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Heavy Emotions: Jordan Cannon and Golden Gate in a Day

Earlier today — with his emotions still stirred up after his 20-hour, 26-minute free ascent of Golden Gate on Nov. 16, Cannon shares his story

cannon climbing in golden light Photo by: Mark Hudon

Nov. 18, Yosemite West, California. It’s raining hard in Yosemite Valley today, sending visitors to warmer, dryer climates. But not Jordan Cannon, the 26-year old professional climber based out of Lake Tahoe, California, who is making today a “workday,” as he tells various media sources about his Nov. 16 free ascent of Golden Gate.

“I’m going to give you a different version than I’m telling the others,” he says while parked up the street from his friend Max Buschini’s place in a private residential area in the park. Wrapped in a puffy and plopped in the front seat of his converted minivan — and over occasional tears — he tells me why this ascent was important to him.  

First, he shared the route’s technical details and how he was successful on his second in-a-day attempt, and what strategies he gleaned from Emily Harrington’s headline-making Nov. 4 in-a-day climb of Golden Gate. With me, he shared how they became friends, teamed up and worked the route together in various sections, and how she inspired him to climb Golden Gate free in a day. 

Cannon high on Golden Gate
Cannon at the start of the Golden Desert 5.13a pitch. Photo: Mark Hudon

But Cannon was just warming up, for the final hour of our call — where he spoke as one member of the Yosemite climbing tribe to another — he shared the meat of the story and what made his ascent the most important, personally, of his climbing career. 

Over three days in October 2000, Alex and Thomas Huber made the first free ascent of the 37-pitch, 5.13a Golden Gate. Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Brad Gobright, and Jordan Cannon have made one day free ascents of Golden Gate; Harrington’s climb in November of this year remains the only female (in-a-day) ascent. 

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Starting to break up a little bit, Cannon brought up the moment that gave him PTSD. In June 2018, during his first attempt to free the route,  he witnessed two climbers speed past him on the Freeblast section (the first 1,000 feet) of Golden Gate, then fall to their deaths. He thinks about that day and what he witnessed every time he climbs through that section of the route. 

He tells me about his admiration and friendship of the late Brad Gobright and how for years he’s kept a photo of Gobright climbing the A5 Traverse as wallpaper on his phone. “It was from his first attempt to free Golden Gate in a day. He inspired me by just how hard he tried.” 

“This one is for Brad. I want him to be proud,” Cannon says while getting choked up.  

Last year as Cannon, 26, was working on his in-a-day ascent of Freerider, he saw Harrington doing the same thing on the nearby route Golden Gate. “At the time, I couldn’t conceive doing anything harder than Freerider,” he says. “I was going for the easier route, and she was going for the harder route. After Freerider (in 14.5 hours while supported by Mark Hudon), I realized it wasn’t as hard as I’d expected. Watching Emily on Golden Gate got me really psyched. It looked rad.”

In 2018 Jordan climbed Golden Gate over six days, however, he was unable to free climb the A5 Traverse. He also took a nasty fall on the second 5.11, loose, Razor Blade pitch. A friable section of the flake broke, sending him plummeting toward the anchor, which he hit face-first. The impact broke his glasses and bloodied his face. He was so traumatized by the fall that when he reached the final pitch, he had a full meltdown and couldn’t get through it either free or aid. Eventually, he reached the top, depleted.

A year later he returned to the route with Mark Hudon and climbed it all free over four days.  

hanging out under emily harrington's portaledge
Taking shelter under Emily Harrington’s portaledge. Photo: Jordan Cannon

Halloween Day 2020

Cannon returned to Golden Gate on the final day of October to make his in-a-day ascent. Partnered with Alex Honnold for Freeblast, the two set off at 1:30 am. Mark with whom he shares screen time in the film Free As Can Be, supported Jordan for the remainder of the climb. 

“Everything was going perfectly. I got to Tower to the People in 12 hours. There are only 7 pitches to the top from there. I hadn’t fallen once.” Then came the 5.13a Golden Desert pitch, which he attempted under sweltering conditions. Afternoon sun cooks the upper part of the wall, turning it into a solar oven and makes sharp edges feel insecure and slippery. Here “I almost scrapped my way through, but I fell on the last move of the crux. Then things fell apart.”

He fell four times in a row on the thin layback Golden Desert before resting for a few hours. He sent it on his fifth go, but by now he was too weak in his powered-down state to send the final crux, the A5 Traverse. Here he fell on his first go. He tried again only to slump on the rope early on the pitch. Exhausted, he ascended fixed ropes to the top. 

“I was fucking worked, Chris,” he tells me. “I couldn’t close my hands for three days. I was hobbling around like an old man. I’d never been so beaten down. 

“I wasn’t even thinking of going back yet. I knew it was Emily’s turn.”

After her successful ascent and knowing how vital the climb was for Jordan, Emily helped him re-work the upper cruxes so he’d have it dialed for his next in-a-day attempt. But she didn’t have much time left in her visit, and after one day on the wall with him, she had to go. 

With Honnold busy and Mark out of the Valley for the season, Jordan needed a new partner. “Then I found Josh McClure,” he says of the longtime Yosemite Mountain School guide now residing in Bishop, California. To prepare for Jordan’s climb, the two rapped the entire Golden Gate route, where they worked the cruxes together — Josh also aims to do the line — plus stashed food and water. 

The Send (20:26)

Starting at midnight on Nov. 16, the two cruised up the wall, making it up 20 pitches in five and a half hours. To move fast, they simul-climbed the first half of the route. At pitch 22, the route cuts down and right via a 5.13a section that Cannon got on his second attempt.

From there they continued to Tower to the People (seven pitches from the top) without incident, where Jordan took a 5-hour nap on a ledge. Here he borrowed Emily’s portaledge, which he used as a sunshade. 

cannon showing his time
Cannon showing his time. Photo: Josh McClure

“Photographer Max Buschini, Josh McClure, and I spent those five hours resting, eating Starbursts, drinking water, and watching The Office on my iPhone.”  

Sufficiently rested up, Cannon set off into the A5 Traverse at dusk, where “I climbed it the best I ever had.” Three hours later, he reached the top.

Overwhelmed with emotion, he summarizes what big wall free climbing means to him. “It’s the learning and the growing and the friendships that make it meaningful. That’s what inspires me to go up there year after year.”

Lead photo: Mark Hudon