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Allfrey, Honnold Become Fastest to Wrestle Alligator Route

Alex Honnold follows the crux pitch, once graded A5, lead by his partner Dave Allfrey on their 16-hour ascent of Excalibur (VI 5.10 A3+), El Capitan. The Allfrey-Honnold partnership has ticked a number of speed records in the Yosemite Valley in recent years, relying on Honnold’s free-climbing expertise and Allfrey’s head for hard aid. [Photo] Dave Allfrey

On November 9, twenty-eight-year-olds Dave Allfrey and Alex Honnold climbed El Cap’s Excalibur (VI 5.10 A3+) in 16 hours, 10 minutes, marking the route’s fastest ascent and first in under 24 hours. Excalibur, made notorious by its incessantly wide cracks, was described by its first ascensionist Hugh Burton as an “alligator route” requiring much wrestling.

Burton and Charlie Porter completed the route in 1975. In 1998, Steve Schneider, Willie Benegas and Andreas Zeger set the previous speed record at 39 hours, one minute. Pitch 5 follows a thin seam that was briefly graded A5 and called ‘the hardest pitch in Yosemite,” according to Supertopo: Yosemite Big Walls. On the first ascent, Burton and Porter stacked RURPs and knifeblades to surmount that section.

Dave Allfrey racks up for his speed ascent of Excalibur with Alex Honnold. Between the huge cams and plentiful iron (not pictured), it was the heaviest rack either climber had carried. [Photo] Alex Honnold

Earlier this month, Allfrey and Honnold moved quickly using an 80-meter rope and no hauling, and by a combination of Honnold’s free-climbing and Allfrey’s aid-climbing prowess. Ultimately, they cut a sizable 23 hours off the 1998 time.

“I couldn’t even do the pitches that [Allfrey] was aiding, and he couldn’t (efficiently) do the pitches I was freeing…. He’s like a magician with his pouches of pins,” said Alex over the phone. “I’ve never placed any of that shit, I don’t even know how to use it.”

Honnold leads the first of several 5.12+ offwidth pitches, this one requiring “some ballistic liebacking and french freeing on [two #6 cams] with almost no other gear,” Allfrey said. [Photo] Dave Allfrey

Though their rack, heavy with wide cams and iron, was the largest either of them had carried, it was still light considering the nature of the route. They brought a double set of cams to #6, beaks and hooks, sawed angles and Lost Arrows.

“I was climbing with a [big cam] in each hand. I wasn’t using aiders or daisies,” Honnold said. “I would have one leg wedged in the crack [and] getting the 5.11 offwidth experience. I was getting pretty wicked pumped from pulling on cams. My leg is all bruised from offwidth-ing.”

Allfrey atop Pitch 5 on Excalibur. “The best part about starting the route was when some folks walked by on the way to the West Face and asked Dave what we were up to,” writes Honnold.”Then they were like, ‘So you’re just fixing??’ And Dave’s like, ‘No, we’re just climbing it.'” Honnold says he and Allfrey joked about the confusion for the rest of the day. [Photo] Alex Honnold

Reaching Pitch 5, “[t]he crack petered into a seam,” Allfrey said. “I had to tap beaks fast and gentle to get them in. I was concerned that I’d take a 50-footer into a ledge. Alex told me I had a 15-foot margin of error, which was not enough margin of error for me.”

Near the top of the route, in the dark, both climbers experienced difficulties.

“The second-to-last pitch [Pitch 27] is a glassy slab,” Allfrey said. “There’s no gear, and it’s some of the weirdest [terrain] I’ve ever climbed. I could sit down on this slab and set gear but I can’t walk across it. All I had were two cams that would fit, and I climbed through a whole 40- to 50-foot section and then it got hard. It was really bizarre that the FA went that way. Maybe they were over the wide climbing at this point.”

Honnold negotiates an uncomfortable belay at the mouth of a cave that extends deep into the mountain. Allfrey says, “There was trash inside the cave that looked like it might have come 500 feet down, falling behind the granite all the way from El Cap Spire.” [Photo] Dave Allfrey

Honnold took the lead for Excalibur’s final pitch and nearly fell out of the offwidth. “I started slipping out [and began] squealing in the night–‘Watch me Dave!’ I was just tired,” he said. “When I see a topo that says 5.11, I think it won’t be a problem. But that particular offwidth was a 10-inch slot, and there was no gear to pull on. I threw myself into it, and I was like, ‘Holy fuck!'”

Allfrey and Honnold first met in September 2012 at the North Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley. Honnold was driving his white van out of the campground when Allfrey, still brushing his teeth, flagged him down to convince Honnold to climb with him. After hearing him out, Honnold asked him one more time if he really knew how to aid climb and admitted his own weakness in the techniques. They tested their rope partnership on Lunar Eclipse soon after, and have set four speed records in Yosemite since: Lunar Eclipse (VI 5.8 A4) at 11:22; Wet Denim Daydream (V 5.6 C3F or A3) on Leaning Tower at 2:55 and 20 seconds; West Buttress (VI 5.10 A2+) at 7:01 and now Excalibur.

Allfrey swings out left of El Cap Spire onto an A3 pitch. [Photo] Alex Honnold

After the wall, Allfrey drove back home to Vegas, though he’d been intending to solo Zodiac. “Excalibur took a lot out of us,” said Honnold, who left for Sacramento to spend time with his family.

Sources: Alex Honnold, Dave Allfrey, SuperTopo: Yosemite Big Walls (3),,,,

Honnold on Pitch 21 (5.13a), below the Salathe headwall, as the sun sets. Though Honnold is well known in the climbing community and beyond for his speed climbing (and free soloing, of course), Allfrey has quietly set more speed records in Yosemite. He’s also climbed El Capitan 33 times by 30 different routes. [Photo] Dave Allfrey