The El Cap Dream Team if there ever was one: Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold and Kevin Jorgeson. The Dawn Wall duo and Mr. Free Solo himself teamed up to establish a new free line on El Capitan in October. Jorgeson ultimately had to bow out before the final push, but Caldwell and Honnold polished it off.
Caldwell reported on Instagram yesterday that they had “finished a pretty legit new free route on El Cap a few days ago. It primarily followed the aid climb New Dawn and has some of the most spectacular climbing I have found. It’s a continuation of a free route that [Leo Houlding] established half way up the wall 18 years ago called Passage to Freedom.”
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We’ve been keeping things kinda vegue this season as to not make too much of a spectacle. But @alexhonnold and I, with @austin_siadak and @kjorgeson finished a pretty legit new free route on El Cap a few days ago. It primarily followed the aid climb New Dawn and has some of the most spectacular climbing I have found. It’s a continuation of a free route that @leo_houlding established half way up the wall 18 years ago called Passage to Freedom. That route was ahead of its time and a work of art in itself featuring El Caps first sideways Dyno. Leo also bolted a Alfa Romeo hood badge to the wall which he used as a handhold to get past a section he believed was impossible without. (We found a way around). After a few weeks of work, having not tried many of sections of the climb, Alex and I went for kind of a Hail Mary attempt. Miraculously we pulled it off! Life complications kept Kevin away for too much of the Toiling and working of the route for him to feel ready for the Hail Mary. Wish you could have been with us buddy. There are many great stories and photos from @austin_siadak. So I’m going to try and share a few in the coming days. Last photo in the reel is Leo back in the day and was taken by Andrew Mcgarry.
Passage to Freedom was “ahead of its time,” according to Caldwell, which makes sense: Houlding’s goal was to forge the first free line up the Dawn Wall, something that didn’t happen until 15 years later when Caldwell and Jorgeson did it.
Houlding’s route was visionary and peculiar in several ways: It featured an all-points-off sideways dyno, reminiscent of the dyno on the Dawn Wall that Caldwell found as he sussed the route over years, and that Jorgeson used on their free ascent.
But the climbing only got wilder still. The crux fourth pitch on Houlding’s route ultimately became known as the “Alfa Slab.” It seemed destined to be a long 5.13b, but there was a blank section that Houlding couldn’t find any way through… until he came up with an unorthodox solution. “I was struck by an idea,” Houlding wrote in an article in the 2000 American Alpine Journal. “To make the route totally free (if AO), we would bolt a four-inch Alfa Romeo badge in the middle of the blank section of rock on pitch 4. I borrowed a drill and bore a quarter-inch hole in the appropriate place and riveted the Alfa badge to El Cap forever. … An imaginative reverse mantle, then tiny holds led to a balancey reach for the Alfa badge. A fantastic double dyno off the badge to the start of the ledge systems and the hardest climbing of the route was over.”
Fast forward 19 years and the standards of Valley free climbing have been pushed significantly. Caldwell, Honnold and Jorgeson managed to find a way to free the Alfa Slab without relying on the badge.
After figuring out the missing pieces on Houlding’s route, the trio pioneered new free climbing on the upper half of the Big Stone following much of the aid route New Dawn.
Neither Caldwell, Honnold, Jorgeson, or photographer Austin Siadak have shared much more specific information about the route as of yet, but Caldwell said he will be doing so in coming days. In mid October, Pete Zabrok ran into the El Cap Dream Team on the wall as he was hammering his way up the aid route New Dawn. He told Rock and Ice that they told him, “They plan to climb all of the lower bit of New Dawn, then cut across to the Jardine Traverse on the Nose, then traverse spectacularly right across no man’s land to regain New Dawn a pitch or so below Wino Tower aka the Wine Tower.” Again, no confirmation as of yet as to whether the new line this path or not.
Several days ago, Honnold and Caldwell decided to give it a proper push. Caldwell wrote, “After a few weeks of work, having not tried many of sections of the climb, Alex and I went for kind of a Hail Mary attempt. Miraculously we pulled it off!”