Chris McNamara breaks down an overnight ascent up The Nose on El Capitan
Early on I focus on climbing as high as possible as quickly as I can. The higher on the wall you are, the harder it is to abandon the climb. Climbs are measured in pitches, the distance you can travel with a rope of about 130 feet. The Nose requires about 31 pitches of roughly 100 feet apiece. After each pitch, the haulbag is pulled up on a separate rope. At the start the haulbag can weigh 100 pounds, with most of the weight being water. The minimum amount of water to take on a climb is two quarts per day per person, but most climbers prefer to carry a gallon.
Before sunset I stop climbing and set up a hanging camp. Wall climbing is basically vertical backpacking. I sleep and eat on a hanging cot that is suspended from ropes tied to anchors I attach to the wall, meaning that only a thin sheet of nylon separates me from the ground, a couple thousand feet below. It's hard to eat and drink enough during a day of big-wall climbing, which makes dinner a feeding frenzy. Out come the bagels, cheese, canned pastas, candy bars and bean burritos. As much as I pig out, I will lose weight on the climb. There is no problem falling asleep on a big wall. By sunset I'm so drained that I instantly fall into a deep slumber.
On the second day my muscles warm up, and aches and pains disappear. The 200-foot-tall trees on the ground look like broccoli. When the summit draws closer, everything kicks into gear. My body is exhausted, but the thought of getting back to the ground pushes me to the top. The descent is grueling and can take three hours. I generally sprint the last stretch, hoping to get down before the Mountain Room Bar closes.