Jorg Verhoeven: Freerider rope solo up El Capitan in Yosemite
Dutch rock climber Jorg Verhoeven talks about his recent solitary ascent of 5.13a up El Capitan, Yosemite.
The first bits of information are beginning to filter through from Yosemite after the US shutdown. As previously reported, the stop involved more than 800,000 federal employees and after the subsequent official closing of the National Parks many climbers headed elsewhere. But not all. Jorg Verhoeven for example stayed put and, after having repeating The Nose (not free) and El Nino (all free, together with Ben Lepesant), the Dutchman suddenly found himself in an unexpected position: the park was about to close, he was without a climbing partner but with a massive psyche to get some climbing done. The solution? Jump onto El Capitan as soon as possible and make a rope solo ascent of Freerider, the 1000m granite line with difficulties up to 7c/8a freed by Alexander Huber and his brother Thomas in 1998 and of which he had already climbed the first 11 pitches as they are shared by Freeblast, repeated with Katharina Saurwein in winter 2011. "I kind of knew it was a bad idea when I started" Verhoeven stated about his recent 4-day vertical journey (of ) "but the psyche was too high, and the challenge was set"
FREERIDER ROPE SOLO by Jorg Verhoeven
When the park closed down (because of the recent shutdown, Ed) everybody had two days to clear the area and since cars that remained were ticketed I ditched my haulbags in the valley, parked just outside the park and hiked back in. Those who were already on the wall were allowed to continue climbing, so El Cap was a true hotspot of headlamps at night! On the Salathe headwall alone there were four different lights! And in total I counted at least 15-20 different parties across the entire face.
After I snuck in I couldn't be forced to get off the face, so I set off with 5 days of water and food. Before setting off I had big doubts about what I would be able to achieve, because I don't have much experience at climbing alone and didn't have the right gear. But the first two days went well, I climbed 15 pitches on the first day (compared to just 6 on the last) and so I actually began to feel that it was going to be possible to accomplish the route all-free!
But rope soloing is a lot of hard work: you have to lead a pitch, rappel it, undo the knot at the anchor, jumar back up again and then haul the bag. At times I was forced to make intermediate belays, often because the ropes got stuck. It was all very nerve-wracking and sometimes rather frustrating, but as things evolved I began to laugh away my troubles and tried to see the funny side of things. What idiot would do something like this? How bad was this idea in the first place? And how psyched does one have to be to start an adventure like this one? I could just have gone to Bishop like the other climbers that had been kicked out, but no!
I topped out late in the afternoon on day 4 and although I pulled it off, I didn't do it in the best style: I toproped one pitch and pinkpointed (free from no-hand to no-hand) some easier stuff. There is at least one guy who has done this route solo: Stephane Perron. And he did so in much greater style, admittedly with a bit more time and a device designed specifically for rope soloing.
So how was the experience? I certainly can't advise anyone to do the same and I cannot say that what I did was safe all the time. And then, it‚Äôs just a lot more fun with a partner that responds when you talk to them. But I have to say that I really learnt a lot about problem solving in a dangerous position. About fighting my own negativity, about persevering while not believing in the positive outcome of the climb. This aspect strongly reminded me of my trip to the Zillertal mountains this summer.
When I reached the top I was more tired than happy, and the euphoria and joy that normally accompanies me after succeeding on a hard climb simply wasn't the same as when I share it with someone else. I have realised that I do not like to be alone, but that I can handle solitude well enough. And the feeling of being all alone out there, up on a big face, has something enticing to it. It's just like a cleansing of the soul..