Three days after Alex Honnold did the first ropeless climb of El Capitan, a pair of climbers claimed the first naked ascent of The Nose, the most famous route on the world’s largest single block of granite.
Leah Pappajohn, 29, a native of Washington state, and Jon Fluery, in his 20s, did 31 rope-length pitches and nearly 3,000 feet of vertical climbing in exactly 12 hours Tuesday. They did it in climbing shoes and harnesses, and they used ropes for protection, but they were otherwise unclothed.
“We tried to prepare as best we could, since it had never been done naked before,” Pappajohn said. “We heard a lot of how bad it could be. We brought a lot of sunscreen and we brought tape to cover up abrasions if we did get scratched up on the wall. But we didn’t need it. Nobody took a fall or a skid.”
They also had emergency blankets in case the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. They’re both experienced climbers, and it was Pappajohn’s fifth time completing The Nose. She said they were a little cool when they started before dawn.
“We started at 4:38 a.m. and finished at 4:38 p.m.,” Pappajohn said Wednesday in a phone interview. “The route was pretty uncrowded. We passed a couple parties four pitches up. One of them heard about us so they weren’t too surprised.”
They had water stashed in advance on Dolt Tower. Fleury led the first half of the route and Pappajohn led everything above Camp 4, including the Great Roof.
“I probably drank a liter, and John probably drank 3 liters,” Pappajohn said. “He's a lot taller than me.”
Pappajohn is 5 feet 1 inch tall and she weighs about 110. Fleury is taller than 6 feet and weighs a lot more than Pappajohn. She ate granola bars and Fleury ate peanut butter, jelly and tortillas.
They caught up to another climbing group near the top, Pappajohn said. They were just finishing their first ascent of The Nose. They were stoked to finish and they were also happy to finish with a pair of naked climbers.
“It was blast to celebrate with them,” Pappajohn said. “We apologized if this wasn’t what they were expecting, to hang out with a couple nude climbers on the top.”
Pappajohn started climbing seven years ago, she said. The first time on The Nose it took her and a partner four days, the second time 21 hours, the third time 14 hours and 45 minutes, and the fourth time 14 hours 15 minutes.
People have been rock climbing naked in Yosemite and other places for decades. Part of it’s the rebel in some climbers, and part of it’s for humor. Some climber-photographers produce and market annual calendars showing nude climbers in eastside Sierra locations and Joshua Tree National Park.
Pappajohn laughed frequently as she recounted her naked climb, but she also said she takes nudism seriously and considers herself a nudist.
“It’s funny and silly, but it was a tough, difficult thing to do, too,” Pappajohn said. “I'm a nudist for a lot of reasons. Our culture looks down on nudity, especially when it comes to women. Being OK with our bodies and our looks is a great thing.”
Pappajohn said she’s identified as a nudist since her days at Western Washington University, where she worked on a project about nudity for a cross-cultural psychology course.
“As a woman, I think it’s important to realize a man and a woman can do a physical activity naked together that’s completely nonsexual,” she said. “It's a really great feeling to do something naked that requires your full attention, to the point you forget all about being naked. It’s a really empowering thing to do.”