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Nicolas Favresse and Sean Villanueva on the crux pitch 10 of "The Secret Passage" 5.13c, El Capitan, Yosemite.
Photo by John Dickey
Nicolas Favresse on the 5.13a twelfth pitch of "The Secret Passage" 5.13c, El Capitan, Yosemite.
Photo by John Dickey
Sean Villanueva and Nicolas Favresse from Belgium.
Photo by John Dickey
The line of "The Secret Passage" 5.13c, El Capitan, Yosemite, first climbed by Nicolas Favresse and Sean Villanueva in October 2008.
Photo by John Dickey

Favresse and Villanueva discover The Secret Passage, new route on El Capitan, Yosemite


At the start of October Nicolas Favresse and Sean Villanueva added a new free route, "The Secret Passage" 5.13c to El Capitan, Yosemite.

At the start of October Nicolas Favresse and Sean Villanueva made the first ascent of "The Secret Passage" 5.13c on El Capitan, Yosemite. The fifteen pitch route follows two existing aid routes, Eagles way (A3 5.8) and Bad to the bones (5.9 A4) and explores some new terrain close to the Zodiac on the right-hand side of El Cap. Favresse, who in 2005 added "L'Appât" and in 2006 added "Lost in translation" to the wall, describes the experience as "for sure one of my best climbing accomplishments and strongest climbing experience. All my years of climbing seem to have blended together to brew this new major piece of climbing. The route tested my physical and mental abilities to their limit with the challenge of many hard pitches to send each day on the wall, plus the fatigue of hauling."

The two Belgian globetrotters explored the line at the end of September following Nico's hunch that a route could go free after he had first caught sight of it while aiding the Zodiac in December 2006. Favresse and Villanueva set off in what they described as "fun style: no fixing, no jugging, no rappelling, just finding the way up from the ground and bringing the mandolin and flutes for some el Cap freestyle jamming... In order to leave the aid routes their original way, we were pushed to climb sometimes on very poor gear and at other times spaced apart. But beside the physical and mental challenge, the experience exploring the wall for a way to free felt to me the most powerful. So many sections looked impossible at first but with optimism, faith and creativity all of them gave away a solution with an amazing amount of holds, which if one of them did not exist the route wouldn't go free. It felt like each solution was a sign of communication with the rock."

After four days of effort they discovered that the entire route could go free bar a 4m blank section right at the top. Demoralised, the two returned to Camp to recover, unsure as to whether the line still appealed, but with renewed motivation the next day they came to the conclusion it would be worth the effort, regardless of this apparent impasse. Favresse continues: "Before setting off for another multiple day push on the line, Sean and I decided to work on the lower hard cruxes of the route on two day-trips. We never fixed any line. Then last week we went again with the potential to stay on the wall for 5 days so that it would give us enough margin to explore and try to redpoint the upper part of the wall. After five days on the route, we reached the 4 meter blank section. Up to there, I had been able to redpoint every single pitch of the climb with many of them on the edge of my limits. And as I got ready to aid the rivet ladder I looked down and to the side and saw a tiny bit of dirt sticking out of the super blank polished granite. I lowered down and discovered a very thin laser-cut looking seam, impossible to see unless you are level with it. I cleaned the moss and "the secret passage" appeared, making one of the raddest pitches of the climb.

The route follows a mix of two already established aid lines (Eagles way for its first 10 pitch and Bad to the bones for the 8 upper pitches of the climb) and a bit of new terrain as well. The route is extremely steep and so the climb is very sustained with a total of 15 pitches (5.10+ R, 5.11, 5.9, 5.10+, 5.12a r, 5.13c R, 5.13a, 5.12+, 5.12c, 5.13c, 5.12c R, 5.13a, 5.13a, 5.11R, 5.10+). We added a bolt on an unprotectable face climb variation to the established aid line and placed a bolt next to a rivet to make an anchor safe. We were able to free climb the rest without adding any holes to the rock. Sections of the climb are quite run out and dangerous. One pitch is protected with hooks and fixed copperheads, a few others have hard cruxes way past the last piece of pro and there are a few scary sections with loose rock features we couldn't avoid. Sean and I started the route switching leads and following free. Then as the climb got very sustained Sean didn't succeed in redpointing every pitch. I took over the lead on the pitches that he didn't succeed as he continued to follow free."

Favresse & Villanueva El Capitan Jamming session





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