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20:02: Caldwell Frees Magic Mushroom in a Day

Tommy Calwell working toward a one-day free ascent of Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14, ca. 2,900′), El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, on June 1, 2008. On June 8 he succeeded, freeing the line in just over twenty hours. Three weeks prior Caldwell and Justen Sjong had made the route’s first free ascent in a five-day push from May 12-17. [Photo] Beth Rodden

Less than a month after making the first free ascent of Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14, 2,900′) on El Capitan with Justen Sjong (read the May 19 and May 20, 2008 NewsWires), Tommy Caldwell returned to lead every pitch free on June 8 in 20:02, with his wife Beth Rodden belaying (and power-jugging) in support.

The ascent marked Caldwell’s second attempt on the one-day blast. On June 1, also with Rodden in support, he spent nearly twenty-four hours on the climb without success.

Caldwell’s June 8 ascent represents a milestone in big-wall free climbing nearly as significant as his 2005 free linkup of the Nose (VI 5.14a) and Free Rider (VI 5.12d) in a day. Though Magic Mushroom does not necessarily entail the single hardest move of climbing on El Cap (the Dihedral Wall, which Caldwell freed in 2004, also has a pitch of 5.14a), it is far more sustained than any other free route, with nine pitches of 5.12 or 5.12+ and eleven pitches of 5.13 or 5.14 climbing. His ascent also shattered the previous speed record on the route, held by Ivo Ninov, Kevin Jaramillo and Ammon McNeely, who climbed it in a 55:15 push in 2005. However, Caldwell noted, “the previous speed record follows the entire Magic Mushroom line, where the free variation follows about 70 percent, taking variations on the beginning of the Muir wall, a couple pitches in the middle on Flight of the Albatross, and finishing on the last few pitches of Jolly Roger.”

Todd Skinner and Paul Piana made the first free ascent of one of El Cap’s true big-wall routes in 1988 via the Salathe Wall (Frank Sacherer and Ed Leeper freed the thirteen-pitch East Buttress on the far right side of the southeast face in 1965 at 5.10a; Ray Jardine and Bill Price freed the nineteen-pitch West Face at 5.11c in 1979). After a month of work, it took the two a final eight days to make a free push that shook the big-wall world. Lynn Hill’s first free ascent of the Nose in 1993, followed by her first one-day ascent of the route the next year, set in motion Yosemite’s “modern era.” In 1998 Alex Huber found and freed an easier, four-pitch variation to the Salathe, which he called Free Rider, in 15:25. The Salathe itself was first climbed in a one-day push (nineteen hours) by Caldwell in 2002.

Sources: Beth Rodden, Tommy Caldwell, Chris McNamara,,

Caldwell, exhausted, on his June 1 attempt to free Magic Mushroom in a single day. [Photo] Beth Rodden