I stood at the base of El Cap belaying Luke as he moved up the first pitch of The Nose, smooth and efficient, we have time. It was hot but the wind was blasting pretty hard, even here on the first pitch and I knew it would be nuking in the Stovelegs. I reflected on the first time I stood at the base of El Cap in 2005 with my parents. I remember putting my hands on the stone, staring up at the wall towering overhead and swearing to myself that I would climb this rock. I knew this was where I would thrive but it was still hard to believe I had just climbed Half Dome this same morning and was starting up The Nose for the Link-Up with sixteen hours to go. Six Months ago I would have never believed it was possible.
We started climbing that morning at 6:40am. The temps were forecast to be in the low 80’s, perfect for a mid August day in the Valley. The plan was to simul-climb all the way to the Zig-Zags, then I would take over, aiding through and climbing to the summit. We had come up here a week before intending to just do a pre-run on Half Dome, but after hammering out the route in 5 hours we decided to try to go for The Nose as well. By the Stovelegs Luke was cramping up badly, on Dolt his whole body was cramped, legs, arms, back. I watched his abds cramp when he bent over to tie his shoes and he could hardly stand up again, so we decided to bail and come back another day.
As we moved up the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome we were feeling good. We were moving fast, but not rushing, we were drinking a lot of water, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. We were having fun and enjoying it. We told each other that we were just going rock climbing, doing what we do, never mind that we both knew we had 56 pitches of climbing and 5400 vertical feet ahead of us. Attitude is everything right?
After about an hour and a half of climbing we were coming into the chimneys. Luke moved up the 5.6 entrance as I scrambled across a small rocky ledge. Just as I came to the anchor, pulling rope through the gri-gri to belay Luke in the 11c corner, I heard a familiar smashing and crashing noise. My eyes shot up and locked on Luke, I half expected him to be plummeting down into the depths of the chimney but I found him stemmed between the wall and the main chimney formation. Below him a massive double refrigerator chock stone sat wedged between chimney and wall, behind it rock was pouring down forty feet to the bottom of the chasm and smashing into old debris. For a moment I stared at Luke and watched the rocks falling and smashing, Luke stared downwards, then turned and looked at me. Our eyes met, no doubt my face a mirror image of his, terror stricken and horrified.
“You’re Alright man! You’re Alright!” I yelled at him a few times while he froze in place processing what just happened. He had stepped onto a massive chock stone, a rock that had been stepped on thousands of times, but this time it pivoted and dumped several tons of granite down into the chimney abyss below. Luke could feel the walls vibrating and moving as the rocks slammed down below. In no time he was back at it, mantling onto the ledge above. I let out an enormous hoot and cheer, draining the adrenaline from my system, and encouraging Luke upwards.
We put the rockfall out of our minds instantly and continued upwards towards the summit. We were both fine and there was nothing else to do but keep climbing. We quickly gained the chimneys proper, Luke still in front, me in the rear. I was jamming along, perfect thin hands, good feet, my mind was clear and focused on the task at hand. Suddenly the crack that was in front of me was no longer there and I was airborne. I shouted a quick yelp, then let out the second longer scream. “Ahh..Ahhhhh,” and I came to a soft stop on the end of the rope. Before I could even process what had happened I was grabbing for the crack, pulling back onto the wall, and climbing again. I heard Luke shout down to me “Dave! Are you Ok?! Get back on as soon as you can!” I was already pulling on while yelling back up that I was fine. I realized I just took the fall that nobody should take, the fall you can not take.
A quick moment of back and forth yells confirmed that we were both ok. Like the rockfall, this went out of our minds and we kept climbing. I spent a moment thinking about what happened but couldn’t recall anything specific so I concluded I must have just slipped. I said quick thanks and realized how lucky we just got, how careful we need to be, and we kept going up. Luke later told me he had just stood up onto a good foot hold when he heard me shout, he knew right away what it was and then all my weight slammed down onto his tie in. He absorbed the force in his leg with a familiar feeling he remembered from training for crevasse falls. We were lucky, he was 20 feet above his last piece with a ledge below that. A good partner is everything.
Four hours and fourty minutes later we topped out Half Dome with tourists all around, staring in amazement. We quickly coiled the rope and started moving towards the cables, laughing and joking, heading for El Cap. Just under 21 hours after we started we topped out the Nose. It was dark, we were hungry and cold but we laid down to catch some sleep, a few minutes later we decided it was better to just pack up and head back to the valley floor. 23 hours and 40 minutes after we started climbing we were back at the car, figuring out where to get breakfast.