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Climber Bails After 23-Day Push Trying World’s Hardest Big Wall

Sébastien Berthe put in an impressive multi-week effort on the Dawn Wall despite bad conditions and breaking holds. Only three climbers have freed it since the FA in 2015

Belgian climber Sébastien Berthe, a solid 5.15 climber, has put in an impressive 23 days projecting the world’s hardest big wall free climb. After weeks trying the most difficult pitch, he’s decided to wrap things up for this season on the Dawn Wall, a a 32-pitch 5.14d on El Capitan in Yosemite.

Berthe made his way to the U.S.A. via a multi-week sail across the Atlantic Ocean with a group of friends. He’ll be returning to Europe on the boat this summer.

Dawn Wall was first climbed by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson in 2016 and repeated by Adam Ondra in 2016. Together with partner Pavel Blazek, who jumared fixed ropes and belayed, Ondra shaved over 10 days off Caldwell and Jorgeson’s 19-day first free ascent. Caldwell and Jorgeson both freed every pitch on their ascent, some pitches on different days, but neither led every pitch. Ondra was the first to lead and send every pitch.

Berthe, who’s the only climber to free The Nose 5.14 ground up, started working on the nearly 1,000-metre wall in January with Siebe Vanhee; the two climbed Freerider 5.13 in a day in 2017. They climbed Dawn Wall using aid and free techniques and reached the top on Jan. 28. Vanhee returned to Europe, but Berthe stayed.

Early in his attempt, Berthe broke a hold on pitch three which required some new beta. After nine days, he reached the 5.14d crux pitch 14. After two weeks of piecing the pitch together, he fell off the last difficult move before the belay. Conditions were never optimal as temperatures continued to rise with the coming of spring.

After giving the world’s hardest big wall free climb a solid attempt, Berthe decided to bail before sending the first of three 5.14+ pitches which guard the upper “easier” pitches.

The Dawn Wall stacked with hard pitches, here’s the breakdown: 12b, 13a, 13c, 12b, 12d, 13c, 14a, 13d, 13c, 14a, 13c, 14b, 13b, 14d, 14d, 14c, 14a, 13c, 13c, 13c, 13c, 12c, 9, 11, 11, 11d, 11c, 12c, 12b, 13a, 12a, 12b.