Climbing Yosemite's El Cap, for the 100th Time

Hans Florine, who currently holds the speed record for El Cap, plans to climb it for the 100th time next week. Credit: Paul Hara

On September 10, 2015, in Yosemite, Hans Florine will attempt to ascend the Nose route on El Capitan — a 3,000-foot sheer granite monolith that's considered the Everest of the rock-climbing world — for the 100th time. If successful, Florine will have climbed the Nose twice as many times as anyone else ever has (and probably ever will).

The 32-pitch route follows a crack system along El Capitan's mammoth prow. It was originally established in 1958, after a herculean 45-day effort by some of America's first big wall climbers. Today, thanks to advances in equipment and technique, teams take an average of three days to scale the iconic route. A quarter of those who start do not finish. The Nose remains the defacto right of passage in big wall climbing.  

"I love it," says Florine. "It's the longest continuous stretch of rock that you can climb on Earth. And it doesn't require trekking with yaks or a Russian helicopter or a floatplane to get to it; just a 15-minute walk from your car."

Florine, a world champion climber, currently holds the speed record on the Nose — a mind-boggling 2:23:46, which he set with Alex Honnold in 2012. The coveted title has changed hands multiple times in the last two decades, in what's been called "the wildest competition known to man." 

But Florine won't be in a hurry on his 100th ascent. At that time, he plans to climb the Nose in a more modest style, taking the standard three days and two nights (camped on ledges or suspended from the wall in bivouacs) to get to the top. Explorer Fiona Thornewill, who holds the record for the fastest female trek to the North Pole on skis in 56 days, will join him. It will be her first big wall climb, which Florine says is part of his strategy. "The Nose never disappoints and it's really incredible to see it through the eyes of a first-timer." 

At the age of 51, Florine admits his speed climbing days may be over. "I don't know, I don't want to say I'm too old, I'm just ready to move on," he says. "At this point, I've mentally accepted that I'm not going to go break the record on the Nose again. So the current speed record with Alex is my last one."

Instead, Florine plans to write a book about his 25-year relationship with The Nose, tentatively titled On The Nose: A Lifelong Obsession with Yosemite's Most Iconic Big Wall Climb, which will be published by Falcon in August 2016.

Plus, his 100th climb of the Nose will put him at 160 total ascents of El Capitan, which is a few dozen more than the next most prolific El Cap climber, Steve Schneider. "There's a bunch of other routes on El Capitan that I haven't even climbed yet," says Florine. "I'm going to do at least 40 more, to hit the 200 mark. You know, trying to stay ahead of the lifetime ascents of El Cap race."