Skip to content


Steph Davis. With her redpoint of Free Rider, followed by her one-day redpoint of the same route, Davis became the second woman, after Lynn Hill on the Nose, to free climb El Cap in a day. [Photo] Jimmy Chin

I started working on Free Rider (VI 5.12d/13a, 38 pitches) last fall, but had to leave the Valley after being stormed off on Halloween night. I returned at the end of March, very fired up. By mid-April, I felt ready to redpoint the route, but couldn’t find a partner. I wanted to go wall style, and it’s asking a lot of anyone to jug and haul an entire route for you. My friend Ed Whittle gave me a day of jugging up to the top of Hollow Flake, and then my husband, Dean Potter, generously stopped work on his own projects and offered to go up on the route with me for four days.

Worn out by the Monster offwidths, I took a full rest day in the Alcove to prepare for the Huber crux pitch. There is some question about the rating of this pitch. I was always told it was 13a. Others call it 12d. To me it was irrelevant, because I found the moves very height dependent; it took me weeks of effort to figure out first what to do, and then to actually do it. In the end, I made a full-on sideways leap to a sideways hold, with a big, feet-flying swing. By comparison, I freed the upper 12d dihedral pitch in just a few tries. So don’t ask me! On April 24, I topped out, having made the first female free ascent of the route, leading every pitch.

Exactly one month later, Heinz Zak convinced me to go for the route in a day, even offering to jug. Armed with a little plastic bottle full of organic espresso, I started at dusk on May 23, and climbed through the Hollow Flake and the Monster offwidths in the dark. After three hours of sleep in the Alcove, we kept going, and I miraculously stuck the jump move on the Huber pitch. We finished on May 24, having spent 22:15 on the route. Both Dean and Thomas Huber had ordered me to go slow and conserve my energy. It worked well, and the one-day ascent was definitely a lot more fun than the wall-style redpoint. I owe a big thank you to Heinz for his encouragement!

Editor’s Note: Lynn Hill free climbed every pitch of the Nose (VI 5.13+, 31 pitches) in 1993, then made a one-day free ascent of the route the next year. With her free ascents of Free Rider, Davis became the second woman to individually free every pitch of an El Cap route and the second woman to free El Cap in a day.

— Steph Davis, Yosemite, California