workout for climbing the nose


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Trad climber
schaumburg, il
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 18, 2013 - 08:43pm PT
I know to climb a lot in order to prepare for climbing something like el cap, which i hope to do in my lifetime. However what kind of workouts etc did you all do to get your ass into shape for something like this. I've seen the workout from hell, and it looks like hell. Any other plans or things you have found to get yourself ready.

Feb 18, 2013 - 08:57pm PT
move out of illinois!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Feb 18, 2013 - 09:16pm PT
Climb, climb, climb....which, of course, means get your ass the hell out of Illinois.

Big Wall climber
san jose, ca
Feb 18, 2013 - 09:29pm PT
go wrestle Hudon


Trad climber
Ridgway, CO
Feb 18, 2013 - 09:36pm PT
You should try to live a life where you never get out of shape in the first place. Many start climbing when they are young and continue with the pursuit throughout their lives . . . every day is a workout. Of course one needs to reside in proximity to some vertical topography, preferably thousands of feet of such. Living in Illinois, the best start would be to log some serious mileage on a road bike, 300-400 miles/month and balance this with extensive upper body training, 3 days/week, just to prepare for the physical demands of heavy load hauling and vertical struggle. This does not include the requisite time spent simply climbing, 1000-3000 feet/month. It is not an easy path.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Trad climber
Yosemite, ca
Feb 18, 2013 - 09:57pm PT
Hike up hills with a heavy pack on.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Feb 18, 2013 - 10:02pm PT
You're undoubtably going to be doing it in conventional style. Being in good physical shape is important but not essential. Developing the appropriate skills is THE critical factor.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 18, 2013 - 11:31pm PT
Chin-ups and pullups are a classic way to get in shape. Get to where you can do 15 to 20 in a row (per set - minimum of 10 per set) It's always good to have a base fittness level like being able to do at least 3 sets per day. When I soloed El Cap back in 1977 I made sure I could do 1,000 chin-ups in an 11 hour period. That's in sets of 10, about 9 sets per hour with 6 to 7 minuted rest between sets. That's really a mellow way to workout. I never really got tired or fatigued when I was up there on the wall. You need to think in terms of having reserve strength and endurance for when 'shit happens'. The accidents people have probably happen mostly after people get fatigued. For a base level of fitness, being able to do this for an hour is a good start. If you are young you can take it as far as you want, and like most sports you work out more as the event approachs. The most chin-up or parallel bar dips I ever did in a row was 37. If you can't climb to get in shape you should workout. Climbing big stuff can mess with you mind, so if your body is tough you have a good start.

If you live where you cannot climb, get into buildering, where you can do long traverses on brick or concrete holds for periods of time - on the sides of buildings or on road and freeway retaining walls. The challenge here is to find a wall where you can be descreet and the cops don't think you are breaking in. I have a secret wall that is 120' long that I traverse back and forth on. I can make it easy or I can make it kick my ass. Back when I was doing the pull-up program I described, I also buildered, ran, rode my bicycle, and climbed when I could. I lived in Boise Idaho at the time and there were lots of good buildings to climb on. El Cap is 3,000 feet high so I would make sure I could do 3,000 feet of traversing in a day! It goes pretty fast 100' at a time.

When you are young it is easy to build up if that is what you want to do. I went from not being able to do a single chin-up in the 7th grade to doing chin-ups with 100 lbs added to my bodyweight in high-school. Later I built up to 1 arm chin ups. Most top climbers can do these but it's certainly not needed to just climb El Cap in a standard fashion.

One fun or not so fun thing to do with a friend is to jumar up ropes hanging free. You just need something that is 20 feet high and your friend can lower the rope through a pulley as you go up. Be creative and there are endless ways to conquer the Captian, but like others have said, you have to find a way to learn to climb and learn the ropes too.

Maybe the most important thing in all of this is giving yourself plenty of recovery time after working out. Recovery is as important as the workout. Many training books do not emphasize this enough. It is very easy to pile workout onto workout until you do nothing but f*#k yourself up. You have to learn when you are recovered and stronger than you were before, before you hit it again. I have spent far more time recovering from workouts in my life than actually working out. Also, endurance low stress workouts are a very good base for building more pure strength later. People always want to go for the rad strength stuff first. Hard endurance workouts translate into strength just fine.

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Feb 19, 2013 - 12:30am PT

Great post.

McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 19, 2013 - 12:33am PT
Thanks man. I had a good workout today! I love my brick wall. Gotta know when to quit too!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Feb 19, 2013 - 01:02am PT
Find an alligator.

Wrestle it.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 19, 2013 - 01:10am PT
Last time I did that I lost - they call it road rage - separated shoulder! My alligator turned out to be a football player in disguise - outweighed me by 100 lbs.

Social climber
somewhere that doesnt have anything over 90'
Feb 19, 2013 - 01:13am PT
40 oz curls should get you there.

Feb 19, 2013 - 02:48am PT
If you're able to climb the equivalent of 10 full pitches of 5.9 or 5.10 in 6 or 7 hours and still feel pretty good afterwards, and you can repeat it the next day, I think you'll be fine physically. I'd also suggest getting hauling a bag wired, knowing how to jumar efficiently, and know how to pendulum without getting too excited.

I'd watch out with overdoing the pullups, shoulder tendonitis is a bitch!

Boulder climber
Feb 19, 2013 - 03:17am PT
I would run, do push ups, pull ups (not going past 45 degrees) and crunches. Diet would be equally important leading up to something like this.
wayne w

Trad climber
the nw
Feb 19, 2013 - 05:10am PT
Go to and check out Hans' 'Road to the Nose'

Chris Mac Namara's How to Big Wall Climb is another great resource.


Feb 19, 2013 - 07:58am PT
Plenty of climbing in Illinois he's just in the wrong end. Lots of folks on the Taco have climbed in Illinois. Tell you what, come down to Jackson and run about 25 straight laps on "Group Therapy" you'll be ready.
Lloyd Campbell

Social climber
St. Cloud, MN
Feb 19, 2013 - 08:16am PT
I would guess most failures on El Cap are due to head games rather than fitness level. You have to prep the brain to be able to handle having 3000 feet of rock hanging over you. Don't discount this part of the "training", it is not insignificant.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Feb 19, 2013 - 08:42am PT
(1) get a solid partner; (2) spend a month or more in the valley getting used to the rock and gear techniques; (3) start going up one of the routes. If you fail it won't be because you were out of shape.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Feb 19, 2013 - 10:12am PT
I wouldn't be ragging on the Midwest, guys. Remember those guys who went to Yosemite from there and did a pretty decent job crushing the Nose in Day recently?

Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
Feb 19, 2013 - 10:14am PT
Start putting 30 pitch days.
Then come do it in a day.
Screw the hauling crap.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Feb 19, 2013 - 10:22am PT
You're right Mark, but climbing the Nose isn't an adventure race or some event where working out.....getting awesomely fit is the key. I knew a guy in Lander who would do sets of pull ups shouting "Walker Spur" with each one. Yep, he was training for the Walker Spur....nope, he didn't climb it because he didn't have the proper skill set. But damn, he was honed and could do a ton of pull ups.
Successful climbing requires good physical conditioning but the emphasis should be on developing climbing skill, and, concerning the Nose, learning the techniques a climb like that requires.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Feb 19, 2013 - 11:21am PT
Maybe I'm the only one here who actually subscribes to supertopovideo on youtube, but Chris MacNamara has been posting instructional videos every week for the last couple of months. There's no end to the number of tips and tricks in this game.


Boulder climber
Somewhere on 395
Feb 19, 2013 - 11:51am PT
^^^ thanks Don, I am going to subscribe to those videos
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 19, 2013 - 01:59pm PT
The thing about El Cap is that people always want to climb it before they are ready. When we were young, and when El Cap was less crowded (late 60s), we could partially get ready by just going part way up. I was 17 when I made my first trip up to the ceiling on the Dihedral 6 or 7 piches up. We used to go up to Sickle ledge pretty frequently it seemed - just for the view. I checked out the West Buttress once with Mike Dent. I even almost wrapped off the end of the rope once coming down from Sickle! I was in awe I suppose, no knots on the end of the rope, when I realized I was 10' past the next rappel bolts.

But damn, he was honed and could do a ton of pull ups.

I did not mean to emphasize the fitness training over the climbing. The pull-ups were alway just supple'mental' and I did not spend that much time with them. When I actually did my 1,000 I simply could not sleep that night so I went out and burned it off. We have all known people that were real pumped up but could not put it all together.

It must have been about the time I did those 1,000 chin-ups that I wrote one of the few poems that I have. It was 2 years earlier when I was 23 that I did my first serious solo atempt of the Dihedral when I was 23. That time I quickly built up to 800 chinups doing the sets of 10 thing. I got iced off that climb. I think I was on Spring Break at school. Anyway, here's the poem;

What is
This strange creature?

It was also at this 'bleacher' period that I showed up at an all-comers track meet and ran a 2:09 half mile. That was pretty exciting, and with just 3 guys in the race. Seems like I took second in that - I remember chasing. Jim Ryan was one of my heros at the time. Much of my training then was also for cross-country ski racing so I had reason to have some upper body strength other than for just climbing.

I hope I have this memory straight, but hanging out at Stoney Point I overheard Don Loria, or maybe it was Ken McNutt relaying it, that Don and Dennis, as part of their North America Wall training did all the 5.6 climbs at Taquitz, the all the 5.7 climbs and so on. I also remember that Don could run a 36 minute 6 mile run. It was exciting being at Stoney Point and hearing that they made it up the NA. I think the way this played out though, was that I learned the other stuff later. The excitement about the NA was palpable that day at Stoney. I don't think I even knew what the NA was at first - but it seemed as though it was a big deal! I remember too that I got into running to Stoney from my home in the Tarzana-Woodland Hills area and that Westridge Mountaineering would not hire me because my plan was to ride my bicycle to Santa Monica to work! Perhaps they were the realistic ones!

Feb 19, 2013 - 03:28pm PT
The first time I did El Cap I had just completed my second Workout From Hell tour. As a result the physical part of climbing The Nose was no issue. One other workout that proved successful for me was to put up a crack machine and do laps. With a crack machine it is easy to calculate footage.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 19, 2013 - 05:09pm PT
Schaumburg, IL is in a good spot - less than 3 hours from Baraboo, WI (home of Devil's Lake).
Get out to Devil's Lake and climb dawn to dusk.
Devil's Tower, too.

Get together with the Chicago Mountaineers and find a psyched multipitch and big wall partner!
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Feb 19, 2013 - 05:44pm PT
One of the things I really regret is spending a lot of time doing pullups, etc., rather than just climbing. Work at improving skills and gain strength through time and practice on the rock.

Feb 19, 2013 - 05:52pm PT
The guy mynameismud said he used the crack machine to train.

It's the best training you can use other than crack climbing mileage on real rock terrain.

Forget stupid pullups. They're dumb.

A crack machine if you're in some place like Alabama flatland is 100% the ticket.

The crack machine strengthens your hands correctly to the rigors of crack climbing ......
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 19, 2013 - 07:07pm PT
Forget stupid pullups. They're dumb.

Well, they're probably only as dumb as the person doing them. I don't agree that they are a total waste of time but I gave them up after a serious shoulder separation 12 years ago and do just fine without them. I'll agree that the more specific the exercise is, the better. That's why I like to builder. When I cross-country ski raced, I built what amounted to todays Total Fitness machine to simulate double poling. All the dips in the world could not produce what it did, but doing various kinds of dips as second best was not 'dumb'. I have known a few people that wanted to climb El Cap, but just could not seem to get off their ass to do the work.

I attempted to do the Muir Wall in 1990. My friend and partner was going to just follow me and clean, and because he never really knew what it took endurance-wise, even after coaching him, we had to bail after the 7th pitch. It's easy to underestimate what the work really takes. I'm sure if he had done his 'homework' we would have been fine ( I was in Washington and he was in Califirnia while we 'trained' - he was even in Yosemite and got to look at El Cap every day!). It was just 'dumb' for me to go up there with somebody that didn't get it.

As a footnote, my friend had never done a wall but wanted to. It was dumb for me to do what I did, and it became apparent after just the first day. I'm glad I was able to give my friend his El Cap experience though - he died 5 years later, out of the blue, because of an aggressive brain Tumor at the age of 48.

Some Random Guy

In a chair, drinkin' a beer, watchin' the show
Feb 19, 2013 - 07:39pm PT what honnold does

wish I had a crack machine
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
Feb 19, 2013 - 07:49pm PT
BITD, I unloaded Boxcars in Torrance. That works. Get union scale too.

Trad climber
Feb 19, 2013 - 07:59pm PT
I never could do more than 7 pullups-never. Going on 67, I've been training pretty hard all winter; since I've got the time and motivated, and can probably squeeze out ten now.

When I did the Nose, in 1971, I was a weak scrawny kid. I still feel the mental "challenge" is more than half the battle, in doing any big wall.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 19, 2013 - 08:09pm PT
Tell us more about your experience. El Cap stories are great to hear. Looks like you did it with George Myers......

I was a weak scrawny kid.

Ya, sure! :>)

Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
Feb 19, 2013 - 08:27pm PT
Training for The Nose:

Focus on climbing/moving efficiently for 12 hours at a time on the rock.

Sleep not more than 2 nights on the route. More than that and it becomes crazy work (man do I know this!) 3+ nights and u'll b hauling a junk show like Hud does nowadays :-) PITA.

If you climb fast for many hours at a time, you will be covering so much stone u will be in shape and you will be a better climber.

bit'er ol' guy

the past
Feb 19, 2013 - 09:32pm PT

Go to the DMV and get in line for 2-3 days.


Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
Feb 19, 2013 - 09:34pm PT
Sorta true

Feb 19, 2013 - 09:40pm PT
"3+ nights and u'll b hauling a junk show like Hud does nowadays :-) PITA."

Even as impressive as Hud is, even he didn't take the junk show when he did his recent Nose in a Day. He had a photo of not nearly enough gear and I was thinking, crap, where's the rest of it! LOL! That's just badassed to do, not just at his age, any age. He trained his ass off starting in Feb. for an Sept or Oct ascent well in advance though. Do a search and find that thread, good stuff.

Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
Feb 19, 2013 - 09:53pm PT
I know MH is a bad ass...
Nobody taking a shot at Prince Hudon.
We all luv Mark... Mainly because of Peggy, but whatever.

And I still stand by my suggestion

Straight outta Squampton
Feb 19, 2013 - 11:58pm PT
I've never done ten pullups in a row in my life. I hope I don't get in trouble for having climbed the Nose a couple of years ago.

Your biggest asset will be familiarity and confidence in the systems you choose to use, and a general level of good fitness. Ie. Just get outside, or to the gym and ride, run, row, climb, whatever. just get active, shed any pounds you know to be unnecessary, and eat well.

Have fun getting ready for your big adventure!

McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 22, 2013 - 12:00am PT
I've seen the workout from hell, and it looks like hell.

I went back to the OP and read it again. There's really no reason to make it like hell. The people that responded to this thread seem pretty mellow, and look, they climbed El Cap....even the scrawny weak guy. Even when I did pull-ups I was pretty mellow about it. You just do stuff untill you are too tired to do more stuff. You rest and let your muscles recover and get back to normal, and then you do more stuff until you are too tired to do more stuff. No matter what it might seem like hell. Most people that have done it for awhile, know how to make working out fun and know just how much they need. The main thing is just to do the workout and then the energy takes off. You have to think of the things that will make you strong - and then do them. If you don't get them out of your head, that's were El Cap will stay too! Even if you get all of it out, El Cap will probably still stay in your head. So, workout to your hearts content without fear that you will ever HAVE TO climb El Cap. The really nice thing about El Cap is that it makes everything else seem small ans doable.

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
Feb 22, 2013 - 02:50pm PT
I'd say it depends a lot on the style you want to climb it in. I didn't see much info on your fitness, experience and preferred style.

If you're doing it multi-day, aside from having basic fitness, the most important thing is to have the system down. Inefficiencies can be really exhausting: unnecessary wrestling with the pig, futzing in your aiders, carrying too much, over-gripping, thrashing your hands, wasted movements, poor jugging technique, poor rope/anchor management.... And the emotional stress of that much extended exposure can really add up. With the system down, an otherwise mediocre climber off the couch will be perfectly comfortable; otoh, it takes a lot of fitness to compensate for poor technique. If this is your first wall, and you have your doubts, I'd recommend some shorter walls first.

If you're doing it in a day:
1)Refine your system: block climbing with short fixing saves a ton of time, work out your transitions, study the route, know exactly what to bring, practice your french free technique on harder stuff (there's more to it than simply "pulling on gear"), know how to keep moving...
2)Lot of climbing. Extended gym sessions are good, with the goal of climbing every 5.11 (plus every 5.12- is better) route there.

FWIW, I probably have the speed record for the slowest Nose in a day, 23h45m.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Feb 22, 2013 - 03:18pm PT
3+ nights and u'll b hauling a junk show

Reminds me of the homeless people who have more than one shopping cart full of stuff. The weight is mostly water and the idea is to get to the top before it runs out.

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
Apr 7, 2014 - 08:54am PT
god it aint no secret anymore,
i hate when my truths become public.

so Big Mike and i are having a go at this beast next month.
i offered the idea to mike a while back when
he was beginning his recovery march.
i thought that he could use a goal to focus upon,
and, at the time, i was cranking the best
that i ever had....

now a year has passed and my periphery life
to climbing has taken on a hearty appetite
for my time, and, well, i haven't got
the chance to prepare like i might if i were
in charge of the stars.

so mike is flying from canada to meet up with me,
he's dropped his money, time and faith upon a whim
of the local space cadet who spits pretty words bubbles;

hah, it's in the bag. i'm calling it now.
though i haven't had hand to stone like
prescribed in chris' road to the nose,
every single day i live well beyond my comfort zone.
either cranking and rigging and swinging in hazards trees,
or pushing the midnight oil at my cad station
crushing unreal deadlines by dawn; raising two
fiery little mountainettes; staying on the wagon;

geez. the nose will be a vacation.
pulling on gear, beautiful handjams,
bitchin bivies, gorgeous views, good company,
the wind; the sun; the birds;

and also it will be more of the same:
fatigue; fear; doubt; thirst; worry; storm threats;
tangles; dropped gear; public poops.

all of it is good, and mike
i assure you, publically,
that i will be the the cinderella,
the fairy godmother,
wiked step mother,
the sister bitches,
and the rat pulling the carriage,

and i'll shoulder whatever weight needed
to assist in our team success.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
Apr 7, 2014 - 10:04am PT
Stoked for you Norwegian.

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 7, 2014 - 10:24am PT
Great attitude Weegy. Knowing what lay ahead, and having the fortitude to put the pedal to the medal!
Big Mike

Trad climber
Apr 8, 2014 - 04:15pm PT
god it aint no secret anymore,
i hate when my truths become public.

Lol. I probably didn't help with this. Lol. The stoke level has just been to high to contain.

and i'll shoulder whatever weight needed
to assist in our team success.

I've been working hard to make sure that I can contribute as much as possible to our team. I wanna be a partner not just someone hitching a ride. I'm stoked you haven't climbed it before too because I wanted an equal for this challenge as far as route finding goes.

I've read Chris's Big wall guide and practiced the systems, over and over again to try and get things fluent. I've led a bunch of easy c1 gri gri solo pitches lately and i'm stoked to actually have a belay and not have to deal with all that bull$hit! :) I've practiced following traversing terrain and lower-outs, hauling the pig and far end hauling theory.

I've been looking for a wall partner locally but haven't had any solid commitments yet but i'm hoping to get at least one in before I come down.

Most of all i'm looking forward to free climbing a lot of the easier 5.10 stuff and i've been training for that too. The weather has been co-operating this week and i managed to get 22 pitches in.

A little rain has been good too and it's been forcing me to get into the gym and do my routine more often to the delight of both my personal trainer, and my back which seems to really enjoy the support from my new stronger abs. LOL

I can't wait. It's gonna be a blast!!

Gym climber
squamish, b.c.
Apr 8, 2014 - 06:54pm PT
Here's hoping for a casual ascent for big mike and weege.

I would strongly advise you two to get on a smaller wall together or at least try one to dial in your system together with lighter bags and no pre spray to live up too.

Then after a rest day or two, you'll be that much more confident starting up the big stone.

Trad climber
Apr 8, 2014 - 09:51pm PT
I would approach your goal with training from the best guide/educator(s) you can find. One who possesses the experience and communication skills to share and develop with accuracy the learning targets that will help you succeed.
Combine that with a climbing trainer who can create the best program for your climbing, overall fitness and head game.
You want a really good plan that incorporates all this relevant information into a durable, measurable progression.
I have watched really good sport/gym climbers adapt quickly to Cathedral Ledge and Yosemite because they had an awesome foundation of movement education.
I have watched Mark Synnott educate folks to an amazing level of proficiency in aid climbing in one week.
If you take your motivation and combine it with positive people who can teach you well you maximize what you will accomplish, your effectiveness and your enjoyment.
I would hit up Mark Synnott and Justin Sjong.
Good luck and have fun.
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