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Factor Two - S3 Episode 2 Part 1: Freebird - Ben Bransby Podcast

The Factor Two podcast is back for a third series. Wil Treasure shares more stories from the climbing world through interviews with both well-known and lesser-known characters. In-depth, personal accounts that aren't read from a page on a variety of themes. Settle down with a cuppa and have a listen...

After hearing from Leo Houlding and Patch Hammond about their legendary Yosemite season in 1998 there was one obvious gap in our story - Ben Bransby.

Ben and Patch sat on a bear box in Camp 4  © Ben Bransby Collection
Ben and Patch sat on a bear box in Camp 4
© Ben Bransby Collection

Before attempting Freerider with Patch, Ben had made an ascent of the Salathe Wall with Mark Reeves. It was his first taste of big wall climbing and gave him the confidence that he could get himself out of trouble if needed. The climbing world might have been astonished at his and Patch's efforts on Freerider - remember at this time that there were only 2 free routes on El Capitan - but for Ben it felt like unfinished business. After getting gripped on the Monster Offwidth and succeeding on the Enduro Corner and the Boulder Problem he and Patch ended up jumarring the Huber brothers' fixed ropes to finish the route.

Ben, Leo and Patch with the Huber brothers  © Ben Bransby Collection
Ben, Leo and Patch with the Huber brothers
© Ben Bransby Collection

A few years later he returned to the valley with the goal of doing Freerider "properly". In doing so the seed was planted for a one day ascent with Swiss climber Jvan Tresch. A few teams had done this previously, including the Hubers, who overtook Patch and Ben in 1998. Their ascent was almost curtailed by the wrong kind of commitment. They were arrested and jailed in Yosemite after being caught shoplifting kneepads to try to protect themselves in the Monster Offwidth. After being bailed out on a Friday evening they were due in court on Monday and could end up being thrown out of the valley. In the early hours of the Saturday morning, the pair set off on what would prove to be the biggest, hardest day of cragging they'd ever had. Being committed on El Capitan like it was just another day at the crag was a dream come true, and one that Ben holds up as his proudest climbing achievement.

Ben on the Monster Offwidth in 2003  © Ben Bransby Collection
Ben on the Monster Offwidth in 2003
© Ben Bransby Collection

As with Patch and Leo, this is very much a coming of age story. It's clear that with each ascent Ben was looking to the next adventure already, banking the experience for future use. But this story is an echo of previous tales in Factor Two in many more ways. If you've listened to our episode Nine and a Half Hours with Duncan Critchley you'll see what I mean - A one day ascent of El Capitan with a Swiss climber? The reverberations from Duncan's Nose In A Day back in 1984 are a little spooky, right down to the words they use. That's what I love about these stories, climbing is such a shared experience. Getting a little glimpse into that shared mindset is something relatable at any level.

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7 Apr

I thought this was excellent

Ben is an absolute legend and sounds like a really nice chap

8 Apr

I'm slightly confused by the photo caption, but perhaps women don't have names in Yosemite.

9 Apr

It struck me as strange too. Unless she counts as a Huber brother!

9 Apr

Sorry that was my mistake. Some of you may notice that the guy on the (photographers) right is also not Thomas Huber. My dad just took the photo as a casual snap back in '98 and I'm afraid I can't remember the name of either the girl or guy on the right, I'm sure I did at the time but memory... Could be Leo or Patch can remember better, depends if they come on here and have a look.

9 Apr

Cheers Ben. I thought there was something amiss about the guy on the right, we'll have to assume he's "Nigel Huber" and they abandoned him on a belay somewhere.

Ben also sent me a link to the trundling of the flake he belayed on in the Monster Offwidth: https://vimeo.com/52653452

He assures me it was in a slightly better state in 1998. That seems to be borne out by a clip from Blood, Sweat and Bagels, although it looks like it might have been the same tat in both videos! https://vimeo.com/187150708

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