013 - 09:34am PT
If you're a novice at nailing, expect jacked up hands & fingers.
Clean is much nicer for them.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jan 16, 2013 - 03:53pm PT

Sorry if I sounded like I was getting up in your grill. I did not see in your first post where you said why you were interested in learning to nail in the first place. From what everyone else had said though, I think you're better off just learning to aid well, whether that be clean or nailing. That skill should be far more useful than just learning to resort to the iron when things seem sketchy. Have fun learning. The Captain is awesome.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Jan 16, 2013 - 04:11pm PT
Driving home a 1/2 inch angle or a lost arrow isn't challenging or even interesting. On the other hand, using rurps, peckers, hooks and copperheads will be a new experience and probably what you wanted to learn. They're used for moves that might never be done clean. Basically, the wider pins are obsolete, but for the thin seams there may be no other way to do it. This should be obvious when you're on the route. There was some of that on the nipple pitch of zodiac but I understand that in recent times the pitch is full of fixed gear.

Trad climber
Jan 16, 2013 - 05:52pm PT
Make sure to bring a wool sweater and use only a swami if you're gonna pound iron. It richens the experience!

Have a blast whatever you do. The Valley is magical.
bigwall shitter

Social climber
the wild west
Jan 17, 2013 - 12:10am PT
if you want to place pins go mixed climbing, that's what I use my pins for, even though I bought them with aid in mind. This year I think I've pounded one pin aiding vs more than I can count with crampons and tools.

A friends backyard with the neighbors wifi
Jan 17, 2013 - 01:29am PT
There is a lot of nailing on Plastic Surgery Disaster. Also fairly obscure. Double plus. It would be a great warm up for El Cap.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 21, 2013 - 07:36am PT
FatDad - no problem!
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