The Nose of El Capitain

This is the biggest rock climb in my list. 27 pitches up a rearing granite prow overshadowing the middle Yosemite valley.

First climbed over a period of 18 months by Warren Harding and a variety of partners, it had long been held as the last great problem. Indeed many thought that it was not possible to spend enough time on the face to climb it. But Harding and his team developed a raft of new techniques to overcome these doubts. These included innovations such as the "Dolt Cart", a wheeled contraption designed to ease the task of hauling provisions up the lower easy angled section of the route.

Eventually the Yosemite Park authorities grew impatient with Harding due to the traffic jams caused in the valley by tourists stopping to view his team on the wall, so they told Harding that he had to complete the route by the end of September or quit. Driven on by this the final push lasted 18 hours with Harding climbing through the night on the top pitches to success.

Harding and his team had succeeded on what was probably the hardest climb in the world at the time. They had linked series of crack systems by using rope pendulums to cross blank sections of rock, placed bolt ladders to ascend other blank sections and shown that survival, and progress, was possible in the vertical.

The route was originally ascended by artificial means: placing pitons in the cracks, attaching slings to the pitons, standing up in the slings to place another piton and so on. With the progression of time and the placement and removal of thousands of pitons, the once slim cracks have now been widened enough so that the entire route is free climbable. Though it has to be said that only Lynn Hill has free climbed the entire route to date. The widening of the cracks has meant that for lesser mortals, pitons are no longer required, the route may be climbed in a clean-aid manner: that is on wires, Friends and other non-destructive gear.

Most teams now aim to do the route in three days in a mixed style of part aid, part free. This requires free climbing ability of 5.10 along with aid sections of A2. It is in this manner that the speed ascents are made with the current record standing at an amazing 3 hrs 15 minutes!