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Billy's Big Day Out: the First British Ascent of The Nose on El Cap

Billy' & Alex's El Cap experience: pooping into a paintbucket, being semi-blind when working a crux, and sleeping in puddles 2000+ feet off the ground

Alice goes straight into the most important question: how do you poop on a big wall? you can tell this is not going to be your typical interview...

"The longer you're on the wall, the more s*** you haul"

Billy’s latest excursion took him an Alex Waterhouse to the infamous Yosemite Valley to take what is possibly the most famous climbing route in the world...The Nose on El Cap.

"But what's the big deal? Why does it matter that Billy & Alex climbed a route on El Cap?" - well, the Nose isn't just a route on El Cap, it's the route! Not only are Billy & Alex a part of only 12 people to free climb the nose, but they are the first & only brits to free climb it!

The Nose is the most prominent route on El Cap, following the prow of the infamous rock face all the way to the top. First ascended by Warren Harding in the 50's, and first free climbed by Lynn Hill in the early 90's - The Nose has been heald at the highest level of Rock Climbing for over 70 years. A route that every climber would love to be able to tick...as long as their not terrified of spending mulitple days thousands of feet in the air!

The route map The Nose

We sat down with Billy to ask a few question about his ascent, and who better to ask the questions than the biggest personality in Sheffield; Alice!

Why do two elite comp climbers very hardly any experience in big walling think it's a good idea to try and free climb the Nose?

⛰ From plastic holds to 3,000ft of granite

Alice: I am here at the Depot Sheffield with the man of the hour, Billy Rydell, IFSC international competing, GB climbing, plywood masters, Depo, Battle of Britain winning, Billy Rydell. We are going to be talking about his amazing feat of climbing the nose with Alex Waterhouse in Yosemite. How was that? As a whole, in three words?

Billy: Exhausting is the first one going to mind. I can't think of words. I don't like it. Thrilling. Scary. No, no, no, no, no…wet.

Alice: Wet?

Billy: Smelly.

Alice: Nice. Especially on there with Alex!

Where did the idea even blossom from? How did two boys who come from extreme indoor climbing backgrounds think “We are going to go to Yosemite, and climb a giant wall?”

Billy: Okay, so both me and Alex retired from international competition back in February/March time this year.

 We spent our entire climbing careers having this beacon to follow. We were going after the World Cups. This is our purpose.

We came out the end of that and just wanted another character chase basically. That's fair. We weren't like, oh, we'll just pick an obvious one. A boulder problem that we're excited about. Let's take a goal that we have absolutely no idea how to even start going after.

 So yeah, the nose was just one of the more ridiculous things that we could think of to go after that we were both really excited and inspired by.

🤓 Such a big undertaking would need years of research, right?

Alice: Yeah, it is ridiculous. You learnt how to big wall off the back of a chewing gum packet. If you've never done it before. What was the research that went into it?

Billy: I watched a lot of YouTube videos, which I'm not sure I would recommend.

Alice:  Which is how you learn everything nowadays to be honest!

 Billy: Yeah, exactly.

 I watched a lot of YouTube, lent on quite a lot of friends living in Sheffield. There are people around which do have the knowledge. So I've been picking people's brains, borrowed loads of kit from people, and then just went and threw myself at some trad climbs. I'm not an experienced trad climber, and that feels like it should be a bit of a prerequisite to going big walling.

 Alice: Yeah, there's generally one you do before the other..but you just went like; "yeah".

 Billy: Well, I'll pick the goal and then we'll figure out all the bits after that. So yeah, I went to Millstone, threw myself off in some gear, got really scared. I think if anybody went to Millstone in the last few months and saw me...

Alice: Elvis legging at the top.

 Billy: ...whimpering my way up London Wall or something, it didn't look like an El Cap free climbing performance by any means, but you've got to start somewhere.

 

Billy working pitch 27: Changing Corners

⛺ Camping with a view...and a leaky tent

Alice: Exactly. With the portaledge as well? I want to talk about the leaky fly.

Billy: [Laughing] Okay, so the portaledge and the fly, that's like a tent that you put over it, I borrowed them both from Tom Randall, which thank you very much, Tom, I appreciate it! That saved me a lot of money. So essentially with big walling, I think the best rule of thumb is don't go up there when it's raining because it's rubbish.

But we spent all our time working on the route and we had basically a week before i needed to fly home. So this was our window to go for the push and it was forecast to rain and there wasn't really much we could do about it. If we waited until after the rain, there probably wasn't really enough time for us to play together. So we actually ended up going a day early to try and get to one of the better ledges up there so we could get ourselves set up before the rain came, which we did. But camp four, despite being told it was a pretty good place to be in the rain, it still gets quite wet it turns out.

So we were like underneath the great roof thinking we're not going to get rained on. But the rain would just like come in out of nowhere.

When we were looking at the route afterwards, there's like this big black streak off to the left a little bit. And we think whenever there was a big gust of wind during the rain, it was just blow straight onto us.

Alice: Because it would come straight across as well, wouldn't it?

Billy: Exactly!

Yeah, yeah. So we're in this fly which hasn't been used for however many years...it isn't the most waterproof thing I've ever been underneath. And it's like when you're in a kind of like old tent and like anytime you touch it, it just comes straight through, but it's a portaledge! It's not like there's any space in there to manoeuvre.

So you're touching it all of the time in your sleeping bag, in your down or whatever. So it just like leaks straight through. So then like our thermarest just had puddles underneath them. I had a down sleeping bag, which is like, a total no-go. You don't take down on a big wall in case it rains because if it gets wet, you're screwed.

I knew this, but the synthetic one that I bought with me just wasn't warm enough. So I just took my down one anyway and hoped for the best. So that got quite damp. Not ideal. So we had a couple of nights where there was nothing we could do. By going down, you're just going to get even more wet. You just have to like sit out!

Alice: And just deal with it?

Billy: We were in a little huddle thinking "This is rubbish this is rubbish".

Alice: I feel like the closest experience I've had to feeling like that was at Leeds Fest when I brought a £10 pop-up tent and it rained the entire time and all the stuff got wet! [Laughing]

Billy: It's like that, but you can leave Leeds Fest.

There's nothing to be done. You're trapped in your tent.

Billy getting some practice in at Indian Creek on "Belly full of bad berries" (5.13)

💪 Time to train...but not just the climbing

Alice: How did you train for it? How did that come about?

Billy: So I wouldn't say I trained in like my traditional sense of training for it. In terms of like the climbing on a physical level, like we felt like we probably had that. What we completely lacked was like any logistical experience or any of the physical durability I guess.

We know how to do some hard moves, but we don't know how to do hard moves, 25 pitches up, six day on when we've hauled a bag, 25 pitches. So just trying to do a lot of volume, getting outside a lot, hauling on gear, hauling bags up, setting up for ledges, like figuring out all the logistics is the biggest thing.

Alex was in the US, I was in the UK. So we hadn't actually climbed together at all until I got to the US. We were just figuring things out independently.

Alice: Over FaceTime?

Billy: [Laughs] We turned up like a week before we were going to Yosemite and was like, well, let's figure out how to climb together then!

🏴‍☠️ Billy: the El Cap pirate

Alice: If you were going to do it again, what would you do differently?

Billy: In terms of how we approached the nose, I think we went about it pretty much right. We spent most of the time working on the hardest pitches, like walking up the top and rappelling down and figuring out those moves until when we went for the push we were a bit more prepared.

There weren't any like massive blunders. We nearly dropped our phones and like I forgot my contact lenses. But like in terms of like the logistical side of things, nothing went like super wrong. I think we'd go about it similarly, other than perhaps choosing a route that's a bit easier! [Laughs]

Alice: Wait, you couldn't see for half the time you were on the wall??

Billy: No no, this was one of the working trips when we were like hiking up the top and camping on the top of the wall and then abseiling down to work on changing corners.

One of the days I forgot to take my contact lens case up with me. So I had no where to put them. And for some stupid reason, I was like, I'll just leave them in overnight. If anybody has worn contact lenses knows you can sort of do this, but it's not good. It's not good for you. I don't think it's ever been recommended.

You can kind of get away with it, but I didn't get away with it! I had really red eyes and I couldn't really open my right eye.

Alice: Like an angry climbing pirate?

Billy: I could have done with an eyepatch to be honest!

Watch Billy getting stoked on his favourite pitch: The Great Roof

🥇 The Great Roof living up to it's name!

Alice: What would you say was your favourite pitch and can you describe it?

Billy: Favourite pitch? Great Roof, definitely.

It's like the second hardest pitch. Changing corners is the hardest. Great Roof gets 13C in American grades, which is around 8a+ but it's just immaculate. It's like a perfect layback crack for 30 metres - and just getting progressively harder and harder and harder.

Whilst you're looking up at the Roof, you can just sort of see it looming above you and sneaking out. And it just builds and builds. You get a rest and then a hard section, a slightly worse rest then a hard section, then you're at the Roof!

It's just this really cool, intricate style of climbing where you're in these like pin scars. Which are made from aid climbers in the past. They hammered in pitons into the cracks to protect themselves. And then leave these little...they're mostly like shallow two finger pockets for the most part. That's what you're climbing on. And then pretty much just smear feet. And it's just this really cool, intricate climbing.

 You end up coming out of the pins, pressing and doing all this complicated footwork. You're just in like the coolest position you could possibly imagine. With these perfect lines and posing Roof. And the gear on it is perfect. It's like, I can't really imagine a better pitch. It's amazing.

🌬 Who doesn't love wind and exposure 3000ft up?

Alice: How do you deal with the exposure? Because I feel like that's just like a sudden like, boom, like you're there.

Billy:  Initially, not well!

So day one, we like went from the bottom, just like multi-pitch style. And then we were going to just add to a lot to end up. Which went great for a few pitches. And then in Yosemite in the afternoon, there's this like wind that picked up. And there's this area on the nose with the stove legs, which is like pitches like six to ten. Where you're like right on the very outer point of El Cap. So it's like in terms of like weather exposure is the most exposed point.

We got there right as the wind picks up, so we were just pounded by the wind. And it goes from being like quite a nice experience in the sun, to suddenly like, this is not fun anymore! Guys being dudes on a rock suddenly turns to like s***...everything that like was sort of manageable before suddenly just gets like cranked up to 11...and like being above the gear is really scary. You're getting cold, you're not functioning very well anymore - we got kind of spooked.

We decided to abseil down, and then I abseiled past the anchor. And wasn't really properly equipped to go back up the ropes again. So just like pull up a rope from the wind. It took quite a long time to figure that out. And then after that we walked to the top to work on changing corners.

After that we just abseiled off the top. And the very last pitch is like all these overhanging boulders and stuff. So the first abseil that you do, you just come straight off into 3000 feet of exposure just hung in space...It's freaking terrifying! It's really scary. And because you've got all these boulders, the rope is like running along edges and stuff. So they're really rounded edges.

It's never going to be a great rope. But in the moment you're looking up at them, it's the sharpest edge ever. My rope's going to cut.

So the first few times that we went up the top, we were pretty spooked.

Working on changing corners, we had two top ropes up that we were attached to for like ultra excessive safety. We were both pretty scared, but we were there for a month and it sort of gradually acclimated to it.

Over the course of being there, we gradually got more used to it. And at a certain point it starts being fun, but initially, freaky!

💩 The question we all want to ask

Alice: It's what everyone wants to know. It's for the people, Billy, It's for the people. Please elaborate on the s***.

Billy: Okay. So firstly, to be clear to everyone, you don't just like poop down the wall on top of the party below you. That's not how it goes.

Basically, you take up some bags with you, like a wag bag or we had like a ziplock and then another ziplock that we put them in. And yeah, you poop into the ziplock bag whilst your partner pretends to be busy. “They're not having a poo-poop there…I definitely can't smell it.”

Put it in your ziplock bag. Put it in another ziplock bag. And then we had an empty paint bucket that's like pretty airtight. So you're like piling all of that and then hanging underneath the whole bag so they're like pretty outside out of mind. But we're on there for a week so the paint bucket's a pretty heavy.

Alice: That's actually a good point. The longer you're on the wall, the more s*** you have to haul. I've got this image of you and Alex just taking turns just like pulling straws and he's going to haul the s*** today.

Billy: Yeah, that's glamorous, isn't it?

Alice: As the water gets lighter, the s*** gets heavier.

👶 Inspired from a little 'en

Alice: There's a lot of rumour going around that as a child, you had a poster of the nose in your room. Is it still there?

Billy: It's still there. My mum put like a cutesy, I'm so proud of my son post online and she found this picture from like, 15 years ago. We're stood in front of my room, and yeah, there's just a picture of Leo holding on El Cap from when he did his first Ascent of the Prophet. I can't say when I put that poster on my wall 15 years ago that my vision was that I'll climb El Cap.

Alice: Manifestation.

Billy: It is something that's like, I've obviously been a comp climber, but I have been inspired by bigger things like this for a really long time since I was a kid. So yeah, maybe it has just been like sat in my small room.

Want more from our interview with Billy?

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