Friday, November 6, 2009

El Capitan

3,000 Feet of sheer granite looms over the north side of the Yosemite Valley. El Capitan once thought to be impossible to climb is now one of the standards for big wall climbing. El Capitan has now become an iconic symbol of American climbing in the 60's and 7o's and the home of some of the most amazing climbs in history.

A climber gets some rest on El Capitan

The main route, know as The Nose was first conquered in 1958 by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore. The team used a style known as "siege tactics" where they would climb using fixed routes that were built off of previously established base points. This allowed them to slowly set a secure route and then return to a base point and rest. They could then set a new base point higher up and use that as a jumping off point for further ascending. This technique was not without its drawbacks however and they suffered multiple set backs from rope breakage due to exposure to the cold temperatures. The team eventually summited the route, but not after a grueling 47 days of climbing.

Harding and Company interviewed by the press at the Top of El Cap

The next successful climb of the nose was in 1960 by Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost. This time the team climbed continuously, setting up temporary resting points along the way instead of the permanent camps used in the siege technique. They completed the route in a record setting 7 days. The next big climbing milestone on The Nose happened in 1969 when Tom Bauman made a successful solo climb of the route. Then 1975 John Long, Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay made a record breaking ascension of The Nose, climbing it in a single day
Royal Robbins gets some rest on face of El Cap
Tom Frost on the record ascension

The Nose is the historically famous El Capitan route there were many other routes established during the 60's and 70's climbing boom. Royal Robbins and his team pioneered the highly rated Salathe Wall and the North American Wall on the peaks southwest face in the early 60's. Routes such as the Dihedral wall, West Buttress, and Muir Wall were also developed in the 1960's. In the 1970's several other notable climbs were made, some of the notable ones being Wall of Early Morning Light, Zodiac, Pacific Ocean Wall and Sea of Dreams.

Bridwell looking up the face

As routes became more and more established climbers started to attempt free climbs of the face, using no climbing aids and setting protection only to prevent falls. The Nose once again set the standard for the hardest face to free climb. Ray Jardine and Bill price made several attempts from 1979 though the 80's but were unsuccessful. The Nose would remain unconquered for 14 years until in 1993 when Lynn Hill, after making making one unsuccessful attempt that was cut short when a critical finger hold was unusable due to a piton jammed in it from previous climbers, successfully free climbed the infamous route in just 4 days. One year later Hill would finish the route in an astonishing 23 hours, setting a new level of climbing for El Captain. To put this climb into perspective the second person to successfully free climb The Nose would take 261 days of effort to summit the route.

Lynn Hill conquers The Nose

Currently there has been an entirely new level of competition for climbing El Capitan. In 2007 brothers Alexander and Thomas Huber would climb
The Nose in a record setting 2 hours 45 minutes. Almost exactly one year later their record would be broken by Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama who completed the route in 2 hours 43 minutes. 4 months later Hans and Yuji would break their previous record climbing the peak in just 2 hours and 37 minutes.

The Huber brothers on their record setting climb

Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama currently hold
the record for fastest ascension of The Nose

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