American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

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

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Yosemite Valley, Various Activity. (An excellent overview of the new Valley speed ascents appears earlier in this journal in an article by Timothy O’Neill. The information provided there supplements the routes and times described below.—Editor)

In 1999, Yosemite Valley was the scene of an unprecedented number of speed climbs with records being broken almost daily, sometimes on the same route. Many of these climbs were made by a newer, younger and most often faster generation of climbers. Some routes that had periodically seen minutes shaved off their times by successively faster teams had their times practically halved by this upstart crowd. In the process, huge risks were taken by climbers whose “style places a premium on speed and audacity—but mostly speed.” (Outside magazine, Feb. 2000)

Not to be overlooked, however, were the valiant efforts of Tommy Caldwell, who not only free climbed all the pitches consecutively on the Salathé (VI 5.13b), becoming the first American to do so, but took only one fall on the entire climb. Caldwell had climbed the route in 1998, vowing to come back and free it, which he did last spring in three days with his friend Mike Cassidy. His one fall came on the Teflon comer pitch above El Cap Spire, which also thwarted Yuji’s onsight effort of 1998. As with all subsequent ascents since the Piana/Skinner free ascent, Caldwell avoided the first crux of the right double crack (5.13b) by linking to Bermuda Dunes—the left double crack—via 5.12a face climbing.

Scott Burk and Sam Shannon were also active near the Salathé, making the third ascent of Freerider (VI 5.12d) in June. This easier variation of the Salathé was pioneered by the Huber brothers in 1998.

And now, onto the speed section. The Zodiac was the scene of intense activity. Chris McNamara and Miles Smart made a new record with a 7:04 showing in March, breaking the old record of 8:40 by Russ Mitrovich and José Pereyra the year before. Cedar Wright and Ammon McNeely then made another quick ascent of the Zodiac in 8:42 in May. This record was especially memorable as it was onsight and hammerless. Their secret was a lot of camhooking—up to 50 feet out from good pro. Next up was Russ Mitrovich, who soloed the route in 12 hours last August, smashing Steve Gerberding’s 1993 record of 17:52, using eye-raising tactics. Except for a mere ten feet of belayed free climbing at the base of the White Circle, Mitrovich did the entire route with the rope on his back while clipped in with daisy chains to various gear placements. At one point he was clipped in to only three fixed copperheads.

Miles Smart soloed the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in 5:57 in September. Hans Florine did the same in June with a 6:59 showing. Dean Potter had done it the year before in 4:17. On July 26, Potter started up the Nose at 5 p.m. in his notorious style, incorporating bold free soloing with spurts of roped climbing, then ran down El Cap and up the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in a combined time of a little over 23 hours. On the Nose, he free soloed classic pitches such as Boot Flake, and aid-soloed (clipped into two or three pieces with daisy chains) the last two and a half pitches after abandoning most of his rope when it got stuck in a flake below. On pitch 14, a classic and glassy 5.9 lieback, while passing a two-person party, Potter free soloed below the leader, said “just don’t fall on me, dude,” and climbed on past. This was the first time the two outstanding monoliths of Yosemite Valley had ever been linked in a day by a solo climber. Before the dust had settled, Hans Florine linked the two-in-a-day solo the very next day, but in reverse order, climbing Half Dome first and the Nose second, and, like Potter, also incorporating lots of free soloing on the routes. Florine’s combined time was 20:43, about two hours faster than Potter’s. Florine did not know about Dean’s climb until after climbing Half Dome. While Han’s record Half Dome time of 3:57 beat Potter’s 5:17 Half Dome time, Potter’s record-breaking Nose solo of “13 and some change” would seem to beat Han’s 13:41 time. It’s going to be hard to one-up these two outstanding solo bifectas!

In September, Miles Smart and Tim O’Neill started up the North American Wall at first light with no headlamps and topped out later that evening with a sub-ten-hour time of 9:36. They absolutely devastated the previous record of 21-plus hours by Florine, Conrad Anker and Mark Melvin. Smart and O’Neill’s time was mostly onsight, as the pair did a lot of free climbing to speed things up. The pair also made a record-breaking ascent in September of Lurking Fear in 5:17, which was entirely onsight.

O’Neill teamed up with Dean Potter to make the first triple linkup of Half Dome, Sentinel and El Cap—in about 22 hours (see article). Florine and Jim Herson broke the Half Dome Regular Route record in October with a time of 1:53. Herson also teamed up with Chandlee Harrell to grab the Salathé record in 6:32. Their July ascent went up the free-climbing variation above Long Ledge and is considered to be a faster variant.

Also in July, Mr. Midwest saw a record ascent by Chandlee Harrell and Peter Coward of 13:39. The pair also made a record on Realm of the Flying Monkeys, taking just 9:59. The same month, Hans Florine, Mark Melvin and Steve Schneider made the first one-day ascent of Sunkist in 19:24.

Tim O’Neill, Miles Smart and Cedar Wright broke the Eagle’s Way record, climbing the route in 10:40 in August. In November, Hans Florine and Tim O’Neill made a record 1:56 ascent of the West Face. Jim Haden, Sean Leary and Eric George climbed Kaos in 27:50 in December, the record for that route. The greater Half Dome routes—that is, routes to the right of the Direct route—saw their first speed-climbing activities ever. In August, Peter Coward, Chandlee Harrel and Greg Murphy climbed Tis-sa-ack in 31:45, the first-ever push on this classic testpiece. The very next day, Steve Gerberding, Steve Smith and Scott Stowe climbed the same route in 26:15. They noticed an unusual amount of chalk on the climb, not realizing that they had been beaten to the first push of the route by a single day. Well to the right, Jet Stream was climbed by Eric George, Russel Mitrovich and Jared Ogden. This was a part of a five-wall, three-week binge by George and Mitrovich, in which they broke the record on four El Cap routes. This included an awesome taming of the Wyoming Sheep Ranch, still one of the Captain’s hardest aid routes, in 29:31. partnered by Sean Leary. For more details on this and other speed climbing records, or to report your own speed ascent, go to Hans Florine’s website at www.speedclimb.com.

El Capitan saw three new lines established in 1999. In May, Mark Bowling, Steve Gerberding and Scott Stowe made the first ascent of Every Man For Himself (VI 5.8 A3) on El Capitan. The line starts right of Gollum and “weaves itself through the Pacific Ocean and North American walls.” Allied Forces (VI 5.9 A3) was put up in September by Mark Bowling, Steve Gerberding and A1 Swanson. The line starts left of Mirage, joins Mirage for 100 feet high on the route, and then busts straight up to the top and right of Mirage. Also on El Capitan, Jim Bridwell and Groaz Giavanni made the first ascent of Dark Star (VI 5.10 A5), a ten-pitch route in between Chinese Water Torture and the East Buttress route. The first pitch is the crux and has one rivet that is “kind of hard to see.” They made their climb in November.

Steve Schneider

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