Free Rider Sees First Female-Team Free Ascent


7/9/10 - Recently, Madaleine Sorkin and Kate Rutherford completed the first female-team free ascent of Free Rider (VI 5.12d, 37 pitches), a four-pitch variation to the Salathé Wall that is the most popular free line on the main face of El Cap. In April 2004, Steph Davis made the first female free ascent, leading every pitch. One month later, she returned to climb Free Rider in less than 24 hours. Davis was the second woman (after Lynn Hill's FFA of the Nose) to both free every pitch on an El Cap route and free an El Cap route in a day.

Sorkin, 28, and Rutherford, 29, swapped leads on the 37-pitch line, with the second following every pitch. "There were some harder pitches that one of us either looked better on or was more psyched about, so that person led it," says Sorkin. "With the Monster Offwidth, we were both happy to get a piece of the lead."

Sorkin and Rutherford are no strangers to long, difficult routes. In 2006, they completed the first female-team free ascent of Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12d; 10 pitches) in Zion, and a year later freed the Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.12a, 23 pitches) on Half Dome. They've also completed other classic climbs such as the Nose in a day. "We usually team up for a clear objective and are pretty thoughtful in our strategy for completing that goal," says Sorkin. "Kate and I know how to push and support each other. It's encouraging and at times competitive, which I value in a female partner. And it's fun."

Last year, Sorkin became the third woman to free the West Face of the Leaning Tower, with Rutherford "belaying and jugging the pitches with a daypack. She was a huge help and the best partner I coul dask to be with on that special day."

The team started up Freeblast (5.11, 10 pitches), the start to Salathé, on Monday, June 21. "We planned to spend the five-day workweek on the Captain," said Rutherford on her blog, "We knew we would need time to rest our bodies and use the shady parts of the day. The first day went pretty smooth."

The ladies spent the night on Hollow Flake ledge 14 pitches up. After successfully completing the notorious seven-inch Monster Offwidth crack, the team met up with photographer Mikey Schaefer at the Alcove, who helped with hauling, and spent the night on El Cap Spire, atop pitch 22.

On day three, Rutherford led the "boulder problem" pitch, and bivied at the sloping Block (top of pitch 27) in a double portaledge left behind by some friends. They awoke to a cool day, ready for some of the route's crux climbing. Wet rock on pitch 30, the 5.12d Enduro Corner, only slowed them a little. "Madaleine shoved [my cotton shirt] in the key finger locks, eventually soaking up all the water," blogged Rutherford. "Now that the holds were dry, she cruised up the knee-baring, lay-backing Enduro Corner. Thrilled, I followed."

The team summited on Friday, June 25, realizing a five-year dream (Rutherford followed most of the route five years ago). “Kate and I dubbed it 'The Princess Cruise' to convey what a team effort the climb turned out to be,” says Sorkin.

Sorkin is currently planning a trip to the Cirque of the Unclimbables with two friends this month, a trip supported in part by grants from the American Alpine Club, Lyman-Spitzer Cutting Edge Awards, and Copp-Dash Inspire Awards. Check out their blog,, for more information.

Dates of ascent: June 21-25, 2010

Sources: Madaleine Sorkin,