Selected El Cap Free Timeline
1975: Jim Bridwell,
John Long, Kevin Worrall, Mike Graham, John Bachar and Ron Kauk free the first 10 pitches of the Salathé Wall and name their “route” Freeblast 5.11c.
1979: The West Face 5.11c is freed by Ray Jardine and Bill Price.
1988: Todd Skinner and Paul Piana free Salathé Wall 5.13b.
1993: Lynn Hill frees
The Nose with Brooke Sandahl in support mode.
1994: Lynn Hill is the first person to free El Cap in a day, up The Nose. Kurt Smith and Scott Cosgrove free all but a few moves on the Muir Wall and call it The Shaft.
1995: Alex Huber makes the second free and first individual ascent of the Salathé. His brother, Thomas, makes the third free ascent.
1997: Yuji Hirayama makes the fourth free ascent of the Salathé.
1998: Scott Burk, after 261 days of effort, makes a free ascent of The Nose. He sends every pitch apart from the
Great Roof, which he topropes due to wet rock. Alex and Thomas Huber established El Niño 5.13c. Alex and Thomas Huber establish Freerider
5.13a. Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden make the first free ascent of Lurking Fear 5.13c.
1988, after 30 days of working the route. They graded it 5.13b, the hardest free route on the wall to date. The Nose had a number of free pitches, but it was the Great Roof 5.13c and Changing Corner 5.14a that kept many would-be senders at bay. In 1993, top climber Lynn Hill nearly freed it, making it past the Great Roof and to Camp VI, but fell at the Changing Corners because a piton was jammed in a critical finger crack. She removed it and then climbed it from the ground to the top in four days. She returned the next year and freed it in just 23 hours.
Then, in 1998, Scott Burke reached the top after 261 days of effort, leading all but the Great Roof, which he top-roped free. On Oct. 14, 2005, Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden spent four days swapping lead. Two days later, Caldwell returned and climbed it all free in less than 12 hours. Two weeks later, Caldwell climbed The Nose and Freerider 5.13 in 23 hours and 23 minutes, leading every pitch free.
The next free ascent of The Nose didn’t come until 2014 when Jorg Verhoeven spent three days working on the send. In 2018, Keita Kurakami became the first climber to rope-solo free The Nose.
Stephane Perron was the first to free an El Cap route by rope-soloing in 2007 via Freerider, followed by Pete Whittaker on the same route in 2016 and then Kurakami. After his climb, he said, “I sent almost all the pitches on the first try. But I took a fall on the Great Roof and Changing Corners. In total, I fell about 10 times before redpointing the pitches cleanly. But I knew the route well because I took three years, maybe more than 100 days to climb it free.”
Shortly after Kurakami’s ascent, 15-yearold Connor Herson became the youngest climber to free the route. His father, Jim, became the eighth person to free the Salathé in 2003. Herson did a jumarless ascent of Half Dome with his dad at age 11 and a jumarless ascent of The Nose in a day at 13. He’d also sent 5.14c sport routes. His mom, elite climber Anne Smith, said, “On a couple weekend days late last spring they checked out the Changing Corners pitch, it was to investigate long-term project potential. But everything Connor has done his whole climbing life has helped prepare him for this.”
Then, less than a year later, three more climbers added their names to The Nose Free list: Seb Berthe, Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher. Belgian climber Berthe freed The Nose after an eight-day push, but he’s the first climber to free it groundup. Climbing with partner Loic Debry, he led every pitch and reached the Great Roof on the second day. On day three, he sent
The Great Roof on his third attempt and then sent Changing Corners 5.14 a few days later. Debry had to leave and Babsi Zangerl took over as support. Berthe has a lot of experience on El Cap, as he sent Freerider 5.13 in a day in 2017 and the Heart Route 5.13 in 2016.
Zangerl and Larcher freed it a few days later. The power couple swung leads on the easy pitches, but both led the cruxes, including the Changing Corners and Great Roof. The Corners pitch was putting up a fight. “It got wet after a storm hit the valley,” Zangerl said. “Mainly the pin-scares right in the corner were wet. So, we didn’t even try to use them. Our beta was to stay on the arête and lay-back all the way up to a good foothold, where we got into the corner and after another insecure move, we were able to grab the saving jug. On our first tries this beta wasn’t promising at all. It was hard to even connect some moves. After some more effort and figuring out the perfect foot positions, we were able to sort out the crux sequence. I think it is mega cool that there are some different ways how to climb that pitch, from stemming to the scissor-beta of Lynn Hill or lay-backing. Every beta is hard in his own way and takes time to feel good on it and it doesn’t matter if you are very tall or short.”
There are more climbers than ever projecting free routes on El Capitan and it’s only a matter of time before we see many more sends of The Nose in one season.—gripped
Above and below: Seb Berthe on Changing Corners Opposite: Babsi Zangerl on The Nose
Above: Seb Berthe on Changing Corners