Climbing’s Very Big Weekend: From a Yosemite Speed Record to a First Female 5.15b

In a year already deemed one of climbing’s biggest, 2017 keeps on pushing the limits 

The Nose Sees a New Speed Record

Two hours, 19 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s how long it took Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds to climb The Nose on Yosemite’s El Capitan on Saturday, October 21. That’s four minutes off the previous record set by Alex Honnold and Hans Florine five years ago (June 17, 2012, with a time of 2:23:46). To put it in perspective, the Nose (5.9 C2 or 5.14a) is 2,900 feet of climbing spread out over 31 pitches. That’s just over 4.5 minutes per pitch for the duo, a mind-boggling sprint.

Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore first climbed the Nose in 1958, requiring 45 days spread out over 18 months and 125 bolts to complete.

“It’s super impressive what they’ve done. Big respect,” Alex Honnold told the Co-op Journal over the phone as he was hiking out from a solo speed climb in Red Rocks, Nevada. “I gave Brad a lot of beta and was rooting for him for sure, and they broke it by a pretty healthy time. I’m looking forward to doing my best to try to beat it.”

Crowds gathered in El Cap Meadow during Brad and Jim’s ascent, with monkey calls, erupting cheers and even some tears. “I never felt so much collective energy and love before,” said climber John Sprouse, who was visiting the Valley from Wellington, Ohio, and was gearing up for an ascent of the Dihedral Wall on El Cap.

Earlier this month Brad passed Hans on the Nose (Hans was not speed climbing the route at the time), and Hans captured a selfie of the two together, adding, “Go quick boys!” to his Facebook post. Hans, co-author of On the Nose: A Lifelong Obsession with Yosemite’s Most Iconic Climb, is a big supporter of Brad and Jim.

Brad, a professional climber and the star of the film “Safety Third” in this year’s REEL ROCK 12 Film Tour, ascended the Nose many, many times in the past month in order to set the record, with several of the ascents completed this October with Jim, who lives in Yosemite Valley and works on Yosemite Search and Rescue.

“Jim, who is a total dark horse badass, and I climbed it around 20 times together to prepare,” Brad told Co-op Journal. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve worked for in climbing. It feels good to get it done and know all the hard work had paid off. It’s also a dangerous activity and I’m glad not to be doing it anymore.”

The Direct Line: A New Route on El Cap

Fourteen days on the wall (during the final push) and seven years of effort. That’s what it took “Platinum” Rob Miller and Roby Rudolf to complete El Cap’s latest free route, The Direct Line (aka the Platinum Wall), up El Cap’s smooth Southwest Face. The duo topped out on Sunday, October 22.

The route—“commonly referred to as The Platinum Wall when I’m not around,” Rob said—starts straight up from the original Warren Harding start to The Nose and weaves in and out of that and the surrounding routes, including the Muir, The Shaft and PreMuir (5.13c/d). We haven’t yet gotten a confirmed rating of The Direct Line.

Rob and Justen Sjong made the first free ascent of the PreMuir in 2007.

The Co-op Journal was in touch with Rob on October 20th, while he and Roby were on the wall: “Fighting for it here on El Cap brother! One way or another it will be successful. Every pitch will be redpointed by the team when it’s done. That I know. I’m having to dig deeper in ways that I never have before … mostly keeping my spirits in a place where I have a chance to succeed.”

Rob Miller hauling kit. | Photo: Tom Evans

“Pitch 34 is the crux pitch of the route. It’s a hard and precise V8 boulder problem on top of relentlessly steep 12+/13- pitch. Total grade for pitch 34 will say 13+ on the topo,” Rob said.

Kyle King, Rob’s wife, posted on Facebook on October 19: “Hard times with the heat and the smoke [from nearby fires]… but these two are slowly making their way up. Warriors for sure.”

This is the 15th free route on El Cap, a venue for world’s most sought-after big-wall routes.

“This wall is far from tapped out for free climbs,” Tommy Caldwell wrote a few days ago after rapping down the formation in search of his next climbing goal.

South Face of Mount Watkins Rope-Soloed Free in 15 Hours

Though climbing thousands of feet of granite is generally a team effort, this was not was not the case with British climber Pete Whittaker, who completed his second big wall free climb alone, albeit using a self belay, last week. Whittaker uses a soloist device. Using this system requires rappelling to retrieve gear and then re-ascending a rope using a jumar.

15 hours and 39 minutes is how long it took Pete Whittaker to complete his rope-solo free ascent of the South Face route on Mount Watkins (5.13c) in Yosemite on October 14. He spent 45 minutes leading the crux 5.13c pitch.

“I scraped [through] this pitch by the skin of my teeth nearly greasing off every move after the crux,” he said.

The 2,000-foot route, or about the same height as neighboring Half Dome, was established in July 1964 by the heavy-hitters Warren Harding, Yvon Chouinard and Chuck Pratt. Brooke Sandahl and Steve Sutton mostly freed the line over eight days ground up in 1999. (Unable to free the final section, they topped out and rappelled back in to complete the line). Leo Houlding and the late Dean Potter freed it—in a day—in May 2008, nearly onsight, except for a 40-foot fall taken by Leo.

The 19-pitch route has a long and complex free history, or near free climbing history, dating back to 1979 by Max Jones and Mark Hudon. Dave Shultz and Peter Croft also nearly freed it in 1997.

“Watkins hadn’t been soloed all free before, so thought I’d try,” he told the Co-op Journal.

Rope-soloing big walls free is not new for Pete, as he freed El Cap’s Freerider 5.12d/5.13a (becoming the first person to rope solo El Cap free in a day) on November 12, 2016.

The First Female Ascent of a 5.15b

From Spain, another big event in climbing: Angy Eiter and her groundbreaking ascent of a 5.15b. “La Planta de Shiva was an amazing experience and I really enjoyed every session on the route even though frustration accompanied the project,” Angy Eiter told the Co-op Journal of her ascent of La Planta de Shiva, first reported on October 22.

Angy’s ascent—which required two years of work—marks the first time the grade has been climbed by a woman. Professional climber Angy (Angela) from Tarrenz, Austria, is a three-time World Cup and four-time World Champion sport climber (2005, 2007, 2011, 2012). Before Planta de Shiva, the 31-year-old climbed four routes rated 9a (5.14d).

La Planta de Shiva, which was put up by Adam Ondra in 2011, is a combination of two lines with a total length of 45 meters and is located at Villanueva del Rosario in southern Spain.

Angy’s feat comes on the tails of two other groundbreaking female ascents this year. On February 26, 2017, Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb a route rated 9a+ (5.15a) with her ascent of La Rambla, a power endurance route in Siurana, Catalonia, Spain. And on September 11, 2017, Anak Verhoeven, a 21-year-old pro climber from Belgium, completed the first ascent of Sweet Neuf, a first female 5.15a first ascent.