Three times in a season?! There has been activity all over El Cap—Nik Berry was trying Dihedral Wall, Nellie Milfeld did the Freerider, Robbie Phillips came pretty close on Magic Mushroom, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell established a new free climb—but free ascents of the Nose by three different people in a single season might be the Yosemite story of the fall. Lynn Hill made the first free ascent of the Nose back in 1993.
First up was Belgian climber Sébastien Berthe. The 26-year-old came to the Valley this year with the audacious goal of freeing the Nose ground-up. Berthe is no stranger to El Capitan. In 2016, he climbed Freerider and then made the second free ascent of Heart Route (VI 5.13b V10). (Heart Route’s unorthodox grade—route grade + boulder grade—comes from a sideways and downward dyno that first ascentionists Mason Earle and Brad Gobright felt was too specific to fit into normal grading conventions.)
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Berthe finished what he set out to do on November 11, freeing the Nose in an eight-day push, ground-up. He reported on Instagram, “I led all the pitches above 5.12a and we [Loic Debry, Berthe’s partner] swapped leads on the easy pitches. The [Great] roof and the [Changing] corners were climbed on preplaced gear. Until the end, I wouldn’t have bet on my success, but I kept fighting: I even had to add two extra days as we had planned only 6 days on the wall. I got the Changing Corners beast on the last try that our food supplies allowed us.”
Next up was El Cap’s reigning Power Couple, Barbara “Babsi” Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher. Zangerl, from Austria, and Larcher, from South Tyrol, have both previously freed Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14a), Zodiac (VI 5.13d) and El Niño (VI 5.13c A0). Zangerl has also freed the Pre-Muir (VI 5.13d) earlier this spring.
That they were coming back this year to try the Nose was no secret: They had intended to try it last spring but ended up on the Pre-Muir instead because, as Zangerl told Rock and Ice at the time, “The Great Roof was soaking wet and even mossy, so we had no chance to try that pitch in those conditions.”
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This season, though, conditions cooperated. After working out the beta on the Great Roof and Changing Corners, Larcher and Zangerl returned to the ground for some rest before launching a final push from the ground.
Zangerl posted on Instagram last week after sending the first crux of the route, “Great roof done… was so tired…could barley make it to the chains.” Larcher followed suit soon after, and a few days later they fired the Changing Corners and took the route to the top. They summited on November 23 after six days on the wall.
This is the second year in a row that the Nose has seen multiple free ascents. Last November’s two free ascents were historic in unique ways, as Berthe’s ground-up free ascent is. First, the Japanese climber Keita Kurakami became the first person to rope-solo the Nose entirely free. Next, the American climber Connor Herson, then 15 years old, became the youngest person to free the Nose.