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North America, United States, California, Activity in Yosemite Valley

Activity in Yosemite Valley. On the free climbing scene, this year’s big news was the third free ascent, in July, of the Salathé Wall by Thomas Huber, accompanied by fellow German Anderl Heiss. Huber led all the cruxes, including the difficult 19th pitch, which had been avoided the year before when Alex Huber (Thomas’s younger brother) made the second free ascent. Huber had originally planned to climb the route in a day, but kept failing on either the 19th pitch or the headwall pitch, and had to settle for a two-day ascent.

El Capitan was host to an unprecedented number of ascents this year. At one time there were at least 25 parties on the east face (right side) of El Cap alone. Scorched Earth (VI 5.11 A5) received a second ascent by Southern Californians Chris Kalous and Chris Righter. They chose to repeat the first ascent tactics of Rob Slater and Randy Leavitt, who had used an extending hooking pole to bypass blank spots instead of drilling, and found that the “quality of the climb is extraordinary.” Bermuda Dunes (VI 5.11c A4) finally received a second ascent by Chris Kalous and Rebecca Rusch. This route, which closely follows the Salathé Wall, had gone 12 years without seeing a repeat. Cameron Bums of San Francisco and Calder Stratford of Salt Lake City teamed up to make the fourth ascent of Chaos (VI 5.10 A5), finding some serious aid. Bums (an El Cap veteran) remarks that it was the hardest aid climbing he’d ever done, and thought at times that “I might die.” The Sea of Dreams (Vl 5.10 A5) and the Wyoming Sheep Ranch (VI A5+) both received about five ascents in 1996, relegating these one-time test pieces to trade route status. Of note is the second solo of the Wyoming Sheep Ranch by Wally Barker of Southern California in 10 days last September. Rick Lovelace had soloed the route previously.

Speed climbing activity also saw a frenetic pace this year, with some records being broken two or three times in a year, and not being restricted to El Cap. In January, Conrad Anker, Topher Gaylord and Steve Schneider made the first one-day ascent of Wet Denim Daydream (V 5.7 A4) on Leaning Tower in 10:17. In July, Peter Coward and Hans Florine climbed two major Half Dome routes in a single day, both of which were records. They were the Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.9 A2) in 3:41, and the Direct Northwest Face (VI 5.10 A3+) in 12:23, probably doing the first hammerless via hand-placed Birdbeaks. Chan Harrell and Greg Murphy then climbed the Regular Route in 3:24. Coward and Florine came back to take the record again in August in 3:01. The Direct record was then rebroken by Silvo Karo (Slovenia) and Aishun Rupp (Swiss) in September at 11:45.

El Cap records were broken on Mr. Midwest, West Face, Mirage, Aquarian Wall, Shield, Muir Wall, New Dawn, NA Wall, Iron Hawk, Lost in America, and Lunar Eclipse. The NA team broke the 24-hour barrier for the first time. Despite several attempts by strong parties, the Mescalito record of 28:00 hours remains unbeaten. The record was set by Dream Teamers Dave Bengston, Steve Gerberding and Scott Stowe in 1992. The female record on the Nose was broken by the Australian team of Vera Wong and Abby Watkins. They passed six parties during their 16 and one-half hour ascent, which also seems to be some sort of record. Unreported from last year was a record solo of Zenyatta Mondatta by Argentine Damien Benegas in 60:00. Damien Benegas climbed El Cap 16 times in 1996, which is a documented record. He has also done El Cap more than any other foreigner at 45 trips up.

Steve Schneider