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El Capitan, the symbol of Yosemite Valley, USA
Photo by Anthamattens
Half Dome after a storm
Photo by Chris McNamara

Yosemite Big Walls by Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell


On 18-19 May 2012 Alex Honnold amd Tommy Caldwell became the first climbers to ascend El Capitan, Half Dome and Mount Watkins in Yosemite in less than 24 hours.

The news quite rightly buzzed around the world: three big walls in a single day! Put in other words, the non-stop linkup of Mount Watkins, El Capitan and Half Dome for a total of almost 2000 vertical metres, with difficulties up to 5.13a (7c+). All climbed free, in a time which is difficult to comprehend: 21 hours and 15 minutes. The climbers who carried out this feat were, understandably, two of America's strongest who have made Yosemite Valley their second home for years and who are no strangers to these incredible sprints up these rock faces and routes which have become authentic symbols of world-class rock climbs.

Starting out at 16:45 on 18 May the two climbed the South Face of Mt. Watkins in what must be considered a perfect starter to this triplet, also known as the Triple Crown. After having savoured this "course" in a mere 2 hours and 40 minutes the two "gourmet" climbers continued with a true speciality, the route Free Rider on El Capitan which they climbed in a night session in 6 hours 15 minutes. Hungry for more, the two granite specialists then chose a prestigious dessert: the famous Regular Northwest Face up Half Dome, climbed in just 5 hours. The result: the "great rock feast" came to an end at 14:00 on 19 May, exactly 21 hours and 15 minutes after the start.

Commenting on climbing.com Honnold explained: "We both freed everything. We sort of just swung leads. Nothing too fancy—for the most part, one person would just lead a huge, long simul-climbing block, and then stop when he hit something hard. Then the other person would just climb through and lead the hard pitch. It was a pretty fun, improvised style. We just climbed a lot."

Improvised style? Well, perhaps yes or, well, no, not really. At this level practically nothing is left to improvisation and it's important to realise that these are two of the valley's most expert climbers. Caldwell has freed numerous impressive routes there, above all on El Capitain (and he's been engaged in his attempt to free the Dawn Wall which promises hitherto unseen difficulties in Yosemite) while over the last couple of years Honnold has climbed, solo and very quickly indeed, some of the routes which can be found in America's trad hall of fame, such as Astroman, The Rostrum, Regular NW Face, The Phoenix etc.

For the record. Three days after this marathon, Honnold soloed the West Face of El Capitan (500m, 5.11a / 6b+) which he had climbed the day before with Kate Rutherford, describing is on the The North Face site with his usual verve as " not a real El Cap route, but it’s still kind of exciting for me." Something leads us to believe that this is nothing but the start... the season in Yosemite has only just begun.

Climbing in Yosemite - 5 Super Classics





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