El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California
Despite 95-degree temperatures during the first week of June, Alex Honnold and I completed a project we called the “7 in 7.” Over seven days, we tackled seven different full-length routes on El Capitan, setting speed records the first three days on New Jersey Turnpike (VI 5.10 A4), Tangerine Trip (VI 5.9 A3) and Eagle’s Way (VI 5.8 A3). On the final day, we broke the speed record on Triple Direct (VI 5.9 A2).
In the sweltering heat, we struggled up the wall, beginning at 4 a.m. every day. On Monday (June 2), we climbed New Jersey Turnpike via the El Nino start, a free climbing variation with mandatory 5.13a slab climbing. Despite taking a 30-foot fall on the first hard pitch, Alex made quick work of El Nino, and in just a few hours he led us to the center of the black diorite that forms the North American feature on the Southeast Face of El Capitan.
From there, the route climbs along the “East Coast” of the North American diorite through back-to-back A4 pitches. I led two pitches of A4 with loose rock, sharp flakes and bad rivets in about 45 minutes each before continuing out of the diorite into the orange and white granite more typical of El Cap. Alex finished the final pitches, including the infamous 5.9 R pitch first climbed by Ron Kauk on the 1977 first ascent. We summited in 12 hours and 28 minutes—over an hour and a half faster than the old record, held by Brian McCray and Ammon McNeely.
Reorganizing gear on the summit, we hiked down and went to sleep early, waking at 4 a.m. again the next morning to climb the Tangerine Trip. We dispatched the Trip in 9 hours and 24 minutes, again re-racking and descending in order to repeat our process on Eagle’s Way, which we summited on the third day in 7 hours, 56 minutes.
On Day 4 we climbed the Nose (VI 5.9 A2) in 5 hours and 15 minutes. This allowed for a much-needed afternoon of rest. We spent several hours hydrating, eating and icing our taxed hands and legs in the river before returning to El Portal for showers, dinner and an early bedtime of 7:30 p.m.
During the final three days, we repeated the same process, starting at 4 a.m., climbing the day’s route, re-racking on the summit and descending to hydrate, eat and soak in the river. The last three routes all took similar times–Lurking Fear (VI 5.9 A2) and Zodiac (VI 5.7 A3) both went in exactly 5 hours and 5 minutes. On the seventh and final day, we climbed the Triple Direct (VI 5.9 A2) in 5 hours 16 minutes, setting what Alex referred to as an “uncompetitive speed record” since it could certainly be done faster.
For me, there were two distinct crux moments, the first being the difficult and dangerous climbing on New Jersey Turnpike. My second crux came on the third night, prior to our climb on the Nose, when I awoke in the night with numb fingers and a pain in my left hand and elbow. The ache kept me awake for several hours, stealing much-needed sleep. Luckily the pain receded with icing. For Alex, the difficulty came from the day-in-day-out wear and tear of climbing, jumaring and descending, repetitive actions that wear the body down.
In the end I believe we found what we were looking for–a physical and mental endurance challenge and a grand adventure on El Capitan. We hoped to enchain in-a-day ascents and find a new level of difficulty. We wanted to test our big-wall skill and efficiency to see if we could make this possible. We were both proud to see the whole week through, and glad when it was over.