Katie Brown: Half Dome All-Free Onsight

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Half Dome as seen from Washington Column. Photo by Mike Brumbaugh.

Katie Brown has onsighted the Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.12) of Half Dome, completing the 23-pitch route in about nine hours. Brown’s partner was Alex Honnold, who belayed and carried a pack. The two simul-climbed “a bunch of the easy stuff,” but Brown led every pitch above 5.9. She had never been on the route before.

Brown said the first Zig-Zag Pitch (5.11d) and the crux final slab were the most difficult passages for her. “Of course, the gods who created Half Dome decided to make the last pitch the hardest, and that after climbing some 20 pitches below,” she wrote on her blog. “On top of that, it was slab, my nemesis. I really think the only thing that kept me from falling was the desire to not have to climb the pitch again.”

The Half Dome approach as seen from Washington Column. Photo by Mike Brumbaugh.

Brown made a free attempt on the west face of Leaning Tower in 2005 and recently free-climbed the west face of El Capitan, but she considers Half Dome her first true big-wall free-climb. Though she came to prominence in the 1990s as a teenage sport climber, Brown has spent several seasons in the Utah desert and has completed numerous remarkable crack climbs, including a repeat of the four-pitch 5.13 Playing Hooky and an onsight of Tricks are for Kids (5.13a). After finishing Half Dome, she started up Zodiac on El Capitan to support Alex Honnold, who recently free-soloed Half Dome’s northwest face and now hopes to free-climb Zodiac (5.13d).

“It was too hot for him to free it, but I’m sure he’ll try it again in the winter,” Brown said. “I free-climbed as much of it as I could, but there are some pretty big sideways moves that would be REALLY hard for small people.

“I might look into freeing something else on El Cap to start with, though,” Brown added. “We’ll see.”

Check out Brown’s blog for spectacular John Dickey photos of her Half Dome onsight.

Date of Ascent: Early October 2008

Sources: Katie Brown, Web.mac.com/katiebrownclimbs

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