Steph Davis Frees El Cap

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Steph Davis has free-climbed El Capitan by the route Free Rider, a variation to the Salathé Wall. Davis is the third woman to free El Cap, and only the second to lead every pitch of a free route. Davis started working on Free Rider last year. She made a serious attempt in late October but got snowed off. Last winter, she thought about the route endlessly and committed to return to the Valley as soon as spring arrived. “I’m the kind of climber who, when I get really excited about something, miracles start happening,” Davis said. After about a month of work on various parts of the route this spring, Davis felt ready for a push in late April. She led the Free Blast, the 10-pitch 5.11 start to the route, but had to rap off the fixed lines above Heart Ledge because her partner could only climb for one day; her husband, Dean Potter, then took over belaying and hauling for the rest of the climb. After jugging up the fixed lines, Davis led a couple of 5.12 pitches and the 5.11 offwidths left of the Double Cracks to the Alcove, and then fixed two pitches above. As planned, she and Potter rested a full day in the nook below El Cap Spire, hanging out and doing yoga, so she could start fresh and in the shade on the 5.13a crux above—the Huber variation to the Teflon Corner, which has one move Davis had never done free. This height-dependent reach required a hard dyno for the 5 foot, 5 inch Davis. “It was one freakin’ move to do El Cap,” she said. In the morning, on her first try, she missed the crux move and took a long fall onto an old bolt. “Then I tried again and just tried harder, and I hit it,” she said matter-of-factly. Davis and Potter had planned to bivy on the Block, one pitch higher, but she was still feeling very strong and so continued to lead three more crux pitches: the run-out 5.11 to Sous le Toit Ledge, the 5.12d dihedral to the Roof, and a scary 5.12a traverse left into the Free Rider variation. The hardest climbing was in the bag as she rapped back to the Block for one more night on the wall. Three more testy pitches regained the Salathé, and then three easier pitches led to the top. Davis joins Lynn Hill and Beth Rodden as the only female El Cap free climbers, and she is the first woman in 11 years to lead every pitch free on an El Cap route. The 38-pitch Free Rider has fewer extreme pitches than Hill’s Nose route or Rodden’s Lurking Fear. However, Davis said, “The thing about Free Rider is there’s hard slab, there’s hard offwidth, there’s scary face—there’s never the easy pitches.”

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