Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold grabbed the first major achievement of Yosemite's spring climbing season this weekend when they made the first free ascent of the Triple Crown, a linkup that combines three of Yosemite's biggest walls, in a single day. In 21 hours and 15 minutes, Honnold and Caldwell raced up El Capitan's Freerider, Half Dome's Regular Northwest Face, and Mt. Watkins' South Face. All in all, they ascended nearly 7,000 vertical feet of sheer rock, covering sections as difficult as 5.13a.
The partners began their linkup on Friday at 4:45 p.m. and climbed through the night, finishing at 2 p.m. the next day. While Caldwell took three tumbles on the way up Freerider, Honnold didn't fall once. Besides the 77 pitches of climbing, the linkup includes several hours of hiking just to approach and descend from the routes.
Caldwell at the crux of Mt. Watkins South Face, from his first attempt at the route.
"This one was a long time coming," Caldwell wrote on Facebook. "El Cap, Half Dome and Mount Watkins all free in under 24 hours. It was amazing to team up with such a solid and inspiring partner."
The Triple Crown was first climbed in 2001 by Dean Potter and Timmy O'Neill, the speed-climbing dream team that broke Hans Florine and Peter Croft's nine-year-old speed record on the Nose of El Capitan. Unlike Honnold and Caldwell, Potter and O'Neill aided their way through difficult sections, using gear to support their weight rather than pulling on holds.
Neither Caldwell nor Honnold are strangers to Yosemite speed climbing. Caldwell, one of the world's top big-wall free climbers, became the first person to free two El Cap routes in a day in October 2005 when he sent The Nose and Freerider in 23 hours and 23 minutes. Honnold went on his own speed-climbing binge in summer 2010, linking up the Nose and Half Dome in a record-breaking eight-hour solo push and climbing three El Cap routes in a day with Sean Leary.