Adventures / Climbing / How Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell Climbed the Nose in Less than 2 Hours

Tommy Caldwell climbing above Texas Flake about halfway up the Nose on El Cap; Photo by Reel Rock / Austin Siadak

Writer Jayme Moye

Update: And just like that, Alex and Tommy set a sub-two-hour speed record climbing the Nose on El Cap today—they clocked in at 1:58:07. This is their third record in a week on the Nose. The first, on March 31, was 2:10:15. Then on June 4, they nabbed 2:01:50. Today, June 6, they did what Alex always thought was possible, the sub-two-hour speed climb of the Nose—here is the announcement from Reel Rock. That’s “running” up 3,000 vertical feel in less than two hours. They did wait a day before attempting this phenomenal record after two experienced climbers fell to their deaths on El Cap.

On May 30, 2018, in Yosemite National Park, Alex Honnold, with climbing partner Tommy Caldwell, took back the speed record on the Nose route of El Capitan—climbing’s most coveted prize—in 2 hours 10 minutes and 15 seconds. They cut more than nine minutes off the previous record, set by Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds in 2017. Before that, Honnold had held the record with speed climber Hans Florine in 2:23:46, a time that held for five years. Regular climbers typically spend three to five days ascending the 3,000-foot Nose route, which is rated a 5.14a/b. In speed climbing, the sports’ most elite pair up and do it as an all-out vertical sprint, moving as quickly up the wall as they possibly can, arguably sacrificing safety for speed. (See more on the Honnold Foundation in this Roam Report.)

On the morning of the most recent attempt, Florine (who had two broken ankles), Reynolds, and Gobright were all in attendance to cheer Honnold and Caldwell up the route, taking group photos together beforehand, and joking around like the respected friends and colleagues that they all were. It marked the first time in El Cap history that two pairs of prior record holders (Honnold is included) came to witness the torch being passed.

For those of us old enough to remember, the Race for the Nose wasn’t always so civilized. In the early aughts, Sports Illustrated called it the “El Capitan Climbing War,” as the record volleyed with increasing ferocity between some of the world’s top climbers, including Florine, Dean Potter, Timmy O’Neill, Yuji Hirayama, and the Huber brothers, Alex and Thomas. Back then, the vibe was competitive to the point of foolhardy. What’s changed? ROAM checked in with all five climbers shortly after the new record was set, to find out. See the full story in a future film on the Reel Rock Tour.

ROAM: How Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell Climbed the Nose in Less than 2 Hours
Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold on the summit after setting a new speed record on the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite; Photo by Reel Rock / Sam Crossley

On the positive effect of friendship

Tommy Caldwell: Brad and Jim walked to the base of El Capitan with us this morning to start the record attempt. They were like, “We’re getting beta for when we go for it next.” We were all pretty psyched. It was just really cool.

Jim Reynolds: Also, this morning, to show up in the El Cap meadow and see Hans Florine sitting there with two broken legs. It was so great that he rallied and got out there somehow.

The speed record on the Nose is just one of those things where I think that, for all of us, it’s just really exciting. Once you’ve been up there, once you’ve speed climbed the Nose and you know how much fun it is, and you know what it’s like to be in that very place, you can suddenly empathize so much with the people who are trying to take the record. You know exactly what it feels like, and so it’s hard not to feel like you’re a part of it.

Brad Gobright: I think Yosemite climbing is a pretty small subculture, and we’re all pretty good friends. I climb with Alex quite a bit. So, it’s really cool to watch him succeed, to do what he does best. We talked a little bit of strategy [leading up to the record attempt], certain things that Jim and I did to save time. [While Alex and Tommy were training], we were always talking to them. I’d call Alex after they ran a lap up the Nose to see how he did. Alex was the same way back when we were trying to break his record last season. Watching your friends succeed at stuff is just a really good thing.

On the Nose’s contentious past

Alex Honnold: Times have changed in climbing a little bit, and maybe the characters involved now are a little bit mellower. We all do better when we share information.

Hans Florine: Rivalry seemed to make for a better story for, you know, Sports Illustrated, to paint this grimacing, growling face of Dean Potter against me. So, the media just kind of went that way—even though people knew that I’d bought Dean and Timmy O’Neill their favorite drinks and met them in the meadow and congratulated them afterward.

Tommy Caldwell: But honestly, in some ways when everybody gets along it kind of takes away some of the color. That contention made for some good stories. I love that that was part of the history. We all still talk about it. I think I talk more about Dean than I do about Hans, even though Dean was way less a part of the speed record on the Nose than Hans was—it’s just all the crazy stories about Dean. Or the Hubers [Alex and Thomas]. The whole race for the Nose has such an awesome history, just a really rich history. That’s one of the reasons I’m so psyched to be part of it.

Jim Reynolds: I think early on, as a younger climber, Hans had a bit of an ego and was really stoked on proving himself. But as time goes on he just started to love the game and the race and the people who are up there going to do it. For us, for Brad and I, when we topped out on the Nose with the new speed record, one of the first people we heard from was Hans telling us, “Congratulations, guys. I’m so psyched that you’re out there and that you did it.” This was even though we broke his [and Alex’s] record, and he’s probably never going to have the Nose speed record again. It was pretty cool to have that support from him.

On the importance of collaboration

Alex Honnold: I learned most of what I know about the Nose from Hans. And Brad and I talk about [strategy] quite a bit. When Brad was working on the record last season, I told him all of Hans’s and my different strategies and techniques, and we’re still constantly comparing. Because the thing is, we all just want to know the best way that you can climb the Nose. We’re all sort of curious, like, what are the actual limits of what can be done out there?

Hans Florine: It’s like how Alex always says he wants to see if a sub two-hour Nose record is possible. I’ve always wanted to see how fast the Nose record could go. In both of those cases, it’s really not about being competitive with other people. Sometimes being competitive is the best way to catalyze people to help drive that record down. But ultimately, that’s never what it was about. It’s about human potential.

Opening photo by Reel Rock / Austin Siadak


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