Last fall, when Alexander and Thomas Huber broke the record for speed-climbing the Nose of El Capitan, Hans Florine vowed to retake the record that he had set in 2002 with Yuji Hirayama. On Sunday, after warming up with two sub-five-hour ascents in the past week, Florine and Hirayama came within two minutes of making good on his promise.
The two started climbing at 6:42 on Sunday morning as a crowd of climbers, reporters, and tourists who had read about the race in California newspapers cheered in El Cap Meadow. They topped out on the 2,900-foot climb 2 hours 47 minutes 30 seconds later, thus clocking the second-fastest climb of the Nose in history.
On October 4 last year, the Huber brothers climbed the route in 2:48:35 to break the five-year-old record by just 20 seconds. Four days later, the German brothers returned to improve their record, and delivered a time of 2:45:45 for the Nose, which is normally climbed in about 31 pitches over several days.
Florine and Hirayama have time for one more effort, slated for this Wednesday, before Hirayama must return to his home in Japan. If they fail to capture the record this week, the Japanese climber may return in September.
During their El Cap speed climbs, Hirayama leads the entire way. Through a combination of simul-climbing and short-fixing at each anchor (pulling up slack in the rope and tying it off so the leader can continue on a self-belay while the second cleans the pitch), both keep moving almost constantly during the ascent. At times they install mini-ascenders between them to protect Hirayama from being pulled off if Florine falls below him.
Hirayama, 39, has been one of the world’s great free climbers for the past 15 years, and makes his living as a professional climber. Florine, 44, climbed professionally for years and has climbed the Nose more than 65 times, but he is now a weekend warrior, working at a desk job at an architectural and engineering firm east of Oakland.
Photographer Tom Evans has written an eyewitness account of yesterday’s ascent and posted close-up photos of Florine and Hirayama on the Nose—see them at Supertopo.com.
Date of Ascent: June 29, 2008