The First (Almost) Free Solo of El Cap

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On Sunday, National Geographic Channel will premiere The Man Who Can Fly, a special featuring climber and BASE jumper Dean Potter. The program follows Potter as he attempts to climb and BASE jump from Canada's Mt. Bute. But the hype around the special's premiere has barely touched on an even more important ascent Potter made during filming: the first free solo of El Cap.

Well, kind of.

A making-of clip from the new film released on National Geographic's website a few days ago appears to show Potter on the first free-solo ascent of Freerider, a 5.12d variation to the Salathe Wall established by Alexander and Tomas Huber. “No one has ever attempted to free solo Freerider,” one of the cameramen says in the clip. “No one has ever attempted to free solo chunks of El Capitan this far off the deck. We're about ready to witness something that's never been seen before.”

The first free solo of El Capitan is one of climbing's great unclaimed prizes. Many magazines and blogs—Outside included—have speculated that Potter, an experienced soloist and Yosemite local, could be the one to nab it. When it does happen, it seems almost certain that Freerider, the easiest free line up El Cap's main wall, will be the route of choice. But did Potter and National Geographic really pull it off without letting anyone know?

Not quite. In an email, Potter says that he didn't solo El Cap bottom to top. “I down climb a route called Lurking Fear then come across Thanksgiving Ledge and traverse further via a magical passage I discovered, out a bucketed roof and finally end up on the top quarter of the Freerider without EVER using a rope,” Potter wrote.

The “variation,” which Potter dubbed Easy Rider, avoids the tenuous slab pitches near the bottom of Freerider. But while Potter may not have made an official ropeless ascent of El Cap, he says that the climb could be “the first step towards a ground up freesolo.”

You can catch Potter climbing and talking about the new route this Sunday on the National Geographic Channel, at 8 p.m. ET.

–Adam Roy

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