A big shout of thanks goes out to Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle who wrote this story of a US/Japanese attempt to break the time record for climbing El Capitan, currently held by the Huber brothers from Germany.
‘The climb straight up the Nose of El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park ended Sunday in dramatic fashion with Lafayette climber Hans Florine scrambling on his hands and feet, exhausted, his gear hanging off of him, as he desperately pushed to beat the world’s record. He came close, but missed by 2 1/2 minutes. Florine and his climbing partner, Yuji Hirayama, made the ascent up the 2,900-foot wall in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 30 seconds, the second-fastest time ever.
“I’m disappointed,” said Florine, 44. “I wanted it. I wanted the pressure to be off. … But I think we showed everybody today that we can break it.”
Florine, a former All America pole vaulter who grew up in Moraga, and Hirayama, 39, of Hidaka, Japan, plan to go for it again Wednesday. If they fail again, the record will be safe until September, when Hirayama plans to return for an all-out assault, complete with television crew.
The duo is trying to take back the record on the world famous Nose route from German brothers Thomas and Alexander Huber, who raced up the cliff face in a death-defying two hours and 45 minutes in October, smashing Florine and Hirayama’s previous record by three minutes.
“We can cut 15 to 20 minutes if we can take these next two days to recover physically and if we do better technically,” said Hirayama, after a confidence-boosting dip in the Merced River. “But that is a big hope. You have to have big goals, big hope, you know.”
Florine has been competing for 17 years with other climbers for the fastest time on the Nose, the most prominent and popular climbing route on El Capitan, but the quest for the record has become increasingly difficult and risky.
The Hubers, known as two of the strongest, most technically skilled and daring climbers in the world, accomplished the task after months of practice over two years. Two years ago, they had to suspend operations after Thomas Huber was seriously injured in a fall.
The competition for bragging rights became a spectator sport Sunday, as crowds with binoculars and telescopes gathered in the meadow, among the trees and along the road below the giant cliff. Climbers on El Capitan look like slow-moving ants in a sea of granite, and movement is usually hard to detect. Hirayama, one of the world’s best free climbers, always leads while Florine, the consummate strategist, belays and simultaneously climbs behind him, an extremely difficult and usually dangerous maneuver. In this scenario, a fall by Florine could be disastrous, as it would pull Hirayama off the wall. It is the ultimate team sport, in which the participants’ lives literally depend on each another.
“We are quite good working together,” Hirayama said. “I really need Hans. If he wasn’t there, I wouldn’t go.”
The crowd in the valley whooped and hollered after the duo completed the hardest sections of the 32 pitches, or rope lengths, including a maneuver known as the “King Swing,” in which climbers propel themselves 80 to 90 feet in the air more than a thousand feet off the ground. As they neared the top, it became clear to those gathered in the valley, including Florine’s wife, Jacqueline, and two children, Marianna, 7, and Pierce, 5, that it was going to be close. Climbers watching below were biting their nails, pacing about, yelling “go, go” as the two men reached the dreaded, difficult patch of granite known as the Glowering Spot.
“He’s at the belay,” one man yelled as Florine finished climbing a tiny crack in the wall. “It took eight minutes to do that pitch. I think they can do it.”
One could see them stepping it up, struggling to go faster near the top, but it was not to be. It was already too late by the time Florine made his scramble to the tree.
“I had a lot of little rope catches today,” Florine said later after he had hiked down to the valley to be with his family. “But a personal best is always a good thing. The yells from the crowd were fantastic.”
Speed competitions like this one are controversial in the insular world of rock climbing. Purists have criticized Florine’s competitiveness, forgetting that record setting has been almost an obsession, especially on the Nose of El Capitan ever since it was first climbed by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore half a century ago.
The Hubers’ quest for the speed record inspired a movie, “To the Limit,” which depicts the brothers as transcendent climbers. Their competitiveness – which has driven them to subject themselves to ever more extreme dangers – is presented as a kind of spiritual journey toward a higher plane.
Realists simply call it reckless. After all, 13 climbers have been killed in nine separate accidents on the Nose since 1973 when Michael Blake, 19, of Santa Monica lost his grip on the rock and plummeted 2,800 feet to the ground after a bolt, a tie off and his rope failed. That’s just on the one route. Twenty-four people have died on El Capitan – elevation 7,569 feet – since 1905.
But the record for the fastest time is there, so Florine and Hirayama intend to grab it.’
Sure sounds kind of scary to me but good luck for Wednesday guys, I hope all goes well and you come back safely. I’ve included this excellent YouTube video from firstrunfeaturesnyc of the Huber brothers on El Capitan. This story has now been made into a major feature film by Pepe Danquart, called ‘To the Limit’ – it opened in NYC on June 6th.