Hard Granite: Neil and Richard's Excellent Adventure

© Slackjaw

The story so far: Neil Bentley, looking for something easier than E10(ish), teams up with Richard Heap, who is itching to make another multi-pound grossing video about climbing. They head for Yosemite to tackle the Salathe Wall... but end up doing the longest free route on El Capitan.


l Capitan in Yosemite Valley seen from the road approach from the west.
© Slackjaw

May 8th: Arrive in the valley. Myself, Rich, Ben Pritchard and Laurent Derioz (the cameramen) and Robin Earl, who was top, rig all the ropes for the camerawork on the top six pitches.

Climb for 10 days solid, doing some long stuff like Astroman, The Rostrum, and shorter routes like Alien and Hang Dog Flyer. [All are Yosemite classics at the top end of 5.12 - about E6/7 6b/c - ed.]

All the time on these routes we struggle on the offwidths! It's really hot, and Rich and I get very dehydrated. I come down with a bladder infection as a result and have to have a few drugs and take a week off.

Meanwhile... Rich goes up the East Ledges descent with Loz and Robin and has a couple of days toproping The Headwall pitches. I contact them daily by radio and watch through through binoculars, far easier option.

Rich comes back down, we put our flights back, then we both go back up to the top of El Cap to try the Headwall pitch. Rich does well, I do links on it but now there's another setback - swollen knuckle joints. Decide to abandon the headwall due to lack of time. injuries, heat and not being good enough!

Now we concentrate on doing Freerider [37 pitches of 5.11a-5.13a / F6c - F7c / E3 - E6/7]

(There are some gaps in the account of these few days - to fill then in, read Rich's diary on the Slackjaw website.)

Rich is stressed because of the film, worried we won't get a story; I'm stressed through other stuff, but not too perturbed.

We do Freebase [up to 5.13a] in 90-degree heat, get benighted but have a good time. After a day's rest, practising with portaledges (single for Ben plus a double), we pack 200lbs into two haulbags, plus a rucksack full of climbing kit. Five days' water (4 litres per day for three people = 60 litres = 60kg = 132lbs) is very heavy stuff!

We set off June 30th back up to the fixed ropes - only 27 pitches to go...

It's super-hot during day, makes it hard going. Rich has an epic battle with the 120ft body-sized offwidth which leads to El Cap Spire. He's almost in tears after falling off: so much effort but still no flash. The so-called hardest pitch at 5.13a is OK, 'cos it's a short face climb - a nice redpoint at 7am.


....(much climbing and pig hauling later...)

Neil Bentley and Richard Heap take a bivvy break on El Cap.
© Slackjaw


Day 4: get to below the Great Roof, where Los greets us with a camera. Now the Freerider pitches start. An outrageous traverse left leads to a whole new face and a view of the west side of El Cap - awesome.

Fourth night, first time we don't finish in the dark, but still another 18-hour day. Ben has to ride on top of the haul bags due to the traverse - he's not a happy chap!


Last day. Totally knacked, can hardly move in our sacs in the morning, feel stiff as boards. Hungry, dehydrated, have a bagel left each for dinner and an apple to share, with only 2 litres of water and 5 pitches to go. At least the haul bag is 120lbs lighter.

I fall off another offwidth but at least get up the 5.11a [E3 6a] exit chimney. At last we top out after five days.

The aftermath: out of 37 pitches we didn't manage five cleanly, but did manage to not aid anything. It's the longest free route on El Cap and absolutely flippin' awesome - 3 stars almost every pitch. It took us three weeks to recover, and Rich hasn't climbed since I got back and I'm off surfing - maybe we'll never climb again.......

Final thoughts: I was quite pleased to have achieved anything on El Cap after such a bad start, though Rich wasn't so happy, as we had failed on the original objective and he was very worried about the footage and whether there would be a story to tell and if the quaility would be sufficiently good for a terrestrial broadcast. But fortunately he heard from his producer last week, and it's a goer.

Editing has started and it will take 10 weeks to edit 80 hours of tape down into a 52-minute program which should be broadcast on Channel 4 in the autumn.. though with TV you can never be sure.

The weary but happy team at the top: Richard Heap and Neil Bentley on the right.
© Slackjaw

Neil Bentley has made front-line ascents of climbs all over Britain, notably a ground-up ascent placing the gear on Parthian Shot (E9 6c) and his new route Equilibrium (E10 7a). He works at the Foundry, so don't try sneaking in.

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