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On a recon mission ahead of their planned attempt at the Yosemite Triple Crown—a one-day link up of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Mt. Watkins, the Valley’s three biggest walls—Jordan Cannon and Scott Bennett were feeling anything but confident. They were halfway up Half Dome, where rockfall in 2015 changed the Regular Northwest Face route, and were puzzling through the bolt ladder. Try as they might, they kept getting spit off it. To make matters worse, Cannon had brought the wrong size climbing shoes, so his feet were killing him. They eventually made it through the bolt ladder (a bolt was missing, they later learned), but their troubles continued: While climbing up a chimney, Bennett dropped one of his approach shoes. The descent was rough.
“That Half Dome lap took us longer than our prep Nose lap took us, and we were like, ‘Fuck, that’s not a good sign!’ Cannon says. “But we knew we made a bunch of mistakes and thought we’d be able to fix them the next time.”
Fix them they did: On 12:07 am on Saturday, June 14, Cannon started a timer as they began climbing the Nose on El Capitan. Just under 23 hours later, at 10:59 pm, they crested the South Face of Mt. Watkins, greeted by a sky ablaze with stars, and hiked to the summit where friends were waiting with pizza and beer. In between they’d also climbed the Regular Northwest Face again, this time in 3 hours 46 minutes—a personal best for both of them. In fact, on their one-day link up of the three walls, not only did they turn their struggles on Half Dome into a PR, but they also both PR’d on the Nose (5 hours 25 minutes) and Watkins (4 hours 25 minutes, on only their second time climbing the face). And this time they attached their approach shoes to their harnesses with locking carabiners.
The Yosemite Triple Crown is the natural extension to the already massive link up of El Capitan and Half Dome in a single day. Peter Croft and John Bachar were the first to tick that double header, in 1986. Croft envisioned one day adding on Watkins, but never realized that himself. Dean Potter and Timmy O’Neill were the first climbers to pull off the one-day Triple Crown in 2001. Eleven years later, in 2012, the dream team of Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold one-upped Potter and O’Neill by completeing it all free. (Of this milestone, Cannon wrote on Instagram, “To me, this is the most inspiring feat of free-climbing in Yosemite Valley to date.”) Honnold then put yet another spin on the Triple Crown only weeks after his and Caldwell’s free version, becoming the first person to complete it alone, soloing all three faces in 18 hours. Since Honnold’s solo Triple Crown (but prior to Bennett and Cannon’s own), the only other parties to have done it are Cheyne Lempe with Dave Allfrey, and Brad Gobright with Jim Reynolds.
The Triple Crown is a test of both Yosemite mastery and overall fitness. It involves 7,000 vertical feet of technical rock climbing; approximately 71 pitches; and miles of steep approaching and descending.
Despite having climbed it free and then solo himself, Alex Honnold tells Climbing of Cannon and Bennett’s day, “I’m super impressed by their effort—there’s no easy way to climb 7k feet of Yosemite granite in a day! … They did a really good job, nice splits on the routes (Jordan texted me the details) and a nice smooth day it sounds like.”
What makes it so difficult is that you “need to be able to free climb very efficiently, but also be able to aid climb well,” Cannon says. “But it’s a lot of freaking hiking, too. And you also need to be good with logistics and planning.”
And that is why Bennett and Cannon were such a good pairing for this trifecta. Bennett, a few weeks shy of 36, describes himself as the “experienced veteran” compared to the youthful 27-year-old Cannon. “He’s the stronger free climber,” Bennett says, “and he’s got a ton of energy, skill, and strength.” Bennett on the other hand is “very quick on the aid climbing,” says Cannon. Cannon estimates they freed in the realm of 80% of the climbing.
While Cannon has been pushing his free climbing the past year, ticking his first 5.14s and free climbing Golden Gate in a day, Bennett in particular has a long history with moving fast on big routes. In addition to holding the speed record with the late Brad Gobright on Eldorado Canyon’s Naked Edge at various times, he and Gobright are one of only three teams to have ever climbed three unique routes on El Cap in 24 hours.
Though Bennett and Cannon are good friends and gelled well on the wall, the two had actually climbed precious little together before the Triple. The soul time they had roped up was for Cannon’s free attempt on the West Face of Leaning Tower in 2017.
A new element that Bennett and Cannon brought to the Triple Crown was making it a purely human-powered challenge. Whereas all the other teams shuttled by car between the faces at some point, Bennett and Cannon rode bicycles between Manure Pile (where they ended after El Cap) and Mirror Lake (where they started the approach to Half Dome). (Though, Bennett adds, Timmy O’Neill told him earlier this season that he and Dean Potter also did a different triple—El Cap, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock via the Steck-Salathé—and that they biked between the features on a tandem bicycle!)
Cannon and Bennet also did the walls in a different order than any past parties, most of whom started on Watkins, then climbed El Cap, and finished on Half Dome. This established order eliminates a considerable amount of hiking to Watkins and a heinous descent from Half Dome, which, Bennet says, was the one of the hardest parts of the day, between barreling down the Cables Route and Death slabs, and then bushwhacking through Tenaya Canyon.
“It’s cool that they did it in a different order so they could bike between the walls,” Honnold says. “Could have been it a bit harder, though it’s hard to say for sure—the logistics are quite complicated.”
After Watkins, when Cannon and Bennett were back on the Valley floor—the caffeine from chocolate-covered espresso beans that a team on Half Dome had given them still pulsing through their veins—they took a quick dip in the lake, and started trudging up toward Watkins.
The biggest crux of the day was the heat, particularly on Watkins, when both men went shirtless despite the shade and late hour. Every party to have done the Triple Crown has done it within the same four or five days on the calendar, and, according to Bennett, there’s a reason why: “The heat is just a trade off for the long daylight at this time of year and the fitness that comes at the end of a full season climbing in Yosemite.”
Despite all the dizzying stats and numbers involved in such a big link up, at the end of the day both Cannon and Bennett prefer to emphasize the beauty of the experience.
“It’s cool to climb on three vastly different walls in three completely different parts of the Valley,” Cannon says. “Each one is so unique and the views are always changing!”