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Connor Herson celebrating on the top of El Capitan after his free ascent of The Nose
Photo by Jim Herson
15-year-old American climber Connor Herson during his free ascent of The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite
Photo by Jim Herson
El Capitan in Yosemite and The Nose, taken by Keita Kurakami
Photo by Keita Kurakami

Connor Herson, 15, free climbs The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite

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Connor Herson has made a free ascent of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite. Climbing with his father Jim Herson over a three-day period, Connor is one of the few climbers to achieve this feat. Aged only 15, he is also the youngest person to free climb The Nose.

The 25th anniversary of the first free ascent of The Nose, carried out in 1993 by Lynn Hill, is unfolding into a stellar year. While yesterday we reported about Japan’s Keita Kurakami and his rope solo free ascent of this famous El Capitan big wall, the huge news coming out of Yosemite today is that over the last weekend 15-year-old Connor Herson made a free ascent of this climb, too.

In doing so, Connor has become the youngest person to make a free ascent of the coveted route famously established over a period of 47 days in 1958 by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore. Furthermore, he has done so in incredibly fine style: no fixed ropes and extremely quickly, working and sending the route in between school commitments.

Writing to planetmountain.com, Connor’s father Jim explained "It was a lot of fun watching Connor redpoint The Nose. It was a single push, three day ascent. Connor led all the pitches placing all gear on lead. In the first two days, he led the first 26 pitches to the Changing Corners crux with no falls. But the Changing Corners pitch was blocked by fixed lines left by a free climber. I jugged up the fixed lines and moved them out of the way, but by the time I moved the fixed ropes there was only time for one attempt. Connor came so close to redpointing the Changing Corners first go! But he fell at the last move. A small rest and I think he could have redpointed it, but it was too dark. The next morning he redpointed the Changing Corners and then free climbed to the summit. It was a blast! It was his second time leading the entire route."

Connor had attempted the lead a few weeks earlier but was forced back by the crux. While the age of Connor is certainly astounding and likely to be what most will remember, his father believes that the historical significance of the ascent is not so much this young age but how quickly Connor put it together. "He spent 16 days total on the route, almost all one or two day weekend trips with a 9hr commute" explained Jim, adding "Most of those days represent less than an hour or two of working the crux pitches as we'd have to hike to the top to work the Changing Corners or climb from the bottom to work the Great Roof which is 19 pitches up. Most importantly, he did it without using fixed ropes and without missing a day of school!"

Free ascents of The Nose can be counted on the fingers of two hands. After her ground-breaking first free ascent of The Nose over a four-day period in mid-September in 1993, in September 1994 Lynn Hill made her era-defining sub 24-hour free ascent of The Nose with Steve Sutton. Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden swung leads and free climbed The Nose in 2005, and Caldwell climbed the route free in just 11 hours a fortnight later during his Nose + Freerider 24-hour double. In November 2014 Dutchman Jorg Verhoeven climbed The Nose free in three days, while Keita Kurakami required five days for his rope solo free ascent this autumn. For the record, in 1998 America’s Scott Burke free climbed all the route except for the crux pitch, The Great Roof, which he was forced to climb on toprope as it was wet at the time.

Connor had completed The Nose in a day without jumars when he was 13 and 14 years old, and with his repeats of the sports climbs Southern Smoke and Lucifer at Red River Gorge he has redpointed up to 5.14c (8c+). When not at school and out about rock climbing, he also happens to be an extremely talented cross country runner.

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NEWS / Related news:
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Yosemite news roundup. On 17 October Tommy Caldwell made a sub-12 hour ascent of the Nose, just days after his free ascent together with wife Beth Rodden. Nicolas Favresse from Belgium makes first ascent of L'Appât on El Capitan (VI 5.12d). Leo Houlding from England onsighted Half Dome's Regular Northwest Face and repeated Freerider.

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