Mayan Smith-Gobat climbs The Salathé Wall on El Capitan
New Zealand climber Mayan Smith-Gobat has successfully free climbed The Salathé Wall up El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
Mayan Smith-Gobat isn't a household name, at least, not in the European climbing scene and this may simply be due to the fact that she was born and bred in New Zealand, but her vertical curriculum is outstanding and this has now been enriched with the second female ascent of the legendary Salathé Wall (5.13b/c) on El Capitan, after Steph Davis in 2005.
After coming painfully close to success last autumn before a storm signalled the end of the season and dashed all hopes, Smith-Gobat returned in August to check out the difficult headwall once again. She stated "Hanging out far above Yosemite Valley with only a rope as my partner, reacquainting myself with that stunning piece of climbing… 900m of air under my feet and only one single flared crack splitting the sheer overhung granite wall. It felt so good to back in that environment, alone, exposed and responsible only for my own actions, the granite and my own strength defining my existence."
After a series of failed attempts she teamed up recently with none-other than Sean Villanueva and finally sent the historic line. Smith-Gobat chose to climb via the Monster Off width and the Huber Boulder pitch which is now slightly harder than before due to a hold breaking off the crux. Villanueva seconded every pitch free and led the crux pitches through the headwall the following day.
The Salathé Wall is named after American rock climbing pioneer John Salathé and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year after Royal Robbins, Chris Pratt and Tom Frost established the route in September 1961. It was the first big wall to be freed on El Capitan at the hands of Paul Piana and Todd Skinner during a nine-day period in 1988. Smith-Gobat described the line as "one of the most amazing climbs!" adding "The strikingly steep, flaring crack on the crazily exposed headwall captured my imagination… It is beautiful and brutally unforgiving."
The Salathé Wall
First ascent: Royal Robbins, Chris Pratt, Tom Frost, 1961
Length: 870m (35 pitches)
First free ascent: Todd Skinner and Paul Piana swinging leads.
One of the all-time monuments to free climbing, the Salathé is perhaps the most logical big wall up El Capitan. Every pitch has its own story to tell and, as always in Yosemite, has its own name. Every pitch is legendary. And marked by good belays. Normally the route is climbed by ascending the first 10 pitches to the Mammoth Terraces to then abseil to the base via the Heart Ledge before continuing the ascent the next day.
For a historic account of the first ascent and details of the 50th anniversary celebration scheduled in Yosemite Valley on Saturday October 22 check out www.supertopo.com.