French climber Soline Kentzel, 21, and Sébastien Berthe, 28, have freed Golden Gate, a 36-pitch 5.13a on El Capitan’s southwest face. The route was first climbed in 2000 by Alex and Thomas Huber.
Kentzel and Berthe swapped leads on the lower pitches up to 5.11 and both led the 5.12 and 5.13 pitches, including the Monster Offwidth. They reached the 5.12 down-climb on pitch 14 on day three then were forced to rest to wait out bad weather. The made their way through the upper cruxes and reached the A5 Traverse crux pitch on day nine. They reached the summit that afternoon.
“We went through some epic snow storms and rain showers which made surviving on this wall a true challenge,” said Berthe. “During these forced rest days we had to squeeze in the really small portaledge we brought, constantly trying to avoid being wet first and frozen after. One of our sleeping bags even became totally stiff and icy. But we could keep the motivation really high and got back to climbing as soon as the wall was dry.
“During the sunnier climbing days, the ice was melting from the top of the wall throwing impressive ice chunks on us. Every 5 minutes, the lottery was on: we had to stop climbing, stick ourselves against the wall waiting for these pieces of ice to fall all around us. The level of dedication, commitment and perseverance Kentzel brought into the whole process of discovering trad and crack climbing is huge and it has been truly inspiring to witness her evolve.”
Berthe is an experienced Yosemite climber with free ascents of Freerider, the Heart Route and The Nose under his belt. This winter, he spent time projecting the Dawn Wall and made a final 23-day push that ended at the crux 5.14d pitch 14. Kentzel is a 5.14 sport climber but had only recently learned how to trad climb, plus this was her first big wall.