10/5/11 - Last weekend, New Zealander Mayan Smith-Gobat made one of her dreams come true when she freed the Salathé Wall (VI 5.13b) on Yosemite's El Capitan.
"Free climbing El Capitan has always been a dream of mine," she said on her blog. "Something which I have always aspired to ever since I started climbing. I have always had a fascination for big walls, and loved being in exposed, beautiful places."
She climbed Free Rider (5.12d, "almost free") on El Cap in October 2009, which she says sparked her interest for Yosemite's big walls. Her next goal was the Salathé: "The strikingly steep, flaring crack on the crazily exposed headwall captured my imagination," she said. "It is beautiful and brutally unforgiving." She began working the route last year, trying to figure out the beta for the overhanging, flaring crack on the headwall, but was forced to bail after free climbing every pitch up to the headwall when a strong storm slammed into the Valley.
This year, Mayan "went up on the headwall on my own, working out the crux pitches on mini-traction quite a few days before heading up from the ground," she said in an email. She trained to develop power before arriving in Yosemite, and then focused on getting fit and working out the moves from the crux pitches. "As soon as I was on the route, everything else was automatically shut out of my brain," she said. "Another key was just spending enough time on the granite to feel super comfortable and really relax on the easier terrain."
Before heading up on the final push, she found her partner, Sean, in Camp 4. "He expressed interest in coming up the wall with me," she said. "I jumped at the opportunity to head up with a very experienced, strong climber, even though I barely knew him at the time. He ended up being an awesome person to be on the wall with—great energy and psych."
She spent six days on the route during the final push. The day before she finished the route, she had a "heartbreaking fall off the very last move." But with perfect weather, Mayan managed to reach the top of the headwall ("every hand jam felt amazing and the climbing flowed," she said), sealing the envelop on her longstanding project.
"At first I felt total elation, then a huge sense of relief, and now there is almost an emptiness and lack of direction, because I no longer have a goal taking up most of my energy and thought," she said about having completed the route.
Mayan is headed next to the Petzl RocTrip in China.
Steph Davis was the first woman to free climb the SalathéWall in October 2005.
Date of ascent: October 2011