By Alard Hüfner 1999
Every time I looked up at El Cap in Yosemite Valley I thought to myself; that is one huge piece of rock.
Marianne Pretorius and I climbed the Nose together
in August. It took us four days. Mike Mason and Dermot Brogan started ahead of
us and it took them 5 days. When one is on a big wall for four days one has to
haul a lot of items up, water, food, sleeping bags etc. and thus the haul bag
can weigh over 40 kg. This slows one's climbing down considerably because the
haulbag needs to get pulled up at every stance.
When Hans said to me that he had a free day to go climbing, I hinted that I was keen to climb the Nose and thus we made plans to climb it in a day. As Hans had climbed the route 31 times before (he holds the record for most Nose ascents), he knew the exact rack of gear needed. The rack consisted of double caming devices from 00 to two inch and one each of three and four inch. A couple of quick draws and six nuts were taken, mainly micro nuts. One 60 m rope, two ascenders and some aiders. 4 liters of water, some Power bars and peanuts.
We awoke at 05h00am, had breakfast and set off. We
started the climb at 06h50am. As I did not enjoy the first couple of pitches on
my earlier ascent, Hans led to Sickle Ledge. I took the lead from there, and led
up the Stovelegs (these pitches were named by Warren Harding who opened the
route in 1958 when he used pitons made from the legs of an old stove as
protection). Hans simul-climbed below me. We passed one party of two climbers
who happily let us by. Hans lead the last Stovelegs pitch up to Dolt Tower with
me jugging on the line he fixed. It is quicker if the leader gets to a stance,
fixes the rope and the seconder juggs up and cleans the pitch. We reached Dolt
Tower in just over two hours which, on the previous trip had
taken us 2 days.
Hans and Alard
I led on towards El Cap Tower. As I had been
up the Texas Flake and the Bootleg Flake with Marianne, we decided on doing the
Jardine Traverse, a slight variation to the route. Three more pitches and we
were at camp four, the half way mark on the route. We sat for a couple of
minutes, ate some food, drank some water, and enjoyed the amazing view... it was
Hans led the pitch up to the Great Roof, then
I led the Great Roof which took me 28 minutes to lead and 7 minutes for Hans to
clean it, thus taking 35 min for that pitch. I was leading using Hans' super
light aiders and whilst stepping up on a piece of gear, one of the straps on the
aiders snapped, letting me drop about 20 cm before it caught me again, thus
sending some adrenaline through my system. This pitch has only been free climbed
by Lynn Hill and Scott Burke. IT LOOKS AMAZINGLY SUPER DIFFICULT!!!!!
I free climbed the next pitch called the
Pancake Flake which has its name due to it being a thin flake that forms a super
lay back crack. Free climbing this pitch at about grade 19/20 is exhilarating
because one is about 500m up and there is great exposure.
We alternated leads most of the way to the
top, passing a team of four Italians on the second last / last pitch.
We reached the top nine hours and twenty two
minutes after we had started. Brilliant!!!!
This was my third time up El Cap and Hans'
sixty sixth time.
The walk down took 1 hour and 10 minutes. It felt
very good just to be able to sit in the car.
This is a super route, with excellent cracks in
clean solid granite. Highly recommended!!!
I was very fortunate to be able to climb this route
with Hans Florine.
For more info on Hans have a look at his
El Cap in Yosemite, with the approximate line of the Nose in blue
A typical ascent of the Nose, which takes the average speed climber between 12 and 15 hours. The first ascent of the Nose, in 1957 and '58: Warren Harding, a bon vivant from Northern California, spent 45 days over 18 months literally carving his route by drilling some 200 expansion bolts into the sheer granite face, infuriating environmentalists but fascinating just about everyone else. Through newspapers and radio the entire nation followed intently as Harding and his team of two other climbers established four campsites on ledges along the way, all of the sites linked by 1,200 feet of rope secured by nearly 700 pitons. Hundreds of pounds of supplies were winched up by a clumsy device called the Dolt Cart -- a pull cart with two bicycle wheels. The circuslike sight caused traffic jams on the main road below, which at one point prompted a ranger to yell at Harding through a bullhorn, "Get your ass down from there!" In October 1958 a ranger demanded that Harding complete the climb by Thanksgiving or abandon it. Finally, on Nov. 12, after a continuous 12-day push, Harding staggered over the rim of the Nose.
"It was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was conquered," Harding would say a year later. "I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was."
So began the popularity of big-wall climbing in the U.S., with Yosemite as the sport's epicenter and Harding as the free-spirited forefather. In late February, Harding died of liver failure at age 77, and as night fell on the Yosemite Valley on May 25, some 400 climbers gathered in a granite quarry behind an abandoned gas station in Bishop, Calif., to celebrate his life. The diverse group included erstwhile rock stars such as Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard, aging Vulgarians -- members of the famously hedonistic sect of climbers who have been part of the Yosemite scene since the '60s -- and big-wall vagabonds who had hitched hundreds of miles. Some recalled Harding's infamous drinking binges while others told salacious tales of his womanizing. At the end of each of his first ascents, for example, a bottle of champagne and a beautiful woman (who had been ferried up a much simpler route) would be waiting. Though his skills didn't match those of his contemporaries Robbins and Chouinard, Harding didn't care to work hard enough to improve. "Screwing is more enjoyable than drilling bolt holes," he liked to say.
Nevertheless, says veteran Yosemite climber Mike Corbett, "People were just drawn to him, and no one's been able to match him. He was so full of life."
So, too, was the Yosemite Valley. While beachboys on longboards were proliferating along the Southern California coast in the early '60s, Harding's antiestablishment band of climbers -- including boozers, dopers and drifters -- was making merry some 280 miles to the northeast. After descending upon Camp 4, the venerated four-acre dirt patch just east of El Cap, the climbers provoked park rangers by mooning tourists and stealing campers' food. They held raucous parties long past midnight. They were incorrigibly loud, except when authorities asked them about matters like the whereabouts of 240 40-pound bales of pot that disappeared from a smuggler's plane that crashed in the Valley in February 1977.
For all their hedonism, these wall rats were also supremely gifted athletes and left no rock unscaled in the valley. By the early 1970s every meaningful big-wall route in Yosemite had been established, and climbers turned to setting speed records. By the mid-'70s advances in climbing technique and gear had enabled climbers to reach the peak of the Nose in less than 24 hours. During an unprecedented 15-hour climb in 1975, Jim Bridwell, John Long and Billy Westbay ditched their haul bags and carried a mere 11Ú2 gallons of water -- not to mention two packs of Camel straights, which they lit up while on each of the route's 34 pitches. "We thought we were so studly," Bridwell says. "We didn't think about trying to set another record, because the whole point was just to break 24 hours. These guys are a new breed. What they're doing is phenomenal."
The first of this new breed, which arrived in the Yosemite Valley in the early 1980s, included Peter Croft and Dave Schultz, speed-climbing pioneers who employed riskier techniques such as simul-climbing, in which two roped-up climbers ascend together. Croft and Schultz, soon joined by Florine, turned the Nose into the autobahn, completing ascents in nine hours and 15 minutes, then 8:02, then 6:40. When Croft and a partner went sub-five in 1991, Florine inquired about teaming with him to try to set a new record. Croft agreed, and in June 1992 the duo took the wall in 4:22. "Everyone thought what they did was mind-blowing," O'Neill says. "I thought that record would never be broken."
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By Alard Hüfner - November
Friends and I were sitting in the Yosemite meadows, looking up at climbers on El
Cap, when we spotted someone on this blank headwall. That had to be the Shield,
it looked so exposed. We were amazed that a climb even went up this piece of
rock. During the next couple of weeks I spoke to people who had done the route
and they all said that it was a real fun route with lots of open space and
Mike, Marianne and Dermot had left the Valley, I needed something to climb and
so the idea to solo the Shield popped into my head. I had never soloed a big
wall before and only practiced rope soloing on two other occasions.
When I was learning to rope solo, I had practiced on the first ten pitches of the Shield to Mammoth Ledges (same first ten pitches as Free Blast and Salethe). From here there are fixed lines all the way down to the ground. When I was ready for the route, I jugged up those lines with all my requirements for 5 days. I managed two pitches higher than the fixed ropes and as it was getting dark I set up the porta ledge and was comfy asleep, when it started raining. So in the dark and rain I had to re-setup the porta ledge with the fly, which was brand new and had not been seam sealed. It kept raining until about 8 in the morning. The wind was blowing the whole ledge around. I was not far from this little gully, which the rain turned into a river. This all made for an unpleasant adventure. Most of the things got fairly wet during the night and as I had lost my enthusiasm to continue, retreat was still possible as I was not to high, so I fixed some lines and abseiled all the way down to the ground, leaving the gear at my high point. Spent the weekend re-motivating in San Francisco and had loads of fun, as it was Halloween.
The flight of the Albatross
I jugged back up the lines, climbed some more pitches and set up the ledge below
a big roof. There were three American climbers on a route called “Flight of
the Albatross”, which runs parallel to the Shield and only about thirty to
forty meters to the left. Therefore I had some company as we shouted across to
each other every now and then. In the morning I lead the roof pitch, which
brought me straight onto the headwall. The exposure started to kick in……..in
a big way. The Shield headwall starts about 500m up, is blank, slightly bulging,
slightly overhanging and smooth except for a thin crack/seam running up it. In
many places copper heads and rurps (baby pitons) are the only things that will
fit. There were a lot of fixed copper heads so I did not have to place any
(which was good because I only had two spare copperheads anyway). I did not clip
the copperheads because in the event of a fall they would probably be ripped
out, and I would be unable to put in more. This caused me to lead out several
times. This was the case when I was nearing the bolts, but I could just not
reach them. There was some old sling tape around the bolt so I clipped my aiders
into that and stood in them. I was about to clip into the bolt direct when I
heard this frightening tear and the next sensation was falling through the air
upside down. It was amazing how fast I thought about: the last placement I had
clipped; if it would hold; how far was I going to fall. Thank goodness this old
fixed aluminum piton held and I came to an upside down halt about eight meters
lower than I was a few seconds earlier. Thank goodness this rope soloing
managed to get back up to the bolts making sure I clipped the bolts this time
and then set up camp. To the left and right and up and down there was just blank
rock with only this three or four millimetre wide crack/seam leading the way.
pitches a day is about the going rate for A3 or harder when soloing, and
that’s what I was managing on the headwall.
to the toilet can be an interesting affair. The rules are, climbers must carry a
porta potty. So, one has to do one’s business into a brown paper bag and then
put this into the porta potty, which can be a bucket with a lid or a large PVC
pipe with lids. Aiming into the paper bag is vital when on a porta ledge, as
soiling the ledge would not be fun, as this is the kitchen, the bed and the
managed to take another two falls higher up on the head wall when gear popped.
The one fall was about ten meters and as I was falling it was ripping out lots
of the gear I had placed. When I finally came to a halt, all the popped gear
slid down the rope towards me, in this instance about 6 pieces of gear. I then
went back up, hammering in those pitons, which I had been slightly reluctant to
do, as getting pitons out is more work.
the head wall, ledges start appearing which makes biving/sleeping much easier.
The penultimate pitch is a big fun roof and the last pitch a chimney. The only
problem I had was on the last pitch when I was hauling the last two pitches in
one. The fifi hook which was holding the haulbag in place would not release from
the bolt, so I had to abseil back down over the roof…. hanging in mid air a
1000m up, then pull myself back into the stance to release the bag to then jumar
back up. A couple of meters of grade four scrambling and I was at the
TOP!!!!….. time for a beer. Ahhhh after seven days climbing it felt great to
be at the top!
hike down was absolutely terrible having to carry all that equipment.
route was opened in 1972.
speed record for the Shield from bottom to top is an incredible ten hours
days later I left the valley for the last time on this trip, as rain and the
first snow fell.
Here Alard is hanging in mid air and the picture is of the shadow of himself and his haulbag, whilst on the Shield
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