Sjong and Stack Free Salathé

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Adam Stack and Justen Sjong have completed a traditional free ascent of the Salathé Wall (5.13b) on El Capitan, swinging leads and either leading or following every pitch all free. It was their third attempt at the route—last December they had to rappel from the 25th pitch in a storm. Sjong was Stack’s coach at the Boulder Rock Club in Colorado several years ago, and he took the younger climber outside for his first routes on natural rock. Stack, 19, has since emerged as one of America’s strongest rock climbers; he is the only American to repeat Tommy Caldwell’s testpiece Kryptonite (5.14c/d) in Colorado. Sjong, also a 5.14 leader, now manages the Touchstone bouldering gym in San Jose, California, and could only take off for long weekends to join Stack in Yosemite Valley, but he managed to score an extra day for the final push on the Salathé. The two topped out on April 12 after four days of climbing. For Stack, the crux of the route was not the 5.13 headwall pitches but a 5.11 slab near the bottom. “I’d think about the 11b slab pitch lying in bed at night, and I’d be so scared of it,” he said. The calf-burning slab was Stack’s lead, and midway he teetered on one of the delicate moves and started to slide down the face, but then came to a stop on a little dimple about four feet lower, without weighting the rope. Finishing the pitch, he declared to his partner, “It was meant for us this trip.” Finishing the Salathé took Stack to the summit of El Cap for the first time, but undoubtedly not the last. “Big walls take climbing to a different level of commitment and dedication,” Stack said approvingly. “And it’s just fun to hang out on a portaledge with a really close friend.”