Trip Report
Half Dome Reggae and El Cap West Face Free In-a-Day
Saturday July 20, 2013 5:49pm
What a Long Strange Trip Report It’s Been: Half Dome Regular Northwest Face (the Reggae Route) and El Capitan’s West Face—Both Free in a Day

This trip report tells my story of climbing these two routes over the course of 28 years, culminating in the first one-day free ascent of both routes in June 2013. Although not a world-class difficult link-up (the rating is only 5.12a; Honnold has free-soloed both routes), I feel as though it is a primo way for a 5.12 mortal climber to free-link the faces of Half Dome and El Cap in a day. It is much easier than climbing the Freerider and Half Dome (the “hardman” link-up) and much harder than combining the East Buttress of El Cap with Snake Dike (the “softman” link-up). I hope my story will inspire others to go for this world-class duo in a day.

The idea for this mega-free-climb started about five years ago. As far as huge formations are concerned, El Cap and Half Dome are in many ways the most obvious and monumental summits on earth. I had speed-climbed these two routes with Hans Florine 22 years earlier. The thought of now free-climbing them dawned on me as possibly one of the best objectives in the Valley. The Northwest Face of Half Dome has stacks of easy climbing on it, and the whole wall is slightly less than vertical, which means using lots of leg muscles. After sending this one, the West Face would be the perfect big route to add because the wall is also all less than vertical and the crux 5.11 pitches are over by pitch six, leaving your blasted forearms with 1,200 feet of 5.10 to the top. Both walls face west and see lots of time in the shade, a huge factor in the world of sunny Californian granite free-climbing.

The link-up game in the Valley has been played by the best of them since climbing in the Ditch first began. Some of the greatest, longest, and most exhausting days on rock have been had by Valley climbers pushing their limits by the time the clock reached 24 hours. Along the way we have witnessed standards and minds being blown time and time again. Bachar and Croft embodied the link-up tradition when they nabbed the granddaddy of them all—The Nose of El Cap and the Regular Route on Half Dome in a day. The story is well-known, culminating in the image of two legends standing on top of Half Dome with two rainbows crossing the thunderstorm-threatened sky. “A perfect day in the mountains,” as Captain Croft put it.

Since then, the different link-ups in the Valley have been extensive and creative, with a few of the most active locals always setting the bar for what could be accomplished in a day.

When talking about massive combined climbs, the difference between aid-climbing and free-climbing cannot be overemphasized. It is true that at the high end of hard aid there lies the craft and balls required for the equivalent of doing acupuncture on a sleeping bear. Hard aid is its own beast, requiring tons of experience with specialized gadgets, lots of time and patience on long drawn-out leads, and balls the size of death blocks. But the realm of easy to moderate aid is pretty much vertical backpacking. When one begins to pull on good gear and stand in aiders, the game of climbing is reduced to doing basic pull-ups. This is especially true on the long trade routes, where gear is bomber and success depends solely on the climber’s ability to plug the next cam and hang on his harness. Even on long link-ups (such as the Nose and Half Dome in a day), although speed and endurance are essential, success is rarely in question if you’re moving at a good clip and your legs and arms can keep pulling on bomber holds. When it gets hard, the leader pulls on gear, and once the rope is fixed, the second jumaring is basically like a marathon runner jogging another half-mile before hitting the next rest and refreshment stop.

Free-climbing leaves the success of the ascent constantly in question. On hard team free routes—where both climbers intend to free all the pitches and are at their limit—one tiny slip or one off-balance moment can mean success instantly slips through their fingers. The free ascent is suddenly gone. Leaders must be lowered, ropes must be pulled, and tired muscles and mind must regroup in minutes to give pitches another go. Disheartened and exhausted, the free climber prays for success, tries harder than ever, but often tops out disappointed, even though he climbs the wall and the summit is reached.

Free-climbing link-ups on major Valley routes are some of the most strenuous and impressive examples of rock climbing mastery ever performed. Two days stand out as the most difficult multi-route free-climbing days ever: Tommy Caldwell’s impressive performance on the Nose and Freerider, and Caldwell and Alex Honnold’s mind-blowing team ascent of Mt. Watkins’ South Face, El Cap’s Freerider, and Half Dome’s Reggae Route. In addition to these, Dean Potter’s visionary ascent of El Cap’s Freerider with Half Dome’s Reggae Route has earned the new reputation of the “hardman” free link-up in the Valley. This feat has been repeated by only four others: Leo Houlding, Sean Leary, and Honnold and Caldwell, as mentioned before. Although not technically very difficult for many amazing world-class climbers these days, climbing Freerider and Half Dome free is a daunting task requiring unfathomable fitness, skills and speed. It is doubtful that the Freerider-Half Dome duo will become commonplace (as the gladiator-style Nose-Half Dome combo has become), when one considers the difficulty of free-climbing both routes in a day.

My personal history with the Half Dome’s Regular Route goes back to when I was 14 years old. It was 1986, and I was a freshman in high school, growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Climbing gyms hadn’t been established in the U.S. yet. The landscape was vapid; the giant sprawling metropolis presented few options for a restless teenager to apply himself to something engaging and meaningful. I had experimented with many hobbies and sports—art, skateboarding, drugs—but it wasn’t until I signed up for a rock climbing class that I got sucked in deep.

Before I even knew how a top-rope set-up worked I went to A16 and blew my life’s savings on a rope, harness, a few biners, and some webbing. I laid out the gear and fondled it like it was a pile of buried treasure. I read Royal’s Basic Rockcraft and that weekend headed for Stoney Point. It was my second day climbing ever. I had set-up a top-rope on Beethoven’s Wall on the backside of Stoney and was trying to get myself to try my hardest on the easiest 5.7 route. The thought of weighting the rope was petrifying. An older dude came along and asked for a ride on my TR. As I belayed him through my stich plate I marveled at his grace and fluidity. He made it seem effortless, like he was hiking on a trail. The 5.9 route he took was impossible in my eyes, and he was the best climber on earth as far as this 14-year-old boy was concerned.
It turns out he was Larry Zulim, a long-time Valley local who lived on the rescue site for the better part of 20 years starting in the late Sixties. He had been tight with all the Stone Masters and had repeated most of the Valley classics, especially the free climbs. After he lowered down we started talking. I was eager to know anything about rock climbing, literally anything. Within the first few minutes he mentioned that he had done El Capitan and Half Dome. That was it; this guy was god. The next sentence out of his mouth latched onto my pubescent brain like breath to a drowning surfer, “Oh yeah, El Capitan and Half Dome…those are the goals.” Clear as the sky, the Way had been shown to me by a master.

Eight months went by and I turned 15. I did anything I could to get a ride to Stoney every week, where I flailed around top-roping and bouldering and probably annoying most of the older guys with my eager attitude and big mouth. One man, a 35-year-old named Jeff Batten (the late Juan de Fuca on Supertopo), heard me ramble at Boulder 2 about Yosemite and my desire to go there. Being generous and perhaps a bit nuts, he asked if I wanted to give Half Dome an attempt. I had been to Yosemite on a school trip and gazed up at Half Dome from Mirror Lake. I had even seen a National Geographic movie on the first free ascent of the face. It seemed an unreal invitation, a monolithic trophy in my teenaged mind. It was arranged that he would meet my parents (for all of five minutes!), and we would head up in July to give the Northwest Face a try. I needed good shoes for a big climb, so I bought some flat-soled wrestling boots because they could double as hiking shoes. (I hadn’t bought a pair of Fire’s yet, still convinced that regular shoe rubber was just as sticky and a lot cheaper.)

We trudged up the Mist Trail with the tourons, calling them tourons the whole way. The all-day sunny hike was big, but my skinny-assed six-foot-four 160-pound frame carried the huge load well. If one approaches the face of Half Dome from the shoulder below the cables, there is a certain spot when the wall first comes into view, and your eyes pop while your heart drops. The enormity of the world’s largest monolith hits your gaze and you realize why they call these things big walls. I was instantly terrified.
As we approached the base we encountered something we didn’t expect, four other parties camping there ready to blast in the morning. One studly-looking dude (who turned out to be on YOSAR) came up and introduced himself as Mike and filled us in on the pecking order: “There are four parties so you guys are fifth in line tomorrow.” My partner Jeff, who fancied himself a rebel, took about five seconds to assess the situation as bunk and declared, “OK, we’ll just start climbing right now.” Of course, this took me by surprise, but I just nodded in silence. Mike wasn’t too stoked on this and tried to play the local sheriff: “You guys can’t climb at night! That’s…uh…it’s dangerous!”
We pretended not to hear as we strode off to the base of the first pitch and started doing our thing. We made it to pitch six by dawn, moving through the night like the newbie slugs that we were. All day we slogged, slow and steady, through the chimneys, which nearly killed me with fatigue, to right below Big Sandy Ledge by the time the clock struck midnight. Here we discovered Jeff’s beer and Jolt Cola had exploded all over our clothes in our backpack, which were our only bivy gear. We huddled—an unlikely pair, the 15-year-old boy and the 35-year-old man—keeping warm until Jeff could lead up the Zig-Zags at dawn.
Topping out in the early afternoon, elated, we hiked down for a total trip time of 65 hours, including only about five hours of sleep—the longest grueling effort of my life. For Jeff I believe this was his last big wall, a burly effort. But at age 15 I thought this meant I could get up anything. I was invincible.

In 1990 at age 18, Hans Florine and I linked Half Dome with the West Face of El Cap, perhaps the only time these two routes have ever been linked. We climbed Half Dome first and raced over to El Cap Meadow with the plan of climbing the Nose and then the West Face, trying to be the first party to do three big routes in a day. After walking out to the old log in the meadow (which is now gone), we were greeted by three figures standing there chatting; their names were John Bachar, Peter Croft, and Dave Schultz. Of course my 18-year-old self was dumbfounded in admiration, though I was pretty proud about what we were up to. We told them that the Nose was next, but as we all turned our necks to look at the wall we were shocked to see eight parties between Sickle and El Cap Tower, hardly conditions stoking a fast party to blast. We opted for the West Face and ended up calling it quits after having linked the two routes in around 11 hours. Over the next two decades I climbed the Reggae with a variety of partners in a bunch of styles, including freeing it with Brent Obinger in 2008.

Free-climbing the Regular Route on Half Dome has to be one of the greatest goals in North America accessible to the moderate 5.12 climber. Possibly the most recognized piece of rock on the planet, this Californian icon has called to climbers since it was first seen by settlers in the late 1800’s. The Northwest Face was originally put up by Royal Robbins, Jerry Gallwas and Mike Sherrick in 1957. Their route was first freed in 1976 after a few years of effort by visionary Colorado free climbers Art Higbee and Jim Erickson, who spent weeks on the wall figuring out variations to bolt ladders and other points of aid. Their obsessive efforts and multiple trips made this the most historically significant nabbed free ascent by a couple of non-locals in Yosemite history.
These days Half Dome is getting more and more traffic by free-climbing parties. It is commonplace to see teams sending the route, although few have success on their first attempt. There are three pitches of 5.12a on the route, and two of 5.11. The Higbee-hedral (named after the late, great tall man Art Higbee) is the first free variation and has cleaned up over the years thanks to some climbing and some brushing. The bouldery nature of its 5.12a crux takes away the bite of the pitch and makes it a fun, protectable variation to the first bolt ladder. The Huber brothers added their own variation, which goes right of the bolt ladder, and is called the Huber-hedral. This pitch gets much less, if any, traffic and looks a bit more sustained than the Higbee.

Up higher on the wall, after a romp of mostly 5.9 climbing, the Zig-Zags present the next crux. The Zig-Zags—some of the cleanest, whitest dihedrals known to man—are perched high on the face of Half Dome right below the intimidating brow of the visor glaring down at all who approach. The visor gave Royal Robbins and crew the willies as they approached day after day, progressing on the first ascent of the Half Shell in 1957, until finally finding Thank God Ledge cutting 100 feet straight sideways and allowing the team to completely skirt the threatening visor. One can spot the Zig-Zags from almost any view of Half Dome in the Valley, and can easily pick them out in photos, such as Ansel Adams’ famous shots of the monolith taken way before human foot had ever stood on Big Sandy Ledge.
The famous dihedrals begin with an all-time 5.11+ lieback off Big Sandy, which leads into some juggy, steep 5.10 corners. Then, as the aid line finishes up and left and goes free at 5.12d, the less skilled modern free climber usually sets out right from the “hole” belay on a perfect 5.11+ fingertip undercling with a bald, vertical, featureless face for the feet. To set out on the undercling is probably the most intimidating moment of the climb because placing gear for the first twenty feet is nearly impossible. The undercling soon turns a small corner and is followed by a pumpy 5.12a lieback, which is the crux endurance section of the route. Both of these awesome Zig-Zag pitches have come down a notch by having nuts fixed over the years, making the leads a lot easier and much less scary.

With the Zig-Zags over and the top close, Thank God Ledge makes the free climber feel like it’s in the bag, but it’s not over yet. The final slab after Thank God Ledge is no gimme, and has hosted many dramatic free-climbing battles for those who wish to go home with Half Dome ticked on their send list. Even if you’ve got the slab completely wired, you never know if free passage will be granted. Beautifully sculpted dishes guide your feet but frustrate your hands, as you paste and stand up over and over again, trying not to doubt each foothold’s friction, knowing it only has to hold for a few seconds until the other foot latches on to the next smear. After four bolts of this pasting game there comes a good 15- foot runout to the last bolt. Here, the final jug on Half Dome lies a mere five feet away, staring the free climber in the face like a cool drink of water. However, keeping it cool here ain’t easy because right in front of your face there appears to be, well, nothing. A solid 5.12a paste-the-feet-and-stand-on-sketchy-smears move decides the free climber’s fate—success or heartbreak?—on the most recognized face of rock on the planet.
Here is the move that stopped Jim Erickson and Art Higbee on their free push, crushing their single-push ascent and ultimately bumming them out. Erickson returned later and led the pitch as a single-pitch endeavor, finally freeing every move of Half Dome. This is the spot where Honnold second-guessed his choice to solo Half Dome and tempted himself to pull on the bolt and take a magic ticket to sanity. Because there are no handholds and the feet are terrible, and it’s the last pitch of the face of Half Dome, this move for Honnold may have been the scariest move ever performed by a free-soloist. I have two buddies (Matt Ciancio and Jason Lakey), who had to pull their ropes and re-lead this famous slab pitch six and seven times respectively on their send days after slipping continuously on this last move. Another dude (Cody Simms), when going for the “hardman” link-up with Freerider, was stopped on this move three times and forced to throw in the towel on an extraordinarily rad effort. This is the very spot where Chief Tenaya mystically clouded up the sky for Yosemite’s native son Lonnie Kauk, who then stuck to the rock better and finished his flash ascent of the Reggae a couple of summers ago. If you are blessed with free passage and your feet stick, you grab the jug and Half Dome is yours.

The West Face of El Cap is one of the lesser-travelled golden lines in the Valley. Hidden around the corner left from the West Buttress, few people ever have a good vantage point to see the wall. But if one parks by the river a half-mile back from El Cap Meadow, the enormity and beauty of this lesser-travelled side of El Cap strikes the eye as one of the largest, smoothest faces in the Valley. Originally put up by TM Herbert and Royal Robbins in 1967, the route was freed in 1979 by Valley hardmen Ray Jardine and Bill Price. Over the years it earned a reputation as a fierce, old-school free climb, requiring strong fingers, stellar slab technique, and the ability to climb tricky sections of diverse rock where face holds often appear out of nowhere and when crack features disappear. In addition to the hard climbing, the West Face was known for some pretty manky belays, with many jingous quarter-inch bolts, pitons that had pulled out in critical spots, and one belay after the last 5.11 pitch that consisted of a rusty quarter-incher backed up by a #0 TCU. In the past few years the belays and the pins have been replaced and the West Face is now safe-feeling and ready for enjoyable, safe free attempts. However, most climbers still aid the route, intimidated by its length, its reputation, and the fact that it’s still considered a big wall on a massive formation called El Capitan.

What sets the West Face apart from any other free climb of its length in the Valley is the type of rock on that side of El Cap. Mostly a combination of the black diorite, the primo melty, polished orange rock, and classic white granite, the West Face has potentially more bomber buckets on it than any granite wall climb on earth. Over half the pitches on the route follow cracks that are lined on either side with giant bomber buckets and positive wrap-around jugs. The climber is always met with a friendly handhold, and right next to it the undulating crack pretty much takes any size cam or stopper. It’s friendly dream climbing.

One certain pitch stands out. In the middle of the route, pitch seven is a 5.7 traverse right for 100 feet to a belay. From the belay the climber stares up at the next pitch and the route-finding gets really confusing, with four different crack systems all disappearing out of sight above some bulges and roofs. The best-looking one out left ends up on terrifying 5.10 face above the overhangs with no gear for 50 feet. The conservative climber heads way right to slabbier terrain where the cracks turn to unpleasant grooves and the rope drag turns your rope into a 100-pound steel cable. After having climbed the route seven times I still didn’t know which way to go at this point. It took the adventurous spirit of Chris Sharma to figure out this section for me. When he got to this pitch, with his usual boyish enthusiasm for the impossible, he gazed up at the dirty-looking crack in the middle of all the options and exclaimed, “Look at that horizontal roof up there! I’m gonna go that way!” It was the last option anybody would have tried, but to our delight and the delight of others who collect beta, the three-foot-long horizontal roof turns out to be a 5.8 bucketfest where the climber can cut loose his feet and laugh at the glory of the West Face’s incredible featured stone.

Finding the right partner to link the Regular Route and the West Face was not easy. My ideal partner needed to have intimate knowledge of both routes free, and most importantly, he needed to be fast. In order to be successful on this link-up, Half Dome would need to be free-climbed in about eight to nine hours, which is pretty speedy for most parties. He also needed to be someone with passion and respect for the project. Yosemite climbing has been my spiritual spine since age 14 when I first pushed my way up the Northwest Face. After 27 years of climbing both of these route numerous times, I knew this link-up day would be a peak in my career, a symbol of my long-lasting relationship with these two mothers of all monoliths.

Kicking back at the hotel Half Dome pre-send day
Kicking back at the hotel Half Dome pre-send day
Credit: Andy Puhvel

I met Peter Chapman climbing on the Eastside. Standing about five foot-seven-inches tall with scraggly red hair, and built like a pit bull, Peter exudes a calm confidence and surety with everything he does and says. Living in Mammoth Lakes, he is the kind of unassuming mountain man whose talent as an athlete is only realized when watching him execute on the stone, snow, or trail. Currently a math teacher at the local community college, holding a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, our local crew has nicknamed him “the Professor.” However, his skills at crunching numbers are offset by another side of him, the side that shows up at the crag with his climbing gear in a handmade African basket instead of a backpack. As a devout student of Peruvian Shamanism, his attention to reading the stars and letting the universe be his guide made him just the right guy for this big hippie to hook up with. Peter would refer to the “Ninja mind” he acquired from a silent ten-day Buddhist meditation retreat (after having skied over the High Sierra to get to the retreat). His style of training relied more on strange personal routines than actual big days of climbing. These included hanging on the stair of his condo with his feet on a chair in front of him, breathing, or traversing two feet off the ground at a local bouldering spot, which is hardly worthy of a visit but is his staple for staying fit. When finding a trail he would channel the bear spirit, when wondering what to do with his life, he would disappear into the mountains and consult the oracle. Together, with both of us aligned, mysticism would certainly be the most powerful tool we had to complete our project.

Entering the chimneys.
Entering the chimneys.
Credit: Andy Puhvel

Originally from Minnesota, Peter has a toughness that shines through when he greets you in the morning with a big gash in his face where his skis hit him the day before, and a lightweight thrift-store sweater to keep his style intact. As we’d drive the 395 on our way to the Alabama Hills for a day of guiding underprivileged kids from the L.A. area, we’d talk about the Sierra, routes we’d done, and plans for the future. With an unassuming chuckle in his voice, Peter would drop hints of his vast Sierran resume by pointing out the car window, the start canyon where he led a group skiing across the range, the East Ridge of Williamson, the West Ridge of White Mountain Peak, this chute and that chute, some of the biggest ridges and faces in the range. Peter’s Valley resume was not as thick, but in a sincere, boyish voice he would rhapsodize about his dream of becoming a “Valley climber.” Only a year before he had done his first NIAD in a typical 20-hour push, as well as an ascent of Watkins in a day, hardly the kind of veteran Valley resume on the trade routes that usually precedes a monumental link-up. However, Peter’s intention and excitement when he said those words “Valley climber” were filled with respect and awe, the kind of reverence mixed with fear that epitomizes the true Valley disciple.
Link-up day came after six months of sporadic, uncalculated training and a rehearsal run on each route. We camped at the base of Half Dome the day before in order to relish the experience. The wall was quiet. Living in the Eastside, we made our “locals” routine to leave the house at midnight, hike the death slabs, send the route, and head home in 24 hours. Waking up in our tent only 50 feet from the first pitch seemed like cheating. Things went ultra-smooth for us, and after having navigated the scary 5.11 pitch that cuts left toward the Higbee-hedral (with one worthless, rusty quarter-inch bolt for the 5.10 climbing), we were met with a fresh Higbee-hedral, having been cleaned, scrubbed, and primed by our good friend Jason “Coach” Lakey only two days before. The boulder problem’s difficulty came down a notch because of Coach’s cleaning efforts, and the Higbee was now starting to look more like a classic 5.11 corner than a dirty seldom-travelled variation. Once the route gains the main wall around the Robbins Traverse, the original free variation cuts up and left into rarely-travelled 5.10c terrain that has the reputation of being lame and loose. After having climbed it many times, I can say that this reputation is well-deserved. There is no chalk, no fixed gear to follow, and a lot of loose rock. Three times up this section I would examine a good hold on the wall and deem it solid, only to pull off a dinner plate into my hand that seemed to be glued perfectly to the wall with moss and stuff the plate into a crack. Needless to say, I quickly learned to stay away from anything that wasn’t obviously a major crack.

Navigating this loose free variation is quite nerve-wracking because of the number of climbers often scattered on the pitches below. Peter deemed it environmental climbing, where we must tread extremely lightly, as if walking on shells. After a few hundred feet, dirty ledges are reached and a 150-foot 5.10a downclimb leads to the 13th pitch ledge where the Regular Route joins in.

The enjoyable window pitch is next. Here the free climber, when faced with an unprotectable 5.9 squeeze chimney, instead heads for a big hole of light through the back of the chimney. Once you pop out the window you find a perfect 5.9 hand/finger crack that leads right up to a mellow 5.10a face move reconnecting to the belay at the bottom of the Half Dome chimneys. This variation pitch is truly a gem! Peter crushed the chimneys, and we found ourselves sitting on Big Sandy with only 4:30 elapsed.

The awesome Zig-Zags.
The awesome Zig-Zags.
Credit: Andy Puhvel

At the third Zig-Zag our team had a moment where our mission was in jeopardy. Peter flamed out, having never led the pitch before. After two tries his forearms couldn’t recover in time and I took over the lead so that he could send the pitch on top-rope and we could continue toward our goal. The slab pitch was more of a three-minute dance than a rock climb, as we trusted our feet like never before. After an elapsed time of 7:30, we found ourselves sitting with the tourists enjoying their generous offering of a Mojo Bar. We were ahead of schedule!

We raced down the outside of the cables headfirst, taking in the tourist awe that makes most Half Dome climbers feel like superheroes compared to the average petrified hiker. We dreaded the hot midday sun we would expose ourselves to on our descent. This day Chief Tenaya was with us and an atypical unthreatening cloud layer calmed the Valley heat, creating the perfect temps for our slabby descent. After hitting camp at the base we let our legs run down the slabs and found ourselves back at the truck in 90 minutes from the summit—not exactly as fast as the base jumpers, but not bad for a terrestrial descent. El Cap Meadow greeted us with a cooler full of food and a river of freezing relief. We soaked and laid around with our feet kicked up on a pine tree, letting the blood recede into our core and pretending for an hour that we were enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the meadow.

Racing the horsetrail back to the stables.
Racing the horsetrail back to the stables.
Credit: Andy Puhvel

An hour later we headed up to the West Face, with friendly cloud cover still blocking the sun all the way to El Cap, where, to the west, blue sky could be seen just beyond the mouth of the Valley. As we marched up the talus and approached Lurking Fear, a party was heading down. Not being the spraying type (I’ve never met Tom Evans or appeared on the El Cap Report, and I avoid the bridge like the scene that it is), I said to Peter, “If they ask what we’re doing I’m gonna tell them we just freed Half Dome and are linking it, dude.” Well, lo and behold, who should it be but Chris Mac, Mr. Supertopo himself! “What’s up, Chris?” I shouted. “You’re just the guy I want to talk to!” I proceeded to spout about our day. Being the veteran hardman he is, Chris quizzed us properly by asking, “How do you feel?,” the right question for the middle of a major day. Chris gave us props and we headed upward.

The Professor psyched for a little West Face.
The Professor psyched for a little West Face.
Credit: Andy Puhvel
Credit: Andy Puhvel

Our timing was perfectly calculated, and The West Face went into the shade at precisely 6:00 p.m., a necessary thing considering the micro-edging slab climbing on pitch one. Things went smoothly as planned until the final 5.11+ overhanging pitch. Although this pitch is highly featured and short, it’s steep, and for years I had known it would be the crux of this link-up as it tests the forearm pump at around pitch 30 of the day. In total darkness now, I put on my headlamp, determined to breathe hard and throw myself at it. Right at the lip my right hand grabbed the sloping bump, my fingers did their best, and that was that. I found myself whipping 25 feet into the void. Three extremely loud, bellowing choruses of “F*#k! F*#k! F*#k!” filled El Cap’s west gully. For a few minutes I sat there in a daze, watching my five year dream falling apart. There was absolutely no way I was going to try for this goal twice, it was now or never. I lowered down and tried again. Same huge whipper. Luckily, with a team ascent, I had an option. This time it was Peter’s turn to save the day for the team. He pulled the rope, sacked up, and waltzed the pitch with ease. I top-roped and we took our time enjoying the final thousand feet of our day, wallowing in the night sky, pointing out constellations, relishing the movement of rock climbing which felt more energizing than sitting still, and reflecting on the 28 years of climbing these two routes that all came together on this magical day.

Professor hammered.
Professor hammered.
Credit: Andy Puhvel
The day after.
The day after.
Credit: Andy Puhvel

Notable Valley Free Link-Ups:

Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold free-climbed the South Face of Mt. Watkins (5.13a), Freerider (5.13a), and the RNWF of Half Dome (5.12a) in a day.

Tommy Caldwell free-climbed The Nose and Freerider in a day (that’s right, The Nose and Freerider in a day).

Dean Potter free-climbed the Regular Route on Half Dome and then free-climbed Freerider on El Cap in a day! This feat, known as the “hardman link-up,” has been repeated by four other climbers since Dean’s visionary link-up in 2003.

Steve Schneider free-climbed The Rostrum (roof finish), the West Face of El Capitan, and Astroman in a day.

Peter Croft and Dave Schultz free-climbed the Rostrum via the Excellent Adventure finish (5.13a), Crucifix, West Face, and went up a few pitches on Astroman in 24 hours.

Peter Croft free-soloed Astroman, the Rostrum, and pretty much everything at the Cookie (Hardd, Crack-a-go-go, Outer Limits, Orangutang Arch, Red Zinger, The Nabisco Wall, Catchy, and Catchy Corner in a day. He was headed next to New Dimensions but was "a bit blurry" so he called it quits.

Jake Whittaker and Brad Carter free-climbed Astroman, the Chouinard-Herbert on the Sentinel, and the Rostrum in a day.

Matt Ciancio and Brent Obinger free-climbed Astroman, Crucifix, and the Rostrum in a day.

I’m sure there are many other amazing free link-ups that I do not know about, so cheers to all who have pushed hard for the 24 hour mark!

  Trip Report Views: 11,666
Andy Puhvel
About the Author
Andy Puhvel is a climber from Hammil Valley, CA.

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Trad climber
SeKi, California
  Jul 20, 2013 - 06:06pm PT
Super Human stuff, Wow fricking WOOW!! Good Job and real nice to read your trip report and check out the pics! Reading it here at work and wishing I was on the rock ....Thanks for the bump......

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Jul 20, 2013 - 06:08pm PT
great tr, I like the historical aspect you gave it.

  Jul 20, 2013 - 06:41pm PT
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Jul 20, 2013 - 06:47pm PT
craig mo

Trad climber
L.A. Ca.
  Jul 20, 2013 - 07:09pm PT
thanks great!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Jul 20, 2013 - 07:12pm PT
Great send, Andy! Great to run into you at the base. it had been way to long.

Big Wall climber
  Jul 20, 2013 - 07:28pm PT
Andy, there's a name from the past! Looking good man! Glad you're still gettin' after it! Looks like a nice linkup, well done & nice story by the way.


  Jul 20, 2013 - 08:32pm PT
One of the best TRs I've read. Thanks for the inspiration. Super awesome selfie photo of you two @ the base of the west face lol!

How did the beers taste after all that??

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Jul 20, 2013 - 08:47pm PT
Super! Great TR Andy and love the history.

  Jul 20, 2013 - 10:48pm PT
Nice Andy and Chappie! Chargers! Inspirational....

Trad climber
  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:10am PT
Big A!!!!
You should write a book bro.
Way to live the dream. Hugs to the family.

Big I
KP Ariza

  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:34am PT
Get 'em!
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:56am PT

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Jul 21, 2013 - 09:59am PT
All-time! Thanks so much for the inspiration. You and everyone else who goes big in the Ditch.

Santa Cruz
  Jul 21, 2013 - 11:26am PT
Super rad Dude!!! Congratulations on a dream come true. Super inspiring.

Social climber
north vancouver, B.C.
  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:21pm PT
Inspirational for sure with a great story on how you started. Free climbing link ups should be in a whole different category to speed link ups as to me speed aid climbing is exactly what it is, AID!

Social climber
  Jul 21, 2013 - 11:51am PT
Bad asssssssssszzzzzzz!!!!!11

  Jul 22, 2013 - 04:25pm PT
Such an inspiring TR. This is the type of post that gets my fingertips itching and the pscyhe flowing.

Cheers, men. Proud, proud effort!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:40pm PT
To climb at night is dangerous.
To write a trip report that is this long is too, me thinketh.
The Stupids ([prbably) will all skip this one.
It's rewarding as hell to choose the unconventional (for whatever reason) challenge, creating your own goal.
That was a nice ride, man.
And Tony Tiger award for the photos! They are GREAT!

I really like your take on how to see the free ascent of these wall combos (or any "free" ascent for that matter) in the face of a leader fall. That is, it still gets done in an acceptable manner, either by you or your second pulling rope and starting the pitch again. But there is, understandably, a slight mental tug, even if you've done your best. Many would say "Aw, who cares?" and be tempted to pull, but this just is not how to play the game honestly. The sporting aspects of golf and free climbing are so similar it is uncanny. When we are out there and no one is watching, how will we play our little game? You and your partner have to live with your decisions, no matter the amount of effort already expended. Stay honest and true to your dream. Accept no substitutes.

More success to you both in the future.


fist clamp
  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:28pm PT
Probably the best TR I have read on supertaco. Well done!

  Jul 21, 2013 - 12:35pm PT
Great read of some pretty decent writing with a couple nice uses of imagery. My favorite was "performing acupuncture on a sleeping bear".
the Fet

  Jul 21, 2013 - 01:13pm PT
A+ for the climbing and writing.

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jul 21, 2013 - 03:24pm PT
Well that was inspiring. Congratulations, great job, and thanks for sharing it with us, that was grrrrrreat!

  Jul 21, 2013 - 08:19pm PT
Great send. Just the NW Face of 1/2 dome is a big day but Westie too. Makes me want to get fit again.

And I can't believe I'm seeing my name on this list with valley legends. The link up Jakers and I pulled back in 2004 was a rad day indeed but not terribly notable. I will say the ".10d" undercling roof thing on the Rostrum was really hard at the end of that day. However we did drive down and back up to Tuolumne the same day. Crux!

One notable link up I know of was Nate B linking NIAD and then he paddled lower merced canyon the same day. Of course Jakers has pulled off tons of sick links that he keeps under the radar.


Trad climber
  Jul 21, 2013 - 05:37pm PT
Great story, I think you were in the same comp as me once, the one and only comp I ever did, Sport Chalet La Canada. I also remember you from climbing on "the pillars" under the 210. That was a looooong time ago.

Thanks for the stoke and motivation.

Kevin Mokracek aka batrock

  Jul 21, 2013 - 06:19pm PT
BTW, excellent descriptions of the cruxes of both routes as well as the difficulty of a big free climbing link up. That slab pitch sounds heinous.

I always wondered how you might rate a big Yosemite link up in sport climbing terms. Would the Half Dome/El Cap West face link up be like 5.14b or something? Would the Caldwell/Honnold link be like 5.15a? And the Freerider/Half dome link be like 5.14d? Would RostroMan be like 5.13a/b?

A silly game maybe but kind of fun.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Jul 21, 2013 - 08:01pm PT
Great writing, thanks!

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
  Jul 22, 2013 - 01:02am PT
Thank you

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Jul 22, 2013 - 01:16am PT
Just a wonderful read! I loved the history and the explosion of the JoltCola....I could "feel" the sticky mess. And Jeff...neat reading about him again.

Thanks a lot!

wayne w

Trad climber
the nw
  Jul 22, 2013 - 04:54am PT
Great TR and shots Andy! What a memorable, fun day you and Peter had. Incredibly inspiring stuff. Loved the Larry Zulim reference. I remember Larry telling me about this kid he was climbing with back then, and Mike O Donnell telling me about the same kid who, when you two had plans to climb on a Saturday morning, would come over and crash on their couch the night before!

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Jul 22, 2013 - 10:01am PT
Super super awesome! CHARGING!

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jul 22, 2013 - 10:42am PT
Andy I enjoyed your tale, tip of my beer to ticking your goal!

What's next?
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Jul 22, 2013 - 11:09am PT
I like your style, Andy!

Not to mention your energy...

  Jul 22, 2013 - 11:23am PT
Great report and a testament to the power of being totally psyched!

Just try to get some of that big stone motivation to rub off on my kid while you are pebble wrestling this week!

Big Wall climber
  Jul 22, 2013 - 01:04pm PT
Nice job Andy and Peter!

Rad effort for a father of two that also takes the time and energy to produce a sick garden in the windy eastside desert. I guess it's probably easier for someone that's a full blown magical god like Andy.

Trad climber
Washington DC
  Jul 22, 2013 - 02:19pm PT
Thanks for posting,I really enjoyed it. I esp like the quote "for the moderate 5.12 climber". Times have changed
Mark K

Social climber
San Marcos, California
  Jul 22, 2013 - 03:46pm PT
Incredible write-up! Inspiring!
G Murphy

Trad climber
Oakland CA
  Jul 22, 2013 - 04:03pm PT
Inspiring! Way to keep after it.

Social climber
San Francisco
  Jul 22, 2013 - 05:38pm PT
That's an awesome read! Really inspiring and well written! Thanks and congratulations!

Oakland, CA
  Jul 22, 2013 - 11:14pm PT
Killer killer TR.

We met Pete and Matt in late June up on the Salathe. They were working the Freerider from the Teflon up on a 100m cord. Had the pleasure of watching them on the picturebook corner from the belay below the roof. Both of them were using PhD levels of body English on that thing, especially the second, .12 pitch - something wild to see. Only wish I'd had my camera.

Also, suuuuuuper nice and full of good energy those dudes. They were on a classic east-siders 24 hr Valley run, having left Mammoth around 11p the night before (we first met them on the Block at maybe 6 or 7a that morning).

They passed us mid-afternoon on the FR variations out left after being gracious about waiting for us to clear the belay. Around 8 or 9p we were relaxing on Long and saw a headlamp flashing from down in the meadow, then heard what we figured was one of those guys bellowing our names up with encouragement and good psych. Good vibes like that are worth gold up there for any team like us pushing our own limits.

We watched their lights pull away from the meadow, headed back to the east side for a Mammoth->Teflon-and-up->Mammoth 24 hour run. Plus they were hucking multiple laps on the barnburner pitches.

Pete belaying Matt across the "Five Twelve in No-Man's Land" pitch, at least that's what we called it (that f'ing pitch looks insane out there in space). My partner is nearing the belay on the headwall:

Credit to El Cap Pics
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
  Jul 22, 2013 - 11:36pm PT
What a great write up. I felt almost like I was right there. Of course I wasn't and won't be, but it sure was nice reading it, and enjoying how it was fleshed out with historical background, relevant contemporary info and great photos. Great job in all respects.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jul 22, 2013 - 11:40pm PT
Nice nice writing. I will not embarrass myself commenting on the climbing, but heck that was awesome.

Is Chapman any relation to Mark? (sorry if I should know this)

and le_bruce/evans thanks for that photo - pretty good Tour, eh?
Jim Herson

Emerald Hills, CA
  Jul 23, 2013 - 03:23am PT
Andy, Peter,

Outstanding job!! Awesome goal, awesome training [door-to-door free HDiaD!], and awesome send. But mostly two big thumbs up for the awesome psyche!

Excellent history. Glad to hear the (original/left) last zig-zag isn't just a depressing sandbag. Originally rated 11d? Yeah, right.


Gym climber
  Jul 24, 2013 - 08:57pm PT
I suppose I'd been wondering for years about the psych behind the stilt. Sleeping, with headphones on, the stilt would awaken at the nudge, walk from isolation, clip the chains, and go back to chillin' while waiting for the result to confirm--Winner.

I suppose we have one thing in common--going to A16 to create our first rack. After that, not much other than my ability to look up at the crags where I'd heard about tails of traverses. Taking newbies up the DNB, and getting the full E-ticket ride. Whoa Boy!

So congrats to sending a lifetime dream, buzzing you ever since your buddy put the bee in your ear about "the goal." A wizard, both in your climbing and in your ability to tell us how you felt doing it.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Jul 24, 2013 - 11:09pm PT
Reading this wonderful TR again I reflect back on how far climbing has evolved over the years. I was on top to greet Roper and Foott on their ascent in May of 1966 which was the first one day ascent of the NW Face and the first one day ascent of a Grade VI.

Where will it be in 50 years?

Mind boggling.

Social climber
  Jul 29, 2013 - 03:38pm PT
El bumpito!!

beneath the valley of ultravegans
  Jul 29, 2013 - 06:41pm PT
R-A-D! You and Lisa are are an inspiration. Keep it raw on the East Side.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
  Jul 29, 2013 - 06:42pm PT
Inspiring. You guys are heroes!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jul 29, 2013 - 08:00pm PT
Simply awesome!

Social climber
  Jul 30, 2013 - 12:29pm PT
Wow what a great read, full of context and narrative. It was nice to read that bit about Juan De Fuca; it's good to know he's not forgotten.

Trad climber
Boulder, Colorado
  Aug 5, 2013 - 05:05pm PT
Incredible report! LOVE the details on the free climbing cruxes. I was surprised you didn't mention the 5.11 pitch that is left of the unprotected 5.9 squeeze, but then read about the way cool variation of tunneling through to the other side. I'd never heard of that option before. That is so cool! For climbers like myself (5.11- at best), this is a great variation that eliminates an otherwise aid pitch.

Also, so cool that you two worked as a team to reach your absolute limits. That each one of you literally "saved the day" makes it a perfect day. Kudos!
howie doin'

Bishop, CA
  Aug 6, 2013 - 01:25pm PT
Brother Andy, so glad I came across your report on this. The details are well written and the backstory inspirational. You guys did the Eastside proud!
all in jim

  Aug 6, 2013 - 02:15pm PT
Very entertaining and informative read... thanks Andy!
Lazy Boy

  Aug 6, 2013 - 08:22pm PT
Nice work boys!
Andy Puhvel

Author's Reply  Aug 23, 2013 - 06:55pm PT
Hi peeps,

Thanks to all of the righteous commentators on my story. I have been off the internet for a month but just wanted to follow up to say thanks for all the props from so many of you whom I have tremendous respect for in the ditch culture. Also, I made a few edits, the only notable one coming from Mr. Croft to clarify just how insane his big soloing link-up day really was way back when. Instead of Astroman, the Rostrum, and New Dimensions, it was the first two plus pretty much everything at the Cookie (Hardd, Crack a-go-go, Outer Limits, Orangutang Arch, Red Zinger, Nabisco Wall, Catchy, and Catchy Corner.) He then planned on heading to New Di, but "felt a bit fuzzy" and decided to call it quits. No rope. Thanks again folks.

Trad climber
under the sea
  Aug 23, 2013 - 07:25pm PT
Everytime I see this thread pop up I'm motivated to train. Thanks for the fuel.

  Nov 11, 2013 - 07:33pm PT

(As a reminder = BBST = donini for Bump for a Better SuperTopo)
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
  Dec 24, 2013 - 02:08am PT
@ le_bruce -- Was that Matt Ciancio?

Trad climber
  Dec 24, 2013 - 10:57am PT
As I read your post sitting in my comfy chair, sipping my coffee, next to my fire, watching my two young make me miss all the hard times of suffering. Some of the best times of my life have been the adventures while suffering on granite.

My climbing has been on hold until kids are a bit older. Thank you so much for the post to reinvigorate my passion and lust for the rock.

Double D

  Dec 24, 2013 - 12:23pm PT
Great read... great attitude. Thanks for sharing!

  Dec 24, 2013 - 08:54pm PT
you have a most excellent way of expressing in writing. liked it bigtime

  Dec 24, 2013 - 09:59pm PT
missed this until now.

thanks for the great writeup.

your story about you and juan de fuca brought a big ole smile to my face.

Trad climber
Nova Scotia
  Dec 28, 2014 - 08:25pm PT
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Dec 28, 2014 - 09:04pm PT
Big Mike

Trad climber
  Dec 29, 2014 - 07:17am PT
Thanks for the tr. Very well written and i indeed felt like i was right there. Thanks for taking me with you.

Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Dec 29, 2014 - 07:44am PT
Ho I know that I should read what others have said

Like a Happy birth day to me as.
no need to bump for climbing content

this is full. value!

In your face if you have ever climbed in that place at that pace
go gogo go! ! !

This was and is a great present . . . to stive and attain is inspirational!
thanx again!

I liked this som much that I and the wife want to say it twice . . .
thank you for the work and the climbing and climbing writing!#
Easy Wind

Trad climber
Oakland, California
  Mar 20, 2015 - 09:01am PT

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Mar 20, 2015 - 01:40pm PT
First time I read this... Pretty incredible climbing, and vey high quality trip report apart from the level of climbing prowess. Thanks for sharing!

Mountain climber
Marooned, 855 miles from Tuolumne Meadows
  Mar 22, 2015 - 11:11am PT
We trudged up the Mist Trail with the tourons, calling them tourons the whole way.

self-righteous fools

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Mar 25, 2015 - 12:31pm PT
Getting stoked on perfect spring sending temps, and my annual valley trip coming up! Thanks again for this TR.

Oakland, CA
  Apr 19, 2017 - 09:19am PT
Still one of the best TRs, good to read in spring. Wonder what else has been added to this mindblowing list since 2013:

Notable Valley Free Link-Ups:

Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold free-climbed the South Face of Mt. Watkins (5.13a), Freerider (5.13a), and the RNWF of Half Dome (5.12a) in a day.

Tommy Caldwell free-climbed The Nose and Freerider in a day (that’s right, The Nose and Freerider in a day).

Dean Potter free-climbed the Regular Route on Half Dome and then free-climbed Freerider on El Cap in a day! This feat, known as the “hardman link-up,” has been repeated by four other climbers since Dean’s visionary link-up in 2003.

Steve Schneider free-climbed The Rostrum (roof finish), the West Face of El Capitan, and Astroman in a day.

Peter Croft and Dave Schultz free-climbed the Rostrum via the Excellent Adventure finish (5.13a), Crucifix, West Face, and went up a few pitches on Astroman in 24 hours.

Peter Croft free-soloed Astroman, the Rostrum, and pretty much everything at the Cookie (Hardd, Crack-a-go-go, Outer Limits, Orangutang Arch, Red Zinger, The Nabisco Wall, Catchy, and Catchy Corner in a day. He was headed next to New Dimensions but was "a bit blurry" so he called it quits.

Jake Whittaker and Brad Carter free-climbed Astroman, the Chouinard-Herbert on the Sentinel, and the Rostrum in a day.

Matt Ciancio and Brent Obinger free-climbed Astroman, Crucifix, and the Rostrum in a day.

I’m sure there are many other amazing free link-ups that I do not know about, so cheers to all who have pushed hard for the 24 hour mark!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Apr 19, 2017 - 10:59am PT
Thanks to my questionable memory, I got to read it all over again like it was the first time. Really great story-telling to build the significance and overall sense of personal accomplishment. Pretty mind-blowing stuff.
Burnin' Oil

Trad climber
  Apr 19, 2017 - 11:08am PT
Ha ha, Nutagain. This was the third time I read it for the first time. Great TR.

Big Wall climber
San Diego
  Apr 19, 2017 - 11:19am PT
Awesome TR! What the Taco is all about

Jingus Newroutaineer
  Apr 19, 2017 - 12:04pm PT
Stoked for old man Andy and friend.

Under the radar Valley hardman for many years, legend among his friends, very important early mentor for Chris.

Social climber
An Oil Field
  Apr 19, 2017 - 02:20pm PT
Man, you dudes are strong. That list of linkups would have been unbelievable only 25 years ago.

I like the pics, too. A good TR always has good pics.

Trad climber
  Apr 27, 2017 - 04:05pm PT
amazing. super inspirational!
Killer K

Boulder climber
Sacramento, CA
  Apr 29, 2017 - 09:32pm PT
Awesome stuff! I aspire to the softman linkup.
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