Schweikart & Igel free El Capitan

18 November, 2015
Alexandra Schweikart on pitch 31 (5.13a), the 'Golden Desert', El Corazón, El Capitan. © Johannes Ingrisch

In October Alexandra Schweikart and Christopher Igel fulfilled a dream with their free ascent of El Corazón (5.13b) on El Capitan in Yosemite. First climbed free by Alex Huber and Max Reichel in 2001 having established the 35-pitch route a month earlier, with some aid, El Corazón is considered more sustained and cruxier than Golden Gate. Alexandra and Chris swapped leads on the route but they both led the crux pitches. Alex writes:

"Free climbing a big wall on trad gear is probably one of the most desirable goals in climbing, at least for those who love to suffer, haul an insanely heavy bag and go hungry for several days! El Corazón is one of the few big walls in Yosemite that cannot be aid climbed, holding five 5.12 and five 5.13 pitches, which make the route intimidating but really exciting at the same time.

We climbed the first 14 pitches in one day and got stuck on the first crux pitch, the ‘Beak Flake’ 5.13b (8a) because it was too hot to climb its boulder-section. Making use of the early morning chill we just about sent it, after which we had to traverse loose, scary, poorly protectable rock and slabs to get to the base of a big dihedral system, the promiment feature of our route.

Inside the dihedral the ‘Kierkegaard Chimney’ and the ‘Nietzsche Chimney’ tried to scare us off the wall but actually dragged us in and they were reasonably protected. There seems to be an analogy between philosophy and squeeze chimneys!

The biggest question mark for us on El Corazón was the big 5.13b ‘Roof Traverse’ on pitch 28: the famous picture of Alexander Huber climbing it in 2001 had impressed us deeply. We had to weather out several big thunderstorms and a following very cold day on the wall before we put our feet to our hands and tried the crux pitch again. This roof, we agreed, was the hardest pitch of climbing we ever crawled along! It felt like a struggle for sideward progress and we both had to try so hard before we finally succeeded!

All doubts and fears suddenly vaporized, we almost forgot how hungry we were after having spent 12 days on the wall. Sharing this unforgettable experience made us stronger not only physically but also mentally. Before this route we had little clue how astonishingly strong we could climb using will power and how much perserverance we had!"

Bed and breakfast on El Corazon. © Johannes Ingrisch