American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California—Yosemite, El Capitan, Muir Wall, Attempted Free Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

El Capitan, Muir Wall, Attempted Free Ascent. On April 15, Kurt Smith, Greg Epperson and I embarked on a ground-up free ascent of the Muir Wall. Our plan was to free-climb each pitch in redpoint or pinkpoint (gear left in place) style. We personally felt this was the rawest form of free ascent and necessary for a route of this size and difficulty. We intentionally did not preview or rehearse pitches from above. Free ascents of the Nose and Salathé routes relied heavily on those tactics. No member of the team had previous knowledge of the route. By keeping to these rules, the adventure level remained high. To preserve the integrity of aid climbing, we often had to rely on marginal protection to avoid placing bolts. We added only one bolt to the original ones on the route, although bolts were placed to badly damaged anchors and also on our own variations to the route. We reached Mammoth Terraces on April 29 and fixed ropes back to the ground. The climbing to this point would make an excellent one-day free climb, with three pitches of 5.12+ and one of 5.13. Delayed by rain and snow, we didn't resume climbing until May 9. We then freed to one pitch above Grey Ledges by May 13 and again fixed ropes to the ground. On May 20, again after a delay by weather, we began working on what we thought would be the crux pitches. Kurt freed the long dihedral above the Grey Ledges, and I freed the traverse right out of the dihedral, following a line below the original bolt ladder. We reached the Grey Bands on May 26. Between May 26 and June 4, we jümared 45 gallons of water and 20 days of food up to our high point. On June 4, we tossed our ropes and committed ourselves to a grand adventure. We followed the Muir to the top of its 21st pitch, then did a five-pitch variation to the right. We crossed back left over the Muir in its 26th pitch to reach the “Ledge for Two,” left of the Muir. From here, Kurt led a full-pitch face traverse left across the Shield headwall to reach Chickenhead Ledge on the Shield/Magic Mushroom routes. We were stopped by the second pitch off this ledge, an A2 knifeblade corner. Having failed to free this, we continued to the top, aiding the next pitch too. In total, we freed 32 consecutive pitches. The route has 14 pitches of 5.12 and three of 5.13, making it the hardest free climbing to date on El Capitan. On top on June 13, we were met by rangers, who cited us for having used a power drill to place bolts, and we were eventually fined $185 apiece. Out of 47 bolts we placed, only one was on the original Muir Wall route. All bolts were placed ground-up style, and we tried not to change the climbing for anyone aiding the route. We feel that all bolts will be happily clipped, and the only complaint will be that we didn’t place enough.

Scott Cosgrove

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