The Nose Job 1: Beginnings

Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell, and John Long after the first one-day ascent of the Nose in 1975.

Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell, and John Long after the first one-day ascent of the Nose in 1975.

9/9/10 - You could call it a midlife crisis except that, actuarially speaking, I’m well past the midpoint of my life. Instead, call it a birthday challenge. I’m approaching the kind of anniversary that makes you realize, no matter how great you feel and how hard you’re climbing, you’re never going to do it all. And so you have to start choosing priorities. One of my choices is attempting to fulfill a longtime dream: climbing the Nose of El Capitan in a day.

I’ve climbed El Cap three times before (Salathé, Zodiac, and North America Wall), so the terrain and techniques of big-wall climbing are plenty familiar, though the last time I did an El Cap route was in 1997. It just always seemed right to save the Big Stone’s original and most iconic climb for a one-day attempt. I remember being super-inspired by the first one-day ascent of the Nose in 1975, a couple of years before I started climbing. Who could forget that Top-that-mo-fo! photo of Bridwell, Long, and Westbay standing proud in El Cap Meadow after their ascent? They did it in less than 18 hours. Now the Nose’s 30-plus pitches have been climbed in a little over two and a half hours. I’ll be very happy to make it to the top in less than 24.

I’m starting my preparations about nine months in advance, aiming for a May or June climb, because I’m nowhere near being in the kind of long-route shape for this challenge. Maybe I never was. Maybe I never will be. We’ll see. My hope is that with the right training, lots of mileage on the rock, a great partner, and some luck with weather and crowds, we can pull it off. It still seems way, way out there, but maybe just barely within reach, like all the best goals in life and climbing.

I’m starting this blog to help keep up my motivation (I need something to write about… better train!), and to provide a little inspiration to other 50-hour-a-week working units in the climbing world. Whatever your age or work or family situation, I truly believe that average climbers can do extraordinary things, given enough motivation and hard work. In these notes, I’ll document this average climber’s efforts.