Leah Pappajohn climbed El Capitan naked, but the hardest part was finding a partner. She even asked Alex Honnold
When you’re a nudist climber it’s hard to find a partner to take to the cliffs with you, and Leah Pappajohn looked high and low for a fellow naked pioneer to tackle El Capitan
Chafe, sunburn and the cold are some of the challenges you would expect to face if you chose to climb Yosemite’s famous big wall naked. But for Leah Pappajohn, who braved the ‘exposure’, looking for a partner was as hard as the ascent.
Pappajohn and Jonathan Fleury became the first people to climb El Capitan naked on June 6, following a route called The Nose.
The El Capitan wall is an imposing 900 metres of granite that rises vertically out of the Yosemite National Park valley in California.
Pappajohn was the instigator of the idea, and is an experienced nude climber. But her original partner dropped out when the reality of the task dawned on her. Then, when she asked climbers in Yosemite to join her, she was faced with a lot of ‘nos’.
“I even asked Alex Honnold,” Pappajohn said. “I teased Alex that he wasn’t a real climber until he’d climbed naked.”
Honnold, one of the world’s best climbers, who is famous for setting records for ropeless ascents, said: “It isn’t a record I want to set.”
As it transpired, Honnold had plans of his own and became the first person to climb El Capitan with no ropes or safety gear on June 3. The feet has been dubbed the greatest climb in history.
“He was cool about it [the naked climb], he’s really human, and it was great to have him in the valley when we were doing our thing,” said Pappajohn.
When Pappajohn asked Fleury he was interested but had never climbed The Nose in a day.
“I told him to go climb it,” she said. “He did it in 13 hours, which is really quick for your first time. And he was still keen.”
Pappajohn said that when she first took up climbing, it coincided with when she began to get into nudism, so it seemed natural to combine the two.
“I like it because climbing is the kind of thing you completely focus on,” she said. “I forget about everything else, and then I suddenly have these moments when I realise “Oh, I’m naked!” It’s just for fun, but it makes my relationship with my body and with the world better.”
She expected to face challenges like sunburn and cold, but it all went smoothly, and the pair even completed the climb with a litre of water to spare. It took them 12 hours, which is a personal best for both of the climbers.
For now, Pappajohn does not have another large project in mind. She’s amazed that word of her nude ascent has spread so far and wide, and is glad that the response has been positive.