As the leaves change color and crisp fall air descends over Yosemite Valley, so too do countless climbers. Some seek out old projects that they return to season after season, hoping this year is finally the one they’ll nab the send. Some return to a route that brutalized them years prior, hoping to make it a little bit farther. Some come to establish new climbs, with the goal of scoping, equipping, and maybe even freeing a route that caught their eye. But one thing is consistent—the Valley, with all its rock and mythical walls, continues to deliver. It is, as ever, the Granite Crucible.
Here are some of the biggest stories from this season:
Keita Kurakami Made the Fifth Free Ascent of the Nose, Rope-Solo
Keita Kurakami made the fifth free ascent and first all-free rope solo of the Nose on November 18, 2018. Last year, Kurakami made headlines for freeing the Nose, but later clarified that because he did not climb it in a single push—he slept on the summit at night instead of on the wall—he did not consider it a valid ascent. This year, he climbed the route in a single push, eliminating any doubt. He follows in the footsteps of Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, and Jorg Verhoeven. Kurakami is the first to rope solo the route while freeing it. As if the Nose wasn't hard enough to begin with, he free climbed, rappelled, and then jugged every pitch, covering the same ground three times, without the support of a partner.
Connor Herson, 15, Made the Sixth Free Ascent of the Nose
It's been a big couple of days for free Nose ascents. On Monday, November 19, Connor Herson topped out the Nose for the routes sixth free ascent. At 15, he is by far the youngest person to free the route. Connor was belayed by his father, accomplished big wall climber Jim Herson. Jim reported the ascent on Facebook, writing "Dear Connor, Your climbing is only surpassed by the joy and tenacity with which you attack the audacious. Congratulation on redpointing the Nose of El Capitan in perfect weekender style!"
The father-son team commemorated the ascent by leaving a carabiner from the late Tim Klein at the top anchor.
Lonnie Kauk Made the First Redpoint Ascent of Magic Line (5.14c)
Lonnie Kauk redpointed Magic Line (5.14c) on November 14, 2018. The route was first climbed by his father. In December 1996, Ron Kauk freed Magic Line using pre-placed gear and graded it 5.14b, one of the hardest single pitches in Yosemite. For 20 years the route sat unrepeated (and unredpointed). In December 2016, Lonnie climbed the route with pre-placed gear while his father belayed for the second pinkpoint ascent. This year he finished the longterm project, placing all the gear on lead, and securing the first redpoint. He then upgraded the route to 5.14c. Magic Line is among the world's hardest crack climbs.
Pete Whittaker Climbed Half Dome and the Nose in a Day
Pete Whittaker climbed Half Dome and the Nose, solo, in just 20 hours and 19 minutes on November 9, 2018. “I wanted to see what soloing two big walls in a day felt like,” Whittaker said in an email to Climbing. “Climbing the two walls just means getting to the top. Anything goes: free climbing, french free, pulling on gear, stepping on bolts. So I did a mixture of everything I could to be as quick as possible, whilst also being as safe as possible. I was never speed climbing. You don’t have to climb quickly to cover this much ground in such little time. You just have to climb efficiently and never stop working.”
Whittaker had only climbed the Nose twice and Half Dome once before this feat. “Half Dome felt steady, so the next step was to solo that one,” he said. “Then I thought, just in case I make good time on Half Dome, I should be prepared to push on up the Nose. I made good time, so I just smashed it out rather than trying to make sure everything was totally perfect by soloing them individually, taking more time and checking all the logistics. Makes it more of a challenge that way, I guess.”
“The only thing that didn’t quite go according to plan, apart from getting a bit lost on Half Dome and the descent, plus the usual rope glitches from soloing a wall for the first time, was the amount of water I took on the Nose,” Whittaker said. “I didn’t take enough and was parched to say the least. I was so thirsty that if I could have taken a pee, yes, I would have drunk it, and yes, it would have tasted great."
Luckily, a party below the Glowering Spot gave Whittaker some of their water before it came to that.
Carlo Traversi Made the Second Ascent of Meltdown
Carlo Traversi completed the second free ascent of Meltdown on November 8, 2018, a decade after Beth Rodden climbed the route. It was the hardest trad route in Yosemite until the Dawn Wall claimed that title. Meltdown may only be 60-feet, but the 5.14c shut down Traversi when he first tried the climb in 2013. Since then he returned multiple times to work the crux and overcome difficult footholds, climbing the route clean on toprope in 2015. But through 2016 and 2017 every attempt to lead the climb failed. The cooler temperatures and dry weather this year allowed him to climb it on his third try of the day, after a few initial slip ups just past the crux. Traversi wrote on Instagram that he had the unwavering support of his brother, Giovanni Traversi, who stood in his underwear in knee deep ice water to belay when water filled the base of the route. Like Magic Line, Meltdown is also among the world's hardest crack routes.
Nina Williams Climbed Father Time (5.13b) on Middle Cathedral Rock
On November 17, Nina Williams topped out Father Time (5.13b) on Middle Cathedral Rock, after climbing the 20-pitch route free. Williams had set off on the wall for the second time with Katie Lambert, after the pair tried the route in the Spring. This time they simplified their logistics, enlisting help to haul their food and water so they could save energy. Unfortunately, Lambert's ascent was cut short when her finger was caught between two carabiners, causing a blood blister which then ripped. Lambert continued to support Williams in her ascent, and she completed the route after six days on the wall.
Mikey Schaefer established Father Time after putting in 60 days of effort over two years. He spent nine days on the wall during the first ascent.
Adam Ondra Attempted to Onsight the Salathé Wall
Adam Ondra spent 21 hours attempting to onsight the Salathé Wall (VI 5.13) on El Capitan on November 4, 2018, nearly realizing his goal. Ondra set out with the Belgian big wall free climbing ace Nicolas Favresse just after midnight, and the team had climbed 700 meters by 8:30 a.m. The Salathé is one of the longest routes on El Cap at 35 pitches, and was first ascended by Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, and Tom Frost in 1961. In 1988, Todd Skinner and Paul Piana made the wall’s first free ascent, swapping leads; Alex Huber became the first to lead and free every pitch, in 1995. (Note that every free ascent to date has followed variations from the original line. Only Jim Herson has freed every pitch of the true Salathé route, but no one has freed every pitch in a continuous push). Ondra’s dream to onsight the route came to a stop on the Headwall with its 5.13 crux flared crack. After emerging from the roof, Ondra fell on the upper part of the Headwall. He gave it a second attempt, falling right at the anchor, and didn’t have the energy to give it another try.
Kevin Jorgeson Made the First Free Ascent of the Northwest Face of Higher Cathedral Spire
Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of the 1,200-foot Northwest Face of Higher Cathedral Spire on October 25, 2018. His new climb, Blue Collar, consists of two 5.13 pitches, four 5.12 pitches, and the rest are either 5.10 or 5.11. “The goal was to free the original Robbins and Frost line, the Northwest Face,” Jorgeson said in an email. “However, I encountered a bolt ladder on pitch 7 that required me to look for variations, which is pretty typical when trying to free old aid lines. Instead of finding a short variation, I ended up pioneering six brand new pitches to the summit.” His new free route follows the first six pitches of the Northwest Face (FA: Robbins and Frost, 1961) before climbing six new pitches to the top.
Jorgeson cited the spicy seventh pitch as a crux, a 5.13 first bolted and attempted by Scott Cosgrove and Bob Gaines in the 1980s. “It involves a left-to-right traverse out of a roof with power underclings, bad feet, kneebars, and a tough exit boulder problem,” Jorgeson says. “The pitch checks in at solid 5.13. To be honest, though, I had to try just as hard, if not harder, on some of the dirty 5.12 roof pitches up high than I did on the crux.”
His favorite aspect of the route was how many different ways it challenged him. “You get pitches of clean rock, OK rock, and a bit of garbage as well,” Jorgeson says. “There’s face climbing, laybacking, Rifle-style kneebars, wide climbing, flared climbing, chimneys, finger cracks, hand cracks, fist cracks, and roof cracks. It really challenges you to bring a wide variety of skills to the table. It also forces you to embrace a wide variety of climbing experience, from top-quality to crap and everything in between. For that reason, and the fact that half the route features brand-new pitches, I felt that a new name was appropriate: Blue Collar.”
“I’m always inspired by new lines in Yosemite,” Jorgeson says of the future. “During my time on the Spire, I kept looking across the gully at Higher Cathedral Rock and found what looks like a pretty steep and inspiring possibility. I’m going to go explore that pretty soon. But right now, I’m back home expecting my first kid at the end of November—a whole new type of adventure.”
Brad Gobright Freed El Corazon (VI 5.13b) in 19 Hours
Brad Gobright freed El Corazon (VI 5.13b) on El Capitan in a single push in just 19 hours on October 25, 2018. after a six-day aid reconnaissance of the wall. After spending multiple seasons on the 35-pitch project, Gobright became the third person, alongside Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, to achieve a one-day free ascent. “I tried to do this climb in September, and it felt really hard,” Gobright says. “I didn’t even make it to the top. But almost everything on the send go went super smooth.”
Gobright, climbing with Henry Feder, started up at 10:30 p.m. on October 24, making most of his progress under the moonlight. “Making the decision to climb at night was probably the biggest thing that helped me succeed. That direct sun on El Cap is really brutal this time of year,” says Gobright. “If the wind isn’t blowing, the rock can actually feel hot. Climbing at night proved to be much easier than the hot sunshine.” Higher on the wall, the heat eventually led to the only slowdown of the day. Says Gobright, “I almost got shut down on the last 13a pitch, [when] the sun hit the wall. We ended up chilling out for a few hours to let the afternoon wind hit the wall. After the wind came, it cooled off and I was able to send it.”
Nina Caprez is Working Toward a Free Ascent of the Nose
Nina Caprez has been working towards a free ascent of the Nose, climbing the route in sections with the support of Lynn Hill, who made the route’s first free ascent in 1993. The two climbed the route from the ground up, freeing as much as possible, and finishing on November 3, 2018. The duo was able to climb 98 percent of the Nose free. As Caprez wrote on Instagram [slightly NSFW photo], she still needs to spend more time on the Changing Corners crux. The team's ascent celebrated Hill’s 25th anniversary of her original free ascent. Caprez wrote of Hill on her blog, "I couldn’t have imagined a better partner for the Nose than her. Lynn is always positive, always laughing and having fun, and there has been no single moment of drama or panic."
Jordan Cannon Nearly Freed Golden Gate
Jordan Cannon came strikingly close to a free ascent of El Cap’s Golden Gate (VI 5.13b) on October 25, 2018, after six straight days of leading pitch after pitch on the wall. He sent the Downclimb, the Move, and the Golden Desert sections before coming up short on the A5 Traverse (5.13), a 50-foot sideways affair and the route’s final 5.13 crux. He fell just short of his goal after six attempts on the traverse, a mere five pitches from the top of the 35-pitch route.
Adaptive Climber Eleonora Delnevo Made an Ascent of Zodiac
Eleonora “Lola” Delnevo, an Italian climber who was paralyzed from the waist down after a mountaineering accident in 2015, climbed Zodiac on El Capitan with a team of three other climbers on October 11, 2018. It took Antonio Pozzi, Mauro Gibellini, Diego Pezzoli, and Delnevo just four days to complete the climb, which she and Pezzoli had bailed from during an earlier attempt, in 2016.