Pete Whittaker has rope-soloed Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite in 20 hours and 19 minutes. This is believed to be the first sub-24 hour 'Big Linkup' since Dean Potter and Hans Florine's ascents in 1999, with the exception of Alex Honnold's sub-24 'Triple Crown' solo in 2012. Adding to the significance of his achievement, Pete had only climbed The Nose twice, Half Dome once and had not soloed either route before. In 2016, Pete made the first all-free rope-solo ascent of El Capitan in a day. Pete climbed the classic 37-pitch Freerider 5.12d in just 20 hours and 6 minutes, which he flashed in 2014.
Beginning on Half Dome at 6:30am on 9th November after sleeping at the base, Pete climbed the 5.9 Regular Northwest Face (5.9) route before descending, driving and climbing The Nose (C2) of El Capitan. In total, the combined route lengths exceed ~1300m.
Half Dome - Start 6:30am, finish 11:03am
El Capitan - Start 1:23pm, finish 2:49am
Total: 20 hours, 19 minutes
After topping out on Half Dome, Pete jogged down the cable descent then skirted round the climbers' path back to the base of Half Dome. This was another unknown element in the challenge for Pete, which cost him some time. He told UKC:
'I hadn't actually done this descent before (the one time I climbed Half Dome, I did the 8 mile walk back down the tourist path), and as I was in a slight hurry I didn't find the path immediately so had to do a bit of bushwhacking and 'up and down' the hillside before I found some cairns. I then fast-walked/scrambled/jogged back down the Death Slabs to Stables Parking. My girlfriend Mari (who camped with me at the base) drove me to El Cap Meadow. Then I climbed The Nose, starting up the 5.3 scramble.'
Pete's ascent wasn't free from logistical epics, despite his impressively fast time. He explained:
'I climbed solidly and had good rope work on Half Dome, although I could have done with a shorter rope. However, I did get lost part way up the first half when I went right in the middle of a pitch too early. I ended up a bit stranded on a slab, and I faffed about going up and down trying to find the right way, until I realised it was completely the wrong way. I'd only followed this part of the route once before (and its a bit rambly). It's easy to not concentrate so much when you're following, which is probably why I went the wrong way when it came to leading it.'
On El Cap, Pete battled with some annoying rope tangles, which once again cost him time and energy.
'I didn't take a bag to stack any rope in and hadn't quite remembered where I could stack ropes on ledges, or actually how slopey the ledges were in some places (i.e. the rope just fell off them...), so I had to do some unnecessary abseils to retrieve stuck ropes in cracks.'
True to form, Pete also failed to take a sufficient volume of water. 'I didn't take enough water,' he wrote us, 'but luckily I found some below The Glowering Spot.'
Once the clock had stopped, Pete faced a long walk back to Camp 4. He told UKC:
'I also didn't stash any kit anywhere and didn't want to carry my approach shoes up The Nose, so had to walk from the top of The Nose all the way back to Camp 4 in my climbing shoes, haha! Not ideal! But I guess I'd finished by then so I could just take my time and meander down.'
Regarding a repeat of the challenge - with better preparation - Pete reckons he could shave some time off his record:
'I'd have much better solo logistics if I were to do it again and I think I could erase all my small errors and make better time.'
Summing up the challenge, he commented:
'I love these big days. Topping out on Half Dome and doing The King Swing on The Nose were probably my favourite parts.'
Yosemite stalwarts John Bachar and Peter Croft first completed the linkup in 1986, climbing the Nose in 9.5 hours and the Regular Route in 4.5. The second sub-24 ascent of the linkup occurred in 1996, by Peter Coward and Joe Terravechia. Hans Florine and Nancy Feagin completed the first male/female ascent in 1998.
In 1999, the level was stepped up with the first sub 24-hour solo ascent by Americans Dean Potter and Hans Florine. In a 23 hours and 4 minutes from 26th July to 27th July, Dean Potter climbed El Capitan and then Half Dome. Just a few days later, Hans Florine coincidentally repeated the challenge in reverse, unaware of Dean's achievement and knocking two hours off Dean's time.
The first free ascent of the Triple Crown, a linkup that combines three of Yosemite's biggest walls, was achieved in 21 hours and 15 minutes, by Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, via El Capitan's Freerider, Half Dome's Regular Northwest Face, and Mt. Watkins' South Face.
For more history on the Big Linkup, read Hans Florine's account of the challenge.
A relative newbie to rope-soloing, Pete only picked up the skills to tick-off fast multi-route rope-solo climbs in 2016. In August that year, he made two separate triple-route ascents on the 702m granite monolith, the Squamish Chief in British Columbia, in under 24 hours.