by Kelly Cordes
"The best thing about screwing up," I said, speaking from a wealth of experience, "is that you can only improve from here." Tommy had just forgotten his climbing shoes. He and Alex Honnold – a climbing dream-team if there ever was – were 45 minutes into the hike for their first climb in an utterly audacious Yosemite linkup: the All-Free Triple. That’s climbing the three biggest grade VI walls in the Valley all free, on lead and second, in a day: Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, Half Dome. But partway into the hike, Tommy remembered that he’d spaced his shoes. Given that I’ve forgotten every imaginable piece of equipment at some point in my life, I felt a kinship to the A-team (hey, we all grasp at a connection to greatness when we can…). Anyway, Jeff Johnson and I were tagging along when we weren’t getting lost, lending subbie support, a bit like the B (or C) team, mostly psyched to witness such a feat. It’s not everyday that we get front-row seats to world-class achievements, but the climbing world is still unique like that.
[Tommy and Alex atop El Cap at sunrise on May 19, after free climbing Free Rider by headlamps in 6:45 (this after first racing up Mt. Watkins, and before Half Dome). Photo: Jeff Johnson]
Following that auspicious start, we got the shoes and the boys put the hammer down. South Face of Watkins in 2 hours and 50 minutes, then Free Rider on El Cap in 6:45 (via headlamp), and the Regular Route on Half Dome in 5 hours. Over 7,000 vertical feet of free climbing up to 5.12+, some 75 guidebook pitches climbed in less than 30 pitches – via extensive simulclimbing, through 5.12 – and the entire linkup, base of first to top of last, in 21:15.