The first ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan occurred 60 years ago when Warren Harding led a three-man team up the nose. That ascent took 48 days of work over 18 months, the final push lasting 12 straight days. Since then, the speed record at El Capitan has constantly been challenged and defeated. On June 6th, the record fell once more.
World-class climbers Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell made history when they topped out on the 3,000-foot Nose Route in less than 2 hours.
Honnold was the first to reach the summit, and at that time he wasn’t 100% sure that he and Caldwell were on pace for the record. It was only when he glanced at his phone that he realized the position they were in.
The previous record was set last year, and Honnold and Caldwell actually broke that record twice in as many weeks prior to their record twice in as many weeks prior to their run on June 6th. According to Honnold, just beating the record wasn’t enough. They wanted to break the 2-hour mark. At a total elapsed time of 1 hour and 58 minutes, they did just that.
Many of rock climbing’s top athletes, including Hans Florine, who has held the speed record on El Cap numerous times over the years, equated the achievement to breaking the two-hour marathon record.
Yosemite National Park is the most famous climbing destination in the world and El Capitan is the largest peak in the Valley. Of its 58 different routes, The Nose is El Cap’s most famous. Only the most seasoned of climbers can usually complete the route, and it usually takes them four or five days.
The route is full of chimneys and cracks. Climbers must jam their fists and feet into these cracks as they inch their way up the wall. Some of these cracks are barely the width of a nickel. At times, climbers must swing from a rope and pendulum to a different portion of the route in order to continue the vertical ascent.
Climbers place protective gear along the route as they go to catch them in the event of a fall, but when going for a speed record climbers sacrifice much of that safety gear to cut down on weight. This can prove a catastrophic sacrifice for some.
Less than a week before Honnold and Caldwell’s record run, two other seasoned speed climbers fell to their deaths while attempting another of El Cap’s routes. Caldwell took two pretty big falls himself during practice runs prior to the climb on the 6th.
It’s hard to imagine anyone beating the new record, but El Cap’s history has taught us that, thus far, nothing lasts forever.