Pete Whittaker has done it again! Yet another gruelling challenge has crumbled beneath the grim, relentless determination of the UK's most masochistic mountaineer. Pete was back in Yosemite on another solo mission, but this time just one granite wall was not enough – he had his eyes on both El Capitan and Half Dome. Sarah Stirling reports.
On 9 November, Pete Whittaker soloed the regular Northwest Face Route on Half Dome and the Nose on El Capitan in 20 hours and 19 minutes. The combined route length is over 1,300m, and his time includes descending and driving between the two routes. Impressively, Pete only leant the necessary techniques two years ago.
Half Dome: 6.30am - 11.03am
El Cap: 1.23pm - 2.49am
A bit of history of big link-ups in Yosemite
The ‘big link-up’ of these two routes is one of the greatest challenges of Yosemite climbing. It dates back to 1986 when the Yosemite legends John Bachar and Peter Croft were the first to tick it.
The first to achieve this feat alone was Dean Potter, in 1999. He got wind of Hans Florine's plan to do it, so flew in before him. Dean soloed El Cap and then Half Dome in 23 hours 4 minutes. A few days later, Hans did the same challenge in reverse, knocking two hours off Dean’s time.
Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell ticked an even more impressive link-up in 2012 – they weren’t solo but they did make the first free ascent of a link-up called the Triple Crown – El Cap, Half Dome and Mt Watkins – in 21 hours 15 minutes. Two weeks later Honnold repeated the feat alone, free-soloing 95% of the time (see below for terminology explanations).
We think Pete is the fourth person to solo these two routes in under 24 hours. So how did he solo them? "Using a mix of aid climbing, free climbing, rope soloing, daisy soloing (making moving belays) and free soloing," Pete told us. "When myself, Dean, Hans and Alex soloed these walls, we all used all of these techniques at some point, none of us stuck purely to one thing. We just all used them in different percentages."
Impressively, Pete only learnt some of these techniques in 2016 – and that same year he became the first person to free-climb El Cap, in a day, solo. The route was the classic 37-pitch Freerider. See below.
WATCH: Pete Whittaker rope soloing El Cap in 2016 on BMC TV
Pete’s Big Link-up 2018
On 9 November 2018, Pete camped at the base of Half Dome with his girlfriend Mari, got up in the small hours, topped out on Half Dome, then jogged down to the base where Mari met him and drove him to El Cap meadow, then he set off up the Nose.
Pete told us: "The first high point of the challenge was definitely topping out on Half Dome. I climbed well and made better time than I thought. I was only going to move on to climbing The Nose if Half Dome went well, so it was exciting that it did, as it meant I was able to do some more climbing. The King Swing on The Nose is always fun so that was another high. You get to sit on the rope for a bit but still feel like you’re making progress!
"I like the fact that it's possible to climb big walls by yourself. It’s rewarding when you reach flat ground and all the work has been done by you to get there. When you’re climbing well it's fun not to have to wait for anyone else, you can keep going at your own pace."
Impressively, included in his time is a bit of faff – Pete made a few mistakes, like wandering a bit off route on the way up and down Half Dome – he'd only previously climbed the Nose twice and Half Dome once before and had never soloed either route before.
Yosemite climbing styles explained
For those who don’t know how Yosemite routes work:
Routes in Yosemite are traditionally climbed using aid techniques – i.e. you place trad gear, then clip ladders to it to aid upwards progress – if you don’t read otherwise, you can assume that these techniques were used.
If you read that a Yosemite route was ‘free climbed’ or ‘freed’ then that means it was climbed without aid – i.e. using trad climbing techniques – no pulling on gear.
Climbing without being attached to the rock in any way.
Climbing alone. Any techniques can be used.
Climbing by yourself by leading a pitch, then rappelling it, cleaning it, jumarring back up again, and then hauling your bag up. Essentially, a 1,000m route then requires 3,000m of movement. Pete used a Revo as his solo device.
The downsides, Pete told us, are that, “There is no-one to gain motivation from when it gets hard. Also, you are constantly attaching, unattaching and reattaching yourself to the rope and anchors, so it would be easy to make a mistake.”
“I read Andy Kirkpatrick’s book ‘Me Myself and I’ about four times, which is an excellent technique book on rope soloing. It’s inspiring how much Andy knows on the subject, he’s got loads of knowledge and it’s cool that he shared it. That book helped me massively.”
And what did Pete do next? Another cheeky little outing with his girlfriend, Mari, to celebrate.
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