“ Happy Christmas tw#t face. It’s Mick and Ian – we’ve had a bottle of McCallan Single Malt and we’re going to do the Nose next September – are you in?”
Of course I was – we’d been thinking about it for 15 years so now there was a real possibility of it happening.
So fast forward to the end of September 2010.
We’re sitting on Dolt Tower. It’s 7am and already approaching 90 degrees - hot. We’d arrived in the dark the previous evening a little stunned by the heat and hard work required getting 3 big guys and a pig from the ground, to Sickle and on up The Stovelegs.
“17 litres” (we started with 42 litres)
“We’ll have to bail”
“But Clay said whatever happens don’t bail”
“We're gonna die”
“The Welsh guys said there was water at Camp 4, 5 and 6.”
“What if there isn’t?”
“We're definitely gonna die”
“Let’s go down then”
So with no time left to re charge and have another blast that was the end of my 2010 attempt on the Nose.
It was eating away at me all Spring so I contacted an old friend via Facebook. I’d climbed with Dave Potter in 98. He was 21 at the time and sitting round the camp-fire in Joshua Tree I think we taught him to drink and once pissed I hatched a plan and over the next three months we ende up climbing 3 walls in Zion - Touchstone, Moonlight Buttress and Spaceshot and also The Rainbow Wall at Redrocks.
After a few messages sent across cyberspace he said he was well up for The Nose. Result!
I met Dave in Camp 4 and we quickly started planning. There was a heavy storm forecast in 2 days time so we decided to fix to Sickle ledge, get the bag up there then sit out the crap weather at Camp 4.
We fixed in quick time. Starting at 6am we had ropes down to the ground and the pig, nicely waterproofed, on Sickle ledge by early afternoon.
2 days later it cleared and the forecast was for at least 10 sunny days with temperatures in the 70’s – Perfect!!!
The day before our blast I went to check the fixed lines and I met two Swedish girls, Hannah and Hannah. They had the same plans as us and said they would start an hour behind us. Great – a clear route ahead of us.
We started jugging at 4am and were well into the Legs – bag and all by 7 am.
Doing the gentlemanly thing we built the portaledge and gave the girls the cold lumpy granite. Two haul bags positioned mid ledge gave enough privacy for the girls to take a leak etc.
No problem, they carried on and were out of there pretty quick – listening to them doing The King Swing in the dark was cool. Apparently they were on a push and had already done the Triple direct in the morning and now were ready to finish The Nose – both routes in 24 hours – WTF??
So next morning I jugged and hauled to the top of Texas Flake. Dave joined me and headed up the bolt ladder.
Now the fun begins!! The clouds started rolling in and things started to look dark, then the rain started. I phoned my wife back in the UK for a weather forecast – 50% chance of rain today and 20% chance of showers tomorrow.
The next few hours were like Chinese Water Torture.
There was a constant drip from the massive overhang above landing about 6 inches in from the edge of the C6 ledge. We assembled the portaledge and the drip was just missing the corner of the canvas. I could see about 30 metres out - it was raining hard and streaks were starting to run down the walls either side of the corner. As the water flowing down the great overhang above us gained volume the drip started moving closer onto the ledge – then it hit the portaledge and we couldn’t position it anywhere else. We’d no rain fly because of the 10 day forecast – bollocks!!!!
I got into my Goretex bivvy bag – a life saver – and tried to sleep. I must have drifted off but was woken at about 2am. The drip had strengthened and had moved another foot. It was now on my head. I managed to sleep again then I woke again about 5am. I was shivering, my bivvy bag had leaked and I was lying in a pool of water. Thenkfully the rain had stopped but cruelly the clouds had cleared causing the temperature to drop and water was still flowing down the walls from the overhang above.
I drowsed again until Dave woke me at about 7am. We got out of the soaking bags, did all we needed to, dismantled the ledge, racked the gear and jugged up the Changing Corners pitch. I led the next pitch easily happy to be warming up after the steep and strenuous jug up the CC pitch and belayed whilst Dave led the Alcove pitch.
Dave finished the Alcove pitch and I jugged up – both into the sunlight ready for the finale.
I’d heard about the bolt ladder – easy but amazingly exposed. The Supertopo guide shows a short 70ft pitch before the bolts but we reckoned it looked more like 40ft so I linked it and belayed on the exposed lip for easier hauling.
I couldn’t work out why every belay on the route had at least 3 good bolts yet here I was on the lip of El Cap attached to pile of rusty sh#t. I made a move up and attached the whole lot to a newish looking bolt about 3ft above the belay.
I'd thought about this moment for years. In particular how I was going to feel. My thoughts had ranged from jumping up and down screaming to sitting quietly and shedding a tear. The latter was closest and once I'd spoken to my family back in the UK who had waited up into the early hours ready for the phone call, I just lied back with an overwhelming sense of content - I'd done it!!
I’d been hanging out in the meadow every morning and afternoon since coming down off the Nose. I’d pop a Cobra and lie on the grass in the sunshine gazing up at The Captain for hours on end – still in disbelief that I’d actually climbed it.
I still had 8 days of my trip left and secretly wanted to bag another wall – I had plenty of time. Dave had left to go back to Oregon so I was planning a solo on either Lurking Fear or something like The Column or Leaning Tower.
On the third day there was a good crew at the bridge, the Cobras were flowing freely and I bumped into Kris Wickstrom whose partner had bombed out on him so he was looking for someone to climb with. His enthusiasm was overwhelming but it’s never a good idea to decide on a bigwall after a gallon of Cobra but when Tom shouted out “Get on Zodiac you pussies” the deal was done.
Kris arranged to come round to my campsite at 10am and we’d fix 3 pitches in the afternoon. When he arrived at 9:15 I realised how keen he was so we headed down to the meadow to rack the gear and hiked up to the base of Zodiac.
It was about midday when Kris led the direct A3 Head pitch linking it into the short 2nd pitch then I led the third rivet ladder pitch.
As I rapped into 200ft of space I wondered whether we’d made a mistake fixing so high. The overhanging jug and haul the following morning wouldn’t be pretty.
When we got back to the meadow I was feeling tired so we decided to have a day off, eat pizza, drink some more Cobras and start a day later.
So we casually hiked up the following evening and bivvied at the base of the route. We enjoyed a couple of tequilas before drifting off gazing at the stars.
At about 5:30 am we started jugging and all three of us, Kris, me and The Pig were on the top of P4 by 7am – not too bad.
The rest of the climbing was uneventful until the Nipple pitch – my big lead!
I moved up the bolt ladder from the belay and started out rightwards on inverted cam-hooks.
About 4 moves out from the last bolt I made my first mistake and placed a hook into pin scar pod rather than a parallel crack. POP! I was off and took a nice 25 foot swing.
I climbed back up the rope and got back to my high point – this time placing the cam-hooks more carefully. Eventually I found a bomber No. 5 HB offset placement - thank god for that!
A couple more cam hooks, a tiny offset cam and I was at the Nipple – what a reach!!! Once past the bolt I moved easily up the crack placing a couple of beaks to finish in the dark.
We set up the ledge and slept soundly.
Next morning Kris set off up the Mark of Zorro pitch – no problem for kris but jugging this steep and awkward pitch was tricky and strenuous for me.
Eventually it was my turn on pitch 14 – 80 feet of 5” crack and hollow flake. I had 5 cams which would fit this but even leaving one behind every 20 feet this pitch was still scary. Eventually at the top there’s a good blue Camalot on the right then some ok fixed gear in the roof. Pulling out left onto the sloping ledge was awesome and that’s when I got the first glance of Reagan on his solo ascent of Zenyatta. We gave each other the fist and the customary Ape sound.
Kris led the short pitch to the big ledge above then as it was going dark he also led the top pitch by headlamp. The top out is amazing like the Supertopo suggests with a great bivvy spot just 15m back from the edge.
For the second time in a week I made the descent down the east Ledges and got round to the bridge just as Tom was setting up for the day at about 10am – yes he had some Cobras waiting for us. A perfect end to a speedy one bivvy ascent of Zodiac and a perfect end to my 3 weeks in the Valley.
Thanks for reading.