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Climbing

This is how El Capitan's legendary speed climbing record has tumbled

Speed climbing The Nose of El Capitan is one of the sport's biggest trophies. From Jim Bridwell's first time to Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold's under 2-hour stunner, this is how times have fallen.
Written by Will Gray
6 min readPublished on
The Nose on El Capitan, in the Yosemite National Park, is the most iconic big wall climb on the planet. When Warren Harding, George Whitmore and Wayne Merry first climbed the mighty 914m route in 1958, they took 45 days. Most 'normal' climbers now take three to five.
But in 2018 Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold completed the route in less than two hours.
It's the pinnacle to almost half a century of intense rivalries, game-changing innovations and incredible climbing achievements, one portrayed in three of the six episodes of Season 6 of Reel Rock, coming to Red Bull TV on June 25, 2020. Read on for the complete history of record on The Nose of El Capitan.
View of the Nose of the El Capitan mountain in Yosemite, California, USA.
The nose of El Capitan

1975 – The first day

Who: Jim Bridwell, John Long and Billy Westbay
Time: 15 hours
"Hurry, man. We gotta make it down before the bar closes," – John Long.
The Nose could never be climbed in a day, could it? Inspired by a campfire chat with fellow climber Frank Sacherer, Jim Bridwell decided it could.
The bandanna wearing 'leader' of Yosemite's 1970s Stonemasters climbing clan used a fast and light technique to set this landmark. Read Bridwell’s account of 'The Nose in a Day' in his own words here.
The record was unbeaten for four years until...
Famed climbing group the Stonemasters pose in front El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California, USA in 1975.
Jim Bridwell and the Stonemasters strike a pose in front of El Capitan

1979 – France plants the flag

Who: Thierry Renault and Pascal Etienne
Time: 12 hours
Yosemite's sheer walls and severe cracks were too much for most European climbers, but not Thierry Renault. Under the radar, he scampered up and sliced around five hours off the record. The precise time was never recorded, but his accepted record stood for five years.

1984 – Breaking 10

Who: Duncan Critchley and Romain Vogler
Time: 9h 30m
Briton Critchley crashed the party with his Swiss guide Romain Vogler to break into single figures. The pair had never climbed together before this and never did again.
Their time stood strong until the early '90s, when the record came under continued attack from Peter Croft, Dave Schultz and The Nose addict Hans Florine, who's since climbed the route more than 100 times.

1990 – The battle begins

Who: Peter Croft and Dave Schultz
Time: 6h 40m
"I love competition and I'm blatant about it," said Hans Florine, who along with partner Steve Schneiter were first to strike. However, Peter Croft and Dave Schultz then took things to another level. Pioneering 'simul-climbing' to reduce gear and water weight, they lowered the record by a massive three hours to 6h 40m.

1991 – Under 5 hours

Who: Peter Croft and Dave Schultz
Time: 4h 48m
Florine and Andy Puhvel went fast early in the season, but Croft and Schultz used short-fixing to shave two more hours from the record in 1991.

1992 – The benchmark

Who: Hans Florine and Peter Croft
Time: 4h 22m
The tumbling times ended when Croft and Florine teamed up to go even faster, setting a record that would stand for nine years. Speed climbing came back on trend in the 2000s however and things went crazy.
Watching Reel Rock made me want to give the record my own best shot
Alex Honnold

2001 – A new attack

Climbing · 21 min
Race for The Nose
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Who: Dean Potter and Timmy O'Neill
Time: 3h 24m 20s
In a busy season on the Nose, speed revelation Dean Potter swapped records with veteran Hans Florine and the time dropped well below the four-hour mark.
Competition was so intense that rules for the route were formalised: the clock starts when the first climber sets off on the first pitch and stops when the second climber touches a tree at the top.

2002 – Going under 3

Who: Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama
Time: 2h 48m 55s
Desperate to get his record back, Florine teamed up with Japan's Yuji Hirayama and broke three hours, crushing Potter's previous best time by more than 30 minutes.
After a five-year hold on the record, his title came under attack again, though.

2007 – Swiss timing

Who: Alex and Thomas Huber
Time: 2h 45m 45s
Germany's Huber brothers headed to The Nose and jaws dropped when they lowered the record twice in four days in 2007, but their time didn't stand for long...
The view down the famed the Nose climbing route from the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California, USA.
The view down the Nose from the top of El Cap

2008 – Hans grabs it back

Who: Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama
Time: 2h 37m 5s
Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama weren't done with their attempts to go faster and the following season they also lowered the records twice more themselves.

2010 – Potter's return

Who: Dean Potter and Sean Leary
Time: 2h 36m 45s
When The Nose race drew the focus of Reel Rock series, previous record holder Dean Potter was lured back and with Sean Leary he became star of the show, setting a new record time.
Hans was like this little dog, humping my leg, so it brought out the little dog in me
Dean Potter

2012 – Honnold hits the heights

Who: Hans Florine and Alex Honnold
Time: 2h 23m 46s
"Watching Reel Rock made me want to give the record my own best shot and I thought it would be really cool to do it with the old master, Hans," said Alex Honnold after his record-breaking ascent with the master of The Nose.
After a great season of Yosemite firsts, then 21-year-old Honnold was joined by Florine to put the icing on the cake and took 13 minutes off the time, setting a record that would last for four seasons.

2017 – The new age

Who: Jim Reynolds and Brad Gobright
Time: 2h 19m 44s
"That was the most dangerous thing I've ever done," confirmed Brad Gobright, who teamed up with Yosemite search and rescue worker Jim Reynolds and, after 17th attempts at a new speed record, finally got it done. It wouldn't last for long however.

2018 – The new record

Who: Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold
Time: 1h 58m 7s
Tommy Caldwell seen after climbing the Dawn Wall during the filming of the movie The Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley, CA, United States in January, 2015.
Tommy Caldwell is the holder of many Yosemite climbing records
It took the dream team of Tommy Caldwell (of Dawn Wall fame) and Free Solo superstar Alex Honnold to take things to the next level.
After a couple of testers, they broke the record by almost 10 minutes on May 28 and then on June 4 they pushed it even further. Two days later, they beat the two hour mark for the very first time with an unbelievable 1h 58m 7s. Sensational.

Can the record drop even lower?

Is that it for The Nose records? Alex Honnold doesn't think so. "I hope someone breaks our time eventually. I think that it’s probably possible in 1 hour and 15 minutes if someone was truly running uphill," he says.