The Nose, Crowds, and Happiness
For some years now climbing has been more than the actual act of climbing for me, it’s been about the people in the community. Going climbing with good friends, traveling the world meeting new people, or taking first timers out to the crag or gym. These times can be as rewarding as sending the hardest thing possible.
The turning point came for me while working on free climbing the Nose of El Capitan. The crowds and clusters on the Nose scare many people off, including me. Often you can glance over the route and spot at least ten parties between the ground and Dolt Tower, which is only one third of the way up the route. I was in the meadow last week and there were four parties jockeying for position on the first pitch. The crowds were one of the main reasons that Tommy and I put off trying to free climb the Nose for so many seasons; that and the fact that we were intimidated by Lynn Hill’s legendary ascent. After convincing ourselves that we were okay being humbled, we embraced the numerous people scattered over the 3000′ rock route.
In total I would venture to guess that we met 35 – 40 parties over a 6 week period. Our first morning rapping into the route we were greeted by four parties between Camp 6 and the summit. I was pleasantly surprised that the crowds did not detract from my experience on the route, rather they added so much more than I could have imagined. Instead of nodding off at long belays, I learned about people’s kids, jobs, climbing history, their wall food, pet names, and so on. Occasionally the awkward moment would arrive when a couple was having bad relationship conflicts on the wall. Luckily I had perfected the art of feigning not being able to hear because of the wind; and instead would just smile and offer up water or a Clif Bar when they passed. We met psyched people from Japan, a curmudgeony Polish team, a few partying people from Britain, groups from all across the states and most continents of the world; the list is huge. In retrospect I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture of everyone we met as it would have made a great collage.
In particular, two guys stick out in my mind and embody the spirit of most parties we met along the way. Hailing from Brazil, they were on a 5 month trip to Yosemite Valley, arriving in late spring and leaving in fall. They truly worked their way up from the bottom, starting with Royal Arches, then the Column, Leaning Tower, with their end goal being the Nose. On their fifth try, they finally succeeded on climbing the Nose in a five day push. Each time we passed them on the route they were all smiles, even when they had run out of water, bailed in a storm, or become sick on the last few pitches of the route. They were on El Cap for nothing more than the experience. They had no ego, no preconceived idea of how or when they should finish, no bitterness towards other parties, weather, or luck; just a lofty goal and a great attitude.
Ever since my time on the Nose I have enjoyed climbing or traveling with people that capture this same spirit. People who are out there for the adventure and experience, not the accomplishment or success. Below is a short video from Outdoor Research that exemplifies that same spirit. I’ve been fortunate to work with these good folks for the past year. Enjoy!