The Swiss climber Cédric Lachat onsighted the Free Rider variation to the Salathé Wall (5.12d) on El Capitan in September. Was this the first onsight of a full-length El Cap free route? The answer depends on your standard: Lachat onsighted the first 10 pitches of the route — the Free Blast — about 10 days earlier, and then skipped these pitches (no harder than 5.11) during the final ascent. He also fell repeatedly while trying to climb one version of the 24th pitch, and then onsighted an alternative line at 5.12d.
Lachat, 25, traveled to Yosemite with the Belgian climber Chloé Graftiaux. Both are champion competition climbers — Lachat has won World Cup comps and is ranked 13th in the world in both lead climbing and bouldering; Graftiaux is ranked fifth in the world in bouldering. But neither had climbed a big wall. The two started up the Salathé, aiming for the free route Golden Gate, but bailed from Heart Ledge after climbing the first 11 pitches, weighed down by inexperience and too much gear.
The two then climbed The Nose to get more comfortable on El Cap. After a trip to Bishop for some bouldering, they returned to the Valley to attempt Free Rider. Having already climbed the Free Blast, the 10-pitch, 5.11 start to the Salathé Wall, the two opted to jumar fixed ropes to Heart Ledge and haul their bags to this point.
From Heart Ledge to the top, Lachat led every hard pitch onsight over three days; he followed one easier section while simul-climbing. (Graftiaux free-climbed all but two pitches.) The only section that stopped Lachat in his tracks was the 5.12d Huber Variation to the 24th pitch, on which a crucial hold broke last year, leaving a bouldery dyno.
“It’s very difficult now, but it is possible,” Lachat said. “I practiced the move repeatedly, but it only worked one time out of ten. After this, I descended and did a variation to the left [the Teflon Corner, also 5.12d] so I could complete every pitch onsight. It was OK onsight, but rather dirty and without a trace of chalk.”
Lachat said he had no problem with the other 5.12 pitches on the route, including the 5.12+ corner leading to the Roof on the Salathé Wall. “However, I truly had to fight in the offwidths [up to 5.11]. It was my first time climbing wide cracks, so it was a big battle.”
This is the second time this year that a Swiss climber has come very close to an indisputable El Cap onsight. In May, Ueli Steck onsighted all but a wet 5.11 crack on the 5.13b Golden Gate. Several other climbers have completed one-fall onsight attempts on Free Rider.
Date of Ascent: September 2009