Cold and wet on the Nose
11 October 2011
Stefan and I have spent the past two days on the Nose, though we have been far from successful so far. We started on Sunday with a very early rise in camp 4 (3am), then a brisk 45 minutes walk to the base of the climb. While hauling the 0th pitch (5.7 Pine Line, which I half soloed), however, we had our first mishap: a gallon of water burst open at the bottom of the bag. The damage was limited, but we were already pushing the limit on how much water we were taking, so a return to the ground was needed. Rather than bail right away, however, we decided to change our plan of going to Dolt/El Cap Tower that day for a fix from Sickle ledge, at the top of pitch 4 (which is what most parties do anyway). The first four pitches went fine, especially since we already climbed the first two two days earlier. Pitch 4, which was mine, was a bit spicy and involved a scary free move to clip a fixed piece, with a 5-6 meters fall potential. Fixing to Sickle ended up being a bit complicated, as our ropes weren't long enough. In the end, we abseiled on ours and Stefan (after losing a coin toss) went back to camp 4 to get our spare rope, jugged all the way back up on the line of the British party and fixed our three ropes.
The next morning was tough, with another 3am alarm. The walk in was much easier without haulbag or gear, but jugging up 160m of fixed lines with a big backpack and two full gallons of water certainly wasn't fun. The czech party who had climbed behind us the previous day had spent the night on Sickle and fixed the next two easy pitches, so they went ahead. The British party of Andrew and Will followed shortly on their lines. We also soon realized that two Australian parties were bivied in portaledges at the bottom of the Stovelegs. A big mess it was going to be!
Stefan got the first block and led the first three pitches, putting us in Dolt Hole. Since the Czechs were quite slow getting in the stovelegs, the Aussies hadn't reached the belay at P8 yet and I felt confident I could move fast in the perfect handcrack, I elected to try and pass everybody via a variation that climbs above Dolt Hole on a wide crack then a bolt ladder before taking a monster pendulum into the middle of P8. I had to be lowered 15 to 20 meters and took numerous tries of running as hard as I could horizontally across the blank granite to finally stuck the crack (or more accurately, the fixed Aussie line, sorry guys). Unfortunately, things were getting messy: Josef, the Czech leader was just above and going on full aid, not being used to jamming. Scotty, one of the Aussies, was belaying at the top of P8 but out of only one bolt and on a poor stance. Kenny was following on his line, just below me.
Considering what a clusterfuck our position was, I am awed that things went so smoothly: Josef got up to the belay, followed by Kenny, then Scotty led a few more meters and pendulumed into a bolted rap station on the side. I finally reached the belay, backcleaning all of my pro to make the following easier (a fall would have meant a big backward pendulum back into my initial crack, not fun). Everybody brought their pigs and seconds up and assessed the situation. What had started as light rain a couple of hours earlier was now looking like a storm, some run-offs were starting and friction was all but gone. Even though the ledge at Dolt was only two long pitches away, we were all already soaked to the skin and getting quite cold, with few hopes of getting drier before the next day. Since this was not forecast (we had only heard of 20% chance of showers), there was also the possibility that the storm would last into the next day.
The decision became easier to make, and one by one, everybody elected to descend. There is a nice rap line with chain anchors every 50m, so things went pretty smoothly, if a bit slow. We rapped with the Czechs, doubling the amount of ropes we could use, and after about three hours, just before nightfall, we had done all 6 raps and were on the ground, hungry, cold and wet but safe.
Unlike on Washington Column, we stuck on the route as long as we possibly could, but going down was undoubtedly the best decision, considering how the weather had turned and how exposed to run-offs the Nose is. We are not discouraged yet, and will probably get back up tomorrow. Maybe we can finish a wall some day.