In May 1999 Tommy Caldwell became the first American who free climbed all the pitches of the Salathé, taking only one fall on the entire climb. He climbed the route in three days with his friend Mike Cassidy. His one fall came on the Teflon corner pitch above El Cap Spire which had also thwarted Yuji's onsight effort a year earlier. I
n May 2002 Tommy Caldwell made the first no-fall, one-day ascent of the Salathé. Climbing with his wife, Beth Rodden, Caldwell scaled the wall in 19 hours. Four months later the feat was repeated by Yuji Hirayama, who led the entire route in 13 hours. His goal was to climb the route without hanging belays. 'I wanted to climb the route from the ground to the top on my own strength, using only my hands and my feet, climbing from ledge to ledge' - he later wrote in "Alpinist". Yuji managed to achieve his goal, linking Sous le Toit ledge to the stance over the Salathé Roof (normally it was done in three pitches: 5.11b, 5.12b and 5.12a) and two pitches of the 70-meter headwall (originally done as three by Skinner and Piana). Hirayama considered his accomplishment "the birth of a new route and the realization of an ideal".
After her one day free ascent of Free Rider in 2003, Steph was drawn to the legendary Salathé headwall. Working alone, she spent the hot summer months hiking to the top of El Cap in the dark and deciphering the crux pitches from above. Because her dream was to make an individual free ascent of the Salathé as she had done on Free Rider, Steph spent a part of September dealing with logistics, rappelling the route to cache water and food on ledges, in order to minimize hauling and allow her to climb with any partner she might find to help her. In early October, she decided to try the route from the ground up. In characteristic style, Steph met a stranger on the top of El Cap and partnered with Cybele Blood, a climber from LA who had just finished her first El Cap route.
Steph planned three climbing days on the Salathé, with two rest days on the wall. Her plans immediately went wrong on the second climbing day, when she was slowed down on several crux pitches by an aid party, sleet and high winds. At the very end of the day, she fell from the last move of the Salathe roof, which ruined her tightly scheduled plan for her attempt of the crux headwall pitches. The Salathé headwall comes into the sun at 11 a.m., and Steph needed to complete the roof at the end of her second climbing day in order to start the next final cruxes at dawn. Certain her attempt was doomed, Cybele and Steph decided to stay on the wall anyway and keep going.
On her next climbing day, Steph had to redo the Salathé roof, and then fell trying to lead the enduro headwall pitch. Since she had been able to free the pitches consistently on her solo toprope system, Steph had completely underestimated the difficulty of leading the long, strenuous headwall pitch. Despite using an 8.8 diameter lead rope, she was unable to clip the rope into carabiners at the end of the pitch, and was forced to hold the rope in her mouth for the final clips. After a day of rest, Steph made another attempt on the enduro pitch and fell from the last move after clipping the anchor, after 150 feet of 5.13 climbing. The next day, she fell again from the end of the pitch. Unwilling to retreat and go through the massive effort of getting all the way to this point again, Steph made the decision to keep trying. Food supplies were almost gone, and Cybele decided to jumar fixed lines to the top of El Cap, go down the East Ledges for more food, and return back to Steph on the wall, who was starting to get very thin.
The next two days, two other parties arrived at the headwall in the morning, preventing Steph from climbing. At this point, a five day climb turned into nine days on El Cap. On Sunday, October 23rd, the route was entirely clear of other climbers, and Steph attempted the enduro headwall pitch again. This time she fired the pitch, but finished at eleven a.m., just as the second headwall crux pitch came into the sun. They waited again until the next morning for shade, and then Steph freed the second headwall pitch, finally topping out on Monday, October 24th, after eleven days on the wall.
FREE ASCENTS OF THE SALATHÉ WALL
June 1988: Todd Skinner, Paul Piana - TEAM ASCENT
June 1995: Alex Huber - FIRST REDPOINT ASCENT
July 1996: Thomas Huber
September 1997: Yuji Hirayama
May 1999: Tommy Caldwell
28th of May 2002: Tommy Caldwell - FIRST NO-FALL, ONE-DAY ASCENT
19h of September 2002: Yuji Hirayama
July 2003: Jim Herson
12th of April 2004: Justen Sjong, Adam Stack
October 2005: Steph Davis - FIRST FEMALE ASCENT