Steph Davis frees the Salathé Wall
Steph Davis becomes the first woman to free the Salathé Wall on El Capitan, leading every pitch of the route.
The Salathé Wall is El Cap's most natural line and is often called the finest rock climb in the world. The Salathé is notorious for its offwidths and chimneys, and lack of "cruiser" climbing. Thanks to its relentless character, the best speed ascent of the Salathé is over twice as slow as the fastest ascent of the Nose, El Cap's other classic line.
Salathé was first climbed in September 1961 by Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost. Surprisingly, the famous continental climber John Salathé (first ascents of Half Dome, the Lost Arrow Chimney and Sentinel's North Face) had nothing to do with either climbing or naming the route. Around 1960 Yvon Chouinard, who did not climb the route either, thought that legendary Salathé deserved a significant feature being named after him and so referred to the entire unclimbed southwest face of El Capitan as the Salathé Wall. When the first route on the face was done, the route itself came to be called the Salathé Wall.
Thirty-five pitches, with a stout 13b grade, the Salathé was first freed by Todd Skinner and Paul Piana in 1988. After several months of preparation, the pair climbed the route over the course of a week, swapping the leads. When one led a particular pitch, the other jumared. The result was that neither free climbed every pitch. Because of the style of the climb (2 months of preparation, pinkpointing of some pitches etc.), the Wyoming team's ascent was followed by years of doubt and controversy.
Seven years later, in early June of 1995, German born Alex Huber made the first redpoint of the route, leading every pitch. He worked on the Salathé for nearly two months, on several occasions alone, and finally with the well-known photographer Heinz Zak. Eventually, the German redpointed all the pitches without preplaced gear, beating the pump on the Headwall by running it out and risking big falls. Paul Piana, although applauding Huber's free climb of the Salathé as a tremendous achievement and certainly an improvement in style over the 1988 ascent, said in a letter to "Climbing" magazine, '… but he didn't do it first, he only did it better'.
Next July the Salathé was redpointed for the second time by Alex's brother, Thomas Huber. Thomas hoped to do a one-day ascent and to repeat the controversial 19th pitch, which had been avoided by Alex via a two-pitch variation. Elder Huber managed to free the pitch, but the effort cost him one-day ascent and nearly denied him a free ascent of the wall. Eventually he led the second half in "yoyo from no hands rest" style, not returning to the belays and not pulling out the rope after falling on the second Headwall pitch. 'I wanted to climb the route in one day, and finally I got less, with two pitches "redcircle". But "less" applies only to what you can read on paper. For me, it was one of my greatest adventures ever' - wrote Thomas in "Rock & Ice" magazine.
Next year, in September 1997, Yuji Hirayama made the first ground-up ascent of the route. Watched from El cap Meadows by his wife, Shie, who was nearly eight months pregnant, and Japanese camera crews, Hiarayama led the route in 24 pitches, using a 70-meter rope. Yuji's main goal was to on-sight the route and he almost did it, falling only on two pitches (the last pitch to the Block and the second 5.13b Headwall pitch). His partners on the climb were Hidetaka Suzuki and Hans Florine. They did not provide any beta on the moves. They sometimes gave him an idea on protection.