Alex Waterhouse and Billy Ridal have successfully free climbed The Nose (5.14), El Capitan - arguably the most famous route in the world - and in doing so have become the first British pair to do so.
In spite of their total lack of big wall experience experience the pair got stuck in at the deep end, documenting their efforts on Instagram. What shone through within these reports was how up for it they were, with the psyche brimming from each and every broadcast. They were also pretty candid about the mistakes they made along the way and the rapid learning curve involved. Despite them both being newcomers to the genre, they got stuck into the route's two crux pitches - The Great Roof and Changing Corners - straight away, as these were the ones that were going to present the biggest barrier to success.
What they may have lacked in big wall experience, they made up for with a wealth of climbing experience. Both Alex and Billy have years of high pressure comp climbing experience, as well as an impressive CV of hard sport and bouldering. Whilst neither are particularly renowned for their trad, they're no strangers to it, and this ascent goes to show how transferrable their skillset actually is (as proved by Alex also having flashed the notoriously awful looking Belly Full of Bad Berries earlier on in the trip).
Upon setting off earlier this week it felt like success was hanging in the balance. Whilst they had spent adequate time on each pitch to give themselves a good chance, they had limited time in which to climb the route, with Billy's flight home being booked for Sunday, so they had to get their skates on. Unfortunately for them the weather had other ideas and they were locked down for a couple of days in a storm, protected by Tom Randall's leaky fly sheet, which made for a couple of uncomfortable nights.
Once the rain subsided and the rock dried the pair seemed to move remarkably quickly, with rapid progress being made, and The Great Roof (5.13c) pitch being climbed with ease (we'll find out exactly how 'easy' when we speak to Alex and Billy next week). With The Great Roof done, it was onwards up to the Changing Corners (5.14a/b). This notoriously technical pitch is remarkably fluffable and given the accumulated fatigue from climbing El Cap to this point, and the fact it's a significant step-up in difficulty from The Great Roof, meant it was always going to be the cruxiest of the cruxes. As a result, we were waiting with baited breath until the news came through - again, quite quickly - that Alex had done it. Billy had to wait until the following day for his own attempt, which must have been mind-bogglingly stressful, not least because of it being crucial to climbing the route, but also to ensuring he boarded his flight home.
Congratulations to both Alex and Billy - and thanks for what has been a very entertaining few of weeks of reports and updates. We'll be producing a more thorough news report and interview next week, but in the meanwhile good luck to Hazel Findlay and Angus Kille who are attempting to free El Niño (via the Pineapple Express variation) elsewhere on El Cap - all fingers crossed for their success too.