Yosemite: El Capitan climbing action
Jorg Verhoeven, Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson, Mayan Smith-Gobat, Libby Sauter, Chantel Astorga, Quinn Brett, Pete Whittaker, Tom Randall are all in Yosemite currently attempting their projects on El Capitan...
With soaring temperatures dropping fast, action is rapidly heating up in the world's epicenter of big wall climbing, Yosemite. The season has been in full swing for a while with plenty of climbers hanging out in the valley, including some of the world's best who have converged to tackle their targets for this autumn.
Jorg Verhoeven - The Nose
This year The Nose, dare we say the most famous rock climb in the world, celebrates the 20th anniversary of the first one day free ascent at the hands of American ace Lynn Hill. This monumental ascent, which came a year after her first free ascent of this El Capitan classic, still stands as one of the greatest climbing achievements of all times and indication as to the magnitude of this feat, of how far ahead of its time it was, also comes from the length of time needed before it was finally repeated: a staggering 11 years! The second one-day ascent was made in 2005 by Tommy Caldwell who carried out a sub-12 hour ascent of the route a week after he and his former wife Beth Rodden had swung leads to both free climb the entire line. It's worth remembering that a fortnight later Caldwell then climbed The Nose and Freerider in less than 24 hours. Fast forward to 2014 and now Jorg Verhoeven is hoping to free climb the route, too. Over the last few years the Dutch climber has made regular trips to Yosemite and understandably he has set his sights on one of the biggest prizes of all. The last few days have been spent "stemming, squeezing and trying to be Houdini on Changing corners", at 8b+ considered to be the crux of the route, while he admits that the The Great Roof "poses a challenge as well", read, a mix of the most delicate footwork and finger jams imaginable. Verhoven is currently resting before his ground-up attempt and all he has to do now is find a partner for his attempt...
Honnold and Caldwell - El Corazon
Two of Yosemite's finest and fastest, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, teamed up recently to make the first one-day ascent of El Corazon, the 35 pitch weaving combination of the Salathé, Albatross, Son of Heart, Heart Route plus some new free variations linked for the first time back in 2001 by Alexander Huber and Max Reichel. Honnold and Caldwell climbed this 5.13b (8a) in a mere 15.5 hours proving, should this still be necessary, their remarkable big wall fitness once again.
Pete Whittaker - Freerider
Britain's Pete Whittaker has repeatd Freerider, the 4-pitch variation to Salathe Wall, famed for its beauty and being the easiest free climb up El Capitan. There is however nothing easy about this 32 pitch 5.12d (7c) Alexander Huber and Thomas Huber creation and despite valiant efforts, so far it has resisted all first-go attempts. Whittaker and his habitual climbing partner Tom Randall travelled to Yosemite specifically with this in mind and, after having repeated El Corazon, they then set off up Freerider, swinging leads. On day 2 Whittaker fell once on the 'Huber variation' before redpointing it and, given the temperatures, they decided to try the parallel 'The Teflon Corner'. Whittaker subsequently onsighted this and continued upwards without falling, topping out two days later. There have obviously been other superb attempts at free climbing a route up El Capitan without ever falling, such as that by Ethan Pringle last spring on Freerider (in a mere 36 hours, with one fall) and Cedric Lachat’s 2009 attempt on the same route, Ueli Steck's 2009 attempt on Golden Gate, Leo Houlding and Patch Hammond on El Niño just a couple of weeks after the Huber brothers made the first ascent in 1998. And of course Yuji Hirayama's astounding onsight attempt of the Salathé route back in 1997: in just over a day and a half the Japanese fell only 4 times, indicating where the future of climbing might lie.
Chantel Astorga, Quinn Brett, Libby Sauter, Mayan Smith-Gobat – The Nose
As Tom Evans of the El Cap report puts it, "The Girls are back in town!" The girls he's referring to are obviously Chantel Astorga, Quinn Brett, Libby Sauter, Mayan Smith-Gobat, the quartet that, between them, holds the last four women's speed record on The Nose. This season it looks as if Mayan Smith-Gobat and Libby Sauter are intent of further whittling down their record time of 5 hours and 39 minutes, set in September 2013, while Chantel Astorga is aiming for a sub-25 hour solo of the Nose. Their climbs are scheduled for the next couple of days. It's worth noting that a few days ago Libby Sauter and Quinn Brett ascended The Nose and Lurking Fear in 21 hours and 17 minutes – this is the first time two El Capitan routes have been climbed by a women's team in a day.
Tommy Caldwell & Kevin Jorgeson – Dawn Wall
If ever there were a big one, this is it. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson are back for what, when it eventually goes free, will no doubt be the hardest big wall in Yosemite, if not the world. Caldwell was mesmerized by the Dawn Wall line up El Capitans SE Face back in 2007 and as of 2009 the Caldwell – Jorgeson partnership has been fighting its way valiantly up the 30-pitch line, at times making invisible gains, ones measured in millimeters on this kilometer high face. Over the years support has come from the likes of Jonathan Siegrist and Chris Sharma to name but to and now all that stands in the way of success are two pitches that have still to be freed, estimated at 5.14d, 9a. The cooler temperatures should now play in their favour and they plan to stay on as long as possible, well into snowy December even if necessary, like last year. As to the style and tactics Jorgeson told planetmountain: "The goal is to leave the ground and climb to the top of the wall, with both Tommy and I redpointing every pitch along the way. If you fall, you just lower back to the anchor and try again. That's the style we want to do it in and only then will we call it a send."