Yesterday morning Hans Florine and the Japanese climber Yuji Hirayama set a new speed record for climbing the Nose. On their fourth attempt in the last ten days they achieved a time of 2 hours 43 minutes and 33 seconds, beating the previous record set by the Germans Thomas and Alexander Huber by 2 minutes and 12 seconds. (See UKClimbing.com's coverage at ww.ukclimbing.com/news)
From the first ascent in 1958 until yesterday's record you can see a timeline of ascents at speedclimb.com/yosemite/thenose
Just to stand below El Cap is an awe inspiring experience and climbing the Nose is an ambition for many climbers all over the world. We've linked to some resources at the end of this article if you are interested.
Tom Evans, himself a big wall climber, each spring and fall, documents and files reports from his perch in El Cap Meadows. Below is his account of yesterday's ascent.
El Cap Report 7/2/08 By Tom Evans
Yo... well the weather gods have smiled on us for the past two days. Crystal clear skies and a very light breeze. This is the last day for this report for a while so suck it up and take the pain!! Quite the day it was too. We still have climbers on the wall as we head into the summer months, and most likely there will be someone out there on the cliff every day through the hot months ahead. Today's report is brought to you by those folks who didn't go for the record and won't be written up in the mags for their climbing today. They are my people. The everyday man and woman who go out and get a living made, provide for a family and get away to the cliffs far too little. They love climbing as much as anyone and manage to keep their spirit alive without frequent jolts of the climbing drug. Every now and then they do get away and perhaps come to Yosemite to look and dream about the Great Wall some of us sometimes take for granted. Then they blossom and I get to see them up there, tired and a little scared, pushing their limits to reach a personal dream. I shoot them all, from the greats to the anonymous. They are a part of a great brotherhood and it makes no difference their status... they are all climbers.... So this report is brought to you by you... climbers.
Born Under a Bad Sign: I did see Pete out there at the top of the lead he did yesterday hauling some freight. Kate was out and about cleaning the pitch. They have passed the half way point and seem to have everything under control... good luck you guys and I will see you in the fall..
Mescalito: I saw the team already climbing when I arrived very early in the morning. They are a couple pitches below the start of the Bismarck ramp.
ND to Tribal Rite. I did see Zak cleaning and hauling the bags to the top of the 4th pitch as I departed. He was having a good time rocking out to some tunes while hauling... looked like it was almost fun! He is sporting those lime green pants that Ottawa Doug left with me. Good karma those pants! Climb with care my friend as I will not have your back anymore... good luck..
The Nose: I did see the mixed team from yesterday portaledged out on ECT when I arrived in the company of Ivo and Eric who were there to film the Hans Yuji attempt on the record. About 10 am they moved up to Texas flake and Eddy lead the Boot. As I departed they were hauling to the Boot.
Hans and Yuji Break The Nose Record: 2 hours 43 minutes and 33 seconds
You might have read in the previous report that there was to be another attempt at the speed record today... if you know the outcome then read the following as if you didn't. If you don't know then enjoy!
I dragged myself out of the sack at 5:11 am and wasn't feeling all that happy to be up as I have had a lot to do these past days and could have used more sleep. I managed to get cleaned up and was headed down to the Bridge by 5:40 am. The drive was kind of cool as there was not a soul to be seen on the road save a biker who was near MPB. As I arrived at the EC meadow there were not a lot of cars there and I figured it was because it was a week day and not everyone can get off work to see climbers on EC. I parked by the bridge and set my camera, telescope, and chairs up to get ready for the event to begin. Erik Sloan wandered up and we sat listening to the birds and watching the sun start to warm the top of the Cap. High up on its flanks were two cameramen getting into place and at ECT Ivo and Eric were stirring in preparation for the climbing to come. There too was the team of Racheal and Eddy from yesterday. I took a few moments to shoot some of the other teams on the wall and settled in, waiting for the climb to start. After a short time the place started to fill with climbers and interested spectators alike. By about 6:30 the crowd had multiplied and a large group gathered in the meadow and a smaller one at the bridge. Several park service honcho's were there to see what was going on too. The Park Supt. and several higher ups were standing around talking to the media and members of the climbers entourage.
UKC note: Tom Frost was part of the team who did the second ascent of the Nose in 1960, the full team was Tom Frost, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt, and Royal Robbins. It took them seven days and they did it in a single push.
A large group had gathered at the viewing point just south of the start of the Nose itself. Hans and Yuji did the first part of the first pitch just as a warm up and Yuji took a 20 footer off the pitch... ouch!!... some warm up that was! A harbinger of things to come? We hoped not. After coming back down they got everything ready for the start of the climb. The watches were set, the equipment re-racked, the last drink taken and the hands chalked up. I was at the bridge at that time and heard a roar from the direction of the Nose and knew the climb was on... my watch said 6:42 and I knew that by 9:27 it would be decided one way or the other.
It seemed like just a few moments had passed when Yuji came into view quickly climbing the third pitch. I glanced at my watch as I saw him speeding across Sickle ledge, some 500 ft. up. It had taken just 14 minutes for them to climb that distance. Pretty impressive! I am not positioned to shoot until they get into the Stove Legs and it wasn't long until my shooting started. I watched Yuji closely for any signs of fatigue ... Hell they had climbed the Nose 3 times in the past week and they should be pretty wrecked! Yuji looked strong and was moving up without any hesitation. I picked up Hans a hundred feet lower and he was moving with his trademark smoothness and grace. He tended the running belay automatically as he climbed the 5.9 and 5.10 cracks. I had, of course, seen them climb this section of the route three times lately and they now looked a bit more polished and as strong as ever. The pitches just flowed under them it seemed. I did see Hans wipe the sweat from his face with his shirt sleeve at one point and that was all that gave away the fact that they were indeed working hard at climbing.
From time to time a roar of encouragement would arise from the meadow and we at the Bridge would respond in turn. I had heard that Tom Frost was viewing the climbing with Hans' wife Jackie and a slew of other well wishers out there. I would sound my noise horn to add to the volume of the cheering. After a while Jackie came over and wanted to know who was the crazy person blowing that horn... I confessed to being the culprit. She said that Hans dad used to do that when Hans was in competitions, and to keep it up!!
The Stove Legs passed without any incident and Dolt Tower was gained in 41 minutes. They were on a roll so far! Yuji dropped down off Dolt and was gone toward ECT while Hans was jugging a short fixed line to Dolt. He was soon heading up after Yuji simulclimbing all the way. Yuji got his first sunlight as he stepped up to the start of the Texas Flake. The party they were passing there stood on the side of the ledge and watched him speed by. This was sure going well and so far there were no glitches. We all knew all it would take was a stuck rope, or a short fall to wreck all the advantage they had gained. Ken Yager and the NPR correspondent came by and we gave him a hold by hold commentary for the broadcast tomorrow. Yuji did the Boot in good time and Hans was soon in position at the last bolt on the ladder to lower him for the famous King Swing, always a highlight of that great route. They swapped out gear in a flash and Yuji bounded across the swing to Eagle ledge. The cameramen were close-by filming and Hans startled them by doing a 360 degree spin around after running to the right to start his part of the swing. It was really cool! Hans hit the swing and they were both on Eagle ledge where they had spent some time last run up. This time they seemed more organized and Yuji was out of there a good minute faster than last time. Sweet! I figured they had gotten a 5 to 8 minute advantage built by now and things were certainly looking positive for the men.
The Gray Bands loomed above as Yuji lead off Eagle. Those things are composed of dark, shattered, broken diorite and not the most pleasant feature to climb through. They did ok through there and I soon spotted Yuji at the start of the Great Roof. Man, it was really going well so far! The Roof went ok but not great and when Yuji turned the corner some of the time advantage, so dearly won, was gone. The rest of the route goes more or less straight up past some of the most technical climbing on the route, including the infamous “Changing Corners” pitch. Yuji hit the Pancake Flake, just above the Great Roof, with a vengeance and was soon yarding up the holds like they were 5.3 instead of 5.10. Hans was jugging the short fixed line by this time and soon cleared the roof. He then switched to climbing on his own and smoothly cruised the pitch. By the time Hans was up that pitch Yuji was already doing the splits on the section below camp 5 that has a bad reputation for spitting climbers out of it. Yuji soon past that and was at the safety of the ledges of camp 5. He was well into the tricky, thin pitch above 5 when Hans reached the spacious ledges. At that point Yuji climbed out of view to the Glowering spot and my shooting was over for a few minutes.
I took the time when I couldn't see the climbers, high in the corner, to go out to the meadow to see what was happening and to visit with various friends and watchers. I had a brief word with Tom Frost who was stationed in the middle of the climbers entourage. He looked fine and it was good to see him again after not having done so for a while. I walked around, shooting some crowd shots and talking to others who knew what the time line was. Suddenly it seemed that the time advantage was gone and by the time they reached camp 6 they were running a little behind. It was a nervous time!! At camp 6 they had 27 minutes to go to the record and they were figuring it would take 30 to the top for them. As word spread among the crowd people started cheering and yelling at the top of their lungs to encourage the men to redouble their efforts and push hard for the top. I had to get back to my camera/scope to record the final two pitches so I left the meadow. I started to feel they might fall just short again and everyone was getting antsy as the clock ran and ran. Back shooting, several people came to me and asked what I thought... “too close to call” was my response.
Unexpectedly early, Yuji showed up at the Alcove way faster than any of us anticipated he would. They had 13 minutes to go and two pitches left. Yuji started the last pitch as Hans came out of the Alcove climbing, not jumaring. I thought last time that he could have gone faster jumaring but he didn't think so and had left the option open to make the final choice right there. Yuji was now climbing the bolt ladder to the top in great lunges, just making the next bolt at maximum reach... Jesus ...if he had missed one of those clips he would have fallen 100 feet and the climb would be over, and maybe his life too! Soon he was running up the slab toward the tree and Hans, below, had made that final choice... He would climb that pitch and not jumar. Now it was down to 5 minutes and the time was spinning away... Hans was now the only one left on the climb, Yuji had done his job and was standing at the top waiting by the tree for Hans. So it came down to the originator of the idea of retaking the record. Hans Florine, at the age of 44, was just a few moments away from success or failure. It was all on him now. He started up the 10b crack to the bolt ladder and hit every move right on the mark... he must have been exhausted but on he went. He seemed to hesitate on the overhanging section of the bolt ladder and I thought his arms were about to run out of strength and that would spell the end. But Hans rallied and pressed ahead and was soon on the less steep section and now it was just a footrace to the tree... he was down to three minutes and the crowd was going wild!! I could see what the outcome was going to be and started yelling... “He is going to make it, he is going to make it!!!” Everyone was screaming! Then he disappeared over the lip of the rock and still had over two minutes... it was done!
After a short time Hans called on the radio that the time was 2:43:33. Then he and Yuji came to the rim and held up their arms as the final signal that the climb was indeed done and the record set. After a time the crowd dispersed and even the Tourons were saying how this was such an exciting thing to see. We climbers couldn't have agreed more. To me it was an affirmation of just how strong the previous record, set by the great German team of the Huber Brothers, was. Anyone hoping to get this record will have to be in top form and can at best only hope to shave a few seconds off the mark. Hans and Yuji didn't beat the Huber brothers at all, for it was not against them the climb was done... it was against themselves. In reality there is no real difference in the efforts of the two teams... each went out to give it their best shot and each was in turn rewarded for those efforts. I am sure that Alex and Thomas are happy to hear that Yuji and Hans had a good, safe run up the greatest rock climb in the world and will offer their heartfelt congratulations just as Hans gave them when they climbed the record climb. As Mallory said, “Have we conquered an enemy? None but ourselves.”
In other news: Well the spring season has come to an end and I will be packing up the cameras, folding up the chairs, putting away the scopes, and heading for home tomorrow. It was a good season and many rewards were handed out for climbers who met the challenges they set for themselves. I got smacked about by the old Cap myself and am a better man for it. Congratulations to all those of you who came forth to give your best effort to meet your aspirations and dreams. It has been my privilege to be the man who has shared your climbs in the small way that I do. I have enjoyed photographing you and giving you remembrances of your great days on the Captain. I will see you in the quiet time of the fall if I have my say... take care and enjoy your life, it goes by faster than you may realize. So that's the way it is for this the 2nd day of July 2008 Signing off for now... your eye in the sky... ElCap-pics
About Tom Evans
For 50 years, I've been a climber with a special love for Yosemite National Park. I've climbed El Capitan five times and other major Yosemite climbs too numerous to mention. Now that I'm a little older, however, I've focused on photography, specializing in nature scenes from throughout the western United States and shooting photos of climbers as they make their way up the significant routes in Yosemite.
I'm a retired teacher living in Crestline, California, and in my spare time I pursue my other passions, including the restoration of classic Pontiac GTO automobiles and finding new and different ways to relax.
Tom's website is www.elcap-pics.com
Aspirations to climb the Nose?