American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

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

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Yosemite Valley, Various Activity. Dean Potter, in outlandishly bold style, made a new solo speed record of the Regular route on Half Dome. Taking only 4:17 (and smashing the old record by 16 hours), Potter free-soloed most of the route, carrying a rarely-used rope on his back most of the way. It was perhaps Potter’s fifth time up the route that summer, and he said he had things fairly wired. Indeed, with Venezuelan José Pereyra, he broke the duo record on Half Dome later in the season, coming in at 2:54. Two other records that fell to this pair were the Salathé in 7:33 and Lurking Fear in 7:15. They also pioneered a new technique to enable the pair to climb together with relative safety. It involved putting the rope through a Ropeman (a tiny jumar), so that if the second fell, he would not pull the leader off—very ingenious. These three records were set during a five-day span in September. The pair also made a new record on Half Dome Direct (8:20). Potter also free-soloed Royal Arches in 57 minutes car-to-car.

Alex and Thomas Huber were also in the Valley to do some long free climbing. The pair have each freed the Salathé Wall. This time they headed to the east side of El Cap. Working off the Footstool, they freed some existing pitches on Continental Drift that were among the hardest yet on El Capitan. This gained them access to the upper North American Wall, which they more or less followed to the top. The Black Cave came as another crux at 5.13b, protected by a short sawed-off angle. El Niño (5.13c AO) has only 30 feet of aid (a blank section above Big Sur) on the entire route, and took the Hubers only three weeks to complete. Alex also added a variation to the Free Salathé. Free Rider avoids the lower 5.13 crux used by Skinner-Piana in 1988, and avoids the headwall with a detour to Excalibur to produce a route that is a mere 5.12d. The pair redpointed the route with both climbers free climbing each pitch in under 16 hours, the fastest free ascent of El Capitan. (For a complete account of the Hubers’ efforts, see the article at the beginning of this journal.) El Niño was soon repeated by the young British team of Leo Houlding and Patrick Hammond. (See below.)

Local Valley climber Scott Burke, in a monumental effort that required 261 days spread out over three years, became the second person, and first male, to free climb every pitch of the Nose. Previously, only Lynn Hill had free climbed the route. While Scott managed to redpoint the second crux pitch (the “Changing Corners” or “Houdini” pitch), he had to be content (for the time being) with a toprope ascent of the Great Roof during a ground-up ascent of the climb in November. On the Great Roof, he decided to take the toprope ascent as good since a storm was reportedly on the way. Scott did not lead every pitch of the Nose, but did free every pitch. He plans to return next year to properly lead every hard section. He feels the Great Roof warrants a rating of 5.14a. Although Lynn Hill rated this pitch 5.13, others who have checked out the moves, such as Yuji Hirayama, have offered a 13d/14a rating for those of normal finger stature as well.

Warren Hollinger was responsible for three new El Cap routes over the summer. With Bryan Law, he established Ned’s Excellent Adventure. (See below.) Disorderly Conduct (VI 5.9 A3±), put up with Miles Smart and Bart Groendycke, shares some pitches with New Dawn before breaking out left of Genesis above Boot Flake. A second ascent was made one month later by Eric George, Brent Ware, with Eric Coomer. Another route, Nightmare on California Street (VI 5.10 A4+), was put up by Hollinger and Grant Gardner between Sea of Dreams and Wyoming Sheep Ranch in July. It featured a 63-hole count. The topo stresses that a 65-meter rope is mandatory.

The El Cap Girdle Traverse (VI 5.10 A4) was finally climbed by Chris McNamara and Mark Melvin. McNamara’s intimate knowledge of the rock made this oft-tried adventure possible in only five days, with two seperate returns to the ground for a night out at the salad bar. It is 75 pitches long and features some classic climbing on the Zodiac and Salathé.

On the speed climbing scene, several records were again established. Brian McCray and Miles Smart climbed Aurora in 23:55 in an incredibly fast on-sight in August. However, the pair rested on top for half an hour before hauling up their bag, which must be added to their time. (The route’s not over till the bags are hauled, the last pitch is hauled, and everyone is on top.) McCray teamed up with his wife, Roxanna Brock, for the fastest female-male time of Eagle’s Way in 19:06, the third-fastest time overall. Hans Florine, Brian McCray, and Wayne Willoughby made the fastest ascent of the Bad Seed to date. They took only 19:12 to dispatch this route, which is the first one-day ascent of El Capitan by a disabled person (Wayne Willoughby suffers from post-polio syndrome).

Venezuelan José Pereyra and Russ Mitrovich climbed the Zodiac in 8:40; the previous record was 10:57. The same pair also teamed up with Potter to make the first one-day ascent of Mescalito in 23:28, breaking the existing record by over four hours. Hans Florine and Nancy Feagin became the first male-female team to climb El Capitan (the Nose) and Half Dome (Regular Route) in a day, and sixth overall. Willie Benegas (Argentina), Steve Schneider, and Andreas Zegers (Chili) made a record 39:37 ascent of Excalibur. The Reticent Wall saw several repeats, most notably its first solo by Grant Gardner on only his fifth El Cap route, and also by Wally Barker. Barker, as well as Brian McCray, soloed Surgeon General. Chris McNamara made a record 13:13 solo ascent of Lurking Fear.

Steve Schneider

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