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100 Years of Big-Wall Free Climbing

In light of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson making one of the most historic big-wall free ascents, let’s take a look back at the progression of the sport with select climbs.

It is a crest of granite… perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.” -California Geological Survey in 1865.

Early 1900s: Paul Preuss solos over 300 long routes and becomes an early spokesman for free climbing. He wrote, “With artificial climbing aids you have transformed the mountains into a mechanical plaything. Eventually they will break or wear out, and then nothing else will be left for you to do than to throw them away.”

In 1913: Hans Dulfer and Walter von Bernuth free the west face of Cima Grande and climb up to 5.9.

In 1925: Emil Solleder and Gustav Lettenbauer make the hardest free climb to date: the 1,200-metre west face of the Civetta.

In 1929: Demetrio Christomannos, Roberto Perathoner and Luigi Micheluzzi free the Marmolada, a 600-metre 5.10 with only a few pitons.

In 1935: Raymond Leiniger and Pierre Allain free climb the North Fac eof the Petit Dru, an 850-metre 5.9.

In 1952: Hermann Buhl solos the Cassin Route on the Piz Badille.

In 1954: Joe Brown and Don Whillans climb the 5.10 west face of the Blaitiere.

In 1958: Ralph Hoibakk and Arne Randers climb a 40-pitch 5.9 on the Troll Wall.

In 1959: Royal Robbins frees the Steck-Salathe in Yosemite, all but 10 metres.

In 1964: Wally Read and Frank Sacherer free the East Buttress of El Cap, a 13-pitch 5.10-

In 1968: Gunter and Reinhold Messner climb the Central Pillar of Heiligkresuzkofel, the first high mountin 5.11+.

In 1972: Doug Scott, Doug Hennek and Paul Braithwaite free the East Pillar of Mount Asgard 5.10 in 38 hours.

In 1974: Martin Boysen freed the 5.11 off-width on Aguja Innominata.

In 1975: Ron Kauk, John Bachar and John Long free Astroman 5.11c in Yosemite.

In 1976: Joe Brown, Martin Boysen, Mo Anthoine and Malcolm Howell free 20 pitches on Trango Tower. Rob Candelaria and Roger Briggs free the Diamond’s Yellow Wall 5.11. Art Higbee and Jim Erickson free 24 pitches on Half Dome’s northwest face and the final eight metre bolted section was freed three years later at 5.12.

In 1979: Max Jones and Mark Hudon free the 17-pitch Pegasus 5.12 on Yosemite’s Quarter Dome. Leonard Coyne climbs Air Voyage in the Black Canyon that had a 5.12 offwidth. Kurt Albert freed the Lacedelli on Cima Scotoni, a 500-metre 5.11d.

In 1980: Hardest free route in Yosemite: Chris Cantwell climbs the 16-pitch Hall of Mirrors 5.12+.

In 1982: Hamish Fraser and Peter Croft free Squamish’s University Wall 5.12.

In 1983: Sergio Vicari and Marco Pedrini free the American Direttissima 5.12b on the Petit Dru.

1984: Bill Stark and Brian Wallace free CMC Wall on the Canadian Rockies Yamnuska at 5.11. It was the start of big wall free climbing in the Rockies.

In 1985: Maurizio Giodani free solos south face of Marmolada 5.11+.

In 1987: Heinz Mariacher and Bruno Pederiva free the Fish Route 5.12 on Marmolada. Peter Croft solos Astroman and the Rostrum in a day.

In 1988: Paul Piana and Todd Skinner free the 36-pitch 5.13b Salathe Wall. Peter Croft onsights the original second pitch of University Wall in Squamish and called it The Shadow 5.13b and 11 pitches. Wolfgang Gullich and Kurt Albert free the Slovenian Route 5.11d on Trango Tower. Dave Schultz and Scott Cosgrove free Southern Bell 5.12dX, 14 pitches on El Cap.

In 1989: Wolfgang Gullicha and Kurt Albert climb Eternal Flame on Trango Tower, a 32-pitch 5.12b with some aid. Tom Pochay free solos the Greenwood/Locke on Mount Temple.

In 1990: Thierry Renault sets a new standard with his onsight of a 5.12d crux at 4,000 metres on the 900-metre Mont Blanc route Divine Providence. Francek Knez climbed Killer 5.12c on Cima Piccolissima skipping all bolts.

In 1991: Peter Croft and John Woodward free Moonlight Buttress 5.13a, 10 pitches including an onsight of the crux pitch.

In 1992: Todd Skinner, Galen Rowel and Paul Piana free The Great Canadian Knife 5.13b in the Cirque of the Unclimbables.

In 1993: Chris Oates, Steve Bechtel and Todd Skinner free Half Dome’s direct northwest face 5.13d, 24 pitches. Lynn Hill frees El Cap’s The Nose 5.13c, but some suggest 5.14a.

In 1994: Beat Kammerlander climbs Silbergeiger 5.13d, seven pitches. Thomas Huber climbs End of Silence 5.13dR, 11 pitches. Stefan Glowacz sends Europe’s hardest big wall Ded Klaisers Neue Kleider 5.14a, nine pitches. Lyn Hill sends The Nose again, in less than 24 hours.

In 1995: Alex Huber sends Salathe Wall 5.13 on El Cap. Lynn Hill and Alex Lowe onsight the West Face 5.12b, 1,200 metres of Peak 4810. Todd Skinner, Mike Lilygren and Jeff Bechtell free Cowboy Direct 5.13a, 37 pitches on Trango Tower, but not in a continuous push (climbing’s first grade seven free route).

In 1996: Topher Donahue and Kennan Harvey free All Along the Watchtower on North Howser. Brooke Sandahl and Steve Sutton free Mount Watkins South Face 5.13, 19 pitches in Yosemite.

In 1997: Yuji Hirayama frees Salathe with only four falls, onsighting the rest. Karl Bralich and Mark Albosta free Galactic Hitchhiker, a 39-pitch 5.11 on Glacier Point Apron in Yosemite.

In 1998: Thomas and Alex Huber climb El Nino 5.13c, 29 pitches on El Cap and send Freerider 5.12d, 38 pitches in less than 16 hours.

In 1999: Robert Jasper climbs Symphonie de Liberte 5.13b on the Eiger.

In 2000: Lurking Fear 5.13c, 18 pitches on El Cap was sent by Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell. Golden Gate 5.13b, 41 pitches by Alex and Thomas Huber. Scott Cosgrove and Annie Overlin climb The Grand Wall free 5.13a, 16 pitches.

In 2001: Tommy Caldwell and Nick Sagar send The Shaft 5.13c, 33 pitches on El Cap. Cedar Wright climb Gravity Ceiling 5.12c, 10 pitches. Alex Huber sends El Corazon 5.13b, 35 pitches on El Cap.

In 2002: Psychodelic Wall 5.12c, 11 pitches by Jake Whittaker and Cedar Wright.

In 2003: Alex and Thomas Huber send Zodiac 5.13d, 21 pitches and Tommy Caldwell repeated it soon after. Caldwell and Beth Rodden free the West Buttress 5.13c, 20 pitches of El Cap.

In 2004: Dean Potter sends Silent Line 5.13R, 10 pitches in Yosemite. Tommy Caldwell frees Dihedral Wall 5.14a, 25 pitches on El Cap. Cedar Wright and Lucho Rivera free Camp Four Wall 5.12, 16 pitches in Yosemite.

In 2005: Mike Verway and Steve Holeczi free the Lowe/Hannibal 1,500 metres on Mount Geikie at 5.11.

In 2006: Chris Weidner Justen Sjong freed Lucifer’s Lighthouse 5.12c on Newfoundland’s Blow Me Down wall.

In 2007: Rob Miller and Justen Sjong free the preMuir Wall 5.13, 33 pitches. Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden make the second free ascent of El Corazon 5.13b, 35 pitches. Alex Honnold, 21, sends Freerider. Hansjorg Auer free solos The Fish Route 5.12c, 37 pitches.

In 2008: Tommy Caldwell and Justen Sjong free Magic Mushroom 5.14a, 31 pitches on El Cap. Nicolas Favresse and Seán Villanueva free Secret Passage 5.13cR, 15 pitches. Alex Honnold free solos Moonlight Buttress 5.12d, 400 metres.

In 2010: Leo Houlding and Jason Pickles free The Prophet 5.14, 13dR pitches in Yosemite. Canadian Sonnie Trotter repeated it the following year. Derek Galloway frees Blue Jeans 5.13c, Yamnuska’s hardest route.

In 2011: Sonnie Trotter and Tommy Caldwell free The Shining 5.13c, 15 pitches on Mount Louis, the Rockies hardest big-wall route.

In 2012: Father Time 5.13b, 16 pitches is climbed by a team led by Mickey Schaefer. Hazel Findlay frees preMuir Wall 5.13, 33 pitches on El Cap with James Mchaffie. Alex Honnold solos (mostly free) the Triple Crown of Yosemite: Mount Watkins South Face, El Cap’s The Nose and Half Dome’s Regular Route. David Lama frees the Compressor Route 5.13 on Cerro Torre. Huber and Mario Walder free The Bavarian/Bulgariran 5.13, 950 metres on Mount Asgard.

In 2014: Alex Honnold pushes the limits by soloing University Wall 5.12 in Squamish, El Senduro Luminoso 5.12+, 600 metres in Mexico and Will Stanhope and Matt Segal continue free attempts on the Tom Egan Memorial Route in the Bugaboo, the crux is 5.14.

In 2015: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson have made it farther on their Dawn Wall project 5.14d than ever before and the free attempt continues. Check Gripped.com for updates.

[shareprints gallery_id=”10448″ gallery_type=”thumb_slider” gallery_position=”pos_center” gallery_width=”width_100″ image_size=”large” image_padding=”0″ theme=”dark” image_hover=”false” lightbox_type=”slide” titles=”true” captions=”true” descriptions=”true” comments=”true” sharing=”true”]Sources: Alpinist, Alex Huber’s website, Yosemite Free Climb website, American Alpine Journal, Canadian Alpine Journal. Photos from Gripped’s archives.