Caldwell: One Move from Watkins Onsight

News Link: At the end of his spring season in Yosemite, Tommy Caldwell paired up with Chris McNamara for a one-day attempt on the south face of Mt. Watkins (5.13a, 19 pitches), east of Yosemite Valley. Neither climber had done the face before. After using the fixed ropes on the “fourth class” approach, Caldwell led and onsighted every pitch but one of the 2,000-foot main wall.

Caldwell cruised the route’s crux endurance traverse, but five pitches below the top, on the second 5.13a pitch, he broke a hold and fell. And then, he discovered, if you’re shorter than six feet or so, it requires a V9 dyno to complete the move. McNamara said it took him about 20 tries to stick the dyno. Below is a video of one attempt.

Above the dyno crux, the two cruised to the top, where they discovered deep late-spring snow, forcing a long post-holing descent. Nevertheless, they managed to reach their campsite before dark for an all-daylight round-trip from the Valley.

Tommy Caldwell moving toward the dyno that ended his onsight effort on Watkins. Photo by Chris McNamara

McNamara has posted an excellent, well-illustrated trip report from Watkins at Supertopo.

The south face of Mt. Watkins was first free-climbed in the late ’90s. In 2008, the British climber Leo Houlding, climbing with Dean Potter, also nearly onsighted the route, falling only on one relatively easy pitch; the two fixed the first pitch (5.12a), and climbed the rest of the route the next day.

Date of Ascent: May 2010

Sources: Chris McNamara,,


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