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Allfrey, Lempe Climb Yosemite's Three Biggest Walls in a Day

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Dave Allfrey following the pendulums at the start of the south face of Mt. Watkins, the first of three big walls he would climb with Cheyne Lempe in just under 23 hours. In the background: Half Dome. Photo courtesy of Cheyne Lempe.

6/23/14 – Dave Allfrey and Cheyne Lempe climbed the south face of Mt. Watkins, the Nose on El Capitan, and the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in a combined 22 hours 59 minutes. They are only the third pair of climbers ever to complete a one-day link-up of Yosemite Valley’s biggest walls.

“Dave and I had talked about doing the Triple last spring, but our schedules didn’t line up,” Lempe said. “I know that I wasn’t quite ready for it last year, and needed another season in Yosemite under my belt before I could attempt it. Dave just finished climbing seven El Cap routes in seven days with Alex Honnold, so he was totally fit and super psyched for the mission.”

Allfrey and Lempe started at the foot of Mt. Watkins at 3:06 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. They flew up the south face (19 pitches, 5.8 C2) in 3 hours 40 minutes, about an hour and a half faster than they’d done it in a practice run earlier in the week. “Most of the time savings came from Cheyne,” Allfrey said. “He was flying.”

After hiking out to the highway in Tuolumne Meadows, they caught a ride back to the Valley floor with Lempe’s girlfriend, Jess Pemble, who also prepared a hearty dinner to fuel their long night ahead.

At 10 p.m. they started up the Nose (31 pitches, 5.9 C1), which was still sweltering and humid from a hot day in Yosemite. “We were sweating bullets, and we found and drank nearly a whole gallon of water on Dolt Tower,” Allfrey said. Despite the heat and fatigue, they topped out El Capitan around 5:30 a.m. for a 7 hour 30 minute ascent. “Everything kind of went slow mo, but in reality I think we were moving pretty well,” Allfrey said. “7:30 was actually the fastest Nose time Cheyne or I had done, not counting our times when we did it with Alex Honnold, which is like cheating.”

After descending the East Ledges, the two drove to the other end of the Valley, got on their bikes, and rode to the Mirror Lake trailhead. They started the super-steep Death Slabs approach to Half Dome at around 7:30 in the morning. “The hike up to Half Dome might have been the crux of the whole mission,” Allfrey said. “We were really tired at that point, physically and mentally, and that hike isn’t that easy, with the fixed ropes to hand-over-hand and everything. We sort of trudged on silently. I’m not sure about Cheyne, but I kinda had to give myself a little pep talk. It was really hard.”

Lempe wasn’t doing any better during the final approach. “I felt like I was going to vomit from dehydration, and also wanted to cry because I was pushing myself so hard,” he said. “I got to the base of Half Dome, sat down and ate a big tasty apple, and somehow managed the courage to start racking up. As soon as we started climbing again we regained some focus and concentrated on moving efficiently and steadily. Dave was super encouraging on the whole mission, and that was crucial.”

The two started up the Regular Northwest Face (22 pitches, 5.9 C1) at around 10 a.m. They simul-climbed all the way to Big Sandy Ledges, moving methodically at first to stay as safe as possible in their tired state. “At the Robbins Traverse [pitch 10], I mentioned some time concern to Cheyne, especially because we had to pass two parties in the chimneys ahead,” Allfrey said. “Cheyne took off after that. He blasted through the chimneys super fast, chatting and talking with the people. I went through like a zombie.

Cheyne Lempe (left) and Dave Allfrey on top of Half Dome. In the background: Mt. Watkins and Tuolumne Meadows. Photo courtesy of Cheyne Lempe.

“I took over for the Zig Zags with 2:15 left to the 24-hour mark,” Allfrey continued. “I felt instantly recharged and started firing. There were people on the summit looking down and watching us, and that kind of spurs you on a bit. I did a lot of free climbing in the Zig Zags and was able to take us to the top in about an hour. All in all, it was a pretty brutal day, but we managed to have some fun in different moments.”

“We had a few friends surprise us on top of Half Dome with drinks and snacks,” Lempe said. “I was so hammered from all the climbing, and getting the love and support was awesome. Our good friend Ben Doyle [a Yosemite climbing ranger] carried down all of our gear and rope off the top, which was a huge help at the very end.”

The sub-24-hour Triple was first done in 2001 by Dean Potter and Timmy O’Neill.  The two started on Half Dome, then did Watkins, and finished up the Nose. In May 2012, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold upped the ante by free-climbing the entire Watkins–El Cap–Half Dome link-up, following Free Rider instead of the Nose on El Cap, in 21 hours 15 minutes. A few weeks later Honnold soloed the link-up, using aid, in 18 hours 50 minutes.

Dates of ascent: June 21-22, 2014

Sources: David Allfrey, Cheyne Lempe