Words by: Nina Caprez
Photos by: Jeff Ruiz
Exactly a year ago, I climbed The Nose of El Capitan completely free – except for 4 meters of pitch 25, the infamous “Changing Corners.” Lynn and I ascended the first 24 pitches in three days and laid siege to the crux of the wall. After my ascent with her, I spent another six days on that single pitch with still no clue as to how to move in those pure and blank pieces of granite. I had to face something that had never happened before in my climbing career: I couldn’t figure out how to position my body.
So, I left Yosemite last November with a big question in my head.
Months passed and soon came the time to again begin the journey towards that big rock. As it approached, so did an enormous pressure and fear of failing.
Things did not start well. My subconscious took over and I had recurring nightmares. A big fungus decided to call my toenails home and I could not put on a climbing shoe. I cried a lot, called my mom every day and was close to flying back home. I wanted to be back with my friends and family and escape having to face my deepest fear of not being able to move in that nerve-wracking pitch again.
From the bottom of that pit, I called my “little sister” Eline whom I had climbed The Nose with the year before. She felt the enormous pressure I was under and gave me the right advice. “Nina, reconnect with this beautiful nature and be ‘folle,’ because that’s who you are and why you climb.”
I packed my stuff and hiked alone to the top of El Cap, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I saluted buddy Half Dome, sat down on those sharp granite slabs, took a deep breath and started singing. And all of a sudden, I was overcome by the warm feeling you get when you do things right. My heart exulted and fear transformed into curiosity as I pictured myself trying to figure out that complex puzzle of ‘Changing Corners.’
I ran down to the valley floor to call Lynn and a few days later, we rappelled together the 200m from the top of El Cap into the Corners. Curiosity was also what brought Lynn back. She too wanted to see if she could climb her route again (and support me – and support she did!).
And so we started the second edition of the ‘Nose Lina-Nina’ game with joy and excitement. After five days of work, I finally learned how to position my body in that 4 meter short 14.a. On our last day at the top, we briefly climbed the last pitch to remember the moves. After three rest days down in the valley, we went for the ground up go.
Climbing never felt so fluid and easy. We danced up the wall, me at the sharp end of the pitches and Lynn fully enjoying herself following my lead. I hauled the bags while belaying her and we slowly made our way up to the Great Roof in two days. Underneath the roof at camp 4, we made a rest day and realized how hot the temperatures were at that time of year.
The next day, I climbed the Great Roof relatively easily on my second go after figuring out my beta from the previous year again.
Lynn dropped some tears watching me send it. This iconic pitch means a lot to her as she was the first person who freed it. We still had a long way to go that day, and so we moved camp and climbed towards camp 6 in the burning hot sun. Our feet swelled from climbing cracks in the heat and the “Glowering Spot,” another tricky 12.d pitch, was a real battle.
Totally exhausted, we arrived at camp 6 and decided to rest the following day. Rest days are actually the most fun wall days. You really can’t move, and the only things to do are to exchange stories about life with your partner, chat with other parties who pass, eat and drink and hide your body from the sun.
The next day, my excitement woke me early and I watched the Corners for about an hour until Lynn woke up. I climbed well that morning, but the sun hit the wall too early (or we were late…blame it on forgetting Daylight Saving Time…) so I only had one real good go. The temperatures were so hot that I started sweating, which is not ideal for such an intense friction climb.
We tried to rest under our little sun shelter for the remainder of the day and both started to feel how tired our bodies were after six days on the wall. The lack of fresh food and dirty conditions while camping on the wall is very tough on your body. With the fatigue and the drugs I was taking to manage the pain in my toes, my guts were finding it hardcore and I started to feel nauseous.
I knew I had one more day on the wall left in me and the time limit encouraged me to give it my very best.
After a short warm up round the next day, I made a new high point on the Corners. I came back down to camp 6 and rested for almost two hours. A little breeze came up and I started a new try. An inch away from the final jug, my right foot slipped and I fell.
Tears ran down my face. But they were not due to sadness, disappointment or something negative. Those tears were tears of joy and fatigue. I knew that I had done my very best and I was so proud to have faced the fears that had almost made me quit. For the first time ever, I felt victory without clipping a chain. The feeling I had right in the moment, and still now, is that those corners had something different to teach me.
The top out pitches felt so incredibly easy. It was so cool to climb on those easier pitches and to continue to enjoy every single meter of The Nose. When we both topped out, Lynn and I were both very calm. No big screams, no tears, no heartbreaking scene. Just the deep warm sensation that overcomes us when we know that we climbed with all our hearts.
This year’s ascent was a lot more focused on me, as Lynn wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the free ascent last year. Lynn has been the best support and I think she was curious to see how I would solve this puzzle piece of the Corners. As far as her own climbing goes, it seems that the only thing she wanted to have this time was fun. Believe me – I have never had so many cramps in my stomach from all the laughing. Lynn is simply hilarious, doesn’t try to fit in and the only things she wants are to find joy, sing, dance and laugh.
Climbing felt like flying despite the effort we put in. It simply is the most natural thing to us. And, with this great flowing feeling we both had, it all went well. Teaming up with a climber 25 years older is a very unique thing, yet I think that our relationship is very balanced. Lynn teaches me a lot about life, simply with her unique campfire stories and her way of being. I, on the other hand, am her endless-energy rope gun, getting us up The Nose – gear and all.
Maybe it was the last time for us. Perhaps she will not need to go back anymore because she has learned what she needs. Curiosity brought us there and hopefully it will bring many other climbers as well, “place aux autres.” Where will curiosity bring us next?
The Nose experience is by far the best lesson that climbing has taught me so far. It has made it clear that I need to follow my curiosity. We will see where my curiosity leads…
For now, I simply enjoy this warm feeling I have in my gut: the beautiful sensation of feeling a little bit wiser because you profoundly understood a lesson that life had to teach you.