The Dawn Wall wasn’t the only El Cap route to go free in 2015: In June, Mason Earle and Brad Gobright completed a five-year push to free the Heart Route, a complex line between the Nose and Salathé Wall, breaching the left side of the huge heart-shaped alcove that defines El Cap’s southwest face. The route has nine 5.13 pitches (including some previously freed on other routes), and only Earle was able to send the crux V10 “Dubstep Dyno” on the sixth pitch (see the video clip above).
Earle, 27, had already made headlines in 2015 with the first ascent of a multi-year crack climbing project near Moab, Utah, now a strong candidate for the hardest single-pitch trad route in the United States. The severely overhanging fingers and hands crack, starting with a V8 boulder problem, is known as both the Bartlett Wash Crack and Stranger than Fiction. Earle graded it 5.14– (5.14a/b) and sent it with one taped-up bare foot so he could get his toes into the crack.
Earle injured a shoulder while finishing the Heart Route, and after such a strong first half, he “didn’t do a ton of climbing the rest of the year.” But he didn’t stop experimenting with trad climbing. In early winter he rigged a homemade “circus net” under a 50-foot roof crack in the Canyonlands of Utah and bouldered it out. “Climbing above the net forced me to abide by the old-school ethic of no hangdogging,” he said. “Once you fell into the net, you couldn’t reach the crack, so you had to start at the beginning every time. It’s certainly not the future of trad climbing, but I’d love to find another spot to rig it up.”
Right before Christmas, Earle capped 2015 by winning a $1,000 bounty for the first onsight of a 5.13 crack in the new Salt Pump gym in Maine. This year? Who knows? “Hopefully I’ll spend lots of time in the desert and Yosemite,” Earle says. “This month I’m building out a new van for Alex Honnold.”