Nose in a Day

A First-person Account of one of Climbing's Great Accomplishments
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On June 21, 1975, Billy Westbay, John Long, and myself, strode toward the great, sweeping south buttress of El Capitan, commonly called"The Nose." In the pre-dawn hours the full moon illuminated all its colossal splendor. Could we climb it in a day? We thought so.

But to tell the complete story of this fleeting moment of glory I must shackle past memories and go back to a time before John or Billy had even seen El Cap, let alone climbed its glacier-buffed stone. The historic first ascent, with its tenacious heroics and creative ingenuity, is well documented. So too, is the first continuous ascent from the ground up. But few people— perhaps no one other than myself— is familiar with the original seeds that gave rise to the idea of a one-day ascent.

There was a man, but more so, there was a spirit in the form of Frank Sacherer. Had anyone but Sacherer said, "I want to do the Nose in a day," the response from any Camp Four regular would have been incredulous laughter. But Frank frequently accomplished what others thought impossible. He had free climbed routes that the best climbers of the day said couldn't be done free. He had day climbed routes they said couldn't be climbed in a day. In a word, Frank Sacherer was visionary. The driving force of climbing in the 1960's, he did more to advance free climbing as we know it today than any other single person in America at that time.

During the summer of 1965, Frank and I made a reconnaissance of the Stoveleg Cracks on the Nose to see if they could be climbed free. These wide cracks were so named from the homemade pitons, fashioned from the legs of old stoves, used to aid these cracks on the first ascent. Frank thought that if this section went free, then the Nose might go in a single day. Preposterous: but Frank hated camping on the walls and for him the Stoveleg Cracks were the key. But in 1966, work on his physics thesis pre-empted all climbing activity. And by 1967 his research work had taken him to Geneva, Switzerland, where he could no longer pursue his attempts on the Nose.

This left me to accept the challenge and carry the torch. In pursuit of that goal, I set out in June of 1967 with my friend and trusty belayer, Jim Stanton, hoping to climb the Nose and at the same time free climb the Stovelegs. With ropes fixed as far as Sickle Ledge we charged the wall in classic Yosemite fashion after a leisurely breakfast. A casual approach, yes, but at the time I was primarily concerned with freeing Stoveleg Cracks, not setting speed records.

Stanton, a gnome-like person, had never climbed a grade six, let alone El Capitan, but at that point I had yet to climb the 'Big Stone' myself. By 1:30 p.m. I'd freed the Stovelegs and we were on our way down. A water bottle cap had broken as the result of the haulbag swing into the corner above Dolt Tower. Everything in the bag was soaked, and we were a gallon of water short The mishap occurred because the bottle had been packed sideways in the bag, making it more vulnerable. Returning to El Cap the next afternoon, we completed the route in two days.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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