In the second part of this series (part one here), I’m going to go through the Nose pitch by pitch. This is not going to be placement by placement (most are the same anyway), or blow by blow, but more a heads up on what to expect. If you don’t want to spoil your onsight, then look away now!
Before I start, I should note that there are dozens and dozens of topos for the Nose, both online and in guide books. Some are very outdated, some are graded for a free ascent, or a NIAD (Nose in a day), and some have inaccurate information (missing bolts, or bolts that are now missing). Basically, the Nose is a big alpine wall that is changing in small ways all the time, and no one should slavishly study a topo (or this article), and imagine that is exactly what they will find.
Fixed and missing gear
There are certain spots on the Nose that seem to act as a magnet for fixed gear, such as the Stovelegs, the Great Roof, the Glowering spot. Due to Yosemite having a very dry climate, much of this gear is in good condition, under the great roof and around Camp 4 the only wet spots. It is important to eyeball all fixed gear, especially if you’re going to clip it as pro (and save your gear), as some gear is not so good, or simply not stuck at all, but just gear that’s been dropped down the wall or gear that’s been missed when cleaning. Also check the quality of any cordage or slings, as these can snap, and so you need to check their security (if they’re bad, cut them away and replace them, or if that’s not possible, larks foot in a sling above the knot). If you come across a rapid-link or fixed karabiners then it generally means that this is a lower-off/lower-out and should be left (some people will also lower off small loops of webbing, and these should always be viewed with suspicion. You will also come across fixed gear with long slings or cord attached to them, such as on the bolts on the Changing corners. These are to aid speed climbers (sort of cheating at cheating). I always carry a lightweight hammer on the Nose and hammer out all fixed gear if I can (you often need this for your own nuts), which is a bummer if you’re trying to break a record, but this is one of the best climbs on the planet, not a via-ferrata.
You should be aiming at climbing all pitches under one hour (on average, as some will go faster than others). If they’re taking two then maybe you need to practice so more, or be prepared for a long haul (as should those behind you). If it’s three or more (I’ve seen a team only climb two pitches on Dolt tower in a whole day), then you need to rethink things (it’s dangerous and no fun for you, or anyone who gets close to you). I’ll cover gear in the next part, but it’s recommended you carry a watch (around your neck or on your harness), and keep an eye on it.
The Nose, pitch by pitch
For some reason, someone put the 1st pitch of the Nose too high to reach without climbing something to get there, meaning you can either get there via the Footstool (4th class), which is just a scramble, or via Pine Line (5.7), which is trickier than it looks when carrying a big rack (belay at the tree, or climb up to the 1st belay in a single pitch, the bit after the tree harder than 5.7). Some people just solo the Footstool, but I think it’s best to pitch it, as it can be a little bit dirty and sandy, and people often drop things down the line. Do not try and haul the Footstool as you’ll probably kill someone at the base by knocking something off (the base gets a lot of traffic), and if you must, then haul from the top of pitch 1 via the Pine Line ledge (this might be one 60 metre rope, but don’t quote me on that).
Pitch 1 (5.10d or C1 obligatory 5.7)
This is a wake-up call for climbers who think they’re going to either free most of the Nose or aid the whole thing, as it’s neither easy to aid or free! This means a lot of Nose dreams come to a dead stop at this point. The pitch is awkward, polished, greasy, and just a bit nasty at 5 am with two Argentinians trying to pass you out; but don’t let that put you off!
The best approach is to free what you can and aid what you can’t (‘free as can be’), which means some awkward aiding down low, then free and french free (A0), higher up. The trick with mixed aid and free is to wear rock boots, chalk bag, and have your crack jammie on, but don’t get sucked into the crack, or into aid mode, but keep an eye out for good holds for hands and feet. The skill is being able to switch into free mode and back again, and if you can just grab a hold and free climb up a metre of so, you can save ten or so minutes right there (practise this before pitch one of the Nose). It’s important that you know how to step high on your gear on these pitches (again, don’t neglect handholds), as this will allow you to bypass some bad placements (flared peg scars). It’s on this pitch were you might need some microwires and offset cams (fixed gears changes, so are the lengths of slings hanging of the gear). Remember you’re in California; if in doubt, get high.
Pitch 2 (C1+)
This is another free as it can be pitch, with a tricky free move off the ledge, up a corner, then a tension right, but easier than pitch 1. You can run this pitch with pitch 3 if you want, but you will have to use long slings and back-clean, so it’s probably best not to.
Pitch 3 (5.10 or C2 obligatory 5.7)
This can be a bit awkward to start, as it’s hard to figure out if you should go up the left or the right features, but you can do either, but a free approach is best. There can be a few tricky blank spots up here that stumps people, and I’ve had people use a hand placed beak in a funny little flared peg scar to get past a spot that used to hold a peg (there might be a bolt here now). The crux comes at the end, which is some 5.7 slab that appears to be much harder (but isn’t). If you have some offset cams, you’ll use them here.
Pitch 4 (C2 obligatory 5.7)
Climb up the corner, then up some bolts to piece and lower off and swing right, get gear in, and climb up, back cleaning as you go, then lower off the top piece and swing right again to a corner that leads up onto Sickle. This pitch is going to require your second to lower off twice, so you need to know how to do this (and have practised it!), as fucking it up will bring your ascent to a juddering halt.
Leave gear in once you get to Sickle ledge, clipping the bolt as well, and move along to the belay (watch out for loose rock).
There are two belays on Sickle, a high and low belay, and most people use the lower belay (fix and haul from here, and if you’re crap at jumaring then protect the rope where it goes over the edge). There is enough room for one person to sleep here semi comfortably. Be prepared for early morning guests.
When we climbed it in winter, three of us had never done a big wall or aided before, and so it took three days to reach sickle. On the first morning there, a speed team passed us and told it had taken them 14 minutes to reach the same spot.
Pitch 5 and 6 (4th class / 5.9 C1)
Easy scrambling (beware of loose rock) that gets steeper at the top. Don’t neglect to place some gear on the easy section to safeguard the second. Most people aid at the top to reach the belay. I always run these pitches together, but it’s a stretch. To haul from 4 to 6 either requires a lower out line or allowing the bag to be lowered out on what is left of the haul line (bag tied off short), which will result in the bag smashing across the wall. Or you can just climb to 5 and play it safe. If climbing as a three, the two seconds can either jug the lead line one at a time, or one can jug the haul line before the bags are lowered out.
Pitch 7 (5.9 A0)
This is a tricky pitch, but fun (do not go straight up to Dolt Hole, that way seems to just suck the life/daylight out of people). Aid across the wall going right (bolts), and then lower down and swing into a V groove (5.6) and climb up as if you’re on a top rope to a few aid moves (back clean). Get some protection at the top, then aid and free climb right (fun free climbing, tension and A0), until you get to a crack, and then aid or free up to a double bolt belay (this belay is pretty level with the last belay). This is another tricky pitch to follow, and you need to have your wits about you (a third climber should be lowered out on the haul line). Below this belay are the rap stations going down Dolt tower, and it’s possible to fix from here, but only if you have four ropes.
Pitch 8/9 (C1 5.8)
Climb the Stove Leg crack; clipping fixed cams and your own. The free climbing is harder than it looks and very exposed (I’ve seen strong men grow week here and bail). You will also get some windy weather here on most days, and it’s here you need to have some good rope management skills (use some form of rope bag for each rope). It’s also a spot for traffic jams, people bailing or just flailing around. If you have a ledge, then stick it up if you’re stuck here, as it will reduce the chances of you losing all hope.
Pitch 10 (5.8 C1)
This begins with some easy free climbing or awkward aid, or a mix of the two then goes up into a wide section (blue cams). This belay isn’t a good one to be stuck at.
Pitch 11 (5.10b or 5.8 C1)
A wide crack with some bolts. You will reach a belay close to the top of the pillar, with only a few moves to the top, climb past this. When hauling from the top, set up your hauler over the edge, then drag the bags over onto the ledge (don’t have your ropes running over the edge of the ledge). Dolt tower is a good bivy, with a good spot for one climber, and a slopey spot for two, and a few less good spots around. If you reach this spot, then you should get to the top, as you’ve now done the most technical parts of the Nose. This ledge tends to have a permanent supply of water on it, as people dump it before bailing, so don’t allow other slowing you up below be a reason for bailing as well. The elephant in the room here is that you’ve got a bolted rap line going all the way to the ground belay you, but don’t allow that dissolve your resolve. If you get here with some light left, fix the next two pitches in order to stave off weakness in the morning (or push on to Camp 1, which is nicer).
Pitch 12/13 (5.8 C1)
Move to belay to the right-hand end of the ledge, then lower off the lower bolt. Pendulum right into cracks and flakes, and free climb, back clean, until you reach the belay (pitch 12). Clip the belay, and climb the next pitch free (5.9 fists), or aid it on big cams (easy). If back cleaning, don’t forget to leave some pro at the top, before free climbing up to the belay. If you don’t want to back-clean the lower pitch, then it’s best not to run the two together, as your second might run out of rope lowering out to clean it.
When hauling this pitch, there are a few spots where the bags can get a little hung up (one of the few places on the Nose), so make sure the bags are well packed and the tops drawn up to make then less sticky (so smooth and curved like a bullet, not like a bucket!). If they get stuck, lower then down a little, and have one of the climbers jiggle them as you haul, or try and pull the haul line left and right.
This is an easy scrambling pitch. Set up the haul line on the left-hand end of the ledge, and place enough gear, so your second doesn’t swing off the traverse.
You can also do the Jardine Traverse here (5.10c or 5.9 C1 wide), which speeds things up but misses out Camp 1, the Texas and Boot flake, and the King Swing, which are all the highlights of the climb. The Jardine is also tougher than it sounds, and you need some big cams (it has a long wide section that climbs up to where the King swing comes in, which needs monster cams, although this is not mentioned on the topo).
You’re now at Camp 1, which is a really cool ledge. If you make it here in one day, you’re moving well and should do the rest with one bivy.
Pitch 14 (part 1) (5.9 or C1)
This is an easy pitch but beware of all the loose rock at the top, as this could kill someone (on the camp 1 ledge or on the ground). Belay at a bolt anchor at the base of the Texas flake, or run this pitch together (I think it’s best to split it).
Pitch 14 (part 2) (5.9 slot and obligatory 5.8 chimney)
Climb into the flake (easier to free climb than aid), and squeeze in below a bolt on the outside of the flake. Climb up to this (easy), then - with your back to the flake - go left to some small footholds, and follow them upwards, back and footing. The footholds run out at the top, but one more move will see you close enough to reach a rivet on top of the flake if you need it (you have to clip it behind your head), then climb up onto the top of the flake and clip the belay. If you’re speed climbing, then don’t clip the bolt in the flake, but have both ropes running on the outside to aid speed. On a winter ascent of the Nose, this pitch was full of verglas, so we used the fly pole to clip the mid bolt, then two walking poles and the fly pole to clip the belay (much harder than it sounds). People have fallen off and had to be rescued from the Texas flake, so take it seriously, i.e. wear your rock boots and leave your rack behind (you just need belay kit and some draws). Belaying at the base of the flake also reduces drag. Make sure you flip your haul line around to the front of the flake, and if you miss out the bolt then you can flip that out as well (this makes seconding much easier). This pitch is a good one to fix if you get to Camp 1 early.
Pitch 15 ( C1)
This is a spectacular pitch, and good for hero photos (both for the leader and the second on top of the flake). Climb the easy bolt ladder (you can back clean the first lot of bolts and just lower off the belay when seconding), then up into the flake. A few cam hook moves get you up into the flake proper, that can be aided or laybacked. Be careful at the very top as there is a big detached section (just be aware where you cams are going, as these things have a habit of just falling off).
Twice I’ve actually fixed from this belay down to camp 1 using two 60 metre ropes, once during the winter climb, and once when a big storm was forecast (we actually fixed all the way to 17 with two ropes). You can fix down to the Texas flake, then down to camp 1, then in the morning leave the bags sitting on camp 1, and jug up, removing the belay on top of the Texas flake, then haul all the way to the top off the Boot (you need to know how to pass a knot).
Pitch 16 (ungradable)
This is the famous King Swing! The advice from Erik Sloan’s guide (Yosemite Big Walls) is spot on, including leaving your rack behind and your haul line (the topo says to take a Camalot 4, but you should be able to just climb onto the belay ledge). You can either do this conventionally, i.e. swinging around, starting at the last bolt below Boot Flake, or you can do it statically. Make sure you have the rope flipped around the edge of the boot top, not over the top, and carry some ascenders in case you go too far (being lowered off a Grigri connected to the belay also takes the strain off the belayer). The thing to remember is that the point you’re heading for is just above the triangular roof. Make sure you have your rock boots on and your chalk bag.
To do it without the swing, just lower to the bolt, then free climb across (your body at 45 degrees), using tension from the rope, using tiny flakes and edges, until you reach a sideways jug, which allows you to reach the arete.
An alternative is to swing early into a groove that leads down towards the triangle roof, but this needs a careful belay (go too fast, and you’ll fall off).
Once you get around the corner, you can climb up easily onto a belay ledge.
Now slide down the rack via the haul line clipped into the lead line.
To avoid all the hassle of lowering the bag down to this belay, begin free climbing/aiding/back cleaning up to the next belay. If you mess up early on you’ll end up swinging back around on a top rope, but do this higher, and you’ll hurt yourself (you’ll smash into the Boot, so make sure you’ve always got one piece in below you as you back clean, and take it slow. There’s a bit of looseness at the very top, but you can place a few pieces, get onto the ledge, and reach back to get them.
Once at pitch 17, lower out the haul bags and haul them up (haul as they are being lowered, so they don’t drop too far), and have the second lower off the Boot belay (if you’re climbing as a three, lower out the third climber). When lowering out in this way, don’t just depend on your jumars, as the angles are pretty extreme, and take it slowly and think it through (I had one partner lower out, only to realise, too late, that his ascenders were upside down!).
Pitch 18/19 (5.9 C1)
This begins with straight forward free climbing up some dodgy (flakes be careful), then gets harder, leading up to the Lynn Hill traverse (you are linking two pitches here, but you can belay here at the intermediate belay). If you continue up (use bolts near traverse), beware of huge hanging block pinned in by pegs, and aid to a lower off. As you’re lowered, back clean as many pieces as you can, so your partner can just swing left to the belay.
If you go the Lynn Hill way, beware that it’s tougher than it looks, and the bolts are too spaced to aid across. The climbing is 10D, and gets harder at the end, when the bolts run out, but can be aided with a skyhook (the only place you might want a hook on the Nose). An extra bolt might be here now, negating the hook.
Pitch 19/20 (obligatory 5.7 C1)
This is a mix of scrambling, easy climbing and awkward free/aid at the top, but features some loose rock, so be careful. Again, it’s a tricky one to second, requiring a mix of lowering off and climbing/scrambling (stand on the bolt near the end of the pitch).
This puts you at Camp 2, which is a poor bivy, but there are better spots lower down on the ledges that traverse over from the Triple Direct (which joins the wall at this point), and a good spot on the traverse you’ve just done (you can rap down and sleep, then jug back up).
Hauling to here requires the bags to be lowered out across the Grey ledges, but you can haul from 21 Instead. In a three-person system then means one climber must stay with the bags, and then release the bags once the climbers have reached pitch 21, then climb the lead rope up to them. An alternative would be to leave the bags hanging off a fifi hook and haul it remotely, but this would be an advanced technique.
Pitch 21 (obligatory 5.7 C1)
This is a fun pitch, but also one to be wary off, as it’s also a leg breaker. Wear your rock boots and climb up on the left-hand side of the ledge, and traverse right above it (one tricky step), then up some fragile flakes to a peg, from here, tension over and free/french up to the next belay (some good flakes for hands and feet).
Pitch 22 (C1 5.7)
You’re now at the famous Great Roof! This is easy aid (many fixed pieces), up to the roof (use fixed gear for pro). Try and keep two sets of small cams for the roof section (place nuts and spare cams in the crack below), and use these to cross the roof, perhaps using a cam hook along the way. If you dare, just clip the fixed gear, or leave pieces near fixed gear (you cannot clean a piece you have to lower further than arm’s length from). At the end, do a free move or two to reach the belay (amazing position, and great for photos!).
Pitch 23 (C1)
The famous Pancake flake. This is easy aid, or mind-blowing free climbing (if you dare), but being uniform, you should place gear when you can. This is a place where Link cams work well. The climbing gets harder at the very top, requiring a mix of free climbing and small cams to reach the belay.
Pitch 24 (C1+ 5.6)
Free climb up and then tackles the horrid slot, going out left to another crack as soon as you can reach it. This leads back into the slot again, but then falls back and leads to greasy scramble up to a blissful Camp 3. Haul from the far left-hand end of the belay, and if in a three-person team, have one climber just the haul line first (on which they might pooh their pants).
If you get here late in the day, but with time to spare, consider fixing the next pitch, or knocking off the next two to Camp 4. But if you’ve got plenty of water, then take it easy and just enjoy one of the best ledges on the planet.
Pitch 25 (5.7 C1)
The is the Glowering Spot, which requires a little care, as it’s more technical aid than other pitches, and above a ledge, so a potential leg breaker. Scramble up to the crack (place some gear), then aid the crack on small wires. Sometimes they’re all fixed in place, sometimes not (well, not after I cleaned them all out), but just take it easy. After five or six placements you can get solid cams in the grassy corner to the right, then go up the corner to a good small ledge. The aid is easy, but people sometimes get complacent on the Nose and forget that one piece ripping can see you hit a ledge.
Pitch 26 (C1 5.7)
Aid and free climb up the corner, then into a lumpy section of wall, often smelly (big cams as pro), until you can free climb up to Camp 4 (go up the face, not the wide crack). Camp 4 is good bivy, but not as good as 3. If you’re using a ledge, then consider placing it off from the belay itself, as any speed climbers will have to step on you at 2am to get passed (I’ve both done this, and had it done to me). This is not a good place to be in a storm, and if a storm is due, you’d be better to fix down to Camp 3 or climb up and bivy at the next belay (if you have a ledge). Note: do not leave any trash here, and beware of stuff falling down the crack at the back of the ledge (I dropped my wife’s Guide Tennie down there, but somehow managed to fish it out, finding a red Alien as a reward).
Pitch 27 (C1)
Steep and long, but not that hard. The technical bit is getting into the Changing Corners section, which requires small cams and nuts (some fixed gear), then easy aid up to a hanging belay.
Pitch 28 (C1 5.8)
This is a steep and horrible belay if your feet are tired. The pitch goes up an amazing crack on small-medium cams, then around a crack (fixed bong), then up a corner (free and aid), to a good belay. These two pitches can be a bottleneck, and last time I was here, we had eight climbers hanging from two bolts here!
Pitch 29 (C1 5.6)
This is another cool pitch, which is aid and free, up an easy crack to a groove, up this to some bolts and some technical aid (cams), until you can pull around onto a belay. It is possible to climb up higher, but there isn’t really a belay up there, and you have to make a belay off the bolt ladder, so best stay here. This is also the most exposed belay on the planet, so take lots of photos while leading the next pitch.
Pitch 30/31 (C1 5.5)
Combine a short easy aid crack (use long slings) into the finishing bolt ladder. This is easy stuff (some speed climbers just go up the bolts by hooking them with their sausage fingers), but can be intimidating and tiring, so adjustable lanyards help. You don’t want tons of rope drag, so be smart with what you clip, and what you use to clip it with (all the bolts are bomber). There is one actual placement as you traverse back right on the bolts (look out for original belay with Star drive-ins), then easy free climbing up then back left to the belay on the slab. If you’ve got a lot of rope drag, this can be tough! The final pitch can be easy or hard to haul, depending on the weight of the bag, and a real treat for a third climber is they have to jug the haul line, but someone will be required to get the bag over the edge.
Pitch 32 (4th class)
Someone should scramble up and secure the ropes to the tree, and haul the bags as the second person drags/manhandles them over the ledgy ground.
Once on the summit, you have plenty of great spots to take off your kit and go crazy, with some sheltered spots and BASE bivvies over to the right. I would always recommend sleeping at the top of the wall and walking up to the summit for sunrise. It’s quite a spot!
The East Ledges are fast but require care, and although you can get down them in an hour or two, when you know the way, I’ve known it takes nine! Treat the East Ledges with respect, and don’t be afraid to get the rope out. The crux is climbing down the final white slab/grooves to the top of the abseils (someone should stick a rope here before someone kills themselves). Once at the abseils, you can use the fixed ropes or your own, but be aware these ropes can be in poor condition (knots tied in them), so have the least heavily laden climber go first, and keep your ascenders handy (there is usually an up and down rope). The lower section of the East Ledges was wiped out by a big rockfall in 2016, and now has quite a lot of loose shite hanging around. Once you cross the stream bed, you’re safe, and now just have a ballache of a walk to the car park.
You can also walk out via the Yosemite Falls, which is very pretty, but your legs will not thank you once you’ve walked down 739 metres worth of steps, but it’s safe and worth doing at least once (just so you know how awful it is when you lie that it’s worth doing at least once).
Walking out the long way via Tamarack flats is another long, but flatter walk (when carrying a haul bag, even downhill feels like up), but you need to have a car at the end, or someone to pick you up (make sure the campsite road is open!). If you’re in a hurry or have a problem, then one option is to go down the East ledges with just a small load, then come back up the day after (you will need your ascenders), and get the bulk of it (it takes about 2 hours to walk back up), or walk-in via the Falls and back down the East Ledges.
So there you go, a ton of beta to add to all the other beta you’ve cribbed off the internet.
In part 3 of this series, I’ll cover some of the gear and rack you might want to take along.
A Mars Bar bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
This is a reader supported site, so every micro payment (the cost of chocolate bar) helps pay for cups of tea, cake and general web pimpery. Support via Paypal, buy a book or just a coffee.
Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram