Oh-So-Close to El Cap Onsight

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Steck onsighting the A5 Traverse (5.13b) on Golden Gate. Photo by Nicole Steck.

Steck onsighting the A5 Traverse (5.13b) on Golden Gate. Photo by Nicole Steck.

Steck reracking at Tower to the People before the Golden Desert pitch (5.13a). Photo by Nicole Steck.

Steck reracking at Tower to the People before the Golden Desert pitch (5.13a). Photo by Nicole Steck.

Swiss climber Ueli Steck free-climbed Golden Gate (5.13b, 41 pitches) and fell on only a single pitch, onsighting the rest of the climb. And the one pitch that spoiled his onsight? It was the 5.11c crack off the top of El Cap Spire, just before Golden Gate heads right from the Salathé Wall. Steck slipped on wet rock on this relatively easy pitch, but onsighted the route’s five 5.12 and three 5.13 pitches.

Steck climbed Golden Gate over four days, leading every pitch, with his new wife, Nicole, belaying. (They were honeymooning in the western United States.) Steck also hauled their heavy bag after every lead, adding to his workload.

“For me it was a great dream climbing El Cap free,” he said in an email. “It was stupid to have this fall on an easy pitch, but on the other hand I am so happy that I could climb the route in this style—ground up and not trying the pitches several times or checking out the sequences before. It was a very, very strong experience for me.”

Ueli Steck in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Nicole Steck.

Ueli Steck in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Nicole Steck.

Although Steck has made his fame as an alpinist, including astonishing speed records on the north faces of the Eiger, Grandes Jorasses, and Matterhorn, he is also—obviously—a talented free climber, with redpoints up to 5.14a and free solos up to 5.13b. In 2003, he free-climbed La Vida es Silbar (5.12c) on the north face of the Eiger with Stephan Siegrist. He had aid-climbed the Nose of El Cap in 2001.

Date of Ascent: May 2009

Sources: Ueli Steck / Uelisteck.ch

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