Ever since Jim Bridwell, John Long, and Billy Westbay climbed the Nose in a day in May 1975, people have been trying to do bigger and bigger linkups in Yosemite Valley. John Bachar and Peter Croft linked El Capitan and Half Dome in 1986; Timmy O’Neill and Dean Potter added Mt. Watkins 15 years later. The obvious remaining challenges were to climb Yosemite’s three largest faces free or solo. Or, I suppose, free solo, but that’s for another generation.
I’d thought about both goals since 2010, when I first soloed El Cap and Half Dome in a day. In 2012 all the pieces finally came together: Tommy Caldwell was super-motivated to do the free Triple; it had been a dry winter so the routes weren’t seeping; and Hans Florine was psyched to try the Nose speed record. I had partners to practice every part of the linkup.
On May 19, Tommy and I free-climbed the south face of Mt. Watkins, Free Rider on El Capitan, and the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome in 21 hours 15 minutes, from the base of Watkins to Half Dome’s summit. Two and a half weeks later, starting on June 5, I soloed the three walls in about 19 hours. Freeing the Triple gave me a good idea of how tired I would feel 20 hours into the day, and what I would feel comfortable soloing. Overall, freeing it was physically harder, since we had to climb 5.12 pitches after already doing two walls. But soloing it felt a lot more intense, probably because I was just a little on edge the whole time.