Tommy Caldwell's 5 Favorite Pitches on El Cap
My body hangs limply in my harness, eyes drooping shut, hands bleeding, feet swollen; buffeted by the wind in a cold shady corner, 2800 feet off the ground. For 19 hours I have been fighting, screaming, falling and pushing my mind and body—hard—all in the name of free climbing another route on El Cap in a day. This time it’s Magic Mushroom, and I’m so exhausted that hallucinations might be next. Above me is a series if seven small roofs—and the crux of the climb—then a soaring finger crack up a overhanging headwall in one of most wildly exposed climbing spots on earth.
This is why El Cap has held my attention for over a decade: the overwhelming magnitude of it. The way it tests me, and the wild way-off-the-ground pitches. These pitches have give me an experience in climbing that I have been unable to find anywhere else. These are the most memorable:
The Nose, The Changing Corners (pitch 28)
This pitch has a snot slick, 90-degree corner with almost no features and nothing but a rounded hair-thin crack in the back to hold onto. It requires gut wrenching body tension, modified chimney technique and belief that your feet will somehow stick. A decade after Lynn hill first free climbed it, it’s still likely the hardest pitch on El Cap.
Zodiac, The Nipple (pitch 10)
The Nipple pitch is a soaring right-facing undercling across blank steep, snow-white rock. The climbing consists of a combination of wild position, tenuous moves and off-balance thrutches from one pin scar to the next. It’s too hard to stop and clip so you just run it out, hoping those upside-down knifeblades will hold the inevitable big, swinging falls.
Salathé Wall, The Headwall (pitch 30)
This is surely one of the wildest places on earth. Here, it is always windy and the crux moves come at the end of a 150-foot pumpfest where you are forced to make a few fingertip locks and dyno into a hole where you jam your foot to make the hanging belay. Many hardmen have been overcome with vertigo due to the exposure here.
Lurking Fear, Super Slab (pitch 2)
Super Slab is a pitch of razor blades stuck to the wall. It’s a 150-foot constant battle against the slowly creeping foot. Throw in an all-points-off sideways dyno and footwork so technical and painful I lost two toenails trying to redpoint it, and I call it one of the most unique pitches anywhere. I took me a solid week to remember the complicated sequence.
El Corazon, The Bunny Slope (pitch 21)
Logic told me I would survive this one. But when looking at a 200-foot swinging fall, directly onto the belay it’s hard to convince yourself that everything will be okay. “The fall is clean… nothing to hit…” I repeated in my head over and over as I nervously shook my way up the dime edges towards the belay.