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Belgian Climber Sends Another Huge 5.13 on El Capitan in a Day

Sébastien Berthe has made quick work of a classic all-free Yosemite route that has a Canadian's variation

Belgian climber Sébastien Berthe, a solid 5.15 climber who recently attempted the Dawn Wall VI 5.14d and sent Golden Gate VI 5.13- in a day, has made an impressive onsight/flash ascent of El Niño via Pineapple Express VI 5.13b/c on El Capitan in a day.

Berthe climbed El Niño with Soline Kentzel, who he redpointed Golden Gate with days before. He either flashed or onsighted every pitch of El Niño, making a no-falls ascent until the final 5.13. While Hansjorg Auer and Yuji Hirayama had attempted to onsight El Niño in 2008 and 2003, with both only falling a handful of times, nobody had tried since the Pineapple Express variation had been established.

Pineapple Express was opened by Canadian Sonnie Trotter in 2018. The climb is technically a three-pitch variation to El Niño VI 5.13c. Trotter established the route over a few seasons with Alex Honnold, and then sent it in a 13-hour push with Tommy Caldwell supporting. Honnold and Brad Gobright made the second ascent of Pineapple Express in 2019.

Trotter said after the FA: “Sadly, this year Alex couldn’t make it back to Yosemite like we had planned, and encouraged me to go for the climb with another partner. Naturally I was bummed, then gripped, thinking about some of the crux pitches, the fragile rock up higher or the long runouts over questionable gear. With two young kids in the back of my mind, I certainly wasn’t capable by myself. Or so I thought. Having superhero partners is great, but shouldn’t keep us from chasing our dreams.

“Graciously, another El Cap legend Tommy Caldwell offered to support me on his final day of climbing in the valley this year. It was the last good day before the first storm of the season. We met at 4:30 a.m. in the Meadow and began our day. I tried to harness a bit of the Honnold state of mind. Pitch by pitch, we moved up the wall, Tommy and I laughed a lot up there and everything seemed to click. We topped out just before 7 p.m. I’m so thankful for good times with great friends. The hours spent ‘toiling’ on El Cap are some of my most treasured.”

El Niño and Pineapple Express have technical free climbing on steep faces with the intermittent cracks. There’s a lot of 5.10 and 5.11 climbing, six 5.13 pitches and five 5.12. El Niño was first climbed in 1998 by Alex and Thomas Huber at VI 5.13c A0, it links pitches of Continental Drift, New Jersey Turnpike and North America Wall. Trotter’s original plan was to free North America Wall.