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Houlding Frees Nine-Year Project on El Cap

Jason Pickles belays Leo Houlding on The Prophet (5.13d, 1,800′) on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California. The duo freed the new line from the ground-up over six days in late October. [Photo] Tom Evans

After five serious attempts over the past decade, Leo Houlding has climbed a new free line on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park with partner Jason Pickles. The hard-earned success required six days on the wall, three of which were spent waiting out a vicious storm at circa 1500 feet.

The Prophet (5.13d R, 1,800′) climbs the right side of El Capitan, overlapping Bad to the Bone for five pitches before crossing over to The Secret Passage for 15m. The line shares the last four pitches with Eagles Way.

The first three pitches are 5.12 R, followed by three “long and serious” pitches of 5.13a R and a pitch of 5.13b that’s protected by only six bolts in 45m. The crux of the climb is a 25m traverse involving an eight-foot, sideways dyno on the upper reaches of the wall. The traverse leads into the “A1 beauty pitch” on Eagles Way, which climbs 35m of “desperately thin” crack climbing that is sandwiched between two bouldery sections, before topping out.

Houlding and Pickles first attempted the climb from the ground-up and in a day in 2001. They struggled through the difficult climbing, poor belays and questionable bolt placements. Subsequent attempts were plagued by injuries, storms, and long sections of loose, blank rock that could not be free climbed. In June of this year, Houlding and Pickles successfully freed all but the “A1 beauty pitch,” which they were unable to climb in the hot summer temperatures.

In late October, the duo returned to the Valley for a sixth ground-up attempt. They climbed eight pitches on the first day and one pitch on the second, before a “biblical” storm kept them portaledge-bound for two nights.

“There was nobody else on the wall. We were in a waterfall–in a flooded portaledge–unable to escape or be rescued,” Houlding told “Just as it started to look like we would not be able to continue the storm cleared and we were able to dry all our gear.”

With no opportunity for a warm-up, the pair jumped right onto the crux of the climb. Houlding placed gear on lead on his first try and left the pro in place for his subsequent attempts. He fell and started the pitch over again three times before leading it successfully.

“A first ascent on El Capitan is, in my eyes, the ultimate achievement in rock climbing and we did it in the best style we could,” Houlding told former BBC Radio Producer Lissa Cook.

Houlding and Pickle’s climb is documented in Posing Productions’ Psyche II DVD, which will premier on Thursday, November 18 at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival in Cumbria, UK.

Houlding eyes his next available protection high up on El Capitan while Pickles belays below. [Photo] Alastair Lee

Sources: October 31 audio interview with Leo Houlding by Lissa Cook,,,