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Jes Meiris, minutes before ascending the first pitch of the Nose during her attempt to climb the route last summer. Photo by April Mayhew.

Inside Jes Meiris’s Epic Climb of the Nose on El Capitan

Last year, Jes Meiris nearly became the first woman to solo climb the formidable wall in Yosemite in 24 hours. She'll talk about her experience on Thursday night in Boulder.

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Imagine scaling a sheer, dead-vertical granite wall, roughly twice the height of the Empire State Building. Now imagine doing it all alone, through the black of night, with only spiders and occasional text messages from worried loved ones to keep you company. Jessica Meiris doesn’t need to imagine. On June 8, after 27 hours and 20 minutes of continuous climbing, the 32-year-old mountain guide from Colorado Springs became only the second woman ever to solo the iconic 3,000-foot big wall dubbed the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Using a complex rope-solo system that is as much about mental focus and technical problem solving as climbing prowess, she crushed her lone predecessor’s time—achieved 12 years ago—by nearly three days and ignited a renewed interest among women in the male-dominated, high-stakes sport of big wall speed climbing. (Other women are already eyeing a sub-24-hour solo on the Nose). But Meiris – once a shy and awkward kid, with attention deficits and degenerative arthritis—says the most important barriers broken during her ascent of the Nose were within her. She fell twice, with one 25-foot whipper leaving her dangling 1,500-feet above ground. At times, the nagging inner-chatter of self-doubt nearly coaxed her down. Characteristically stoic by nature, she found herself in tears, mid-pitch on more than one occasion. In those moments of vulnerability, she says, she had to clarify what she was made of.

“When you’re all alone up there it’s amazing how much your mind can take over if you let it,” she says. “There’s no one else to make excuses to. All you have to deal with is your own crap…I learned that your values, your voice, and your ability to be vulnerable are the most important tools you have.”

Meiris will discuss why she did it, how she did it, and what she learned up there, during a talk, slideshow, and video presentation titled “Big Walls and Small Falls: Exploring the Dualities of Rock Climbing and Human Nature,” on Thursday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Casey Middle School, 1301 High St., Boulder. Tickets are $10 at the door, or register here.

Read more about Meiris’s climb on El Capitan in this month’s issue of 5280, on newsstands now.

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