Lynn Hill and Nina Caprez team up to free the Nose on the 25th Anniversary
Petzl Team members Lynn Hill and Nina Caprez spent the month of October attempting to free climb The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Lynn's first free ascent of the route.
November 13 2018
The two climbers spent the first few weeks of their trip in Yosemite prepping for a single-push free attempt on the most famous big wall in the world. The time they spent together, climbing and working on the route became a very special experience for both of them. We caught up with Nina and Lynn after the three-day push to discuss their experience, Lynn’s historic ascent 25 years earlier, and the bond they formed on the project.
Nina Caprez is no stranger to big wall free climbing. With impressive ascents of long routes like the legendary Silbergeier (5.14a, Ratikon), Hotel Supermonte (5.13d, Sardinia), and El Nino (5.13c A0, Yosemite Valley), Nina is quite experienced with free climbing on big stone. After spending three days on The Nose with Lynn Hill, here’s her thoughts and reflections from their attempt at freeing the route:
What’s the perception among European climbers of Yosemite big wall free climbing? Is it something that a lot of European climbers aspire to or even know about?
In my opinion, when you grow up in Europe and climb a lot in the Alps, you are naturally a freeclimber. Aid climbing is not a common thing, simply due to the lack of granite and cracks.
Personally, I’m looking for free ascents. I love taking my time, spending hours and days on resolving a problem and feeling free and light while climbing. For us Euros, we approach climbing in Yosemite like anywhere else: Free of course!
You’ve been to the valley before and done some free climbing on El Cap, can you tell us a little bit about which route(s) and your previous experience climbing there?
My first visit to the Valley was one and half years ago. We went up the Freerider in a day, but didn't free all the pitches as many of them were really wet. Exactly one year ago I went back to Yosemite and choose El Nino as a good route to free climb. The first couple days on the route I just worked the first 5 pitches, then I went back a week later to start a single-push effort from the ground. The route was a bit too hard for my partner, so I led every single pitch, onsighting one of the 5.13b pitches and all the 5.12 pitches, as well as hauling after every single pitch while my partner jumared behind me. This same trip we did climb the Nose in 3 days where I managed to onsight 27 out of the 32 pitches.
What motivated you to start climbing in Yosemite?
One and a half year ago I made a three month trip to the US on my own. It so happened that I ended that trip in Yosemite, almost by chance. It felt very intimidating to me at this time and I also lacked a partner to climb with, so I didn’t climb so much during that first day. However, I did lots of long hikes and was simply blown away by the breathtaking nature of Yosemite Valley.
Did you ever imagine yourself free climbing on the Nose? When did this become a real possibility in your mind?
I’ve had this idea in mind for almost 5 years. The Nose has always been my main motivation for climbing in the valley. After my ascent last year, I sent a message to Lynn asking her if she would be psyched to partner with me for the Nose and show me some beta. And that was the beginning of our story.
What was the experience like up on the wall with Lynn, on the 25th Anniversary of her freeing the route?
It was so beautiful. We spent the entire month together, twenty four hours a day. We became really good friends after spending so much time on the wall, as well as really good partners. After trying the changing corners section and great roof, Lynn realized how strong and determined she was 25 years ago and how significant this ascent was–way ahead of the time. Once she realize that, she gave me the best support she could. Belaying for hours, jumaring, hauling, and carrying. I was simply surprised how solid and positive she continued to be up there. She truly believes in magic and she had no doubt that one day I will send that route, simply because of my huge energy, motivation and climbing skills.
Specifically, what’s your favorite part of the route? Any particular pitch or section? Why?
Hard to say, there are so many cool pitches and parts. Honestly, the best part of any big wall is laying in the portaledge. You feel like a bird in the nest, it’s this home sweet home feeling. I mean I love everything about the route and it feels different every other time. Big walls are always a long journey, a big adventure, a perfect spot for humanity and I feel best while living in the vertical.
What’s the most challenging part of the climbing or being on the wall for a few days free climbing?
Well, you really need to be a machine. Big wall climbing is very tiring; the hauling, the climbing, the limited food and water. You must want it badly and you have to see this 1,000 meter wall as a 1,000 piece puzzle. One piece at a time with careful concentration, you start to make your way up. If you force to much, you lose. If you climb like an angel, you might win, but at least you feel like you’re in heaven.
Lynn Hill is a legend, a pioneer in every aspect of climbing and she continues to inspire climbers all over the world. As she reflects on the experience, she too shares some motivational wisdom:
Twenty-Five years ago you freed the Nose, arguably the greatest achievement in climbing history. Reflecting back now, what are your thoughts on the significance of the achievement?
I didn’t know how I would feel to be back on the Nose, but this turned out to be a surprisingly emotional experience. I never fully appreciated the effort required to not only unlock the sequence on both the Great Roof and the Changing Corners pitches, particularly the effort of free climbing the entire route in one day. After climbing up to Camp 4 with Nina (we did this twice - once for a “training run” and then again from the ground to the top), my body felt worked. In 1993, I was 33 years old and I had just retired from the international climbing competition circuit. I knew that I was in a unique position to take advantage of my level of fitness, skills, and experiences to do an amazing route. The Nose turned out to be the perfect challenge at the right time in my life. From my perspective today, I see all my free ascent in one day as a monumental performance and I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to appreciate it more fully.
Has your perspective of this achievement changed over time?
I knew that free climbing the Nose would remain a difficult challenge, but I had no idea how few ascents it would see over the past 25 years! All these years I heard people say that my small finger size was an advantage and that this was why I was able to make the FFA before anyone else. Ironically, I discovered that the two crux pitches: the Great Roof and the Changing Corners pitch are NOT easier for me. Watching Nina on the Great Roof, I saw that she was able to use good footholds on the face, as opposed to the insecure footholds that I had to use way up high in an awkward position underneath the roof. Reaching relatively long distances between finger-tip undercling holds in this position requires an incredible amount of power and precision. There are a few ways to approach free climbing the Changing Corners: either lie-backing the arete like Jorg Verhoeven and Nina or inside the dihedral as I did. Either way is hard and now I believe that 5.14 is a fair rating for that pitch! Though the crux is not long, those 15 feet of powerful and technical climbing is difficult no matter what your body size.
In this anniversary year, you teamed up with Nina Caprez to climb on the Nose. How long has it been since you had been on the route, free climbing?
I had not been back to free climb the Nose since my one-day free ascent in 1994. I have been back on the Nose a few times since then when I climbed the Nose (NIAD) in 10 hours with Jason Smith in the mid 90’s, and again in the late 90’s, when I guided a friend up the Nose. The last time I was on the Nose was in 2015, when I participated in a 3D photo shoot for a Google Maps Yosemite project. I was very happy to team up with Nina on this anniversary ascent. She and I were a great team together and very complimentary. The experiences that we shared were intense and amazing. We both learned from each other and grew as people.
You and Nina seemed to mesh quite well climbing together. Was there a favorite experience you had together that you want to share?
Nina and I can relate to each other on many levels, especially when it comes to our passion for climbing. On numerous occasions, I had “tears of beauty” in my eyes, such as when Nina finally sent the Great Roof pitch on her third try of the day on our ground-up ascent. I was so happy for her and perhaps a part of the reason for those tears had to do with my ability to relate to her intense emotions. My partner on the first attempt to free climb the Nose was an English climber named Simon Nadin. We had free climbed everything up to the Great Roof. After trying a few times, Simon realized that he wasn’t going to be able to send the Great Roof that day, so he graciously belayed me as I did for Nina on our recent attempt. Fortunately, I was able to send the Great Roof on my third and last attempt of the day. Watching Nina send the pitch brought back similar feelings of elation and joy. I also have fond memories of our time on Camp 5, when we watched the beautiful sunset and the last golden rays of light skim across the surface of the rock. We talked about how lucky we are to have this opportunity to experience such “magical” moments in life.
Since 1993, what are the most notable things that have changed about climbing on the big stone? Aside from the crowds.
One of the most notable changes that I’ve noticed is how slippery the rock has become. There are many places on the route where I lie-back to save energy, and I was surprised when my foot would occasionally slip unexpectedly. The rock also smells of urine in certain obvious places such as on all the ledges - especially on Camp 6. It hadn’t rained the entire month we were in Yosemite and it was probably at its worst during the month of October.
From your perspective, what’s next in big wall free climbing?
I believe that the best measure of a climber's true talent, is their ability to climb onsight. There are few places in the world to test our skills on granite big walls like in Yosemite. Yosemite is a special place that is relatively accessible to people from all over the world. It’s a perfect place to test and measure our skills in a variety of ways. It’s no wonder that Adam Ondra recently came to Yosemite to try onsighting the Salathe. Even if most of the major lines on El Cap have been done, (though with vision and hard work, there is plenty more to do), there are many FFA’s and potential first on-sight ascents yet to be done. Yosemite is such a spectacularly beautiful place that even with all the hard work, and sometimes hardships that we experience in the process, it’s worth all the effort. The more energy and effort I pour into a project, the more meaning and satisfaction I feel. Yosemite will always be a special place that offers amazing natural beauty, adventure, and meaningful experiences that mark my life.
Photo Credit: Jon Glassberg