El Niño freed by Americans
The El Capitan testpiece El Niño got its first American free ascent (and fourth overall), when Steve Schneider, Brian Cork and Heather Baer redpointed the climb this summer. The route, established in 1998 by Alexander and Thomas Huber, is one of El Cap’s hardest free climbs, with six 5.13 pitches plus a former 5.12 pitch high on the route that goes at 5.14a since a hold broke. Feeling they were unlikely to free the 5.14 pitch, Schneider plotted a four-pitch variation, involving part of the neighboring North America Wall, to which two protection bolts were added. (Schneider said first ascentionists Tom Frost and Royal Robbins approved of the bolts.) This section went at 5.13a.
Schneider, 42, led six of the seven 5.13 pitches, including a flash of the 5.13a M&M flake. Cork, 21, led one of the 5.13s and followed all of the others free, breaking the Black Cave pitch into two sections at a no-hands rest. Schneider and Cork had been working on the route since May, with help from Jeff Schoen and Steve Smith. "We finished it July freaking 31st,” Schneider said. “It was hot!”