The First British Pair To Free Climb The Nose

Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal have free climbed The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite after seven days on the wall. They are the first British pair to do so. Both Waterhouse and Ridal freed every pitch and took turns leading the crux pitches of the Great Roof and Changing Corners.

According to Waterhouse, they set this audacious goal at the beginning of 2023. “With no big-wall experience and honestly no idea what it would take, we…weren’t sure it was possible,” wrote Waterhouse.

However, they started to plan it, then trained, and spent five weeks in the Valley working the wall with that mission in mind. They started the push without having linked the crux pitches in training. They also sat in a puddle for two days through a storm. The pair finally topped out two days ago.

On the top.

On top. Photo: Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal


Waterhouse and Ridal updated their progress on social media almost every day, creating an almost real-time adventure. That part was hard, they admitted. “You’re trying to do something you don’t fully believe yourself,” said Waterhouse.

No clue how to big wall

On Oct. 1, Ridal and Waterhouse began their six-week U.S. adventure. The two have climbed together since childhood. Both knew that freeing The Nose was possibly beyond them, as neither had a clue how to big wall.

The route of The Nose on El Capitan.

The route up The Nose on El Capitan. Photo: Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal


On Oct. 10, Waterhouse and Ridal reached the Valley and watched other parties crawl upward for hours. “Just the thought of being up there was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating,” said Waterhouse.

A dry run

There were queues on The Nose the first day that they climbed it in training, but they managed to get up seven pitches quite comfortably, rapping down in the dark.

The Nose seen from below.

The Nose from below. Photo: Billy Ridal


The route includes 29 pitches with two distinct cruxes — pitch 20, The Great Roof (8a+), and pitch 25, Changing Corners (8b+) — plus a couple more tricky pitches. They knew that the last third of the climb would be the hardest.

They began to work on Changing Corners, which is just a few pitches below the summit. On Oct. 14, they rapped off the top and fixed lines down to Changing Corners.

“Going off the top of El Cap is scary!” reported Ridal.

They were tense and nervous. After the rap, even the idea of being on a top rope felt intimidating. As Ridal noted, Camp VI is the last decent ledge before the summit and it’s directly below Changing Corners.

Ridal was particularly wigged out about this pitch because Changing Corners was not only at his limit but was the second pitch of that difficulty in close succession.

Rappeling down on The Nose after aiding up to Dolt Tower with the supplies for the push.

Rappeling down The Nose after aiding up to lay supplies for the push. Photo: Alex Waterhouse


By Oct. 28, they had only a couple of weeks left. Changing Corners felt like the key. “It feels like a big roll of the dice for things to come together,” said Ridal.

On Nov. 2, the climbers aided up to Dolt Tower (pitch 10) with the supplies they needed for the push. That meant seven days of food, most of the water, and sleeping stuff. They wanted to spend the first day of the free push moving fast and not worrying too much about weight.

That day, they arose before sunrise. “After a month of slowly building our skills, we actually felt competent, fast, and efficient on the wall,” recalled Ridal.

On The Nose the day when Waterhouse and Ridal freed The Great Roof.

On The Nose the day when Waterhouse and Ridal freed The Great Roof. Photo: Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal


The ascent

The weather had turned in their favor, with a sunny morning to dry their stuff after a night’s rain. They finally left Camp IV to start the climb and worked their way up methodically. By day 6, the pair was at Camp VI, right below Changing Corners.

“We’ve got three days of food and water, and Ridal’s flight leaves in four days,” said Waterhouse. “Let the battle commence!”

When they managed to free Changing Corners, that was a special moment of joy for them. From there, they continued to the top of The Nose.

Ridal close to Changing Corners.

Ridal near Changing Corners. Photo: Alex Waterhouse


Free climbing history of The Nose

El Capitan’s The Nose, with its 880m of vertical gain, was first ascended by Wayne Merry, George Whitmore, and Warren Harding in 1958. It took them 47 days.

The first free ascent of a major El Cap route was not The Nose but the Salathe Wall by Todd Skinner and Paul Piana in 1988.

Lynn Hill did the first free climb of The Nose in 1993 in four days. She famously repeated the feat one year later in just 23 hours.

Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell managed to free climb The Nose in 2005 in four days. Two days later, Caldwell returned and freed it in less than 12 hours. Two weeks later, Caldwell and his wife Rodden returned to free climb El Cap twice in a day. Caldwell completed The Nose with Rodden, then descended and led Freerider in a combined time of 23 hours and 23 minutes.

In 2014, Jorg Verhoeven managed to free climb The Nose in three days.

Four years later, Keita Kurakami was the first person to make the first all-free rope solo ascent of the route, an impressive feat that took five days.

In 2018, Connor Herson became the youngest climber to free climb the route. In 2019, Seb Berthe, in an eight-day ascent, managed to free climb the full route after starting to climb at the bottom of the crag, without first rappelling to check the moves. That same year, Barbara Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher free climbed The Nose in six days.

Kris Annapurna

KrisAnnapurna is a writer with ExplorersWeb.

Kris has been writing about history and tales in alpinism, news, mountaineering, and news updates in the Himalaya, Karakoram, etc., for the past year with ExplorersWeb. Prior to that, Kris worked as a real estate agent, interpreter, and translator in criminal law. Now based in Madrid, Spain, she was born and raised in Hungary.