Ascending El Capitan’s never-ending orange, gray, and black granite—by any route—is the pinnacle of many climbers’ careers. And even with some 100 routes that ascend the face, including one-pitch variations and lines that have long fallen into obscurity due to varying factors (e.g., poor bolts, loose rock), Californians Brandon Adams and Kristoffer Wickstrom have added their own route to the history books, authoring it over 10 days, topping out on April 28. It’s the longest amount of time either of them has spent on El Cap.
“First ascents have been my main obsession for the last few years. [This new line] was a capstone of what I’ve been working on,” Adams said.
Despite climbing thin beak seams that had them “crying with fear one moment and crying with joy the next,” Wickstrom added, “It was a very relaxing wall. I don’t even have a recollection of the climbing. I just felt this experience of scale.”
The route starts looker’s right of the Nose, via delicate but not death-defying A4 climbing, continues independently for four pitches where it touches the Central Scrutinizer, then it climbs new terrain until it reaches the Jardine Traverse on the Nose. From there it breaks into independent ground via hooking. Near the Great Roof on the Nose it swings right, via a pendulum to connect into a beaking seam. Approaching the top it connects with Mediterraneo, a route that had decaying copperheads bashed into 1/4-inch holes in its final pitches (Adams and Wickstrom repaired this section). To keep the hole-count down, the team utilized existing anchors on other routes when possible.
While nearby teams ascended the Nose, a route they meandered in and out of for more than a week on the face, Adams and Wickstrom slowly toiled via fragile hooking, delicate nailing, and gardening their way up the face. The duo named their 22-pitch route, rated VI 5.10 A4, Ephemeron, and placed about 35 bolts. (Ephemeron means “lasting a day, short-lived.”) Two-thirds of the route covers new terrain. Adams told Climbing they chose that name because, “Everything that we have ever done and will ever do is meaningless. But at the same time, it’s of incredible importance of our personal lives. Like a first ascent on El Cap.”
Adams, 29, residing in El Portal, is a Yosemite Climbing Ranger and Wickstrom, 31, is a former Navy aircraft electronics technician who resides in Lake Arrowhead in Southern California. The two are seasoned big wall climbers having ticked such routes as Radiator in Zion, one that cutting-edge big wall first ascensionist John Middendorf described as his most difficult route in the U.S. Adams also completed the fourth ascent of Heading For Oblivion on Leaning Tower in Yosemite, a route first ascensionist Jim Beyer called his most difficult big wall in Yosemite.
Both Adams and Wickstrom consider Ephemeron more difficult than either of those routes. While establishing Ephemeron, Adams took two 50-foot falls. “One fall was because a feature I was hooking broke off. The other was a small beak that came out,” he said. “There are areas where you are risking a longer fall.”
While establishing Ephemeron, Adams and Wickstrom focused on the aesthetics of the line, which often follows continuous beak seams—they brought 40 beaks of various sizes and often ran low during their long, tenuous leads—and they chose to install hardware on lead and at anchors that would last. Instead of drilling bodyweight-only rivets, they installed 3/8” stainless bolts with hangers, and instead of drilling 1/4” bat hook holes, they drilled more-durable 3/8” hooks that fit the broader side of a Black Diamond talon. Adams and Wickstrom equipped the route so that others could enjoy it without dealing with manky hardware.
“It’s a line that approaches a high level of technical difficulty while still maintaining a reasonable safety margin,” Adams says. “I’m excited to repeat the route. I want to do it in a push, too.”
Regarding more unclimbed cracks on El Cap, Wickstrom added, “I think there still may be a fair amount up there if you’re willing to look around.”
Since completing Ephemeron, Adams and Roger Putman, co-author of Yosemite Bigwalls: The Complete Guide, broke Chris McNamara and Cedar Wright’s longtime record on El Cap’s Shield route, taking the time down from 10:58 to 8:55 on May 5.