“On The Nose, one mistake will kill you,” Fiona Thornewill shares her climb with Pythom

Lessons from Hans Florine: “Huge attention to detail and to concentrate all the time. He put a lot of trust in me and I respected that.”
(Correne Coetzer) “I was taken completely out my comfort zone, I’ve never known exposure like it,” says former South Pole solo speed ski record holder, Fiona Thornewill to Pythom, after completing her climb on El Cap’s, The Nose.

“In the polar world one mistake can spell the end of your expedition or in the worst case you get hurt or die. On The Nose, one mistake will kill you,” explains Fiona. She tells more about scary places on the route and how she learned from veteran Nose climber and team mate, Hans Florine, about the importance of attention to detail and concentration.

Back home near Nottingham in England, Fiona made time to talk to Pythom in a “really really busy time” since she got back. Here goes:

Pythom: This was very short, compare to a full route to the South Pole and North Pole. How did climbing The Nose compare to skiing to the Poles? Physical and In particular on a phycological level? How should one prepare your head for this climb/vertical life?

Fiona: In the polar world one mistake can spell the end of your expedition or in the worst case you get hurt or die. On The Nose, one mistake will kill you. 40% of the fatal accidents are caused by simple errors – and tiredness is something you have to be on your guard against at all times.

So the experience was massively intense and stressful for the 3 days I spent on the wall. There was another pressure in my case in that I had two young boys at home and I needed to come home alive. I felt wired the whole time.

Pythom: Tell us about your equipment please. How much did you have to carry up the Wall? What were your three favorite items? 

Fiona: My comfy Lowe backpack, my adjustable Petzl Cowstail and Kong Duck self belay device. 

Pythom: What type of shoes did you wear?  

Fiona: Sportiva Mura VS climbing boots.

Pythom: How was living and sleeping on a portaledge?

Fiona: I loved that – but you know… you do feel like you’re dreaming, you almost have to pinch yourself it is really you actually doing it. I will never forget that experience.

Pythom: How do you make food? Was it all prepared before hand? What about water? 

Fiona: Nuts, cold soup, biscuits, not a lot really. We took up 4 litres of water a day – barely enough for me… 

Pythom: Tell us about your third teammate, Jayme, please?

Fiona: She was a lovely person and partner to share time with on the wall. Jayme did extremely well too.

Pythom: What did you learn from Hans on The Nose?

Fiona: Huge attention to detail and to concentrate all the time. He put a lot of trust in me and I respected that.

Pythom: How did you communicate while climbing? Were you near enough to hear each other?

Fiona: Yes mostly, but not on the last pitch.

Pythom: Parts you had to swing, right? How was that?

Fiona: Just a really surreal moment and almost dare I say it – a fun thing to take a part in…

Pythom: Were there times that you got surprises that you didn’t know about and had challenging negotiations? Even with no fear of heights, isn’t it sometimes scary in the Wall?  

Fiona: The night before we set off I had all sorts of anxious thoughts going through my mind, but when I set off, they quickly eased. I did feel butterflies lowering out from Sickle Ledge across Dolt Crack and eventually into Stove Leg Crack. It feels a very committing thing to do when you’re 800 feet off the deck, using skills you’ve only just learned.

The next scary place was Texas Flake. I found this nearly the most exposed part of the climb. Although you’re barely half way up the wall, I felt so insignificant and insecure setting perched on this massive ‘semi-balancing’ flake. The drop down from here is quite surreal. 

Another scary moment was the anticipation of lowering out under The Great Roof. To me I should have been in an aeroplane this high up. But because I was totally committed, I just had to do the job in hand. I made myself stay calm and pressed my ‘delete imagination button’ – I guess it was a bit like an out of body experience. The Great Roof is not a place to let your imagination get out of control. 

The last pitch was surprisingly hard too, because it overhangs in places at 45 degrees – although the exposure bothered me less here, because the drop had actually started to seem unreal. What I didn’t like, was that there was no communication and I felt very out on a limb and alone.

Pythom: Are you hooked? Will there be other Nose climbs? Is this type of climbing now your future focus?

Fiona: Possibly, but I doubt I’ll ever surpass this one! I wasn’t able to climb the hard pitches. Hans led everything – and to see a master climber go, and how fast. He was amazing to watch. Largely I used jumars. But, where it was possible for me to, I followed them. To be honest, I did the absolute best I could, and I was taken completely out my comfort zone, I’ve never known exposure like it.

Pythom: On your South Pole solo ski, you and husband Mike formed an excellent team. Here he was your ‘support team’ again…

Fiona: In a word YES. – It wouldn’t have happened without either Hans or Mike.

Pythom: What do you take with you from The Nose to daily life on the ground?

Fiona: That you can achieve almost anything – even as you get older.

Pythom: Anything else?

Fiona: Hans and I raised over £5000 for charities – one in the UK and one in the US.

Start date/time: 0700 September 10, 2015

End date/time: 1400 September 12, 2015


Fiona Thornewill is married to Mike Thornewill with two children. She works as a recruitment consultant at Harper Resourcing, in Nottingham, UK. Fiona set her world speed record in 2004, when she became the fastest person to ski 720 miles / 1130km to the South Pole. Prior to the Solo Fiona also skied the Hercules Inlet route, with husband Mike and a guided group. She also skied from Canada to the North Pole (with a team (and Mike) and resupplied). See AdventureStats. Fiona is also a professional speaker. Over the years Fiona has received many accolades, and in 2006 was awarded the MBE for services to Charity and Polar Exploration.

Hans Florine, lives in California with his wife, Jacki and their two children. Also in his 50th year, he is regarded as the world’s foremost speed climber. As well as holding numerous speed records all over the globe, Hans won the U.S. National Title no less than eleven times – and won gold at the ESPN X-Games three years in a row.

Hans has a business degree and presents keynote presentations worldwide. He is the author of “Speed is Power” and is a thought leader in speed and efficiency. Hans is an ambassador for “The Access Fund’ – a wilderness charity that he is passionate about.

Third team member of this Nose climb is Jayme Moye. It was also her first time on the Nose.

The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley California, is the name given to the most famous rock climb in the world. First climbed in 1958 by Warren Harding, the route is a sheer 3000 foot cliff of vertical granite. It has a fierce reputation for tremendous difficulty and is generally regarded as The Holy Grail of rock climbs, by climbers all around the world.

A normal time to climb the wall is between 3 and 6 days. However over the years an elite group of speed climbers have dedicated themselves to becoming the fastest to climb it. The current record is held by Hans Florine and partner Alex Honnold in 2 hours, 23 minutes. Set in 2012 no one has come close.

Hans and Fiona are using this opportunity to raise money for the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) Access and Conservation Trust: A charity doing vital work to protect the shrinking British countryside and mountainous areas. Fiona’s Just Giving page:


Check the Comment section on Fiona’s Profile on Pythom to read her final thoughts right after the climb.

Check the Comment section on Fiona’s Pythom Profile to read her final thoughts right after the climb.

In the Pythom Dispatches Section, check Hans Florine’s debrief of the climb. https://speedclimb.blogspot.co.za/2015/09/milestone-on-big-stone.html

#polar #fionathornewill #hansflorine #elcapitan #thenose

Pre-climb interview with Fiona: