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Soloist Jes Meiris on Going Up the Nose and Falling Down

Jes Meiris in the Meadow 30 minutes before attempting the women’s rope-solo speed record on the Nose. Meiris’s sub-28-hour ascent would break a 12-year-old record set by Jacqueline Florine. [Photo] April Mayhew

Colorado climbing guide Jes Meiris recently broke the female rope-solo speed record on the Nose (5.9 C2), besting a mark set by Jacqueline Florine more than a decade ago. Meiris’s solo, completed in around 27 hours and 20 minutes (she forgot to stop her watch on the summit), began the evening of June 7. By dawn the next day she’d reached the King Swing and topped out around 11 p.m. that night. Unlike Florine, who carried some 70 pounds of gear during her 2002 record climb, Meiris traveled light. Her time beat Florine’s by nearly four days. Recently, Alpinist picked her brain about the impetus for her climb, her strategy and mental game.

This was your seventh visit to Yosemite Valley after a long absence. What was it like being back?

I realized as soon as I got there and saw El Cap for the first time this trip that I had strong emotional ties to it. So many beautiful days on that rock. I’ve had the privilege of climbing the Nose with three different partners, and met many wonderful people along the way.

What were some of the most difficult sections of the climb, and what unique challenges did soloing it add?

I took two falls in safe places early on, which compromised my mental confidence. I’d only fallen one other time before that, during a rehearsal run of the lower section. I fell on the second pitch when a cam I was aiding on failed, but it was a short fall onto good gear. Then I fell at the base of the Boot Flake on a section of tricky aid when a nut popped. The piece below me ripped (broke the rock too, actually) and I took a 20-footer onto a bolt. Clean fall, but spooky. It was early morning, and some guys were sleeping at the top of the Boot. Pretty sure my girly scream woke them up! I went slow and took my time on the more high-consequence pitches above.

I hadn’t rehearsed the entire middle section solo, so I was just winging it with rope lengths and linking pitches. Everything worked out great, but it certainly added challenge and time. I had no one to bounce ideas off of or to help me if I screwed up. Certainly the time spent alone–I passed only two parties–in such an extreme environment added an element to the climb that you simply can’t get any other way.

Meiris starts up the Boot Flake. She moved on to higher-consequence pitches above with more caution after a 20-foot fall on this pitch. [Photo] James Flanagan

Did you have any moments of doubt or assuredness?

Yes. Many moments of doubt especially on rehearsal pitches, but I felt better on record day, although I was very scared! I had amazing support via text message from people in my life sending encouragement, and that kept my energy levels high and motivation up! That was a huge contribution to my success.

Having climbed the Nose several times before, what drew you to attempting a solo speed record?

I wanted to climb it solo in a push, without hauling or sleeping, and I knew that if I was successful I would break the record, but I would have done it either way. It was appealing because no woman had done it in that style before, and besides, let’s face it–hauling sucks.

I also wanted to push my physical limit–I can’t do big linkups because I have arthritic joints and can’t handle the descents between walls, so one way to push that limit is by soloing, which is basically climbing El Cap twice without hiking in between. It’s also appealing because I use big climbs like this as an opportunity to make a difference in my community–this time, I raised funds for a local climbing organization I helped to start called the Pikes Peak Climber’s Alliance based in Colorado Springs.

As a female climber, what challenges or advantages have you noticed?

I actually felt very supported, both during my rehearsal days and time in the Valley and on record day, almost like everyone believed in me more than I believed in myself! As a woman driven to push my own limits, the biggest challenge has been overcoming my own self-doubt and making up crazy ways to train for big stuff. As for advantages, the women’s solo record has stood for so long–in a way, it’s an advantage that so few women have soloed El Cap because there are still reasonable records to break!

Sources: Jes Meiris,

Meiris during a rehearsal climb before her record-breaking ascent. She planned to reach the King Swing in the early morning in order to position herself in the shady upper dihedrals by mid-afternoon. “It mostly worked,” Meiris said. [Photo] Jes Meiris