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Nellie Milfeld with her husband Cedar Wright
Photo by archive Nellie Milfeld

Nellie Milfeld climbs Freerider free on El Capitan, Yosemite

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American rock climber Nellie Milfeld, belayed by her husband Cedar Wright, has made a rare female ascent of Freerider up El Capitan in Yosemite

America's Nellie Milfeld has completed a rare female ascent of Freerider, the route that shot to Oscar-like stardom when Alex Honnold made his audacious free solo climb in 2017. Freed in 1998 by German brothers Thomas and Alexander Huber, the climb basically follows the legendary Salathé Wall up the most exposed section on El Capitan’s Southwest Face before avoiding the crux pitches on the Headwall. Although it is regarded as the easiest free climb up the Big Stone, it nevertheless packs a punch with difficulties up to 5.12d (7c) in its nigh 1000m length.

Milfeld, a full-time public defender, was belayed by her husband, pro climber and filmmaker Cedar Wright, who did all the belay duties while she led all the pitches free. The duo started out at 3:30pm on Sunday and topped out at 1:45 on Wednesday, having taken precious little falls in the process.

Despite the significant rise in standards Milfeld’s free ascent is, as mentioned, a rare occurrence among women; the first to achieve this feat was Steph Davis in April 2003, and others who have followed suit include Mayan Smith-Gobat in 2011 (shortly after repointing the Salathé) and Hazel Findlay in 2013.

As a side note, immediately prior to ascent Wright, a highly experienced Yosemite valley climber himself, pioneered a new route up FiFi Butress with Lucho Rivera. The new 10-pitch outing has been called The Dream Team and checks in at 5.13a.

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At the other end of the rope was a well-dressed man-clad in a tie-dye shirt, a safari hat, absurdly large sunglasses, and neon chevron socks. Don’t let the Gumby outfit fool you, he was my secret weapon. He had done el cap 25 times and knew the route well from a free ascent in the 2000s (or at least well enough to identify noteworthy pitches-“is this the Scotty Burke?” ). He arrived at every belay with the rope coiled, snacks accessible in a small case, and ready to give a nice forearm massage. I was on the princess cruise and Cedar supporting me allowed me to only focus on climbing, which was an amazing treat. It was an awesome whirlwind experience—we started Sunday at 3:30 pm and topped out Wednesday at 1:45 pm, and even got to take an awesome rest day in the alcove playing Scrabble and watching Peaky Blinders. Thanks @cedarwright for being an awesome partner, changing a multi-country travel sequence for me, and bringing the sour gummy bears. #elcapitan #freerider #climbing

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