Freerider in a Day

A Ground-Up, No-Prep attempt

November 2021

Freeing El Cap in a day has of course been on my mind since first freeing the Freerider in over 6 days in 2018. In continuation of my ground up theme, I’ve always thought it’d be radical to truly climb it in a day (without multiple days of prep and stashing that are usually used). The purest form of this would be to walk up to El Capitan with a partner and both free climb in standard multipitch style. By 2021 I felt as if I were fit enough to pull it off, but didn’t have any real leads on a partner for this unpopular method.

This November I spent two weeks in the Valley with a bit of flexibility in my plans. I was mainly planning to TR solo on an aspirational project, but my brother Billy wanted to blast out from SLC in the middle of my trip to do an El Cap lap together for his birthday. We both aren’t so into hard aid climbing, so the choice was between just a few lines. He mentioned maybe we could do a Freerider-as-can-be day ascent?

We would only have to compromise a small bit of speed from standard in-a-day tactics for me to get to try to redpoint along the way - I would microtraxion to follow his leads, rope solo free climb my short fixing segments, and then get proper belays for the hard bits. Billy and I had done the Salathe in a Day back in 2018 taking only 15 hours, so we figured the extra shenanigans could fit into the spare 9 hours. I was excited about the partnered ascent with Billy getting a bunch of his own quality climbing in, rather than just jugging.

For my in-a-day ascents I have come to prefer starting late evening, which we repeated again with a 7pm start. Climbing in the darkness is much less taxing than the intense daytime sun. An evening start also means a second wind of energy hits with sunrise keeping spirits high. Billy frenchfreed the freeblast as his first block while I followed free, swapping leads at Mammoth Terraces. I took over in order to free the odd downclimb at the Hollowflake on lead. We picked up our small haulbag here, which I had rope soloed up to stash two days before in a small compromise in style. This was our food, water, and a few extra cams for the ascent (The leader foot hauled the bag for each pitch from this point on).

El Cap looking moody as we approached

We were styling up to the Alcove, arriving 7 hours after leaving the ground. I hadn’t yet fallen, and Billy had only taken out the Jumars for the Monster Offwidth. At 6am I took my first fall, but promptly sent the boulder problem second try after not touching it it in three years. Momentum was still on our side, but as we gained altitude the whiteout fog turned into a drizzle.

By the time we were below the enduro corner, we had stopped twice to wait for the light rain to fade and for the stone to dry. I led up the first half of the enduro corner finding the 11c flared locks to be fully seeping and as slick as soap! Defeated, I lowered back to the belay and considered bailing. I decided to try to toprope the pitch as a consolation for the wetness, though even that took two more tries. I barely found enough friction to make it to the anchor. I was still sending, but just fried myself on an “easy” pitch.

Looking down at 6am after sending the boulder. Josh Wharton (team yellow) seen below on his Freerider flash attempt

On the next pitch, a 12b layback, I somehow made it through the crux redlining at every single move and nearly wobbling off while clipping gear. I don’t think I’ve ever tried so hard without letting go. Sadly, 15 feet below the next anchor, I slipped out of flared handjams. After giving absolutely maximal effort on a second pitch within an hour, I felt there was no way I could pull off another try. At 18 hours in with 5 pitches above us, there was no time to recover. The wheels fell off of my free ascent here and I resigned to frenchfreeing and aiding us to the top. Billy and I limped over the summit at 23 hours agreeing that it took way too long.

The ascent was bitter sweet - I did successfully complete another El Cap ascent with my brother (and he got to free 2/3rds of it!), but I felt painfully close to pulling off the no prep in-a-day free ascent. I reminded myself that I have gone aid climbing up El Cap on purpose before. Though had I not redlined due to rope drag on 5.10 pitches or due to the wet 5.11, I think momentum would have been on my side. I’ll most likely try again in a similar style. I intend to keep all of my El Cap ascents ground up for the foreseeable future!

Sunset on the summit (the days are much shorter than the nights in November)

Takeaways from my first FRIAD attempt:

  • Bring a flossy lead line. Rope drag was a killer with a fuzzy cord and seemed to waste more energy than the actual climbing

  • Seepage on a hard pitch can be a show stopper with little warning

  • Having a dedicated jugger is not such a bad idea after all..

Even after days of resting on the valley floor, my power was not close to 100%. I attempted another top roping day on my aspirational project and could not touch moves I had previously done. That one will be my focus on a different trip soon.. I looked for easier objectives to finish out my last few days and joined my friend Jordan at the Camp 4 boulders.

Wanting to send at least one thing this season, I decided on working Midnight Lightning. Jordan gave me extremely detailed beta and I made it to the funky mantle multiple times that first session, but didn’t quite execute. On my last day, I ended the trip with a bit of irony - I scrambled up a tree to access the top of the boulder to rap in and rehearse the mantle. This top down tactic ensured success, and I easily topped out Midnight Lightning before heading home.

The boundary conditions we apply to our personal climbing greatly shapes the satisfaction of the outcome. My mind is okay with the contradiction of rapping into boulder problems, top roping hard trad lines for a headpoint, but only ever considering ground up efforts on El Capitan. Embracing the unknown on the big stone by starting at the bottom with food and water, and then climbing to the top is the ultimate in climbing to me.

[Aspirational Project]

Day 2 on the project, nearly linking the crux on TR