Free ridding monkeys... / by Mayan Smith-Gobat

When I first arrived in the Yosemite two years ago, I remember looking up at El Capitan with awe... I found it difficult to fathom the daunting task of free climbing that massive face in several days, let alone in a single day! However, I had my heart set on free climbing this historic wall, so I threw myself in the deep end and attempted Free Rider ground up, leading and hauling nearly every pitch, with the selfless support of my partner Max, who agreed to follow me up, even with the treat of  a fast-moving storm! That first time up the Capitan totally destroyed me... and yet as soon as I reached the top I was dreaming of returning - El Capitan had found its way into my heart and there was no way I could ignore it any longer. This year, after two seasons in the Valley, I fulfilled my dream free climb this great wall, with my ascent of the Salathe, becoming the first Kiwi (male or female) to free climb one of the central routes on El Capitan and only the second female to free the Salathe. However, I still had a couple weeks left in the Valley and decided the obvious progression was to attempt to free the Capitan in a single day...

At ten past midnight, two weeks after my ascent of the Salathe, Niels Tietze (a member of the SAR team at Yosemite) and I started up the Free Rider, carrying minimal gear, several energy bars and a bottle of water each. We moved fast through the moonlit night, swinging leads and simul-climbing the easier sections of the route. Everything flowed like clockwork, and we reached the crux of the route, the Huber Boulder pitch, at first light. Here, we encountered the only other party on the route, and they happened to be good friends of ours, who were also trying to free climb Free Rider over several days. Luckily, they were using the Teflon corner variation to the crux pitch and so we were not in each others way. Unbelievably, I managed to stick the boulder problem first try, and let out an unrestrained whoop of joy knowing that a free ascent was totally possible for me now! With that I started an awesome train of sending - Within 10 minutes all four of us sent the crux pitch of Free Rider! So, with adrenalin soaring we continued our charge for the top... It was only after my battle to hang on to the slopping laybacks in the enduro-corner, that fatigue started to set in. However, after slumping at the anchor for a few minutes, I managed to pull myself together to follow Niels through the last hard section -  the traverse pitch, which I had not actually free climbed before. After this it was simply a matter of hanging on though the last few wide pitches.

We reached the summit at 2.20pm, 14 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the ground! Making for a bunch of firsts... The fastest free female ascent of El Capitan, the first New Zealander to free climb El Capitan in a day, the first free Kiwi ascent of Free Rider, Niels Tietze first free route on El Capitan, and most importantly the best 14 hours of incredible climbing in my life, on the most beautiful piece of rock ever!