By Nico Favresse
See Photo of The Secret Passage
Sean Villanueva and I have just freed a new route on El capitain!!!! We
just came down last Friday (10 of October) after 5 days on the wall. It's
for sure one of my best climbing accomplishment and strongest climbing
experience. All my years of climbing experience seem to have blended
together to brew this new major piece of climbing. The route tested my
physical and mental abilities to their limit with the challenge of many hard
pitches to send each day on the wall plus the fatigue of hauling. In order
to leave the aid routes their original way, we were pushed to climb
sometimes on very poor gear and at other times spaced apart. But beside the
physical and mental challenge, the experience exploring the wall for a way
to free felt to me the most powerful. So many sections looked at first
impossible but with optimism, faith and creativity all of them gave away a
solution with an amazing amount of holds, which if one of them did not exist
wouldn’t go free. It felt like each solution was a sign of communication
with the rock.
The idea of trying to free this line came up in December 2006 when I aided
climbed zodiac. I just couldn’t keep my eyes from looking right at the line
just like if I felt something instinctual. The line stayed in my mind and
this year as I arrived in Yosemite with Sean Villanueva mid September, it
was something I really wanted to check out. With him, I knew we could try
our best to climb it in a fun style : no fixing, no jugging, no rappelling,
just finding the way up from the ground and bringing the mandolin and flutes
for some el Cap freestyle jamming.
On our first exploration up the line we went big wall style and the goal was
just to see if it would go free. As my instinct felt always strong with the
line, my rational mind on the other hand had a harder time with rumors of
impossible blank sections, that part of the wall having been unsuccessfully
checked for free climbing on rappel by notorious el cap free climbers.
The first time up the line, we spent 4 days mostly following the aid route
“eagles way”. When a section of the aid line would not be possible to free
we would look at every option of the free climbing labyrinth and that
required sometimes doing long pendulums. Up to two pitches from the summit
everything seemed possible to free with a few very hard pitches. But there,
so close to the summit all the hopes of freeing the entire line dropped with
4 meters of blank rock. We topped out the wall then moved our rope to the
side to make sure we didn’t miss a free alternate. But no, the 4 meters of
blank rock seemed to be the easiest way up the wall.
When we came down at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back on the line.
Why expend all this effort for something that wouldn’t go entirely free?
Then after a day of rest, I woke up with a strong feeling of needing to go
back on the line. I thought if I can’t free the whole line it could still be
so fun to be up there hanging out on El cap, free climbing pitches at my
limits and playing our musical instruments.
Before setting off for another multiple day push on the line, Sean and I
decided to work on the lower hard cruxes of the route on two day-trips. We
never fixed any line. Then we went again last week with the potential to
stay 5 days on the wall so that it would give us enough of a margin to
explore and try to redpoint the upper part of the wall. After five days on
the route, we reached the 4 meter blank section. Up to there, I had been
able to redpoint every single pitch of the climb with many of them on the
edge of my limits. And as I got ready to aid the rivet ladder I looked down
and to the side and saw a tiny bit of dirt sticking out of the super blank
polished granite. I lowered down and discovered a very thin laser-cut
looking seam impossible to see unless you are at level with it. I cleaned
the moss and “the secret passage” appeared making one of the raddest pitch
of the climb. We called our new free route “the secret passage” after this
unique pitch which allowed the climb to go 100% free.
The route follows a mix of two already established aid lines ( Eagles way
for its first 10 pitch and Bad to the bones for the 8 upper pitches of the
climb) and a bit of new terrain as well. The route is extremely steep and so
the climb is very sustained with a total of 15 pitches ( 5-10+ R, 5-11, 5-9,
5-10+, 5-12a r, 5-13c R, 5-13a, 5-12+, 5-12c, 5-13c, 5-12c R, 5-13a, 5-13a,
5-11R, 5-10+) We added a bolt on an unprotect able face climb variation to
the established aid line and place a bolt next to a rivet to make an anchor
safe. We were able to free climb the rest without adding any holes in the
rock. The nature of the climb is quite run out and dangerous at sections.
One pitch protects with hooks and fixed copperheads, a few others have hard
cruxes way past the last piece of pro and there are a few scary sections
with lose rock features we couldn’t avoid.
Sean and I started the route switching lead and following free. Then as the
climb got very sustained Sean didn’t succeed in redpointing every pitch. I
took over the lead for the pitches that he didn’t succeed as he continued to
If you want to get a flavor of our trip in north America ,check out our blog
Here is a photo from their blog: http://www.xpedition.be