Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell Break Nose Speed Record, Will Attempt Sub-2-Hour Ascent

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Update: For a deep examination into the Nose speed record, check out In Depth: The Evolution of the Nose Speed Record.

El Capitan Yosemite The Nose California National Park Rock Climbing
El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: daveynin/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

Earlier today, Alex Honnold reclaimed the speed record for the Nose on El Capitan, climbing the historic route with Tommy Caldwell in 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 15 seconds. The pair has been working on the project for weeks in a determined effort to beat the time of 2:19:44, set by Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds last fall. It was their eighth trip up the route this season, with the previous five ascents all clocking in around the 2:30 mark.

“We clustered a few things, but we climbed quite well. It was the first time we really tried to redline it,” Caldwell said.

Honnold agreed, saying the climb felt good. “But it definitely wasn’t quite perfect,” he added. “We feel like we could go faster.”

Honnold let slip that the team is eyeing a more ambitious goal: “Holding the record is cool, but there’s something elemental about trying to go sub-two hours, kind of like breaking the two-hour mark in a marathon. I think that if I can go sub-two hours, then I don’t really care who has the record,” he said.

He and Caldwell expect to be back on the Nose within a few days with the hopes of shaving another ten minutes and change off their time. Caldwell, who has never raced the clock in an explicit attempt to set a speed record, said he has enjoyed the process.

“I never envisioned it would be for me,” he said. “It’s an amazing combination of fitness and logistics. The whole experience has been way more cool than I thought it would be.”

Asked whether he thinks the two-hour mark is imminently achievable, Honnold was optimistic: “It’s for sure humanly possible. I think that there’s a good chance that we can do it,” he said. “We’re kind of just getting fit for it. We’re feeling better each time, so it makes sense to give it a few more goes.”

As with previous Nose speed records going back decades, Honnold and Caldwell simul-climbed the entire route. They only reconvened once, halfway up to re-assemble the rack and swap the lead. Caldwell said they brought 20 carabiners, 15 quickdraws, and 11 cams. He led the first 16 pitches, leaving only six of his cams along the way and otherwise relying on fixed gear for protection. Honnold led the final 16 pitches, which have the bulk of the more-technical climbing.

“I was worried about the safety aspect coming into it, and it didn’t feel that bad,” Caldwell said. “I think Alex took all the risks the way we did it.”

He went on to credit Honnold for the record-breaking time. “It’s really up to the leader; following is definitely less work. Brad’s split on the bottom half was still like seven minutes faster than mine. It was the top half where we made up all the time.”

Gobright and Reynolds watched the climb from El Cap Meadow.

“Jim and I, we’re both super psyched. I had a really good feeling it was going to be broken today,” Gobright said. “We were cheering them on the whole time—it was awesome to see.”

Gobright planned to rendezvous with Honnold and Caldwell later in the day to give them feedback on how he thinks they can drop their time further.

“They really turned on the power on that upper half,” he said. “If they bring that first half down, they can shave off a lot of time. There’s a lot of potential there.”

Caldwell also noted that he had to untie from the rope twice in order to untangle from other parties’ gear.

“Now it’s just about climbing a little faster—just flowing better—and not clustering,” he said. “Whenever I team up with Alex, it seems like everything is doable.”