El Capitan, Golden Gate
United States, California, Yosemite Valley
Free climbing on El Capitan: days on a wall, high exposure, awkward chimneys and offwidth stuff, and, last but not least, mostly natural pro—all ingredients for a particularly interesting game. Lynn Hill’s ascent of the Nose was an exploit, an event in the climbing world, an earthquake not just for women but for us all. Her comment, “It goes, boys!” was straight, tough, but nonetheless correct. In a provoking yet charming manner, she passed men’s dominance in climbing and left them behind. She discovered El Capitan from a new angle and demonstrated that there was plenty left to explore!
The result: Lurking Fear, Salathé, the Nose, El Niño (a.k.a. the free variation to the North America Wall), and the Free Rider, as the easiest breakthrough on these gigantic walls, are now all free. Last but not least, the Shaft, a stunning 1000-meter free climb with only two meters of aid left, awaits a continuous and complete free ascent.
I saw another possibility for a free climb: the Heart Route, opened in 1970 by Chuck Kroger and Scott Davis. It was one of the first routes on El Cap and therefore primarily follows the bigger features of the face, giving the best chances for a continuous free climb.
On September 20, I started to solo up a new line that escapes from the Salathé at the height of El Cap Spire. The route joins the Heart Route after four pitches. From there, most of the climb is along the original route; only the muddy and wet “Rainy Day Woman” crack is bypassed on the left. On the fifth day of the first ascent, I reached the huge “Fat City” ramp, which is the exit of the Heart Route, and found a fantastic freeclimbing solution to it: a 300-foot flake rips through the highly exposed and overhanging headwall to the left—the perfect exit to the new free climb, Golden Gate!
At the beginning of October, my brother, Thomas, arrived in Yosemite and we immediately began to work on a free ascent of the route. On Friday, October 13, we climbed the Salathé halfway up to the El Cap Spire, where we spent our first bivy. On the second day of climbing we did face problems. On the route’s first 5.13a pitch, I had been sent down twice by breaking holds, so I needed a third attempt to redpoint that pitch, and too much time and power was wasted to exit the route the same day. After another bivy on the wall, we reached the summit of El Cap, having freeclimbed Golden Gate in a single push: 41 pitches, one at 5.13b, two at 5.13a and five at 5.12.
Alexander Huber, Germany