Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Climbers smash El Cap record three times in a week


Alex Honnold, top, and Tommy Caldwell on Sunday climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California.

Photo: AP / Corey Rich / Reel Rock / Novus Select

After two of the world’s most celebrated rock climbers twice set astonishingly fast records on the biggest wall in Yosemite National Park in a week, they did it again on Wednesday, breaking a mark compared with track’s four-minute mile.

Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell scaled El Capitan’s 915m sheer granite wall in 1 hour, 58 minutes, 7 seconds, Honnold said.

The blisteringly fast pace capped weeks of practice climbs up the so-called Nose route that runs up the middle of the massive monolith towering above Yosemite Valley.

It also came just days after two speed climbers fell to their deaths on the peak.

Honnold did not think they were on a record pace until he pulled his phone out and looked at his timer as he ran for the tree that marks the official finish line, he said by telephone as he hiked down from the summit.

“Oh my god, we’re doing it,” he thought to himself as he secured the rope around the tree and hoped Caldwell would hustle up the final pitch. “It was slightly emotional when we finished it. I had a wave of ‘Oh wow.’ I’m pretty proud we saw it through.”

The duo broke the Nose record three times in the past week, carving more than 20 minutes off a mark set last year.

Honnold said it would have been easy to stop after setting records Monday and on May 30, but they pressed toward the two-hour goal he considered the “human potential” for the route.

Hans Florine, who has held the speed record for the climb on and off between 1990 and 2012 — the last time with Honnold — said the new mark is equivalent to the ongoing quest to break the two-hour marathon or Roger Bannister’s 1954 achievement in the mile.

“We were pushing the five-hour barrier before and then the four-hour barrier and then the three-hour barrier. So which one of those is the four-minute mile?” Florine said before the mark was broken. “I think it is getting close.”

Climbing times on El Cap have fallen precipitously since the first ascent of the cliff 60 years ago by Warren Harding and two others. That milestone took 12 days in a final push that followed 48 days of advance work over 18 months, as Harding pounded bolts into the route to aid his climb.

“As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered,” Harding said.

Yosemite is mecca for climbers around the world because of its vast array of beautiful soaring granite walls and peaks, but El Cap looms largest and offers 58 distinct routes. The Nose is the best known and typically takes accomplished climbers four or five days.

Climbers jam hands and feet into finger and fist-width cracks to inch their way up the vertical wall. Ledges large enough to camp on offer respite, but sometimes there is little more to grasp or perch on than a sliver the width of a few coins. Other cracks come abruptly to an end in a sea of smooth granite, forcing climbers to swing 9m left or right to find the next hand or foothold.

Speed can come with a devastating price. Climbers are roped together for safety and they clip their lifeline into protective pieces that they place in cracks along the way to catch them if they fall, but the amount of gear in a race against the clock is pared to the bare minimum to save weight and climbers sometimes move in tandem with neither anchored to the rock.

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