top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlana Chapko

Free Climbing The Freerider, 512d 31 pitches El Captitan

Lani on the final real pitch before topping out The Captain!

Okay here we go, the story of how two 5.9+ climbers freed the Freerider. (Not really but 12b was the hardest grade I had ever climbed beforehand and let’s be real 5.9+ intimidates us all). We spent 9 days on the wall, even though we had planned for 7. Between a heavy rain storm, waiting for good conditions, and projecting a few pitches, it was a pretty slow ascent. It was important to us to go ground up, with no “rapitaning,” meaning we didn’t rappel in to dial in the pitches beforehand. We had been on the route once before, last spring supporting our friend Kevin on his send and checking out the climbing. On one hand we were surprised by how doable a lot of the pitches felt, on the other hand a few felt nearly impossible, mainly the Monster, Boulder Problem and Scotty Burk. Red pointing 5.12 2000ft off the ground also sounded pretty insane. Since the Freerider had been the climbing goal for me since learning what El Cap was, we started scheming about training for the Fall.

Beta: Hopefully this post can also serve as some beta for future parties. Many pitches on the Freerider have tons of beta, but a few key ones don't. Please feel free to reach out to me for more detailed beta! I've marked heavy beta spots with "Beta" so that if you are just here for the story you can skip over them.

Things went pretty well up to the Alcove with one day on the freeblast, one day of packing and hauling and one day getting to the Alcove. We elected to aid up the last pitch to the Alcove and try the Monster (the notorious 5.11a Offwidth) fresh the next morning. There was a light unforecasted rain early the next morning, and we ended up needing to wait a bit longer than expected before climbing. The Monster was one of those pitches I thought was impossible last spring. I remember being able to make upward progress for about 5 feet at a time, and then being so exhausted that I had to hang. We hadn’t really climbed any OW since then, so I was dreading it. I’m not sure whether it was resting overnight, rather than trying at the end of the day or I miraculously just got better, either way it felt surprisingly easy this time. You pretty much do the same move over and over. Once you get it down, you’re set! I found I could actually rest on my heel toe cams this time too. We then continued on to the base of the Boulder/ Teflon that afternoon.

Beta: We did the 5.11d downclimb into the monster, which I actually didn't find to be too bad, but I like downclimbing. It is definitely harder than the downclimb to the hollwo flake. Since this pitch often shuts people down I figured I'd mention the alternative which we took with Kevin, and Alex Honnold used while free soloing. Traverse over to burmuda dunes from below the ear (link from the 5.10 pitch before the ear). There are a few cool 5.10 moves in the traverse and it ends with a 5.10 #1 crack. This drops you off at the actual start to the monster. It starts as hands the gradually widens to #7. There is a lip you you have to pull in the OW which is the crux, still at 5.11d but it's short and more secure. As soon as you pull the lip, you're at where the downclimb comes into the monster.

More Beta: There is an alternate 5.11a pitch to the sandbagged 5.11c pitch off El Cap spire. Intead of going to the top of El Cap Spire via the chimney, start climbing the crack on the face, it in mostly straight forward crack climbing and stemming, but the crux is a weird OW bit (way easier than the monster). It meets back up with the 5.11c pitch just before the 5.9 chimney part. I have thin hands so I probably would have chosen the 11c had it been my lead, but it was Sam's and he elected for the 5.11a way.

Bivy at the alcove

The next day we touched the Boulder Problem, despite months of training, we still couldn’t do a bunch of the movers. We figured we might as well give the Teflon a go. To me the Teflon also felt impossible. I could make upward progress but the idea of somehow not falling off in the 15ft of fantastically insecure stemming seemed laughable. Luckily Sam had some belief. We started throwing ourselves at it until our shoulders and legs were tired. The beta on the Teflon relies so much on body dimensions that we couldn’t really trade beta. Honestly I think I did something slightly different on each attempt anyways. I found myself having to go more off of feeling each individual move and adjusting, rather than rehearsing a series of moves. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever projected. It suited us both well since we tend to favor technique over strength. Slowly I just got used to the way I had to balance on my feet, how to trust standing up on them. How to use 3 limbs to stay in balance while inching 1 up at a time. It was still extremely physical and my shoulders were worked by the end. After a few close lead attempts in the dark, it was starting to snow. It was time to return to camp at the block and hunker down for the storm.

Beta: I always wondered why there was no beta or information on the Teflon Corner. Now I know, it would be impossible to give anyone beta. Just give it a try, you'll figure it out for yourself.

The splitter hand crack finish to the sewer

When we went to bed, the storm was only supposed to last through the night and the next day would bring clear skies to dry us out. At some point in the middle of the night I woke up with my back soaking wet. Between a few holes that had appeared in the fly and the zipper opening itself up a bit, the bottom of the port-a-legde had become soaked and we didn’t have sleeping pads, meaning we were quickly soaked as well. I reminded myself that we just had to stick it out until dawn. I tried to just ignore the wetness and the sound of a waterfall hitting our fly.

When dawn finally came, it was still pouring and by that point our sleeping bag was soaked as well. We checked the forecast again. Now it was supposed to rain until late afternoon and remain cloudy and freeze overnight. There would be no chance to dry out and the idea of spending another night a soaking wet sleeping bag and ledge sounded dire. We contemplated bailing, maybe in the brief window of dryness before dark. We might have to rappel a bit in the rain, it would be miserable, but at least it would be over. We called Kevin for rappel beta. He talked some sense into us, rappelling 2000ft in the rain would possibly be more dangerous than waiting out the night. We’d better start boiling water and using hot water bottles to get things as dry as possible.

What was supposed to be a much needed chill day with some time to work the Teflon in the evening turned into a very damp and uncomfortable day of being trapped in the ledge with a mission to boil water as many times as possible. We eventually got our sleeping bag dry but the ledge and anything that touched it (our butts) remained wet. At some point it stopped raining for an hour or two. Thinking it was over we got a bunch of stuff we had been trying to keep dry out of the ledge in order to free up space for us to exist. As luck would have it, it started raining again and rained well into the night, soaking the things (read climbing shoes) we had been trying to keep dry.

Somewhere mid day we just started laughing at the absurdity of our situation. We were able to keep the good spirits, totally unsure of what the next day would bring. I really didn’t know whether we would go up or down, but I was sure as hell happy to have Sam as a partner just then. I though we were the only ones dumb enought to be on El Cap during that storm, but turns out Brett and Elliot were on El Corazon, with a similarly leaky fly.

Attempting to keep the finally dry sleeping bag from touching anything wet. Also crazy clouds!

We awoke to clear skies and waited as the sun creeped agonizingly slowly towards us. Eventually the rock began to dry, and we were able to creep out of the port-a-ledge and hang our world out for the sun to work it’s magic. It’s amazing how El Cap reflects the sun, the rock and us were quickly dry. We basked in the hot afternoon sun. Dry and content, we figured we might as well try the Teflon again. Sam rappelled down to it first and called up “Fuck! The Teflon is wet!” It turns out the pitch called the “Sewer” feeds the Teflon. Well, we're up here, we might as well play around on the Boulder and get some of the moves dialed for a future ascent. We were bailing.

As we sat there contemplating our options Sam had an idea, the Teflon was only wet for an 18in wide section in the middle. Maybe we could still stem around it through the crux. The topout was still going to be soaking wet and although easier climbing, would make for a scary lead. We decided we might as well try top roping it. On Sam’s first go the rope was somehow stuck and despite me thinking I had Sam tight he toprope whipped and grabbed one of the cables on the perma draws on his way down. Many swear words followed and when he arrived at the belay his pinky was a bloody mess. The perma draw had taken a chunk out of the tip. “That thing needs attention, it’s going to get infected up here!” I protested. Stubbornly Sam refused saying he was a pro at wound care. From some of his stories about sewing himself back together, I believed him.