West Buttress A3 5.9 or 5.13c
Trip ReportFirst Free Ascent History by Tommy Caldwell
By Tommy Caldwell - West Buttress
I haven’t quite figured out what draws me to EL Cap. It seems like the weather is always either too hot or storming. I usually lose a toenail or two because of tight climbing shoes. And, for some reason, it makes my fingers weak. Yet my dreams are filled with images of being thousands of feet off the ground, finger locking up beautiful cracks. I love the adventure and crave the challenge. I feel like I need a help group where I can find others with my addiction and look to them for comfort. A place where I can stand up and say “My name is Tommy Caldwell and I am addicted to El Cap.”
There are only a handful of people that would benefit from my help group. Luckily one of them is my wife, Beth Rodden Caldwell. In early April I realized I was waking up every morning with the shakes. Beth pointed out that it had been nearly six months since our last fix. So we threw our haul bags in the van and headed straight for the Valley. The only thing we knew is that we wanted to try and free a new route. Our first choice was the Aquarian Wall. Pitch 3 proved to be too hard. Our next choice was The West Buttress. We knew that Steve Schneider had freed most of it over 10 years ago and that Matt Wilder had freed everything up to the grand traverse (pitch 11) the previous fall. We figured it would be a likely candidate for an entirely free route.
The first crux came at pitch three. Beth amazed me with her slab climbing abilities and sent the crux moves within a few tries. After a few days of getting bouted I managed to sketch my way through the pitch. Next came a completely wet 5.12 plus corner and then some muddy off width climbing. After that we came to an overhanging, flaring off width that nearly left me dry heaving. When Beth tried it, she put up a fight that brought tears to her eyes and left me completely inspired. As the project continued we realized that there was not enough time for us both to redpoint every pitch. I suggested bailing. Beth selflessly refused and said that if she just supported me to the top I might be able to finish it with the time we had. Beth traded her climbing shoes for aiders supported me for the remainder of the climb.
After a few rest days we headed up the route with four days of food and water. The pitches that proceeded were awesome. Beautiful, clean cracks and lots of exposure. The climbing went well and I dispensed with the pitches of the Grand Traverse with little difficulty. It felt great to be sending but I was sad to see Beth wishing she could have more time to free climb. The climbing suited her style well, so it was obviously hard for her to be jumaring past the beautiful pitches. Even though she was sad, she continued to cheer me on and in a few days we were on the top celebrating.
I later learned that Matt Wilder had done more than just freed to the grand traverse, he had very nearly completed the first free ascent. In the process he established some new, improbable free variations and completely equipped and cleaned the route for free climbing. In short, he put a hell of a lot of work into it and deserves a lot more credit for the first ascent than me. When I learned about Matt’s efforts I felt horrible. New free routes on El Cap are like gold and I Felt like I had stolen it from him. I contacted him and told him and I was sorry. He said that there were no hard feelings and that he was glad Beth and I had a good time on the route. Just goes to show you that even El Cap Junkies can be incredibly generous people.
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