Yuji and Hans Speed Up The Nose - An El Capitan Dispatch from Yosemite, CA
We saw our friends Hans Florine & Yuji Hirayama on Sunday, October 12th, 2008, before, during and after their world record ascent of The Nose in 2:37:05! This was 9 minutes and change faster than their previous record last year (6 minutes faster that their ascent in July, 2008).
As usual Yuji led, placing minimal gear (they carried only 14 cams) and Hans kept the pace and monitored split times while belaying, cleaning, following and jugging. Yuji told me "We’re gonna start slow, then go, go, go!" referring to Wednesday’s "practice" ascent which was a few minutes slower - possibly because the pace was too fast at the start. Go figure - their fastest ascent works out to 5 minutes and change - per pitch... over what is traditionally 31 pitches and 3-5 days! Hans & Yuji met up only a couple of times on the route - to recharge the rack. they gave quite a performance on the Boot Flake pendulum - Yuji going first and doing a slow mo "starfish" 360º (you need to see this to comprehend) and Hans following with a 720º cart wheel... sort of. Clowns and speedsters... mostly speedsters.
They were "ahead" and "behind" the clock at several different points according to timekeeper and gear shaver Chris Gonzalez. In the home stretch, realizing their pace and position, Yuji gunned it and lead the last 3 pitches (up to 11b) only clipping fixed gear and the bolt belays. With a 100-foot plus fall potential, Hans paced Yuji perfectly to help keep slack out of the system and keep things sane - sort of. When Yuji reached the alternate haul anchors at the rim, he stopped, clipped in and pulled hard on the rope - to give Hans extra encouragement and assistance before they both sprinted up the final slabs to the “finish line tree”. The crowd went wild when the final time was relayed by walkie-talkie down to the Meadows!
Their historic ascent was filmed by the Discovery Channel, Japanese TV - for a documentary about Yuji and also by Eric Perlman for his Masters of Stone 6 movie scheduled for next Spring (2009). There was quite a crowd, lots of long lenses, send off hugs, cheers, hoots and hollers from the Meadows... and a champagne celebration when they made it back down (which took longer than the climb!). Both arrived adorned with bay leave crowns - as is tradition in Yosemite when a big climb "goes down". They still had plenty of energy for friends, interviewers and just about anybody with a question. I asked Yuji - "What's the magic between you and Hans?" He said Hans had asked him if he might be interested in going for the record but was not initially interested, preferring difficult climbs and competitions instead... Succumbing to repeated requests, Yuji finally agreed to sample the route in this style and found it not only beautiful, but a whole new challenge. It was The Nose that was the magic - that brought them together, gave them a goal and cemented their relationship - one of unfathomable trust & confidence.
We are happy to be a part of it in our own small way - and MountainTools was quite evident with labels on much of the gear and our triangle flag sticker on Han's helmet. Hans said his "support team" really made the difference as the project grew near. For the last couple of months there was always someone worrying about grams & ounces, gear modification, faster techniques and sourcing whatever needed to be sourced. Tom Frost's encouragement, inventiveness and occasional bivy site helped immensely. Sacrifices and support from family were evident too - wife Jacqueline and kids Marianna and Pierce were "in it to win it" too - just like Poppa and Yuji.
Monday we set out to match Hans & Yuji’s time of 2:37:05... on Royal Arches (half as many pitches and less than half as difficult) - but found age, weakness and lack of climbing in the last 5 years slowed us up considerably. We did make p11 in the "time" but had traffic ahead, muscle cramps, sore hands... and 6 more to go. We were happy to get across the final "death slabs" just before dark and then hiked up to the top of Washington Column - where we enjoyed a full moon bivy until a safe descent of North Dome Gulley could be made at sun up. What perspective this was for us after witnessing Hans and Yuji’s two and a half hours on The Nose!