Go Climb A Rock

In this week’s newsletter, we brave the granite of El Capitan with a new generation of athletes and celebrate a pioneer of the climbing world by inviting you to a film screening. 

Tom Frost during his second ascent of the Nose, a climbing route up Yosemite’s El Capitan, in June 1997.
Tom Frost during his second ascent of the Nose, a climbing route up Yosemite’s El Capitan, in June 1997.

Squinting at the icy wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan, I remember feeling both terror and excitement as I spotted a tiny speck of color slowly ascending the granite. I was 12 or 13, and at the time, I knew nothing of the pioneering rock climbers for whom Yosemite has been a mecca. But that didn’t diminish the thrill I felt at realizing that there was a person up there, and that he or she was risking death to make that stunning ascent. 

Tom Frost was one of those pioneering rock climbers. A photographer, conservationist, inventor, and inspiration to the climbing community, Frost also helped save a beloved Yosemite campsite from being razed for park housing. The unlikely story behind Camp 4 and Frost’s determination to keep it open is featured in Alta’s Fall 2019 issue. Read it here

Rock climbing, and ascending El Cap in particular, is enjoying a renaissance. Here are three members of the next generation of Yosemite mountain scalers who are following in Frost’s footsteps (and handholds):

Alex Honnold: You don’t need to be a rock-climbing diehard to know who Honnold is. The Sacramento native is the only person to have free-soloed El Capitan—a groundbreaking feat that was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary. Since this achievement, Honnold has appeared on late-night TV shows and, just last month, posed nude for ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue (the publication’s final print edition). His breakdown of iconic rock-climbing scenes in Hollywood movies is a fun watch. 

Emily Harrington: A Squaw Valley resident, Harrington has won five U.S. national sport-climbing championships and has completed numerous first female ascents of 5.14 sport routes. (The Yosemite Decimal System, which grades climbs, defines such routes as intensely challenging. To give an idea of the degree of difficulty, only one climbing route on Earth, in Norway, is considered more dangerous, earning a ranking of 5.15.) Harrington notably free-climbed up 40 pitches of El Cap’s Golden Gate route over the course of six days. Holding the ropes as she made this extraordinary climb? Her boyfriend. 

Tommy Caldwell: Just as famous for his climbing as he is for being taken hostage by rebels in Kyrgyzstan and held for six days, Caldwell made the first free ascents of numerous El Capitan climbing routes—and did so with only nine fingers. Along with his frequent climbing partner Honnold, Caldwell holds the record for the fastest scale of El Cap, completed in just under two hours

SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONES: Attend the screening of an early cut of a documentary on Frost’s life in San Francisco on October 22. Presenting the film in partnership with SFFilm’s Doc Stories, Alta is offering a limited number of tickets to members (plus one guest each). Email events@altaonline.com to reserve a spot, subject to availability. 

And don’t miss getting the inside scoop on the making of the film as director Tom Seawell and producer Craig Flax join the Alta Podcast to discuss Frost and why they’ve devoted eight years to documenting his life.

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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