“Pick a goal and do it. Find a big goal… something that’s fun so you can keep doing it a lot!” Hans Florine
Every serious climber knows El Capitan. It is as extreme as rock faces come and has long been considered ‘a classic’ around the world.
A sheer granite face rises 2,900 feet straight up. A fall means certain death. It is one of the most hair-raising and arduous vertical climbs in the world and is arguably the single biggest rock climbing challenge.
Once considered impossible to climb it now sets the standard for big-wall climbing. The most popular and historically famous route is The Nose, which follows the massive prow between the south west and south east faces.
The Nose was first climbed in 1958 by a team of 3 who took 47 days using ‘seige’ tactics to conquer it. They climbed in expeditionary style using ropes along the whole length of the route, establishing camps along the way. They relied heavily on aid climbing – using rope, pitons and expansion bolts to make it to the summit.
The next ascent, in 1960, took just 6 days by a team of 4. This was the first continuous climb of the route without siege tactics.
The first solo climb of The Nose was done by Tom Bauman in 1969, and the first single day ascent was accomplished in 1975 by John Long, Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay.
Today The Nose attracts climbers of various experience and ability levels, and, with a success rate of around 60%, typically takes fit climbers 2-3 days of full climbing.
The Nose was first free-climbed in 1993 by Lynn Hill. On her second attempt she reached the summit after 4 days climbing. A year later, she returned to free climb it in a day, this time reaching the summit in just 23 hours and setting a new standard for free climbing on “El Cap.”
And then came speed climbing…
First up were Hans Florine, who grew up in Moraga, California, and Yuji Hirayama, of Hidaka, Japan who set the record at just under 3 hours. Then along came the Huber brothers, from Germany, who, on the 17th October 2007, took 3 minutes off that time and set a new record at 2 hours, 48 minutes, and 35 seconds.
Florine was not new to the face. He first set The Nose speed record with Steve Schneider in 1991, reaching the top in 8 hours and 6 minutes. It was broken a week later. It has since been broken nine times, Florine repeatedly reclaiming the fastest time. World renowned climber Dean Potter and he traded The Nose record several times starting in 2001, prompting one magazine to run a photo illustration of them glaring at each other.
Having had their record broken by the Huber brothers, Florine, now 44, and Hirayama, 39, were determined to get it back and on July 2nd, 2008 they pulled themselves over the top of the immense slab of granite and touched the tree that serves as the finish line in just 2 hours, 43 minutes and 33 seconds – meaning they averaged about 17.7 feet per minute. It was 2 minutes and 12 seconds faster than the Huber brother’s record breaking climb. At one point, the pair were 10 minutes ahead of the record pace, but mistakes and exhaustion slowed the climbers down.
2008 was the 50th anniversary of that first ascent, which was, remember, accomplished in 47 days. Tom Frost, a 72-year-old Yosemite legend who, along with Royal Robbins and two other partners, pulled off the second ascent of the Nose back in 1960, in six days, couldn’t have said it better:
“This is cutting edge, traditional Yosemite climbing, the best it gets. I joke with Hans” he said “about how we knocked five weeks off the record compared to, what, just a few minutes?”
Thirteen climbers have been killed in nine separate accidents on the route since 1973, when Michael Blake, 19, of Santa Monica fell 2,800 feet after his body weight yanked a bolt out of the wall and severed his rope. Twenty-four people have died on El Capitan since 1905, sometimes because they forgot to do something as simple as tying a knot.
Speed climbing is even more risky – forcing climbers to scale large sections of the route virtually unprotected – but it has become an integral part of the history of Yosemite.
If you’re trying to get your head around that record-breaking time – 2 hours 43 minutes and 33 seconds, here are some amusing facts to compare it with:
- That’s a minute faster than the average length of a major-league baseball game in 1986 (but those have generally gotten longer since then).
- It’s the same length as the epic 2004 Brad Pitt-Orlando Bloom film “Troy.”
- And it’s two minutes shorter than the time it took for the Titanic to sink below the surface after its iceberg collision on April 14, 1912.
Enjoy this excerpt of their climb, with thanks to 1stonemaster for posting it.