Matt and Joanne’s Page

November 27, 2013

Salathe Wall (El Capitan)

Filed under: Uncategorized — joannestamplis @ 1:33 pm

This page, like many blogs, has grown mostly defunct over the last couple years as Facebook has become our primary way to keep friends and family updated with our whereabouts. But every now and then we’ll put together something for general web consumption. In this case, here’s a trip report for the Salathe Wall Route on El Capitan!

We can hardly believe it but it’s been almost four years since we did our first climb in the Yosemite Park, the Nose. I remember very vividly when we reached the summit that I told Matt I will never do it again. Apparently the painful parts of my memory have faded  and 4 years later, we were crazy enough to go and try another route on El Cap, the Salathe Wall.

View of the El Cap as we drive in

The Salathe Wall has a reputation for being a step up in difficulty from the Nose, with more required free climbing (lots of awkward 5.9 chimneys / wide cracks), a greater number of harder aid climbing (C2) pitches and fewer fixed anchors making it harder to bail if things go wrong. (This last point is probably exaggerated – we found solid bolt anchors at just about every belay. Not that I would want to rappel from 30 pitches up on the route…). Regardless of the route’s reputation, we thought we could handle it: both Matt and I thought we would cruise right up the wall. And once we get this idea in our head, things were set in motion.

We spent 1 day practicing how to set up our portaledge

In the months leading up to the climb we took stock of our climbing equipment and decided to make a few purchases to fill in a few gaps. We bought a used haul bag and wall hauler from IME in North Conway, NH (one of the coolest local gear shops I’ve ever set foot in).  A new rope and a few other pieces of gear were needed, as well. But perhaps the most exciting piece of gear we bought was a Valley Giant cam. The motivation for ordering this behemoth was a story from our friend Matt Spohn describing the infamous Hollow Flake on the Salathe Wall. His horror story involved desperately laybacking up this giant offwidth crack, climbing higher and higher with no protection at all. Near the top, if he were to fall, he was looking at a 100+ foot fall and almost certain serious injury. Just thinking about being in that situation makes my hands sweat buckets so we were determined to make this pitch less of a test of our sanity. After giving a little thought (ok, not much) between a Big Bro or a Valley Giant (and me telling Matt there is no way I will climb this route without a big cam), we settled on plunking down the cash for the giant cam.

We finally have our own haul bag

We also bought the giant cam to protect the chimneys

Gear aside, we remembered our last climb on El Cap as being extremely physical. In the past 6 months, I’ve been training very hard (4-5 days/week), not so much by climbing but the old fashioned way of pushups/situps/etc. You don’t have to climb super hard to get up a big wall but you do have to be super fit both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, in terms of preparation, that’s about all we did. In terms of climbing, we spent all winter and early spring climbing in the gym since the weather in New England didn’t allow for us to get outside.  In all, we climbed just 2 weekends outdoors before heading to Yosemite. And to make matters worse, we hadn’t done any aid climbing practice – neither one of us had aided, hauled, or jumared since 2009 (Yikes!)

The Route

The Salathe is possibly the longest route on El Cap : it follows a line of weakness that begins on the toe of El Cap (just left of The Nose) and wanders up and left, climbing a relatively continuous crack system all the to the summit. It breaks up into several distinct sections of climbing which climbers often try to tackle in blocks. The lower section of the climb

Here’s a picture found on Supertopo showing the route. Credit: Mark Kroese

A Change of Plans
The week before we were set to fly to Yosemite there was a terrible accident on El Cap, a climber pulled off a large rock and cut his lead rope. He fell 200 feet onto his static haul line and was killed instantly. For a day or two after hearing about this, I was seriously considering changing plans to do something else. But then, last minute our friend Matt Spohn decided to drive down from Oregon to join us on the climb. Matt felt a little better with our friend joining us because I had told him I was going to just follow every pitch and he would have to lead everything. He was relieved to know that someone else would be able to share leads (and hauling) with him.

Memorial Day in the Valley
I had heard how crowded the Valley gets during Memorial Day but we’re not ones to listen to advice so here we were. Matt missed his turn to the El Cap Bridge and ended up in a parking lot on a one way road. It took us TWO hours to drive the 4 miles through the Valley and back to the bridge where we were meeting Matt. (This is where it gets confusing since there are two Matt’s. And to make matters worse, both of them are named Matt S.). Matt S. was already waiting for us and by the time we arrived, the sun was setting. We quickly sorted our gear and chatted about our options. It was late at night but we had no place to stay (campgrounds were full) so we decided to first drag our gear to the base of the route and figure out what to do next.

We had about 150 pounds of gear (mostly water/food) that we dragged to the base of the climb. Without a pack it’s a pleasant 15 minute jaunt but loaded down it took us closer to an hour. We decided that rather than sleep at the base and risk being woken by rangers, we would just start hauling our gear up the fixed lines and aim to sleep on Heart Ledge. The hauling was very difficult because the bags just dragged on the lower angle rock, snagging on every little overhang of rock. Sometime during that night, on the 3rd or 4th haul, Matt Spohn (a Type 1 diabetic) started acting a little delirious – his body was probably not used to taking insulin at such a late hour. I had to make sure that my Matt kept an eye on our friend so everything was done safely. We pulled our haul bags, exhausted, onto Heart Ledge sometime around 3AM (that’s 6AM to our bodies that were still on East Coast time). We pulled out our sleeping bags and were soon sleeping, 800 feet off the ground (and a very long way from the top).


The next day we were well rested and rappelled down to start Freeblast. I forgot to mention that the weather is not very good, it was cloudy and some treatening looking clouds looming above us. The wind was howling and blasting the entire time. Our friend Matt Spohn took all the hard and scary runout pitches. I am truly amazed at how calm he is on the slab when the wind is just knocking me on the belay left and right. We completed the Freeblast without incident (except for a cam that managed to unclip itself from Matt’s harness in the Half Dollar chimney) and got back to Heart Ledge probably by 8pm. At this time, we’ve been getting messages from friends that a storm was coming. We debated if we should go down or keep going since Matt did not have a lot of time and if we choose to wait for the weather, he would have to bail. After much discussion, we decided to sleep one more night and see what happen in the next morning. The next morning, the weather forecast still looked like rain was on its way. I did not want to go past the Hollow Flake since bailing after that point would be more challenging. We decided it was best that we climb 1 more pitch fix to Lung Ledge, and then descend to wait until the weather cleared. Unfortunately this mean our friend Matt could no longer climb with us because he had another commitment back in Oregon.

3 of us hanging out on Heart Ledge

Rest day
So we rapelled back to the valley and stayed in Mariposa for the night since all the campgrounds in the Valley were occupied. Our meal that night was super delicious mexican restaurant in Mariposa. I still can taste the delicious cruncy taco shell in my mouth, yum yum

Take TWO
We woke up the next day (Tuesday now). The storm had mostly fizzled out and the forecast was looking good. Still, the ground was quite wet so we figured we made a good decision to descend. The wall would have turned into a waterfall if any hard rain had come in. We drove back into the valley and made a stop at the gear shop to stock up in more slings and locking biners. We decided that our tennis shoes were insufficient to climb the wall so both Matt and I bought a pair of brand new 5.10 approach shoes. I also grabbed 4 additional snicker bars on the way out and got the ‘eye’ by Matt. By the time we walked out from the shop, we have sunk ~$500 @_@.

Cloudy sky on the next morning

By noon, we jugged back up to Lung Ledge and continued climbing up. Our plan for the day was to make it to the Hollow Flake ledge. The hauling above Lung Ledge was quite painful since it was traversing fourth class terrain with a lot of rocks to catch a haul bag. Then Matt headed out to experience the Hollow Flake. With the big Valley Giant Cam the Hollow Flake was tamed (though not without some slow thrutching and grunting). Next it was my turn to follow the pitch and a pendulum was required. Keep in mind I have not done any practice before so I was just going with the flow to remember all the Big wall skills from 4 years ago. The pendulum took me a long time and involved a lot of swearing. I made a mistake of not tying back into the rope on figure eight and relied fully on my ascender to keep me on the rope. By the time I realized this mistake I was totally freaking out and quickly rappel into the flake and cloved myself back to the rope. That mistake would have been costly should my ascender chose to fail at that time. By the time I made it up to Matt, he had this big smile on him and said he is super thankful to the giant cam; money well spent. The bivy on the ledge that night was quite comfortable for the two of us.

Matt jugging back to Lung Ledge

A scrambling pitch to get to Hollow Flake pitch

Matt was very happy and thankful for the giant cam – the end of Hollow flake pitch

The headwall is looming above us

Our bivy site on Hollow Flake ledge

Here’s a photo of us taken by Tom Evans from

Day Three on the Route.
We had a decent rest that night and get started as soon as we are ready. It was during the Ear pitch that Matt realized how unprepared we are to climb this route. Aiding the chimney pitch is a nightmare and following it is just as bad. I had to clean the last piece, lower back down, flake the rope out of the chimney and jumar the overhanging pitch. The wind was blowing the entire time while I was spinning round and round trying to stay focus to my task. It was a not a tough decision to stop at the Alcove considered how tired we were when we got there. The Alcove is a great bivy site, sheltered on 3 sides and with enough room to really stretch out a bit. We could see El Cap tower right above us and the night was beautiful, stars shining between the sheer walls surrounding us.

The ear pitch is a bitch to follow

Matt on the ear pitch

Day Four
The start of the next day is to climb to El Cap spire. It would have been a very cool (though exposed) bivy but looking at our dwindling food supply, Matt and I needed to continue climbing. There was not much option for us right now but to continue and see where we would end up stopping for the day. We knew that we would likely have to sleep in the portaledge that night since we were not moving very fast at all. The Sewer pitch is aptly named, probably the worst pitch for the route. There were a lot of mosquitos and gnats and slimy water dripping down the rock. Matt seemed to have a pretty good time climbing it, though. I am really paying the price for not training for the climb at all. Cleaning aid route is very tough for me. I ended up leaving a piece of gear during a roof traverse because Matt neglected to put additional gears for me. We made it to the “Sous Le Toit” ledge (translation is literally “Under the roof”), called by the guidebook a “poor bivy for 1”.  I ended up sleeping on the portaledge while Matt laid down on the uneven ledge. Not a good night.

Matt getting ready to start the next pitch at the Alcove bivy site

We were confused where this would lead us.

Matt got to the top of El Cap tower

Here’s my selfies on top of El Cap tower

The pitch above the El Cap tower

Our bivy for the night; Matt looks so tired here but always with a smile

Day FIve
A couple long dihedral pitches from Sous Le Toit led us to a below under the roof proper. This is a prominent feature that you can see from the bottom of the route. As we climbed, day after day, this imposing roof feature looked down on us. And now we were sitting underneath it contemplating the series of moves that would lead us out under and then over the lip of the roof. This part was not too difficult as most of the gear was fixed. I decided I would have an easier time to follow the pitch by aiding it rather than trying to jumar. This was a pain (though I don’t know if it was any worse than jumaring) and involved much more cursing.

Matt continue climbing toward the headwall

Matt on the roof

It’s a long way down from here

Once over the roof we got a good look at the last major obstacle between us and the summit: the legendary Salathe headwall. This stretch of granite is nauseatingly exposed, being slightly overhanging, and 3000 feet above the valley floor. It is so steep that anything dropped here will fall, as we were soon to see, without touching anything before being swallowed up by the trees below. The rock here is flawless, smooth except for a single thin crack that winds its way 200 feet up to Long Ledge. A fantastic video of this pitch (not us climbing!) is here:

Matt had smashed his knuckles on the roof pitch and was bleeding all over. In addition, he was exhausted at this point and asked if I could lead this pitch. I hadn’t lead any pitches yet on the climb and he was asking me to do one of the most challenging! The first 20 feet of this pitch went fine up to a solid bolt. Then the crack pinches down for about 10 feet of quite tricky and thin aid placements. (Small offset cams are great here). I placed a series of small placements: an offset cam, a brass offset, and the smallest cam we owned. It was on this last one that I was standing, just a few feet away from a fixed piece of gear (and safety), when the piece popped and I started to fall. As I fell, the previous two pieces of gear popped in quick succession and before I knew it the bolt had caught my fall. I had fallen 30 feet and I had fallen all the way back to the belay where Matt was. He was staring at me with an expression of total shock. Somewhere in the fall, I had caught my shoe on the rock and it had been pulled from my foot. I looked down and watched my shoe fall. And fall.

Matt on long ledge with smashed fingers

So much for the $140 pair of shoes I had just bought. Barefoot I went back up and tried the pitch again. I got back to where I was and *pop* the piece failed on me again. This time, I had replaced the offset cam and it caught my fall. I had enough at this point and fortunately Matt had recovered enough to volunteer to take a stab at the pitch. I was starting to get worried that we were going to be stuck here, 30 pitches above the ground, forced to make an agonizing retreat all the way back down the route. Matt moved slowly back to my high point, fiddled around for a few minutes and after two more placements was able to reach the fixed piece of gear. Woo-hoo! We were moving upward again. Matt broke the headwall up into 2 pitches, after which we stumbled onto the comfortable Long Ledge. From here there was actually a fixed rope all the way to the summit, tempting us to take a shortcut to the top of the wall. Food was starting to run low but we still had several days of water so we were focused on finishing the climb under our own power.

Day Six

Two easier pitches brought us to the top of El Capitan, finally! I got to the top and gave a few loud “Wooot”s into the Valley below. On the summit, we finished the last of our food, left a couple gallons for thirstier climbers, re-packed the haul bag and began the long descent. Yosemite pros might be able to do this in 2-3 hours but it took us 5 hours to hike and rappel On the way down, we ran into Jim Donini, a climbing legend, and chatted with him for a half hour. Several mind numbing hours later we were back in the Valley. There, we caught a shuttle bus back to the Meadows, snapped a few more pictures, then headed over for a well-deserved hot meal in the cafeteria.

Matt starting the pitch from long ledge

Here’s a view of our bivy on long ledge

One more pitch to the top; it’s so nice to know there is a shortcut if we choose to use it 🙂

Victory shot!!!

I had to show off my guns

We try to not think too hard of the long decent with all our gears

Back to the car!!

The feast!

My bear encounter in Yosemite

September 4, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — joannestamplis @ 7:54 am

After 6 weeks of partial cast, followed by another 6 weeks of resting and nothing seems to improve my finger, my doctor recommended ‘bone stimulator’. It’s a device that pass small current through 2 electrodes creating a magnetic field that has been proven to stimulate bone growth in non-union fracture. As much as that sound like a voodoo magic to me, it was my only choice left. Apparently there is no surgery option for climbing since all of them involved fusing my bone together. After 6 weeks of using this bone stimulator, I went back to the doctor and my finger has finally healed! The bone that was chipped off and looks like an island in the x-ray has been covered with new bone.

Now that my finger has healed, I decided that I need to be more careful in my training. I much rather be climbing easy stuff and able to climb year round than to sustain another injury and have a malfunction finger. Climb ON!

March 15, 2012

Climbing injury

Filed under: Random thoughts — joannestamplis @ 9:26 am

I guess eventually no matter how hard I try to stay healthy, I ended up with an injured finger. Apparently the X-ray showed a broken chunk detached from my middle finger knuckle. The doctor kept asking if I recently injured myself from banging it or anything of that sort. I told him nothing, one day it just hurt whie I was climbing. Also he told me my ring finger also has signs of wear and tear @_@. So I am now wearing a splint on my middle finger of my right hand (yes, I am right-handed). And of course, doctor’s order – NO CLIMBING!!!

I am a little depressed with this news but life got to go on. I am now trying new activities to stay in shape; venturing into P90x and crossfit. Hopefully at the end of 6 weeks, my bone will heal and I can start PT to get my finger back in shape again. Although I may shy away from working on really hard problems. Maybe human body is just not meant to climb hard stuff like that? I was on-sighting hard 11s and working on 12s when this injury happened. What I explained to my friends is that I think I got too strong, so strong that my bone cannot handle it and just crushed!!! Wahhh!!! Maybe I just have weak bone? Eitherway it will be a long recovery process and I may never want to climb that hard again. It’s much better to climb something even though it’s easy than to never can climb again.



November 29, 2011


Filed under: Random thoughts — joannestamplis @ 7:43 am

We find ourselves in a constantly changing environment. I don’t know why that is the case but both Matt and I are looking forward to settling down and no more life changing event for a little while.
We just recently bought another apartment in the city after weighing the pros and cons of renting. In the end it makes sense to us to own the apt rather than renting due to the high rent cost in Boston. We are all moved in by now with the few exceptions of more improvement needed to create storage for all our ‘stuff.
Another big change coming up next year is that I am quiting my job in my current company Mimio and starting another new job next Jan. It was a decision made because I think it will align better with my career goal. I am finally where I think I should be in my career and I am very excited about it. I am sure going to miss all the people I worked with in Mimio but my new place is only a few blocks away so I can still go out for lunch with them easily.
Another big change next year is that we decided that we will sell our home in Oregon. Owning 2 homes is too much financial pressure and we decided that it does not make sense to keep a home that is across the other end of the country. So I think we will be stressed again next year with the home selling process but I am hoping that after that things will finally settle down. I am crossing my fingers for now ….

May 14, 2011

Hello Boston

Filed under: Random thoughts — joannestamplis @ 12:51 pm

It’s been so long since we made any post here. So much has changed since then. I’m going to attempt to summarize eveything in one post here.
Matt finally got a new job; one that he actually went to school for. The catch is it is in Boston. Being a supportive wife like I am :), I told him to take it. Who knows when the next opportunity is going to come?
Everything went really fast the moment he accepted the job. He moved to Boston on his own in October; meanwhile I stayed behind to take care of the logistic of moving to Boston. We rented the house out to our friends and entrust them to take care of it for us. Sold and donated a whole bunch of stuff since we can’t possibly move everything to Boston. Oh did I mention our new place here in Boston is a 300 sqft 1 bedroom apartment? It’s not easy downsizing from 2000sqft home to 300 sqft but we managed to do so.
I found a new job in Cambridge and finally quitted and moved there myself in January 2011 bringing Yogi with me on the plane. I was a little worried at first since it’s Yogi’s first time on the plane and he is too big to ride in the front so ended up in the cargo instead but the little guy is tough and made it there safely.
So now here we are in Boston. The winter was pretty interesting consider we got the record high in snow level this year. Yogi of course loves the snow and I love my new sub zero down jacket.
Climbing season has finally started and we have checked out a few of the new crags here and getting used to the style. Can’t wait to start putting more new pictures soon.
Stay tuned!!

September 17, 2010

Squamish is awesome

Filed under: Uncategorized — joannestamplis @ 8:58 pm

I don’t even remember when was the last time we went to Squamish for climbing. I know it was one of the first place we learnt how to crack climb. Well finally we made a trip up there this year. The trip was shorter than original plan because of Matt’s job but it was sweet.

Our first route in Squamish is the Cruel Shoes. We drove all day the day before so we figure we needed the extra rest before we try the Grand Wall. Turns out it was one of the worse climb I have ever done. Of course if you asked Matt, he will say it is awesome because he just cruise each pitches. I am not a fan or (1) traversing (2) slab climbing and when you combine both of them together, it is almost the worst climb. The only way you can make it worse is by adding my third fear (3) put a whole bunch of snakes on the wall. After the Cruel Shoes, we hopped on the Exasperatore, an incredible finger crack. What an awesome route!

Cruel Shoes shares the same first pitch of the Grand Wall.

Unfortunately the crux is wet when we climbed it which makes it quite unnerving

Matt cruising Exasperator

Anyway, the next day we climbed the Grand Wall. It was a pretty great climb. I took picture of every pitch just so I can remember it well. We did the entire route under 7 hours car to car so it was great. Then we went back up and climbed full Diedre on the same day. I think we climbed total of 19 pitches that day.

Split pillar is my favorite pitch on the Grand Wall

Matt made Perry Lieback looks like a 5.8. It is funny watching him cruise it

Diedre seem too easy after all the other routes

The next day we were both glad we did the Grand Wall the day before because it was just non-stop raining. We droved up to Cheakamus and climbed a few hard sports route which is pretty cool.

Matt really wanted to do the Ultimate everything on the next day but once again the cloud is low and covered the entire wall. Everything is wet and nasty and I refused to climb wet rock. Instead we drove to Smoke Bluff and climbed all the 5 stars routes there. Once again Matt is unstoppable and just keep setting up routes for me. I was pretty happy because I did really well on all the hard 11s.

Finally on the last day we woke up early and managed to climb a few more pitches of Memorial Crack before we leave back to Oregon.

It is really hard finding the starting pitch of this route but I think we found it

Fun looking hand crack

All in all it was an incredible trip and I don’t know when we will be back again considering we are moving to the East Coast.

April 30, 2010

New home sweet home

Filed under: Home, Random thoughts — joannestamplis @ 9:11 pm

We are now finally moved in and settling down again. My commute is 15mins and I love it. I love waking up at 7am and still get to work by 8am. And I love not having to deal with the highway rush hour traffic. Live if good. We’ll try to post pics of our new home soon but things are still a little messy here.

February 21, 2010

Our house is for sale now!!

Filed under: 1 — joannestamplis @ 12:16 pm

Well, once again our house is up for sale. I’m trying to cut down my commute time since I am working in Tualatin. We decided to do it by owner this time since we didn’t think the realtor did much for us last time. Who knows, if we are lucky it might get sold. If not, I’m still commuting to Tualatin everyday and not much changed beside the fact that we have to clean the house more often now and I got new carpet :).
Check out our listing and if you know of anybody in the market for house in Hillsboro, let us know. We’ll let you keep the commision instead 🙂

December 17, 2009

Butterscotch Pudding

Filed under: 1 — Matt Stamplis @ 11:06 am

Everyone does a lot of baking around the holidays and a lot of tasty baking recipes call for lots of egg whites, which is great for fluffy cakes and meringues but what do you do with all of the extra egg yolks? I’ll admit that somtimes I’ve thrown them away but a better idea is to spend 5-10 minutes and make this awesome butterscotch pudding!!

Butterscotch Pudding (Serves 4)
3 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch, spooned lightly into a measuring cup (not tightly packed)
2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Rinse a heavy saucepan (2 qts or larger) with cold water and shake out the excess water (this helps prevent the milk from scorching). Bring 2 1/2 cups of the milk nearly to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the egg yolks, brown sugar, and cornstarch until smooth.

3. Pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk vigorously. Repeat this 2 more times. Pour the warmed yolk mixture into the pan of hot milk and bring to a boil, whisking over medium heat. Boil, whisking almost constantly (be sure to stir the edges of the pan), for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla.

4. Strain the pudding through a fine sieve into a bowl. Transfer the pudding into 4 individual serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

September 16, 2009

The Nose (El Capitan)

Filed under: Climbing — Tags: , , , , — Matt Stamplis @ 6:42 pm

El Capitan….what a great name for a wall – just mention the name to a climber and an image of sheer granite walls is sure to form in their head. Rising a dramatic 3000 feet from Yosemite Valley, it is one of the tallest cliffs in the United States (perhaps the tallest? A google search didn’t turn up anything taller!). And if that wasn’t enough, you can park your car and walk 15 minutes to reach the base of it. In terms of accessibility for such a big wall, it is unmatched anywhere in the world. Which explains why every Spring and Fall (and summer/winter for those who have a screw or two loose) climbers from all over the world migrate here to climb on the sun-soaked granite.

After a few years of climbing with trips all over the Western U.S. we began to tire of answering “No” to the question “Have you climbed in Yosemite? You know…that big ditch in California”. We figured it was about time to go see what all the fuss was about. And what better way than to jump right in and climb one of the longest and most classic routes in the Valley, The Nose. Neither of us had ever been to Yosemite, let alone climb there, but we figured we’d just throw ourselves at it. Looking over the guidebook, the climb doesn’t sound particularly difficult. Yes, it’s LONG but many of the pitches can be free climbed at 5.10 or easier. We figured we’d BLAST right up it in 2 days or so. Well, turns out that the guy who told us the route was the most sandbagged route in the world might have been right…

El Capitan, from the meadows below. The meadows make an awesome place to just lie down in the shade and watch climbers slowly inch their way up the wall. The Nose tackles discontinuous crack systems in a meandering line directly up the tallest part of the wall. The route more or less follows the line in green. The blue arrows show all the pendulums on the route (there’s lots of them). Some of the belay positions and notable features have been drawn/numbered in.

We arrived in Yosemite Saturday, September 5th. My dad had flown in from Michigan to watch us climb so we met him and took a brief tour of the valley. We had heard of people waiting in line to climb the The Nose so went in the afternoon to check out the base of the route and see how crowded it was (it was Labor Day weekend, to boot). We arrived and saw a party starting up the first pitch and another party just arriving on Sickle Ledge (pitch 4). Not a great sign but we were both excited enough that no line was going to stop us. We’d worry about parties in front of us only when it became a problem. That first afternoon, we took an hour or so to drag the 80-pound haulbag up to the start of the route. This would put us in position to get an early start in the morning.

Sunday morning. Alarm goes off around 4AM – time to get moving. Breakfast is cereal for me, ramen noodles for Joanne [her last real food as she merely put in 500 calories each day on the wall]. We’ve slept in a lousy motel outside of the park and have to drive an hour or so to get to the valley. By the time the sun is rising, we’ve reached our haulbag and have set off on the first pitch of the climb. The other parties who were climbing yesterday are no where in sight – hooray!

We’ve decided that I would lead the first 4 pitches as they consist of somewhat tricky aid/free climbing and it might be faster if I try to free them. They’re harder than I expect (or maybe I just don’t bother trying) so I just pull on gear most of the time. Near the top of the first pitch a nut pops out of a flared placement and sends me for a 15-foot fall. Wheee! I climb back up to my last piece, put in a better nut and pull through to the belay. Alright – 1 pitch down, 30 more to go!

Matt working away on pitch 2. We quickly got a feel for the rock on these pitches – many of the placements are old piton-scars. The placements were not as bad as I had heard though I consider offset brass nuts an absolute necessity here. (Thanks to Stoneworks Matt for letting us borrow his – by the way, Stoneworks is the best climbing gym ever!).

Pitch 4 : This pitch leads up to a fixed piece that you clip then tension over to another crack. Then there’s one more tension to reach Sickle Ledge. I found this a bit devious – on my first try, I pendulumed too early and couldn’t reach the next fixed piece and was looking at a dangerous fall back into the corner. I went back and climbed a little higher and things went smoother.

We passed a haul bag at the top of pitch 3 and then another one on Sickle Ledge (the top of pitch 4). I’m not exactly sure what those other parties were doing but it didn’t matter anymore – we had passed them! Neither team did much climbing that day and we never saw them again. Climbing is always much more enjoyable when you can focus on the route and not people above or below you.

The worst hauling on the route was encountered dragging the haulbag up to Sickle ledge. Even using a 3:1 pulley system I had to give it everything I got to move the bag a foot at a time. I was totally gassed by the time Joanne arrived on Sickle Ledge and I was happy to give her the next couple leads (and hauling).

Joanne linked the next two leads together – a 4th class pitch followed by a 5.9 corner. This leads you to the top of the Sickle. The Sickle is the sickle-shaped (duh!) feature in the middle here. This is an uncomfortable hanging belay. We’re in this picture but it’s really hard to see us unless you look closely.

From the top of the Sickle you have to lower out and pendulum over to reach a new crack system. Here’s Joanne reaching over to the next system. Apparently she was terrified because every time I would give her a little more slack she started screaming like she had just seen the face of the devil. My dad, down in the meadows, said he could hear her loud and clear. I think he was a little embarrassed for us!

The fantastic Stove Leg cracks. Named after the huge pitons (made from the legs of a stove) that were used on the first ascent here. Nowadays you just leap frog #3 camelots till you realize there’s nothing between you and a 100-foot fall but a single piece of gear (gulp!)

All in all, the first day turned out to be our hardest. I don’t think either of us had quite adjusted to living on the wall yet – you have to find time, while hanging/belaying/climbing, to eat and drink and perform other bodily functions. That first day, neither of us had anything to eat and only a very small amount of water. By evening, I was getting terrible cramps in my forearms/biceps which made climbing incredibly painful. All night my chest hurt and no matter how much water I drank, my throat was dry. We had packed around 5 gallons of water but it wasn’t clear if we would have enough to finish the climb. It was in the back of my head as we climbed but neither of us even mentioned the possibility of bailing – we were determined to head upward. We climbed a total of 10 pitches on day 1, ended up just 40ft short from Dolt tower. It is really too bad because we could have a more comfortable night. Instead, we slept on our poorly put together sloping portaledge.

Early the next day my nose started unexpectedly bleeding – now I was dehydrated and dripping blood all over my clothes and gear – great! But fortunately, our persistance was soon to pay off…or maybe we were just incredibly lucky…

From the top of Dolt Tower, you do (another) pendulum to the right to reach a 5.7 squeeze chimney. I back cleaned all of this lower section and climbed a long 5.9 fist crack to a belay a short ways below El Cap Tower. Joanne brought us up the rest of the way to the best ledge on the entire route.

Here’s where we got lucky as we found a stash of 2 gallons of water welcoming us to the inviting ledge of El Cap Tower (best bivuoac site on the route, by far) Instantly, I knew we would be OK in terms of water supply so I stopped and drank half a gallon on the spot. Plastic-flavored Water never tasted so good! We even stopped to eat a little food and let Hans Florine and his partner pass us. They were doing a one-day ascent – we watched them do the King Swing and before we knew it they were out of sight and gone. They were the only climbers we talked to on the entire route – there was no one else between us and the summit!

Looking down the Texas Flake (pitch 15). Supposedly it looks like the state of Texas…some people have an imagination, I guess. This pitch is the hardest on the route that you HAVE to free – it is a runout 5.8 chimney. There’s one bolt partway up the chimney but a fall from the top would be devastating. Fortunately, the chimney is reasonably secure so you probably won’t fall!

Up to this point most of the climbing was a mix of free climbing and french free-ing. We had only used the etriers on a few pitches. Also, I had done the majority of the leads – but from here, we switched gears to mostly aid climbing and Joanne took over most of the leads. We figure she weighs less than me so she’s less likely to pull out marginal pieces!

After the Texas flake, a short bolt ladder leads to a very thin crack which has some of the first difficult aid climbing on it. A few pieces later, though, you’ll reach the gravy goodness of the Boot Flake. The Boot Flake itself is a slightly disturbing feature, a gigantic boot-shaped flake, just barely attached to the wall. When this thing decides to fall, I sure hope there’s no climbers on it!

You can see the Boot Flake and Texas Flake from here. It’s not at all clear how the Boot Flake is still on the wall – it’s kind of attached on the bottom but all my intuition about physics and gravity tell me this thing should have fallen a long time ago.

Joanne starting up the bolt ladder from the top of the Texas Flake (Pitch 16)

From the top of the Boot Flake is the start of one of the most unlikely climbing maneuvers you’ll ever do – The King Swing. Joanne lowered me down past the bottom of the boot, almost all the way back to the Texas Flake. From here you start running back and forth along the wall to reach a handhold WAAAAAY to the left. I had images of my rope getting sawed in half in my mind – I tried to push those away and concentrate on running back and forth on the wall. It took me a few tries (I had to lower down farther than I thought) but finally, I was able to reach out and grab the jug and pull myself around the corner – woo-hoo! I’m hoping to get some pictures of me doing the swing later – have to get the pictures from my Dad.

We goofed up slightly with Joanne following. We didn’t realize how long the swing was so when she lowered herself out she ran out of rope and had to take a bit of an uncontrolled swing to get on the route. Last year a guy did something similar and got badly injured – fortunately our rope was a lot longer than his so Joanne’s swing was pretty mellow!

We reached Camp IV (at the end of pitch 20) just as it was getting dark on our second day – this would end up being our most comfortable bivuoac site, by far. The ledge wasn’t flat so it wasn’t perfect but at least there was plenty of room to spread out. The only nuisance was a large number of big ants living on the ledge, probably living off climber garbage. Everytime I moved at night I looked under my sleeping bag and there were dozens of ants crawling under it. Fortunately, they only seemed interested in crawling under me and not biting me! Joanne slept on the portaledge and had no problems with ants.

Our ledge is crap. Or at least we can’t figure out how to get it even. I told Joanne to just sleep on it alone – it’s way scarier with both of us on it.

Joanne jugging up the first pitch of day 3. The exposure is starting to creep up on us….

The Great Roof! One of the most famous pitches on the Nose, and for good reason. It’s such a cool feature in an exposed location – with mostly easy aid climbing.

Under the roof, the pitch sports entirely fixed gear which makes for quick aiding. I took a picture of Joanne leading and before I realized it she was at the belay! Free climbing this is crazy – super thin undercling crack with imaginary footholds.

The Pancake Flake. Just after the Great Roof is this super fun pitch. This starts with incredibly fun and easy free climbing until you reach a ledge. From here, the pitch gets thin and I aided up this section. Offset nuts proved invaluable here (and everywhere on the route, in fact).

Here’s where I hurt myself. I took a fall onto the ledge at the bottom of the picture and hit my right heel pretty hard. This picture was taken after the fall – I got right up and finished the lead but by the time I reached the belay I knew my foot was not in great shape. I think I only did two more leads out of the last seven pitches – Joanne was on a roll and climbed all the hard aid pitches! (with no falls, I might add!)

Pitch 27 – The Changing Corners Pitch. You climb up a nice crack, reach over to a bolt, swing over a sharp arete (don’t think about it cutting your rope) and into this ridiculously thin crack for about 30 feet of tenuous nut placements (C2). Joanne said she was mortified when she saw how long the pin scar pitch is and thought this was by far the hardest aid climbing on the route and I believe her, as just the motion of me jumaring knocked out more than half of her placements. I’d recommend not falling on this pitch!

Also, when we reached the top of the Changing Corners, the exposure really kicks in. You’re hanging on a vertical to slightly over-hanging wall with nothing but air for thousands of feet below you. I remember thinking…wow, how did we get so high?

We had hoped we might finish the route in three days but as the sun disappeared it became painfully obvious we would have to settle for a 3rd night on the rock. We have read before that day 3 is the toughest due to the difficulties of each pitches after the roof and we sort of verified it. We only climbed 8 pitches on day 3 leaving us with 3 pitches for day 4. The final night would prove to be the most uncomfortable. As usual, the portaledge was a total pain in the butt and we couldn’t get it even remotely usable. Finally, desperation set in as it got darker – Joanne wasn’t happy about hanging in her harness all night so we gave it one more shot. The pieces clicked together and was stable enough for us to sit on. It sucked and I was afraid it would break all night but it was way better than hanging.

This was our final bivouac – a tiny ledge that one person could stand on. Clearly not enough room to sleep on so we had to use the portaledge.

Just a few more pitches to go – this is how I look when I’m pretty tired. Bloody knuckles…blood all over my shirt. Even with that I would usually be smiling but my lips were way too chapped to do anything but give this expression.

Looking down on the route from the very top…best view on the route? It’s really weird looking down on the climbers who are just starting the climb, several days away from your location. And the way the wall sweeps up from the base gives you a feeling that you are just hanging way over them. Try not to drop anything from up here!

Just a few more pieces to clean (fittingly, on a traverse). The final bolt ladder is incredibly steep with a few missing hanger bolts – it makes it difficult to aid or follow. We had a few rivet hangers but Joanne didn’t have it with her and ended up using nut as substitute. We paused a moment here to enjoy our accomplishment, then busted out the final few moves to the summit!

Glad to be on the summit! Joanne looks way better than I did…

Awesome views of Half Dome from the summit. We opted for the East Ledges descent – supposedly this takes 2 hours but with my bum leg, some route-finding issues, and no water it ended up being a mini-epic 5 hour descent. Still better than the 8 or 9 mile trail down!

Excited to be back at the car, gorging ourselves on fresh watermelon!

Last thoughts: Each pitch individually is not particularly hard, but stacked on top of each other, The Nose is a very physically demanding route. If you’re thinking of climbing it, the best training you can do is just get in the best physical shape of your life and be ready to take some abuse. Practice following pendulums and traverses as there are a LOT of them. All in all, the climbing and position is incredible – I wouldn’t argue too strongly against someone claiming this to be the “Greatest Rock Climb in the World”!

Also, we were totally hammered by the climb. Originally I thought we would take 1 day of rest and then climb some more. But even after 4 days of rest, we were still recovering. What a calorie burner!

Gear notes: 2 sets of nuts including some micro nuts (brass offsets are absolutely essential!), 2 sets of cams from the tiniest TCUs to #3 camelots. Triples from 0.5″-2″. We got away with just a single #4 camelot though having a second one is pretty useful on the pitch leading up to Dolt Tower. A (functional) portaledge is nice, as most of the ledges are not that comfortable. Finally, if it’s reasonably warm out (it was 80-85 and sunny for us) you really need 1 gallon of water per person per day. We easily finished 7 gallons in our 3.5 days.

Older Posts »

Blog at