The Nose 5.14a or 5.9 C2
Trip ReportThe Nose in a Day, 10/09
It all started in the Fall of ‘08 when Jay and Jeanette Rennenberg climbed the Nose. I hadn’t been up El Cap since 1979 and was really feeling the longing in my heart. I emailed Jay and asked him if he wanted to do the Shield. I felt I needed a young buck to haul me up there and he seemed excited, strong and, importantly, owned all the gear we would need.
A few years ago, a bit before my 50th birthday, I had called Max Jones, my old partner from BITD to see if he might be interested in a 30th anniversary ascent of the Nose and maybe this time do it in a day. He didn’t seem too interested so I rooted around for another partner. John Harlin lives in Hood River and wanted to do it but it didn’t seem to catch fire with either of us and nothing ever happened.
A few days after talking to Jay I hatched the idea of a Nose in a Day ascent but with me leading the whole climb. I sort of didn’t want to have to worry about a partner on it and also thought that getting up the route in less than 24 hours would be no challenge at all. I knew that if I had a partner that was even half way good I could get up it in that time. Aside from that, I didn’t think I could stay awake for 24 hours!
I started training in February by doing a bike training video out in the garage and lifting weights, eventually doing 1 set of 50 reps of 11 different exercises not including ab exersises, alternating workouts every other day ending up training six days a week. I’m really good at training, I can set a goal, plot what it’s going to take to get me there and stay on track for months. As spring came I started sport climbing at a local area as much as I could although usually only one day a week. In that one day I’d warm up, work a project in the.12a-.12b range, send a project and then climb till I couldn’t climb anymore.
I figured I’d need three weeks in the Valley to get into crack climbing shape again and also three weeks to get Jay into speed jugging shape for the Nose.
Now Jay has more irons in the fire than most people have irons, he’s a freaking busy guy and in the middle of July informed me that his business was taking off and that he might have to spend all of October dealing with it and that I should find another partner. By now I was fully involved with training and buying gear and getting the time off and renting a place and it was way too late for me to cancel the trip. I emailed about five buddies asking if they would want to jug the whole Nose for me. None wanted to. I even thought that I might simply hire Hans Florine to jug it for me, figuring that there is no one on earth who could clean it faster. I didn’t want to have that asterisk attached to my ascent though. People would say, “well, he was with Hans…”
It never came to that when I asked John Fine, a guy who I had recently met and who I had been sport climbing with at the local crag. He’s done four or five El Cap routes and knew his sh#t.
John and I made plans, rented Hans’ house in West Yosemite, bought gear, put together a plan and got psyched.
I left on Friday the 9th of October, climbed for two days at Calaveras Dome and a day at Donner Summit with two old friends, Gary "Bullet" Allan and Peter Mayfield and then picked John up at the Sacramento Airport. We arrived at Hans’ Basecamp early on the morning of Tuesday, October the 13th, just in time for two days of torrential rains. No big deal though since we planned on doing the Shield first and spent the two days packing for it.
We jugged the fixed lines to Heart Ledges and Mammoth on the 15th but at Mammoth John started feeling exhausted and dizzy. We climbed to Gray ledges, spent the night there, my first night on El Cap in 30 years, and then climbed the three pitches to below the roof the next day. John was not improving so we made the decision to retreat. The Shield is a wild enough place and no one should ever go up there feeling exhausted and dizzy. Later we found out that John’s whole family got sick the day after he left.
We took a rest day and then decided to take a practice run up to Dolt Tower. A modest alpine start of 10:45 seemed appropriate.
Now, I have never “speed climbed” in my life, I have never short-fixed, and pretty much never French-freed or stood on a bolt or grabbed a pin. Let me tell you, it was a riot! All the rules were out the window! I grabbed slings, stood on bolts and yarded up on fixed gear like there was no tomorrow. We got to Sickle in less than 45 minutes and I was passing a party going into Dolt Hole a few minutes later. John wanted to follow the Legs so we led and belayed conventionally to Dolt Tower.
We made plans to do a run up to Camp IV a few days later since the final plan was to do the NIAD in the last week of October after Peggy and Ellen, my wife and daughter, arrived in the Valley to watch.
It rained the next day, which was a rest day anyway. We cruised the Valley, did some shopping therapy, went to the Ahwahnee to have a drink and try to get connected to the internet.
The next day turned out to be very nice so we went up to do the Moratorium and link it with the East Butt. There were parties on the East Butt when we got there so we traversed the length of El Cap and climbed the Freeblast starting at 1:45 pm! We figured it was the first ever link-up of those two routes. We’re calling it the Mora-Blast. 14 pitches of climbing and six of rapping, not a bad day. The next day we climbed the regular route on The Higher Spire, a route I had been saving to do "when I get old" and then took a rest day. We figured we’d climb to Camp IV on Friday, rest four or five days and then knock off the NIAD.
On Friday I awoke at 3:00 AM to the sound of John making coffee. I had outfitted Hans’ house with a full-on commercial coffee maker, figuring correctly, that good coffee, and lots of it, would make for a great trip.
We arrived at the base of the route at about 4:30. We left our shoes at the base, roped up and soloed Pine Line in the dark with headlamps.
So yeah, I used to be a Valley local, I’ve climbed the pitches to Sickle five or six times although only once in the last 30 years and only a few days before with a cam rack more modern than a #1, 2 and 3 Friend. I’ve climbed in the dark with a headlamp once but certainly never speed climbed in the dark! My plan was to short fix every pitch of the whole route. When I arrived at the top of a pitch I clipped myself in with a Metolius Personal Anchor Sling, called “off belay” to John, yarded up the slack, tied him off, told him the rope is ready for him to jug, and took a look at the next pitch and started climbing. That is, if I could even see the next pitch! Sunrise in late October is at 7 am. At 5:30, the sun is far, far below the horizon! It was pitch black, there was no way I could even see the next pitch outside the bubble of light my headlamp cast. I looked down at the 70 feet of slack at my feet and looked up at the 5.10 pitch above me. I though, “here I am, in the dark, looking at a 70 foot fall without even moving an inch off this ledge and I have to climb a 5.10 pitch”! My next though was, no joke, “Hey, suck it up man, you’re Mark Hudon, you’re badass, you’re good at this sh#t, get going”! So I got going, taking it move by move, trying to move up steadily. It was pretty dang fun!
There was a party ahead of us who had spent the night on Sickle. I was expecting to pass them as they slept but I heard them talking a little bit and found them out of their sleeping bags getting ready to take down their ledge. John was cleaning the swings to Sickle and I was out of rope so I stopped to talk. One of the guys asked me if it was my first El Cap route. I said no that it would be my 14th ascent of El Cap when we finally went for it. He asked when had I done my first route. I said 1974. He laughed and said that he was three years old that year!
I rambled up to the top of Sickle, self belayed on the swing to Dolt Corner and then didn’t place any gear till the bolt to the swing into the Legs. I short fixed there, making sure to leave John with enough slack to lower out on and then proceeded up the first Stove Leg crack. IMHO, that is the best pitch of the Legs. The SuperTopo book shows it at only 5.8 but it is perfect size for me and I only plugged in one or two pieces in the entire 120 feet. Higher, I put on a pair of leather belay gloves to make my hands bigger and give me better jambs on the fist crack section of the 10th pitch. I anchored the rope just below Dolt Tower, ran up the next 40 foot pitch and had the rope anchored on top of Dolt even before John had finished cleaning the previous pitch.
The last two pitches of the Legs were a bit of an effort for me but I knew I’d get a mental and physical rest on the four pitches to the top of Texas Flake. On El Cap tower I found five or six abandoned half gallon bottles of water so I helped myself to as much as I could drink. At this point we didn’t know that we were going all the way to the top. We each had four liters of water, mine in four 1 liter bottles in the pack John was jugging with and Johns in a Camelbak bladder in the pack. Luckily, we had “more than enough” bars and food to take us to Camp IV.
So far the weather was perfect. I had started out wearing a light poly pro top but had taken it off at Sickle and was climbing in only a light technical t-shirt. By now we were fully in the sun but there was no wind and the temps were neither too hot nor too cold. I hadn’t spent ten minutes waiting for John and he hadn’t had any problems cleaning any of the pitches so far. We were making good time and were in good spirits. I yarded in a bunch of slack and took off onto the Texas Flake pitch. I climbed the whole pitch without protection and was able to flip the rope in front of the flake so that John could have a clean jug to it’s top. I immediately started up on the bolt ladder to Boot Flake with no belay and 100 feet of slack. John arrived at the top of Texas and put me on belay and I was happy to free climb the Boot with only a couple pieces of gear. It was funny to be doing it that way since the first route Max and I had ever done together in 1976 was the Nose and I remember leading that pitch but placing hexes for protection. Climbing 5.10c wasn’t a real big deal for us back then but this many years later it was funny to be doing it at all, still with such ease and to now be concentrating on doing it fast!
It was pretty fricken’ wild, having done it so long ago, but there I was doing it again, and now trying to do it fast, flashing through all the things I had done in my life since. I had gotten married, started a business, sworn off climbing, had a child, thirty years of living, and here I was, back again, sweating, plugging in gear, pulling, climbing the same route as I had done a few weeks after meeting the woman I would marry. I don’t know, time compressed and elongated, my whole life was right there. I actually wrote this before, but I was where I had wanted to be and had wanted to be all along. It was weird.
Anyway, I clipped into the anchors and lowered off the Boot, cleaning my gear on the way down. I lowered right to the end of the rope (a 60 meter) and started the swing. It took me four or five tries but I climbed to the anchor even with the top of the Boot with no protection to make cleaning for John easier. I got a little rest at the anchor while John jugged and cleaned it.
It was then that I realized that I was pretty beat and that it was quite an effort to climb that high and that fast. We were a little bit below Camp IV, which Hans calls “half way” for a NIAD ascent and were on par for a 12 hour ascent. I had always said that I’d be happy with 16 hours, would be real happy with 12 hours and would be ecstatic with anything less than 10 hours. I yelled over to John that I was pretty beat and that for me to get back up there I would need four or five days rest and a lot of mental psyching and that we should just keep going to the top. He yelled back that he thought I would say that and that he was fine with going to the top. You know how things look from there, the top looks so close.
I climbed the next pitch and fixed the rope, the plan was for me to climb to Camp IV and to belay John across the traverse before he got on his jugs again and jugged to Camp IV. We did just that and I hauled in the slack again and climbed off on the 5.9 pitch to the Great Roof without a second thought. Again, it was wierd, I got to the anchor at the bottom of the Great Roof, yarded in a bunch of rope and started up the Roof pitch with nary a thought or a look. “Move the rope up” was the only thing on my mind.
So on and on, the Pancake Flake, the Super Crack, The Glowering Spot, place some gear, move up, which piece, aid sling, finger lock, move up, anchor the rope, move up.
At Camp VI I took a bit of a rest and waited for John. I wanted to eat something and also simply wanted to rest and take in the view. I knew it was in the bag at that point and took a ten or fifteen minute rest. I was sort of bummed that I had been doing as much aid as I had. I had wanted to free climb the pitch to Camp V, the pitch off of the Glowering Spot and a lot of climbing above the Changing Corners, but it simply wasn’t in the cards for me right then. It was funny thinking back when Max and I rambled up those pitches with casual disregard on our second ascent in 1979. That was me then but that wasn’t me now, no problem I thought, I plugged in another cam and moved up.
Towards the top of pitch 29 it started to get dark. John sent up my headlamp and I fixed it to my helmet. I climbed over to the anchor on the second to the last pitch but since I wanted to free climb it, I waited for John to get closer to the belay. It was strange hanging there, in the dark yet in the bubble of light from my headlamp. I knew we were at a very exposed position of the climb but could see nothing of the route above or the vastness of the climb below us. The fireflies of the light from the cars far below were the only hint that we were still on earth. I climbed the next pitch all free, yarded up hundreds of feet of rope and started clipping bolts to the top.
Again, it was weird, 35 years before I had first climbed El Cap. I was 18 years old and a senior in High School. Climbing had changed my life back then and here I was, 35 years later, living that changed life. I wondered how it could have turned out differently and couldn’t think of anything.
John Fine, Mark Hudon
Mark led the whole route at age 53 in 15.5 hours.
All Metolius Gear.
12 Free biners
7 22" slings with 2 biners
1 ea #00 to #1 Master Cam
2 ea #2 to #6 Master Cam
1 ea #00/0 to #4/5 Offset Master Cam
2 ea #7, #8 Power Cam
2 Medium Super Cam
1 Large Super Cam
1 set 6-10 Astro Nut, free set
1 set 1-6 Ultralight Curved Nut
1 set 1-4 HB off set nuts
2 Home made 3 step aid slings
1 Metolius Personal Anchor Sling.
1 60m 9.6mm rope
1 60m 8.6mm tag line
This set of gear was perfect for the route I used everything at least once and most things quite a bit more. I found the Metolius Master Cams and Offset Master Cams a joy to use, they seemed to fit easily everywhere and seemed bomber every time.
In February I started doing a bike training workout on my fluid trainer in the garage. This gives me a solid 45 minute cardiovascular workout. I'm usually sweating like a pig when I'm done, even in the cold garage. I do this three days a week if I don't go skiing on Friday. I did this till it got warm enough to actually go outside and ride my bike. There are great mt bike trails five minutes from my house and I would do a 10 mile ride two or three times a week after work.
Also in February I started lifting weights. At the start it was three sets of 10-12 but every six weeks I'd take a week off and change the weight/set combo. For the last two months I was doing one set of 11 different exercises, 50 reps.
My exercises come from a book "The Secrets of Advanced Bodybuilders" by Health for Life. I find their regime very good for me since for every pushing exercise you do you then do a pulling exercise. I find the regime very efficient since I can usually barely do the last sets/reps when I get to them. I also do their "Legendary Abs" routine.
I also did a lot of heavy finger rolls and a simulated rope climbing thing.
On Fridays I would get out to real rock but two mornings a week I went over to the local sports club which has a boring 30 foot tall vertical wall. I'd string a rope up each of the four routes and climb up and down each route four times or for 45 minutes which ever came first. I self belayed using a Petzl ASAP.
I must have looked like quite the geek as I climbed with all the gear mentioned above but including a 70 oz Camelbak. I was trying to simulate the weight of the actual gear I'd use on the route.
Protein Power, Glucosamine and Chondroitin pills. Two beers a day, without fail.
I took about two weeks off just before the beginning of the trip to ensure I was plenty rested.
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