Twins Free El Cap


Twin brothers Mike and Mark Anderson, 27, free climbed all 37 pitches of Free Rider (5.12+) on lead or seconding, and Mike Anderson freed every pitch first time without falling. Depending on one’s standard for a “flash,” this may be the first for an El Cap free route. On May 1, the two climbed the 5.11 Free Blast start to the Salathé Wall, and the next day they hauled their gear and climbed to Hollow Flake Ledge. They took a rest day on the 3rd, and then Mike led the 5.12 traverse to Hollow Flake and the punishing offwidth variations to the left of the Salathé. The two then rapped to the ground because Mike had to return to his home in Salt Lake City to take an exam at the University of Utah, where he is completing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Why start up the route if he knew he had to leave a couple of days later? “We were afraid it was going to start getting hot,” Anderson explained. Mike was back in the Valley just over 24 hours after leaving, and on May 7 the brothers returned to the route. That evening, Mark tried several times to lead the Huber variation to the Teflon Corner (5.12d). Then Mike said, “Why don’t I give it a go?” and he promptly flashed the pitch. Inspired, Mark followed it free. The following day, Mike gave everything he had to flash the crux dihedral (5.12c/d) leading to the Roof, running out a 20-foot “do or die” lieback as fast as he could to reach the anchor. After a rest of four or five hours under the Roof, Mark flashed the last 5.12 pitch of Free Rider, a traverse to the left, and the way to the top the next day was clear. Was this the first flash of El Cap? The Anderson twins had climbed the Salathé two years earlier in a single-push, 30-hour aid ascent, and Free Rider shares the majority of its pitches with the Salathé. But the brothers were not thinking about free climbing on the Salathé in 2002. (“Our whole goal that trip was to do Astroman and we got spanked on it,” Mike said.) In any case, most of the hard pitches of Free Rider are completely independent of the Salathé. Perhaps Mike’s climb was not quite a true flash, but it was the first no-falls-first-try ascent on an El Cap free attempt.