3 Yosemite speed records in 3 days
After a magical summer flying wing suits in Europe it was nice to land in Yosemite Valley for autumn. Although with temperatures still soaring in the 90’s during the last week of September, it didn’t exactly feel like fall.
The summertime temps made crimpers feel like buttered toast, and small granite footholds seemed like marbles polished with bacon grease, so it was time once again to forget about trying hard free projects and focus instead on the speed climbing game.
Rolling into Yosemite with a high level of psyche I parked myself in front of El Cap and got even more motivated. My arms felt weak for climbing but after a solid month in the Alps of one way uphill hikes, the legs and lungs felt ready to go.
A funny thing about Yosemite speed climbing is that a lot of focus is put on the fastest times of just a handful of routes -- but there are so many classic walls! I figured that a good way to get fit and have fun would be to pluck some of these low hanging fruits.
That day in El Cap meadow I ran into Mayan Smith-Gobat, a New Zealander who had just completed the first all-female link-up of El Capitan and Half Dome in a day with another strong and experienced woman, Chantel Astorga. The team had done the Nose route segment in 7.5 hours, smashing the existing women’s speed record.
Mayan is a really strong free climber, which is key to moving fast on Yosemite’s walls.
She had potential to do the Nose much faster with the right strategy of simul-climbing. Besides, the male/female record on the Nose was barely speed climbing and I thought if we used my knowledge of the route and Mayan’s strong climber muscles we could get up the thing pretty darn quick while still having a fun and casual time.
Luckily she wasn’t sick of the route and agreed to go. She said, “Let’s start a bit early, because I have a flight to catch in the afternoon”. So with the pressure on to send the thing in a morning, we set off.
It’s amazing to climb the Nose with a strong partner because you get to just keep moving the entire time. Even if you go slow and smooth, the strategy alone is enough to carry you up the wall in a few hours. So without ever feeling too rushed, and succeeding in the main goal of just having a good time, we were both at the summit tree after 4 hours 29 minutes. This was not only the male/female record but as far as I know that is hours faster than any woman has climbed the 3000’ Nose before. I’m absolutely positive Mayan can do it at least 2 hours faster if she wants to.
After a quick trip to Fresno airport, sending Mayan off to her next adventure, I cruised back to the valley. The next morning I met up with Alex Honnold, my most famous friend. Alex and I have had some really fun climbing days together. Mostly big speed link-ups, but also some fun big free climbing missions. I like climbing with Alex because he’s never too stressed and he’s really fast. He’s also annoyingly strong and never gets pumped.
After a bit of our normal trash-talking and slander, we started hiking up to the Leaning Tower, possibly the steepest big wall in Yosemite. Our goal was to speed climb the West Face route, one of the classic Yosemite wall routes. We’d both freed the route before and this helped us go quick, interspersing bursts of free climbing with yarding on fixed gear. 1 hour and 16 minutes later we were on top, minus a few gallons of sweat (temps were still hot). This shattered the old speed record by 43 minutes. What a fun
That night I was still motivated and not too tired so I browsed around the internet looking for other records that would be easy to reset. The idea of breaking an obscure record a day seemed kind of cool. One more and I’d have three records in three days which seemed to be an auspicious start to the climbing season.
It turned out that the fastest recorded time for the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock was set by Jason “Singer” Smith in 2001 at 34:00. I’ve climbed up that route before but never timed it, so the next day I made sure to bring a watch! All went smoothly until the last pitch, when I came across another party making their way up a technical corner.
Not wanting to take away from their adventure, I hung back for a few minutes, waiting to pass until the leader got through the crux. They seemed to be having a great time on the route, which is one of the nicer 5.10’s in Yosemite. Once on top of the rock climbing, I checked the time. 29:00! Although I’m positive I’ve done it faster than that and its likely other people have too, it’s still the fastest recorded time so I’ll take it!
Next day, the temperatures soared even higher, so after a morning of cragging the first few pitches of the Nose with another good friend, James Lucas, it was time to put on sandals and nap in the shade at the river.
In a few days though, the heat and the tourists will disappear, the leaves of maples and willows and sedges will turn astounding colors, and the crisp days of autumn will finally arrive. This is the sweet time in Yosemite, when the nights come earlier, the days are quiet after summer’s busy rush, the air is fresh and alive.