American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Secret Passage

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

El Capitan, Secret Passage. Sean Villanueva and I arrived in Yosemite wanting to free climb in a fun style: no fixing, no jugging, no rappelling, just finding our way and bringing the mandolin and flutes for some El Cap freestyle jamming. The first time up we mostly followed the aid route Eagle’s Way, while exploring a labyrinth of possible free- climbing variations. Everything seemed possible until two pitches from the top, when our hopes dropped with 4m of blank rock.

Back on the Valley floor we took two daytrips to work the lower hard cruxes. We never fixed rope. In early October we set off again, and after five days we reached the 4m blank section. Until then I’d redpointed every pitch, many of them right at my limit. As I readied to aid the rivet ladder, down and to the side I saw a tiny bit of dirt sticking out of the blank, polished granite. I lowered and discovered a thin laser-cut seam: the Secret Passage. It was one of the raddest pitches of the route and allowed the climb to go free.

The route follows a mix of two established aid lines (Eagle’s Way’s first 10 pitches, then Bad to the Bone) and a bit of new terrain. The 15-pitch route is run-out and dangerous in sections and extremely steep and sustained (5.10+R, 5.11, 5.9, 5.10+, 5.12aR, 5.13cR, 5.13a, 5.12+, 5.12c, 5.13c, 5.12cR, 5.13a, 5.13a, 5.11R, 5.10+). We added a bolt to an unprotectable face climbing variation and another next to a rivet for a safe anchor. Interestingly, it might be the only route on El Cap that goes free without the use of pin scars. We found only minor signs of scars on the first and sixth pitches, but we didn’t need to use them.

Nicolas Favresse, Belgian Alpine Club, AAC

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