Yosemite’s El Capitan is a test piece for the world’s greatest climbers. And today, two of the sport’s most decorated, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, tested the limits of their sport, sprinting up the storied Nose of El Capitan in a record two hours and 10 minutes.
“We’ve been hoping 2:10 is just a step along the way,” Honnold told me. “We’re going to see how it all plays out but both of us think its possible to go sub two hours.”
Honnold added that both he and Caldwell would like to take another stab at the speed record and hope to do it in the next few weeks, while they still have most of the moves memorized. Caldwell and Honnold had been training for the climb in between Caldwell’s book tour promoting his new tome, The Push.
Caldwell brought his family along to witness the historic climb as two of the sport’s best went to work on an iconic piece of rock. “Climbing with Tommy is great,” Honnold said. “He’s the only person I could do something like this with right now. There just aren’t that many people physically capable or interested.”
The duo’s training climbs didn’t come without consequence. Caldwell took a 100-foot whipper during one of their climbs leading up to the record-setting attempt, a fall Honnold said left them both, “mildly shaken.”
“It was a careless mistake and we were lucky it didn’t lead to anything worse,” he said. “We were both a little more careful for it. Obviously, it’s something to avoid.”
The pair cut 10 minutes off the previous record on the 3,000-foot piece of granite set by Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds in October.
Gobright actually spoke with Rock and Ice via Facebook messenger during the climb. “I was watching in the meadow. They clearly had certain sections super wired. I was impressed at how little aid climbing they did,” he said. “There were other sections they kinda messed up. (But) it seemed clear right from the start that they were gonna take it. They were well rested, the route wasn’t mega packed, and the temps were pretty good. Watching Tommy’s kids cheer him on from the meadow was adorable.”
Speed records are somewhat of an aside in the sport, with the ultimate goal obviously making it safely to the top of any project. But Honnold admitted he appreciated the accomplishment. “I’ve always thought speed records were a fun game on the side,” he said. “But I do love the Nose. It’s one of the most classic routes in the world and this is a classic speed record. This doesn’t feel as contrived. During our practice, the weather had been kind of crazy: unseasonably cold and windy and speed climbing made sense because we had to be down by 11 a.m. Obviously, we did this more for speed climbing the Nose but it makes sense. It’s funny, the whole point is being able to climb mountains before getting worked by weather.”