The “in-a-day” challenge has been a Yosemite climbing tradition for decades—how much granite can you cover in 24-hours? The first major milestone was the one-day ascent of the Nose by valley legends John Long, Jim Bridwell, and Billy Westbay in 1975. Since then the objectives have only become more impressive, with parties linking up various big-walls in the valley and pushing the limits of what is possible in the coveted 24-hour time frame. First it became two-route El Cap routes in a day, then the first three-route linkup went down in 1994 when Hans Florine and Steve Schneider strung together the Nose, Lurking Fear, and the West Face. Sixteen years later, Alex Honnold and Sean Leary would become the second party to complete a single-day, three-route linkup when they took down the Nose, Salathé Wall, and Lurking Fear.
Beginning on June 14 of this year, Brad Gobright and Scott Bennett became the third party to complete three El Cap routes in a single day, linking together Zodiac, the Nose, and Lurking Fear in 23 hours and 10 minutes. Altogether, the tour clocked in at 66 pitches with over 6,700 feet of climbing. The duo began their first route, Zodiac, at 2:00 PM. They topped out just before nightfall, putting them in position to make their first descent and go on to climb the Nose through the night and then finish on Lurking Fear the following morning. While Gobright stated that the climb went smoothly overall, with a general lack of logistical mishaps, the team did have to bear through unseasonably cold weather, outfitted only with t-shirts as the temperature dropped well below comfortable. Combining continuous climbing, lack of sleep, and taxing descents, the linkup proved to be a stout undertaking, but "one of the coolest things I've ever done in climbing for sure [and] super fun in that class-2 type of way," said Gobright.
The idea blossomed when Dave Allfrey, who had previously done climbed seven El Cap routes in seven days with Alex Honnold, suggested the objective to Gobright last year as something they would do together. However, in January it seemed the plan would need to be put on hold when Gobright sustained a serious back injury after taking a ground-fall in Colorado’s Boulder Canyon. Ultimately, Gobright surprised himself by making a quick recovery and was ready to climb by May. Despite this positive turn of events, Allfrey suffered a finger injury which forced him to back down, at which point Bennett came in to take his place.
Gobright and Bennett are no strangers to speed ascents. Their team resume includes a massive linkup of Sheer Lunacy, Monkey Finger, Moonlight Buttress, and Shune's Buttress in Zion National Park in just 19 hours back in 2013. As a team they have frequently held the speed record on the ultra-classic Naked Edge in Eldorado Canyon. Most recently, they dropped the record to a mind-boggling 24 minutes and 57 seconds before friendly rivals Jason Wells and Stephen Griebel took it down even further to 24 minutes and 29 seconds in September 2015.
In preparation for the triple, Gobright arrived in Yosemite in May and ran several laps on the routes, climbing Zodiac twice, the Nose “six or seven” times, and Lurking Fear once. Unable to engage in any hard, physical training while recovering from his back injury, Gobright saw this as a way to get back in shape for the linkup.
"I was so motivated to do as much climbing as I could after having the injury and not being able to climb for so long," Gobright said. "My psych for climbing just built up and up and up, and finally when I started climbing again in May I was so motivated that I just wanted to climb as much as I could."
Bennett, on the other hand, was not able to do much preparation. He arrived in Yosemite shortly before the attempt and had not climbed the Nose or Lurking Fear in several years, making him mostly unfamiliar with the terrain.
Once the climbing began, the two short-fixed most of the way to maximize speed, free-climbing grades up to 5.12 and pulling on gear whenever needed. They did whatever was necessary to quickly ascend the routes. Gobright would lead most of the free pitches, utilizing his strong background in the discipline, and Bennett would take over the more technical aid sections. The two made a great partnership, combining Gobright’s cool head and ability to run it out with Bennett's extensive knowledge of aid climbing, an area Gobright admits to having little experience.
Beginning on Zodiac, Gobright and Bennett reported feeling strong, moving quickly and efficiently up the wall in the cold conditions. They received a tip that someone had stashed water high on the route, allowing them to forgo the burden of carrying water themselves. Unfortunately, the stash didn't pan out.
"We didn't take water up Zodiac, thinking that water would be up there," said Gobright. "And there was, but there was bird poop all over the mouthpiece so we ended up not having any water on the Zodiac."
In most situations this would have been a significant setback, however the unseasonably cold temps allowed the team to continue in relative comfort. The pair called the final pitches of Zodiac some of the best of the linkup. They completed the route in five and a half hours.
After flying down the East Ledges descent in a mere 30 minutes, the team started up the Nose in the evening. It was at this point that spirit began to wane.
“We were both happy, but I think we were just not in a cheerful talk to each other and yell and make monkey calls kind of mood,” said Gobright.
After topping out and making the second blistering descent down the East Ledges, the pair faced what would be the hardest mental challenge of the linkup.
“We got down from the Nose at like 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and it was so cold and we were starting to get tired," said Gobright. "It was a tough moment. That’s kind of the spot where the cold really started to set in.”
They were beat down from the second descent as well, which was significantly taxing on their feet and legs, and what Gobright would call the “heinous” and physical crux of the entire linkup. “[Mentally], the main challenge was just staying awake.” There was temptation to call it quits and head back to the tents at this point, however with two thirds of the climbing already complete, the pair soldiered on.
While Lurking Fear is the easiest line of the three, a route that serves as an introduction to Yosemite big walls for many climbers, it was by no means a cruise for the team after logging so many pitches. Despite their exhaustion, the linkup seemed like a done deal. "Once we started on Lurking Fear, we knew we were going to get it,” said Gobright. They were in a good position regarding time. There was no need to push their physical limits in order to beat the clock and summit before the 24-hour mark, allowing Bennett and Gobright to climb at a more relaxed pace.
“If I had to pick the spot where I was the most exhausted and scared it would probably be the steep crack pitches on Lurking Fear,” said Gobright. “That’s when we started feeling [physically] tired and I was kind of getting nervous. It was really run out. The whole middle section of Lurking Fear has all these steep 5.12 crack pitches that are spectacular, but I was just so tired so that was probably the actual technical crux of the whole thing as far as climbing goes.”
Approaching the top, spirits soared. During the last two pitches of Lurking Fear the pair regained their psych, thoroughly enjoying the climbing and giving each other “headbutts and stuff” along the way. They topped out and made their final descent, arriving to the valley floor by early afternoon, almost 24 hours after they first embarked.
Gobright regards the linkup as one of the “top 5 most difficult things I have ever done in climbing” and also one of the greatest. He now plans on going to Squamish where he will spend the rest of his summer and focus on free climbing, regaining the strength he lost during his back rehabilitation so that he can hopefully return to Yosemite in the fall and push his free climbing abilities.