Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal free The Nose (5.14)
- Friday 17th November 2023
Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal have become the first British climbers to make a free ascent of The Nose (5.14) on El Capitan in Yosemite, USA.
Having made early attempts to free The Nose with Simon Nadin, Lynn Hill famously made the first ascent in 1993 proclaiming; “It goes boys” after she’d completed her ascent. Hill returned in 1994 to make the first free-in-a-day ascent. Since then, The Nose has had a limited number of free ascents: Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell (2005), Tommy Caldwell (2005), Jorg Verhoeven (2014), Keita Kurakami (2018), Connor Herson (2018), Seb Berthe (2019), Babsi Zangerl (2019) and Jacopo Larcher (2019). Alex and Billy’s ascent is the first British free ascent coming 30 years after Hill’s original free ascent and 55 years after what is believed to be the first British ascent by Rob Wood and Mick Burke way back in 1968.
Best known for their competition climbing, Alex and Billy had a total dearth of big wall experience before rocking up in The Valley. Both however have extensive bouldering and sport climbing as well as their competition climbing experience and some trad experience. Impressively, Alex even made a super impressive and rare flash ascent of the classic overhanging crack Belly Full of Bad Berries (5,13b/F8a) before arriving in The Valley in early October.
Alex and Billy applied their climbing skills well and approached the climb methodically whilst making incremental gains in the big wall skills which they needed. In their initial forays onto ‘The Big Stone,’ they climbed several of the first pitches before retreating back down. Thereafter they hiked to the top of The Nose with enough equipment to top abb-in and work the crux of the route – Pitch 25, the so-called Changing Corners Pitch (5.14a/F8b+). Subsequently, the pair worked pitch 20, The Great Roof Pitch (5.13c/F8a+).
Continuing their efforts, working both the lower pitches and the two crux pitches, Alex and Billy drew closer to their goal albeit starting to feel that their time in The Valley was running out.
With the clock ticking down they committed to their final push, a continuous free ascent. Having made good initial progress the lads were forced to sit out two days of bad weather on the wall. A leak in their porta ledge flysheet soaked their gear but they stayed on the wall hopefully for the return of the forecast better weather.
Once the rain stopped and the rock dried out the pair resumed their ascent. By November 8th they had managed to free The Great Roof leaving them to tackle Changing Corners with only three days of food left and Billy’s flight leaving on the fourth day! Against the significant time pressure first Alex and then a day later Billy succeeded on the Changing Corners. Their November 10th post confirmed they were above all the major difficulties and were heading for the summit. On November 11th they topped out having made the first British free ascent of The Nose in a seven-day continuous push.
Watch a video below of Lynn Hill making the first free ascent.