This Couple Climbed El Capitan… In the Nude

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Turns out that Alex Honnold isn’t the only climber making history in Yosemite Valley this June. The legendary climber made the first free-solo ascent of the storied wall on June 3, and while he topped out without the aid of any ropes, two other climbers, Leah Pappajohn and Jonathan Fleury, made the climb sans the only thing Honnold had on him: clothes.

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On June 6, Pappajohn and Fleury scaled the nose of El Capitan in a day (a climbing feat known as NIAD, or, “nose in a day”), and did so with nothing on their bodies except some big smiles and a few ropes. After successfully finishing the route in 12 hours, the pair officially became the first to climb El Cap in the nude.

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And while there aren’t many “firsts” left in the Valley, Pappajohn had her sights set on this title for a while. “I feel like it has been a joke around Yosemite for a long time — you know, ‘Oh, what if you climbed El Cap butt naked?’” Pappajohn says. “But I’ve done other naked climbs, and I’m a bit of a nudist as it is, so I decided to just do it.”

We Did It!!! @j.fleury and I climbed The Nose naked; the first naked ascent of El Cap! (for you non-climbers out there: "naked" is not a fancy climbing term like "free". It straight-up means I did it without any clothes.) We even broke both of our personal time records on the route: 12hrs exactly! I'm telling ya'll- lightweight is the way to do it! It's hard to express what I feel after a life dream has been achieved. Yes, I feel some sunburn. I feel a bit sore. I feel proud of myself of course. But overwhelmingly, I feel so loved. I feel supported and encouraged by my friends, all the monkeys, my family (who answered my victory-announcing phone call with EVERYONE on speaker phone to hear), and especially my favorite monkey, Robbie. He has helped me every step of the way, (and even managed to get us on the news!) Anyhow, thanks ya'll for knowing that something this silly was still, honestly important to me. I guess the thing is, I thought I'd be saying that this is the greatest accomplishment of my life, but that's not true. It feels so much greater to be the best friend, daughter, sister, and partner that I can be. Working at that is always my most worthwhile struggle, and greatest achievement when I feel this kind of love. #FNA #themonkeysaresending #niad

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Pappajohn recruited one of her go-to climbing buddies to make the ascent with her, but at the last minute she backed out, telling Pappajohn that she was too nervous to bare all on the wall. Pappajohn’s life partner, Robbie, was willing to support her endeavor, but as she puts it, “He doesn’t do naked climbing… it’s my extracurricular.” That’s when Pappajohn found Fleury. “After my girlfriend bailed, I went around camp asking if anyone was interested in being my partner on the climb, and Jon approached me super-psyched about it.”

The only problem? While Fleury was gung-ho to let it all hang out, he had never completed the NIAD. So as a test, Pappajohn sent him out to climb the route to make sure he could handle it before getting him 2,000 feet above the valley floor in his birthday suit. “Climbing El Cap isn’t an easy feat to begin with,” she says. “And to do it naked, you have to be able to be completely focused on the climbing in order to not die.”

And while there is always a certain amount of risk when it comes to hoisting yourself thousands of feet above the ground, sometimes it can feel riskier to subject yourself to a different type of exposure. And that’s why Pappajohn decided to make the climb. “There is a lot of hypocrisy in our culture in how we think about nudity between men and women, and we have trouble separating sexual nudity and nonsexual nudity,” she explains. “Climbing naked is empowering, and it gets the point across to people that there is such a thing as nonsexual nudity. It’s about understanding that, yeah, my body can be sexy, but when I’m climbing it’s clearly nonsexual. My body is being utilized for a completely different reason than to be sexy.”

Although it was an opportunity to make a statement, Pappajohn also admits that her naked climb was also just for the fun of it. “It’s just funny,” she laughs. “Climbing naked past someone is hilarious for me, and I hope other people can see the humor in it as well.” 

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