In casual fashion that seemed to belie the feat’s actual difficulty, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell set a third speed record on the Nose today, one of El Capitan’s most popular big-wall lines in California’s Yosemite National Park. Working together, the duo made their way up the iconic piece of granite in 1:58:07, making good on a goal the two climbers had marked after their first attempt last week.
“It went pretty well, it wasn’t perfect,” Honnold told me today, almost sounding disappointed. “Not that it felt slow but it didn’t feel super fast. Tommy dropped a jumar (or ascender) in the upper part. Normally you use two but he improvised.” Caldwell’s improv might have been kind of a big deal for mortals. The boys were using experts-only speed climbing techniques known as short fixing and simul climbing, which allow climbers to move faster, but certainly ups the exposure meter at certain times during a given route.
Still, the two basically scaled 3,000 feet of stone in the time it takes most people to get to work. Speaking of working stiffs, where would someone who knows little about climbing place this feat in the pantheon of great climbing efforts? The Nose is widely viewed as the easiest full-length route up El Capitan. But it’s no gimmee, and has seen its fair share of accidents. Many climbers dream of doing it in a single day. For most, it’s a two to three-day adventure.
Honnold likened the project to marathon running. “It’s the most endurance-oriented thing in all of climbing,” he said. “You could compare (the speed record) to trying to run a two-hour marathon. Which I think is a lot harder because it hasn’t been done.”
On Saturday, two climbers speed climbing El Capitan’s Freeblast route were killed after a fall, which surely weighed on Honnold’s and Caldwell’s attempt: “That was sobering and we thought about it quite a bit. Ultimately, we were just trying to be as safe as possible.”
Honnold, who last year became the first to free-solo El Capitan, placed the danger of their project for me: “This doesn’t feel sketchy or extreme,” he said. “Alpine climbing, to me, can feel out of control because of the elements. The Nose doesn’t feel that way. We have gear and we can stop at any point.”
So why go for a speed record? Testing their fitness, seems the likely answer. “I think human potential on (the Nose) is an hour and fifteen or an hour and thirty,” Honnold said, perhaps previewing another attempt. “But that would take a world cup level to get up there that fast, basically sprinting or running. It’s all about cardio.”