Nose in a Day
Eight years passed. Other climbs, mostly first ascents, took precedence over climbing the Nose in a day. But in the spring of 1975, I had some new thoughts and feelings about climbing; alpinism beckoned me to new adventures. Speed was, I felt, the key to safe alpine climbing. Climbing the Nose in a day offered a good test of speed-climbing abilities, so I started rounding up suitable personnel.
The bar was a good place to stimulated interest and to polish the luster of the Nose project, and a few climbers had blossomed into likely candidates. Of those, I had selected two the previous year and sewn seeds to motivate them. I refreshed their enthusiasm in the bar before going south for two weeks to give a climbing demonstration for Navy S.E.A.L.s. I knew I wouldn't have time to get in good condition before returning, so I wanted to be sure that they were. I hoped they would make up for any deficiencies I might have.
Just as I'd expected, climbing with the S.E.A.L.s proved to be no cakewalk. I had to set up topropes, give demonstrations of technique, and deliver lectures. After all that, the boys wanted to take me out on the town until three in the morning. America's best had unusual training habits. I deduced that they were getting in shape to stay up long hours with little sleep, then mobilize with hangovers. Maybe they were training for high altitude climbing.
The Valley of Light provided a welcome sight when I returned. Though the S.E.A.L.s were durable, could the, climb the Nose in a day? I wondered now if I could. The longest day of the year, less than a week away, coincided with a full moon, making this the perfect opportunity. I had little time to get in shape. We did manage one ten-pitch training climb, then spent a day rehearsing each of our individual pitches as far up as Sickle Ledge.
Our logistical plan was my responsibility and, I hoped, well thought out. We would take three nine-millimeter ropes of questionable vintage but the best I had. In addition, we carried: 25 nuts, 25 pitons, (camming devices didn't then exist) and one and a half gallons of water. I would lead two of the four pitches below Sickle Ledge with John and Billy taking one each. Above Sickle, John would lead as far as Boot Flake as his big hands were most appropriate for the predominately large cracks through this section. Billy drew the middle part of the route which was mostly mixed aid and free climbing. An excellent free climber from Colorado, he was used to switching from aid to free and vice versa had the anchor leg from Camp Five to the top. We would all be tired by then, so aid climbing would probably the technique of choice.
Because years of practice had honed my nailing skills, I was the natural candidate for that position. I had worked out a system where person leading trailed one free rope and led on one which he clipped through the gear. Once the rope was anchored, the second man removed the gear, while the third man ascended the leader's trail rope on jumars, as fast as he could, towing the remaining rope. When the third person reached the belay he exchanged the ends of the ropes with the leader, who then charged off on the next pitch. Theoretically this procedure left time for the leader to have a cigarette and to light another for the belayer when he arrived. With 34 pitches to climb, we required a pack and a half of cigarettes each because we all smoked.
The night before the climb, we feasted in the restaurant, then went to the bar for a beer to calm our over-active nerves. At 9 p.m. we retired to my girlfriend's dormitory room where we set the alarm for 2 a.m. before settling down for an all-too-brief sleep. I blinked and the alarm went off. In unison we sprang out of bed, whipped up a giant batch of omelets, wolfed them down and marched to the car while taping our hands for climbing At 4 a.m. the moon was bright enough to read by, so we didn't need our headlamps.
As we had already rehearsed the first four pitches we galloped off, having memorized every move and every nut and pin placement. As the night waned, we reached Sickle Ledge where John and I changed places on the ropes. Away he went. Pitches rolled by like dollars on a New York taxi meter. John flew up the Stoveleg Cracks with the certainty of the Yosemite veteran that he was.
We reached the top of Dolt Tower by 6:15. Here, our clamor roused two bivouacked climbers from their slumber. Bleary-eyed, one of them asked where our haul bag was. I responded by pointing to a small rucksack on my back. His expression became more quizzical as he looked at our bizarre style of dress. In our purple and pink double-knit pants, worn with paisley and African print shirts, we presented a questionable apparition to any eyes sleep-filled or otherwise. Our inspiration for this colorful display was a magazine cover photo displaying several British climbers dressed in traditional, conservative guide's sweaters and knickers, all of the same color and style. The group formally posed with the Eiger looming in the background. As a joke we decided to represent the non-traditional Yosemite avant garde.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication