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    The Free Triple - Tommy Caldwell & Alex Honnold Free Climb Mt. Watkins, El Cap & Half Dome in 21:15

    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.

    Jeff j - 20120519JJ0065
    [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.

    Continue reading "The Free Triple - Tommy Caldwell & Alex Honnold Free Climb Mt. Watkins, El Cap & Half Dome in 21:15" »

    What Inspired You?

    We recently received this email from Ross Curwen, a reader from, as he says, "rainy old England."

    RossJust a letter saying thanks to The Cleanest Line community from rainy old England. About a year ago I injured my shoulder. This meant I had to cut right back on two things pretty huge to me: surfing and climbing. I was a bit mopey for a bit.

    I needed to have something to maintain my fitness. Gyms, road running, cycling are all good but they're missing something. That's when I found trail running, through the Patagonia site. I don't have the huge expanse of mountains and national parks but I am spoilt with miles of cliff paths and dartmoor close to hand.

    A year later and I am hooked. I love the rhythm of the trails, the temperature changes on your face emerging from dappled tree lines onto exposed cliffs. Like a lot of people in the community it becomes a bit of obsession. I'm at work knowing I've got shoes and a head torch waiting for me and trails to conquer later.

    I wouldn't have this drive without reading the submissions on The Cleanest Line. I read the stories of all the different sports, trips and adventures and it inspires me to make my own. So all in all thank you to all of you and keep going as you are.

    This short letter got us thinking about how we got started doing the things we love to do. Surely, we thought there are lots of interesting stories out there among our readers and we thought it'd be cool to hear some of them. If you have a story to tell, by all means chime in!

    I'll go first...

    Continue reading "What Inspired You?" »

    The Prophet

    by Sonnie Trotter

    On El Capitan in 2010, British rock climbers Leo Houlding and Jason Pickles completed their nine-year project, The Prophet (600m, E9 7a, 5.13d R). The difficult and dangerous new route climbs the far right side of El Cap, and Houlding, renowned worldwide for his boldness and skill, successfully freed every pitch, on lead, on their final push. This fall, Sonnie Trotter and Will Stanhope headed to Yosemite hoping to repeat the route. Trotter chronicled his efforts on his blog, including this post, below, which he wrote in late November, just after the culmination of a Yosemite journey – the second ascent of The Prophet. - Kelly Cordes

    The-Prophet-91
    [Will Stanhope climbing The Prophet, El Capitan. Photo: Sonnie Trotter]

    Wow. What a roller coaster. As life is I suppose. The highest of highs, and lowest of lows. It’s a beautiful thing really. I’m in Bishop, California, with my incredible wife, Lydia – I don’t mean to brag, but she gets more beautiful with each day. I am sooo lucky. I missed her dearly, I didn’t even realize how much until I saw her at the San Francisco airport two days ago. But there’s a sad truth that when you’re so focused on a project such as The Prophet, time literally flies by. Days turn into weeks and you don’t even think twice about it. Looking back now, most of it is a blur.

    Five weeks in the Valley, five failed ground-up attempts, four days in Lake Tahoe, two days in Santa Cruz, and over 25 days climbing, hiking, rappelling, hauling and slogging. El Cap is a glorious son of a bitch – that’s a fact. And The Prophet was one of the richest, most deeply rooted climbing experiences I have ever had, with a partner who’s got a boyish charm, a man’s ambition, and a spirit tougher than leather. It was more like an expedition than a climbing trip.

    Continue reading "The Prophet" »

    Recap on El Cap - Another Butt-Kicking

    - by Tommy Caldwell

    Today, Tommy Caldwell writes about the conclusion of another season of trying to free-climb the Dawn Wall. And coming up empty – though that’s really not the right word. We’ve covered his efforts in multiple posts (click here, here, or here), and it’s made frequent news in the climbing world for its nearly incomprehensible difficulty. Here’s how it feels, from the man himself. His words remind me of what it means to be grateful and of the spirit and values that matter most, which, I think, is worth remembering as we approach the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. - Kelly Cordes
     
    CaldwellR.2010.09.12576(rope end)
    [Tommy recovering after a fall on one of the many crux pitches. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

    The wheels of my van protest loudly as I hit the rumble strips on Interstate 70. My wife, Becca, bolts upright out of a peaceful sleep with a panicked look on her face.

    “Did you fall asleep?” she says, her eyes the size of basketballs. Did I? I think for a second. I gaze toward the passenger seat. A bit of drool glistens on her cheek and her long hair sticks straight out from the right side of her head.

    Wow, that girl is cute when she is irritated at me.

    “I guess I was just daydreaming.” I shrug my shoulders and try to put on my best puppy dog eyes.

    “Well be careful!” She curls back up in the seat and is asleep in seconds.

    The truth is, I am not even a bit drowsy. The post-expedition mind is a funny thing. Both happy to be returning home, but trying to find a way to cope with something. A kind of loss of immediate purpose. And although the trip I am returning home from wasn’t exactly an expedition, it had a similar effect on my psyche.

    Continue reading "Recap on El Cap - Another Butt-Kicking" »

    Being Barney Rubble

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - dawnwallIMG_3246

    Damn, I thought as I glanced around, I’m like Barney Rubble at a superhero convention. Sonnie Trotter to my left, Alex Honnold to my right. I know what you’re thinking: Did you owe those guys money? Or maybe: Oh, one of those high school intelligence tests, “Which does not fit in this group?” Sonnie is poised and eager to try to repeat The Prophet, and Alex just raced up the Nose in like two and a half hours (among a bizillion other things recently). Pretty wild, sometimes, this small world climbing thing.

    Earlier in the day Tommy and I played phone tag – I stood along the road, looking at his portaledge while babbling on his voice mail: “Dude, can you see me? I’m wearing an orange jacket and waving: Hi Tommy, hi!”

    “What are you doing?” my special lady friend asked.

    “I’m waving to Tommy, but he won’t know it’s me until he listens to his messages. Huhuh, this is so cool!”

    She just stared.

    Is it lame that I’m 43 and a “fan” of my friends?

    [Above: Looking up from the base of the Dawn Wall, with Tommy’s camp visible. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Being Barney Rubble" »

    The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not

    by Kelly Cordes

    Caldwell - IMG_2184
    [Tommy Caldwell moving the portaledge during his attempt to free the Dawn Wall. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

    Tuesday night, November 1, 9:58 p.m., posted on Tommy Caldwell’s Facebook page:

     

    “No send tonight. But the craziness of the situation struck me. Trying to climb 5.14 by headlamp during a super intense wind storm. Strangely invigorating. I love the experience but am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project.”

    I’ve often been a crusty bastard about from-the-route publicity. Ironic, I know, and indeed we all want to draw the circle around ourselves, starting with my going, “yeah but…” and explaining how my propensity to spray on the interwebs is soooo different from all that “bullshit” out there. Right. And I generally stick to it. I’m a fan of send first, spray second. That comes mostly from an alpine climbing mentality – it’s hard to imagine how you can be doing something that’s invariably publicized as “futuristic” or “cutting edge” if...hmmm...well, uh, so then, how did the camera guy get up there?

    Yeah but, Tommy’s Dawn Wall climb really is different. Different in that it’s so – yes, futuristic – difficult that Tommy’s not climbing it in some lightweight (ie. easy?) push. When you’re doing a pitch or two a day (notwithstanding the final planned day of 12 pitches up to a mere 5.13, if it all works out), then on those slow days, when you’re redpointing 5.14+, does it affect anything to have a media circus shooting photos and video?

    Continue reading "The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not" »

    Family Affair on the Dawn Wall

    by Kelly Cordes

    Berkompas - 20111025-IMG_3134
    [Tommy on the Dawn Wall, practicing this one move I taught him. Photo: Kyle Berkompas]

    When I see a photo of someone climbing a severely overhanging 5.14 limestone sport route, I marvel at the physical prowess. Amazing. And though I can't imagine being that good myself, I can see how some people can do it; I can sort of imagine it. At least I can see the holds. But 5.14+ climbing on a vertical granite face? Huh? Tommy’s Dawn Wall project doesn't look like it has a single god-damned hold on the thing. The other day a handful of friends were saying how we've been on 11+ or 5.12 granite slabs and sworn that we were standing on absolutely nothing, holding absolutely nothing, and stuck, unable to move ("There’s nothing here! Nothing!"). How the hell can anything be more technical? It blows my mind.

    Anyway, Tommy has launched, and it’s going well. As you may know – he's been quite open and public about it (not that he has much choice, given that you can see the route from the road in Yosemite Valley), even posting some updates from the wall on his Facebook page. Bahhumbug, blasphemy!? I'm not so sure, and I've got some thoughts on it, and some of Tommy's, that I'll post here soon.

    Continue reading "Family Affair on the Dawn Wall" »

    Back on the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell

    by Tommy Caldwell

    CaldwellR_2010_09_12089I wiggle the tip of my pinky finger into a small opening in the crack, and step high onto a small edge. Ouch! Maybe if I focus harder on the moves I will forget the pain. I pull onto the rock again, climb a few feet, then surrender. Such a long way to go, I think. I switch off my headlamp and suddenly vastness of space becomes apparent. El Cap shimmers below a sky of vivid stars, while my partner Kevin, 200 feet above me, grunts like a freight train. We are working the pitches separately on self-belay so that we can be more efficient. The beam of his headlamp swings back and forth and a calm darkness surrounds us. There is not even a breath of wind.

    Editor’s note: Patagonia ambassador Tommy Caldwell and his partner Kevin Jorgeson are back on the Dawn Wall in Yosemite, trying to free climb the steepest, blankest part of El Capitan -- a project first conceived in 2007. Tommy sent us some thoughts before heading up to the portaledge.


    Free climbing the Dawn Wall has become a strong obsession. And I have been at it for a long time. Not only in time spent on the wall, but the training as well. I have spent months beating my fingers rhythmically on the campus board. Years on the boulders fingering sharp holds and trying to build callus. I know my nerves must be hardened and my perspective of what I am capable of changed, so long days that leave me weary have become the norm.

    [Above: Enjoying a rare rest and looking ahead to the daunting crux of the climb. Photo: Becca Caldwell]

    Continue reading "Back on the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell" »

    Joy Trip Podcast: Shelton Johnson Speaks to the Conservation Alliance about "Diversity and Wilderness"

    Shelton-Johnson2James Mills, host of The Joy Trip Project, brings us a very special podcast today from the recently held, biannual meeting of the Conservation Alliance, of which Patagonia is a founding member. Here's James:

    For those of us who spend a great deal of time outdoors it’s hard to believe that there are many of those who don’t. Especially when it comes to our national parks there is an entire segment of the United States population, natural born citizens who seldom if ever visit. This is particularly true among people of color. African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities spend far less time in nature than their white counterparts. And in a shifting demographic where minorities will soon become the majority there’s rising concern throughout the conservation movement that one day in the not so distant future most U.S. citizens will have no personal relationship with or affinity for the natural world.

    This concern is expressed most eloquently by National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson. The only permanent African-American ranger at Yosemite National Park, his mission is to share with audiences, black and white, lessons of stewardship that illustrate the bond with nature that is every U.S. citizen’s birth rite. An interpretive ranger that tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American cavalrymen who projected Yosemite at the turn of last century, Johnson puts into context the importance of wilderness not merely as a point of national pride but an intrinsic value of what it means to be human.

    At the biannual meeting of the Conservation Alliance at the 2011 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City Utah, Shelton Johnson was the keynote speaker. Best known for his prominent role in the Ken Burns documentary “The National Parks, America’s Best Idea,” he was also instrumental in bringing Yosemite Valley to the attention of leading black talk show host Oprah Winfrey. In a nationally televised visit to the park in 2010 Winfrey used her media clout to invite millions of minorities across the country to explore the great outdoors.

    In this unabridged audio recording Johnson is welcomed to the podium by Conservation Alliance executive director John Sterling. For 40 minutes Ranger Johnson inspired a rapt crowd with a message to encourage all people, regardless of race, to embrace the wonders of nature and to claim their inheritance of our national treasures.

    Audio_graphic_20pxListen to "Shelton Johnson - Diversity and Wilderness"
    (39:40 - right-click to download MP3. Music: Hot Buttered Rum)

    Our thanks go out to James Mills for recording this talk and sharing it with The Cleanest Line. You can keep up with James at The Joy Trip Project website, Facebook page, iTunes channel and Twitter feed.

    For more from Shelton Johnson, pick up his book Gloryland.

    [Update 8/16: edited title]

    Bigger than El Cap - A (totally unscientific) search for the lower 48's biggest rock faces

    Kc - meadowIMG_2816(LR) Introduction

    Little compares to Yosemite's El Capitan in majesty and sustained steepness. But contrary to popular lore, it’s not the Lower 48’s biggest rock face. It’s not even the biggest in the Valley – the south face of Mt. Watkins is bigger. Well, maybe. How do you measure? (OK, I feel the urge to crack wise about size vs. usage, but I am hereby officially restraining myself.) Several rock faces are bigger than both, but you can’t take peoples’ words for it. Climbers exaggerate worse than fishermen. I see it all the time in the reports I receive and edit for my job with the AAJ; I think some climbers measure cliff size starting from their driveway.
     
    We need an exact, unambiguous climber definition. Here goes: It can’t have too much 3rd-class terrain. Ummm, how much is “too much?” It has to be sustained (how do you define that?) technical climbing, bottom to top. I think that “technical climbing” is fairly defined as 5th-class climbing; hikers and peakbaggers consider climbing to be what we consider hiking and scrambling, and that’s fine, but this post is about legitimate rock climbing (are the stacked blocks in Glacier legit?). How much 3rd-class scrambling or how big of a treed-ledge disqualifies a face?
     
    Perhaps sub-categories are in order. But that makes my brain hurt.

    [El Capitan. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Bigger than El Cap - A (totally unscientific) search for the lower 48's biggest rock faces" »

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