The Nose has been aided by thousands of climbers over the last 60 years, but only a few have freed it. The first ascent was in 1958 after 47 days of effort by Wayne Merry, Warren Harding and George Whitmore, with over various partner. The first free route on El Capitan was the West Face in 1979 by Ray Jardine and Bill Price. Jardine and others during the early 1980s then made attempts at making the first free ascent of The Nose, but it resisted for 14 years.
Before The Nose was freed, The Salathe Wall was climbed without aid by Todd Skinner and Paul Piana over nine days in 1988, after 30 days of working the route. They graded it 5.13b, the hardest free route on the wall to date. The Nose had a number of free pitches, but it was the Great Roof 5.13c and Changing Corner 5.14a that kept many would-be senders at bay. In 1993, top climber Lynn Hill nearly freed it, making it past the Great Roof and to Camp VI, but fell at the Changing Corners because a piton was jammed in a critical finger crack. She removed it and then climbed it from the ground to the top in four days. She returned the next year and freed it in just 23 hours.
Then in 1998, Scott Burke reached the top after 261 days of effort, leading all but the Great Roof, which he toproped free. On Oct. 14 2005, Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden spent four days swapping lead. Two days later, Caldwell returned and climbed it all free in less than 12 hours. Two weeks later, Caldwell climbed The Nose and Freerider 5.13 in 23 hours and 23 minutes, leading every pitch free.
The next free ascent of The Nose didn’t come until 2014 when Jorg Verhoeven spent three days working on the send. Then in 2018, Keita Kurakami became the first climber to rope-solo free The Nose. Stephane Perron was the first to free an El Cap route by rope-soloing in 2007 via Freerider, followed by Pete Whittaker on the same route in 2016 and then Kurakami. After his climb, he said, “I sent almost all the pitches on the first try. But I took a fall on the Great Roof and Changing Corners. In total, I fell about 10 times before redpointing the pitches cleanly. But I knew the route well because I took three years, maybe more than 100 days to climb it free.”
Shortly after Kurakami’s ascent, 15-year-old Connor Herson became the youngest climber to free the route. His dad, Jim, became the eighth person to free the Salathe in 2003. Herson did a jumarless ascent of Half Dome with his dad at age 11 and a jumarless ascent of The Nose in a day at 13. He’d also sent 5.14c sport routes. His mom, elite climber Anne Smith, said, “On a couple weekend days late last spring they checked out the Changing Corners pitch, it was to investigate long-term project potential. But everything Connor has done his whole climbing life has helped prepare him for this, so the multi-year schedule, also, was cut short.”
Then, less than a year later, three more climbers added their names to The Nose Free list: Seb Berthe, Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher. Belgian climber Berthe freed The Nose after an eight-day push, but he’s the first climber to free it ground-up. Climbing with partner Loic Debry, he led every pitch and reached the Great Roof on the second day. On day three, he sent The Great Roof on his third attempt and then sent Changing Corners 5.14 a few days later. Debry had to leave and Babsi Zangerl took over as support. Berthe has a lot of experience on El Cap, as he sent Freerider 5.13 in a day in 2017 and the Heart Route 5.13 in 2016.
Zangerl and Larcher freed it a few days later. They power couple swung leads on the easy pitches, but both led the cruxes, including the Changing Corners and Great Roof. The Corners pitch was putting up a fight. “It got wet after a storm hit the valley,” Zangerl said.
“Mainly the pin-scares right in the corner were wet. So, we didn’t even try to use them. Our beta was to stay on the arête and lay-back all the way up to a good foothold, where we got into the corner and after another insecure move, we were able to grab the saving jug. On our first tries this beta wasn’t promising at all. It was hard to even connect some moves. After some more effort and figuring out the perfect foot positions, we were able to sort out the crux sequence. I think it is mega cool that there are some different ways how to climb that pitch, from stemming to the scissor-beta of Lynn Hill or lay-backing. Every beta is hard in his own way and takes time to feel good on it and it doesn’t matter if you are very tall or short.”
Until the start of the pandemic, there seemed to be more climbers than ever projecting free routes on El Capitan and it’s only a matter of time before we see many more sends of The Nose in one season.
Lynn Hill on The Nose
Selected El Cap Free Climbing History
1975: Jim Bridwell, John Long, Kevin Worrall, Mike Graham, John Bachar and Ron Kauk free the first 10 pitches of the Salathé Wall and name their “route” Freeblast 5.11c.
1979: The West Face 5.11c is freed by Ray Jardine and Bill Price.
1988: Todd Skinner and Paul Piana free Salathé Wall 5.13b.
1993: Lynn Hill frees The Nose with Brooke Sandahl in support mode.
1994: Lynn Hill is the first person to free El Cap in a day, up The Nose. Kurt Smith and Scott Cosgrove free all but a few moves on the Muir Wall and call it The Shaft.
1995: Alex Huber makes the second free and first individual ascent of the Salathé. His brother, Thomas, makes the third free ascent.
1997: Yuji Hirayama makes the fourth free ascent of the Salathé.
1998: Scott Burk, after 261 days of effort, makes a free ascent of The Nose. He sends every pitch apart from the Great Roof, which he topropes due to wet rock. Alex and Thomas Huber established El Niño 5.13c. Alex and Thomas Huber establish Freerider 5.13a. Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden make the first free ascent of Lurking Fear 5.13c.
2000: Alex and Thomas Huber establish Golden Gate 5.13b.
2001: Tommy Caldwell and Nick Sagar free the Muir Wall 5.13c. Alex Huber creates El Corazon 5.13b.
2003: Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden make the first free ascent of the West Buttress 5.13c. Alex and Thomas Huber free Zodiac 5.13d.
2004: Tommy Caldwell frees the Dihedral Wall 5.14a. Steph Davis is the first woman to make a one-day ascent of Freerider.
2005: Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden make the second free ascent of The Nose. Steph Davis is first female to make a free ascent of the Salathé.
2006: Nicolas Favresse and Ivo Ninov establish Lost in Translation 5.12b/c.
2007: Justen Sjong and Rob Miller establish PreMuir 5.13d.
2008: Tommy Caldwell and Justen Sjong free Magic Mushroom 5.14a.
2009: Ueli Steck nearly onsights Golden Gate, falling on a wet 5.11 move.
2010: Leo Houlding and Jason Pickles establish The Prophet 5.14aX.
2012: Hazel Findlay and James McHaffie make the second free ascent of the PreMuir; she is the first female to send it.
2014: Pete Whittaker flashes Freerider.
2015: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson free the Dawn Wall 5.14d.
2016: Adam Ondra repeats the Dawn Wall in eight days. Pete Whittaker free rope solos Freerider in a day.
2017: Alex Honnold free-solos Freerider 5.13 in 3:56:00. Rob Miller and Roby Rudolf establish The Direct Line 5.13+ near The Nose. Barbara Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher make the second free ascent of Magic Mushroom 5.14a.
2018: Keita Kurakami and Connor Herson free The Nose. Sonnie Trotter adds variation to El Nino called Pineapple Express 5.13b/c.
2019: Barbara Zangerl, Jacopo Larcher and Seb Berthe all free The Nose. Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold open a new 5.13 up El Cap.