2004 Golden Piton Awards: Big-Wall Free Climbing
European big-rock highlights this year included Josune Bereziartu and Rikardo Otegi’s first free ascent of the totally obscure Yeah Man, a 300-meter route in the Gastlosen Range of Switzerland; Pietro dal Pra’s FFA of Via del Cathedral (8a+/5.13c), on the El-Cap-scale Marmolada in the Dolomites — a route with no bolts (but free climbed using some very long, pre-placed slings on fixed pins on the crux pitch). In Madagascar, Iker Pou freed the few aid moves on the proud American route Bravo Les Filles, established in 1999 by Lynn Hill, Nancy Feagin, Kath Pyke, and Beth Rodden (hence the name). In the U.S., Steph Davis became the second woman behind Hill to free El Cap in a day, with an ascent of Free Rider. Mike Anderson picked an incredible plum with the first all-free ascent of the best-known wall in Zion National Park, Utah, the north face of Angel’s Landing.
Yet all these efforts paled behind Tommy Caldwell’s incredibly sustained Dihedral Wall, which now stands as the hardest long free line in the universe. Caldwell claims it was a whole step up from the other routes he’s done. (“Quite a step up, actually,” he says.) Which is saying something, since he’s freed El Cap by six other routes and has redpointed 5.15.
Doing the individual pitches of an El Cap free route is akin to bolt-to-bolting a sport climb. The crux is in the linkage. The first 15 pitches of Dihedral Wall make up the most sustained swath of rock ever free climbed, and include one pitch of 5.14, one of 5.13d, three of 5.13c, three of 5.13b and four of 5.12.
Just so you don’t think there’s nothing left on the Captain, note that the difficulties of the Dihedral end 1,000 feet below the summit, with 10 scrappy and unaesthetic pitches to finish. Would it be possible to link the meat of Dihedral Wall into upper pitches on Cosmos or even the Salathé Headwall, eliminating the offending “easy” climbing at the top? Beth Rodden-Caldwell Jr.?