At the age of 15, Connor Herson free climbed the Nose on Yosemite's El Captian, a sweeping polished line of piton scarred cracks and face climbing.
In just over three days and with the support of his dad, Jim, he was able to conquer the difficult 3,000-foot climb. Many teams have aid-climbed the Nose over the years, but rarely has anyone attempted a free ascent climb. Connor's ascents marks the sixth recorded and is by far the youngest, free ascent of the line.
“It was a Saturday, Sunday, Monday ascent,” reports Jim while “bobbling down the East Ledges” Monday evening with one working headlamp between the two. “It might have been a two-day-ascent but there were fixed ropes blocking the Changing Corners.
“He was no-falls to the Changing Corners,” Jim Herson continues from the trail. “Then he had to wait for me to move the fixed lines. By the time I was done, he only had time for one burn, and he slipped off the crux exit move. It was heartbreaking but an awesome effort.” Connor sent the next morning.
His father had written on Facebook: “Dear Connor, Your climbing is only surpassed by the joy and tenacity with which you attack the audacious. Congratulations on redpointing the Nose of El Capitan in perfect weekender style!”
Freeing the Nose is difficult because of its 3,000-foot length and steepness. Two cryptic sections make up the crux. The Great Roof, pitch number 21 of 31, requires shoving one’s fingertips under the bottom of a 20-foot right-traversing feature. This vertical section offers few footholds, forcing the climber to paste the front of their climbing shoes onto fingernail edges on the face. The even more difficult Changing Corners comes a few pitches higher, where the wall steepens and where many of the world’s best climbers have failed. Lynn Hill, who in 1993 became the first person to free climb the Nose, named the sequence required to get through here “the Houdini.”
Tommy Caldwell and his then wife Beth Rodden became the second and third to free the Nose when they completed it in 2005.
Jim, Connor's farther (pictured above with wife Anne) has 30 years of experience climbing big walls in Yosemite. He has held speed records on both El Cap (including the noose) and the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome. Connor's mother, Anne Smith, and sister, Kara are also avid climber. Kara, 20, also climbed Half Dome in a day with Jim when she was 12. Climbing is very much in the Blood of Connor.
Connor and Kara's first big wall climb was the 2,000-foot-tall Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome, which the climber with their farther before they were teenagers.
Connor's free climb of the Nose with Jim was dedicated to the memory of their friends. Tim Klein and Jason Wells, who sadly died earlier this year in an accident on El Cap.
“Here we are at the top of the Captain,” says Jim, off camera, in a phone video he recorded at the top. “Connor, what did you just do?”
“I just freed the Nose,” Connor says, a bit bashfully.
“Good job, man,” Jim says. “Was it hard? Was it fun?”
“Yeah,” Connor says, “it’s a good route.”
(Photo credits: Jim Herson)