The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite. Beta for climbing the "Nose In A Day" (NIAD)
The Nose on El Capitan has to be one of the world’s most popular big wall climbs. Climbing the route in traditional big wall style and in particular, climbing the Nose in a day (NIAD) is a popular rite of passage for climbers from around the world.
Now…… I am no big wall climbing expert. I have not even come close to any speed records. I have however climbed The Nose several times and written down some handy beta for anyone hoping to climb NIAD for the first time or for someone who is looking to improve their time and climb the route in under 12 hours. In this article, I will give a pitch by pitch run down of the route, including gear needed and any useful tips that help speed up the pitch. A couple of years ago it was said to me that any 5.10 climber can do NIAD in under 10 hours. At the time I was a bit unsure if this would be true however, I now firmly believe that you only need to climb around 5.10 to do the route in a casual half day. It will however help a lot if you are a comfortable 5.11 Yosemite climber in order to achieve this. It is one thing to climb a 5.10 pitch on El Capitan, it is quite another to climb it with one or two bits of gear on self belay with a 20m loop of slack dangling below you. There is no way around it really, if you want to go fast on the NIAD you are going to have to take a few more risks than your usual day at the crag. Namely, big run outs on self-belay.
The fastest way to climb NIAD is by simul climbing. This however is out of reach for most weekend warriors. Therefore, the next best technique is short fixing. Basically, it involves the leader climbing a pitch, pulling up the rope, attaching it to the anchor and having the second start to jumar. While the second climber jummars the leader takes off climbing on either self belay with a modified grigri ( or other device) or by simply starting to climb with the big loop of slack hanging out (Yosemite death loop) For myself when climbing NIAD I would be short fixing on every pitch using a combination of self belay or the Yosemite Death Loop depending on the difficulty of the pitch.
There are several standard ways to practice for NIAD. The first is to climb the route in wall style and get familiar with the pitches. Most teams will spend 2-3 nights on the wall and generally speaking average around 10-12 pitches per day when hauling. One of my favourite ways to get in shape for the route is to do what is known as a Dolt Run (climbing the first 11 pitches up to Dolt Tower) or to continue on a bit higher to the top of the Texas Flake. I will start with some useful beta for this.
The great thing about climbing up to the Texas flake is that 90% of the climbing goes free at 5.10 or less. You can comfortably do this as a small day trip then abseil back down to the ground when your finished. El Capitan Dolt Tower or Texas flake run beta. This has to be one of the best days out in Yosemite for people looking to either climb some of the more classic pitches on the Nose or to practice for NIAD.
Dolt Run Beta
8 quick draws. Double cams from .5 - #4 C4. Single offset cams numbers 0-3, single C3 cams 00,0 and single C4 cams .3, .4. No nuts (stoppers) required. No aid gear required. 1-2L of water and some food. Depending on the weather a light wind shirt can also be handy as there is often an afternoon breeze on El Capitan. You can rap from the top of Texas flake with 2 x 60m ropes back to the ground in around 2 hours. The rap line is clean and to date I have not had any problems with stuck ropes even on windy days. If you are confident on 5.10 fist crack you only need to carry one #4.
Note – The beta below is the same for NIAD.
Pitch 1 – Rack Cams .5-2 C4. Offset cams sizes 0 & 2 doubles of .5 & #2 C4. 1 x 0C3. 5 x quick draws. My personal climbing rack beta goes 2, .5, 3, 1, 2MOSC (Metolius Offset Cam) .5, 2, 0MOSC, 0C3
Aid climbing tip - A Kong Panic Draw is great for reaching high to climb fixed gear. Especially on hard pitches. This can save you an aid move and really helps to speed up a difficult pitch which has fixed gear.
Pitch 2 – This pitch starts a nice jam crack and turns into a thin corner. Place your first piece as high as possible usually a 0C3 or .3 C4. Then climb up the thin corner to a good .4 X4 Placement. After clipping the lower off bolt lower down approx. 5m back cleaning any gear you placed and swing over into the next crack system. You can place a .5 in this crack or simply run it out to the next belay. The moves get easier as you near the belay. This is a short pendulum so your second does not need to do a full lower out. Simply unclip and take the small swing. (2-4 quick draws) It is usually a good idea to tag your gear from the first pitch as you lower down for the small pendulum.
When short fixing I usually pull through a 20m loop of slack for this pitch giving me just enough to climb and clip the pendulum point bolt.
Pitch 3 – Nice free climbing takes you up to several bolts and a slab climbing crux. Move right off the belay then step back left as the crack runs out. 0C3, .4, 1MOSC, 3, 1, .75, 2, (2-4 quick draws) I usually climb this with a 20 – 30m loop of slack giving you more or less rope to climb the whole pitch hopefully before your second arrives. Watch out for the first few moves off the belay so you don’t slip. One option is to self belay for the first 5m then remove the device and continue climbing with the big loop.
Pitch 4 – Climb easy 5.9 placing no gear. Pull on old pins (you may wish to place one cam to back up the first old pin at the top of the 5.9 section just ensure you still have a .75 & 1 on your rack if your sort fixing for pitch 5. (2 – 4 quick draws) swing over and climb some easy moves onto sickle ledge. Ensure you clip the first bolt as you arrive onto sickle then short fix your partner off the second belay stance. Ensure you pull up all of the slack before short fixing. The next pitch is long and easy and you want to get as high up it as possible before your partner reaches the belay.
Pitch 5 – Climb up but do not place any protection till around 5-10m (easy 5.6 climbing) from the anchor. Where the crack steepens (5.9) place a .75 & 1 C4, once these are in your partner can start moving i.e simu climbing up the easy terrain, Clip the anchor with a leaver biner and then have your partner simlu lower your (remove the two cams). Lower down until you reach the point in the arête where crack splits the arête around 10-15m then swing over to the anchor in the corner. Your partner then swings over the arête and jumars / swings over to meet you.
This is the first point when doing NIAD where the two of you should meet. Have some food, water and re rack your gear for the next section up to the top of dolt or Texas depending on how well you save your rack and draws.
Short fixing tip – Ensure the belayer arrives to the anchor, clips in and secures themselves, then puts the lead climbing on belay below the knot in the tied off rope before undoing the lead line from the anchor. This ensures that the leader is on belay at all times. It is very easy to arrive at the anchor and quickly undo the knot that attaches the lead climber to the anchor with out first putting them on belay.
Pitch 6 – Climb up the 5.8 corner clipping 2 bolts and not placing any other protection. From the second bolt (on the right of the arête) lower down 5 meters until your waist is at the height of a bolt on the face and swing over into the thin crack which leads you up to the start of the Stove Legs. Make sure you don’t place any pro here after the swing to make cleaning easy for your seconder when they lower out. For NIAD have your second simply unclip and swing over. For a run to dolt its often nicer to lower out.
Pitch 7 – Stove Legs. The next 4 pitches are some of the most classic on the Nose. 5.8 – 5.10 hand and fist cracks. They often feel harder than the grade would suggest. For this pitch there are usually some fixed cams in the cracks so you don’t need much gear. For NIAD simply clip the fixed gear and run the rest of the pitch out. When making a run up to Dolt cams from .75 – 2 are all you need on your harness.
Pitch 8 – Jams and laybacks to pass the off width section, then as the crack widens reach left to a thin crack which helps you bridge your way past the crux and up to a good belay / stance. When short fixing ensure you don’t place your number 3’s or 4’s on this pitch as they are needed for the pitch above. It is also good to ensure you have saved a number 2.
Pitch 9 – Run it out to the roof then clip some fixed gear. From here its numbers 2-3 C4’s moving to #4 C4 up to the belay. If you are short fixing and only have 1 number 4 with you walk this up and keep it with you for the next pitch. If your feeling solid on your fist jams saving one #3 for the pitch after dolt can also be handy but not essential.
Pitch 10 – Short fist crack up to Dolt Tower. One or two number 4 cams is all you need. Pitch around 10-15m Long. This is a good point to meet up with your partner if your short fixing and grab a bite to eat / re rack gear etc. Alternatively if you still have enough cams on your harness continue on up and re tag the rest of the gear when your on the bolt ladder moving up to the boot (while your partner stands on top of texas flake)
Pitch 11 – If placing gear (and I usually do to avoid a fall onto the ledge below) a #3 and a .75 are handy for this short pitch. Right hand side in for the small section of squeeze chimney
Pitch 12 – A steep pull off the belay leads to a long fist crack numbers 3 – 4.
Pitch 13 -An easy pitch up to El Cap Tower. A #1 C4 and .5 are handy. Pitch 14 – A short pitch up to the base of the Texas Flake, Short Fix to one of the bolts at the base of the chimney taking care that your rope is not running over any sharp edges. A .75 on the left and a fixed piton protect this pitch.
Pitch 15 – Texas Chimney. Initially climb up and over the short block then head straight up to the bolt facing out. From here turn around and head climbers left then up with some classic back and foot chimney climbing. You can use a number 1 or 2 C4 to protect the initial 5.9 bulge to enter the chimney otherwise solo up this pitch. You can clip the bolt if needed as re tag gear before the king swing.
Pitch 16 – This is the first pitch where you will need your etrier’s. Boot climb up the bolt ladder either clipping just the final bolt with a quick draw or two bolts (with one being the final bolt) A couple of cam hook moves lead into easy C1 aiding. As you aid up back clean all of your gear. This allows you to be lowered down off the top of the boot to start the king swing.
King Swing Tip – Place one auto locking biner on the left most bolt (climbers left). Lower down from this and go until your head is level with the third to top bolt on the pitch (below the base of the boot) . The second climber comes up and clips into the bolt below (4th bolt from top) tag the gear here. Have your number 4 camalots ready, swing over from here and climb up the short offwidtth crack to Eagle Ledge. The second can be pulled across using the tag line to make the swing easier. Gear Tip You do not need to place any nuts up to this point. It is possible to climb up to the base of the great roof without placing any as well but there are also a few spots where they are useful after the boot flake, so can be worth adding to your harness at this point. From here you shouldn’t need to tag any gear until finishing your block under the great roof.
A mix of free climbing and easy aid takes you up the next three pitches to the great roof. Remember to clip any bolts on the traverses for your second. A Kong Panic Draw is also handy for the bolt ladder after Eagle Ledge.
The Great Roof is considered half way in terms of time. This is the typical block change point. This is generally because the upper ten pitches go slower due to the fact that most people have to aid more. Usually people lead in one block to the great roof, then one block to the top.
Great Roof – Most of the great roof pitch is fixed, ideally as you reach the actual roof itself clip the last fixed wire in the corner and aid across the roof back cleaning your gear as you go. Cams from .3 down to black c3 are all handy here. Your second does a lower out off the fixed wire in the corner (assuming its there) and jugs straight up to your belay. This avoids them having to clean the actual roof section.
Pancake Flake - .75 – 1, pitch above double green C3 plus red and black C3 both handy.
Pitch 24 – (pitch to camp 5) .5, .75 then up to #3. Cam jumar numbers 1-2 then free climb to the belay. Fix the ropes off the first good bolt you see backed up with another bolt to the right.
Pitch 25 – Easy free climbing (5.8) which can be done in approach shoes leads you up to a nice ledge, try not to place any gear here so your second can jug straight up. Small nuts and cam hooks handy here, Double offset gold DMM nuts , when changing corners and moving to the right reach over and place a green C3. As the crack wides you can start to cam jumar #1 & 2 cams.
Pitch 26 – Cam jumar trying to leave as little gear placed as possible mostly #1 C4. (3 x #1 can be handy here) or some link cams. Save your #3 &4 C4’s for the last section of this pitch leading to camp 6. This is a moderate free climbing section which is fine to do in approach shoes.
Changing Corners – Off the ledge , Red DMM offset nut, Large Grey DMM offset nut, then walk #2s , saving a #3 for pro before the bolt ladder. Clip the last bolt with a 60cm sling. Reach around the corner then place a Red offset pea nut, .75 then walk your #1’s and #2 up to the belay.
Pitch 28 – Cam jumar #1’s or link cams only clipping fixed gear. This might be a good pitch to re tag your gear which will set you up for final push to the top. 3 x #1 are handy for this pitch.
Pitch 29 - .5’s .75 up to a slot where a #4 is handy. Red C3, .4, .3 in roof, fixed pin then green C3 moving right with some easy free moves (watch out for loose block)
Pitch 30 – off the belay fixed pin, Red C3, Blue offset nut, Red C3, .4, .5, .75 ,1 with a #3 as your final piece before the bolt ladder. Fix the rope on the first bolt. Clip the second bolt as a runner to back up your one bolt where the second is fixed then climb the bolt ladder ensuring you don’t clip any of the bolts until the end of the bolt ladder. A .75 is handy during the traverse on the bolt ladder. Make sure you fix off the last two good bolts otherwise you will end up with only dodgy old bolts to anchor off. You can use a #1 and or 2 camalot for the easy slab that runs up to the top of the face. Your time stops when both team members reach the tree.
Full NIAD Gear Beta
20m tagline 6mm cord
70m 10 – 10.5mm 70m single rope
Single set of offset pea nuts Single blue DMM offset nut, 2 x gold DMM offset nut, 2 x red DMM offset nut 1 x large grey offset nut. 2-4 x leaver biners to leave on lower out points to speed up pendulums. (An auto locking one to leave on the king swing bolt)
16 Draws including 1 x Kong panic draw and 3 -5 x 60cm extenders
2 x cam hooks Double set of cams from green C3 - #4 C4 . With single black & purple C3. A third #1 and #2 C4 are also quite handy (or link cams of equivalent size)
Single set of offset cams 0 – 4 Metolius sizing 2 x daisy chains per person 2 x ladders for the leader 2 x foot loops for the second 2 x jumars for the second