The World’s Top Climbers on Why Hans Florine Is Still the Greatest

 Lincoln Else

On September 12, 2015, in Yosemite National Park, Hans Florine climbed the Nose route on El Capitan for the 100th time, hitting a career milestone unlikely to ever be repeated. He also holds the speed record — 2 hours 23 minutes and 46 seconds — for scaling the 3,000 sheer granite cliff. In the new book On the Nose: A Lifelong Obsession with Yosemite’s Most Iconic Climb, Florine chronicles his 30-year fascination with the Nose, and in the process, provides a rare look inside the adrenaline-charged world of competitive climbing in Yosemite Valley. “For all of my adult life, I’ve been either directly or indirectly putting my energy into climbing that route, to the absolute best of my ability,” Florine writes. “It was a risky investment, but the return has been huge — in a way, I can tie everything and everyone I love most in life back to the Nose.” The feeling seems to be mutual. We spoke with four of the world’s top climbers, each one directly impacted by Hans’s ambitions on the Nose.

Tommy Caldwell

Claim to Fame: In 2015, Tommy Caldwell, along with climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson, made the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan, one of the longest, hardest rock climbs in the world. The effort took 19 days, after nearly a decade of training and scouting (including two failed attempts).

"Hans has had a huge influence on me in a lot of ways. When I was just a kid getting into climbing, Hans was this always-psyched dude who was very competitive, but in a really positive way. I remember him being at the sport climbing competitions and knowing that me and Chris Sharma and the other guys were most likely going to beat him (indoor sport climbing wasn’t his thing), but he’d still come up to us and say, "I’ll bet you a dollar for every place I beat you by." He was so cool and encouraging. He helped me to view competition in climbing as a really positive thing.

My first speed-climbing day ever was with Hans on the Nose of El Capitan in September 2001, and it was pretty mind blowing. I’d been used to climbing El Cap with a haul bag and having it take between 24 hours and 6 days. We did it in 4.5 hours, like we were out for a little jaunt.

Hans pioneered the speed-climbing techniques that have since been used to break all the speed-climbing records in Yosemite. I didn’t end up being a speed climber, but what climbing with Hans did for me personally was it showed me how to make mountains half their size, which allowed me to climb bigger mountains. [Caldwell, along with Alex Honnold, in 2014, made the first ascent of the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia — the full ridgeline of the 11,171-foot Fitz Roy massif and its six neighbors].

Something else that I really love about Hans is how he’s out there on El Cap, and for him, it’s all about going fast, but it’s also about safety. He’s a family guy, and I think he showed a lot of us that you can go out there and climb El Cap in a relatively responsible fashion."

Alex Honnold

Claim to Fame: Alex Honnold holds the most coveted speed record in all of climbing — the speed record on the Nose — set with Florine in 2012. The pair scaled 3,000 feet of sheer vertical granite in a mind-bending 2 hours 23 minutes and 46 seconds. But he’s most revered for his nerves of steel as a free soloist (climbing without ropes or other protection in the case of a fall).

"When I started climbing, Hans was already very well established, a legendary figure in the climbing world. Reading his first book Speed Climbing: How to Climb Faster and Better pretty much taught me everything I knew at that point about getting up walls quickly. In a random coincidence, my first time climbing El Cap, which was really formative for me, Hans was there too, climbing with some other dude, probably on like his 77th ascent or something. They were hiking up behind us on the approach, and we were like, "Oh my god, it’s Hans!" We let them go ahead of us, and we hung with them for a bit on the first half of the route, then they were out of sight. On the second half of the route, we were struggling in the dark by headlamp, and they were already done and back down in the meadow. They stuck around hooting and hollering up at us, which was just really, really cool.

I didn’t know Hans as a person at that point; I knew him as the climbing icon — the bronzed blond running up the walls, so beautiful, so rad. He was a character, for sure. Now that I know him as a friend, I still think he’s a character, a really classic character. He’s one of the few people who can use competition as such a positive force. He’s so overtly competitive, but so overtly positive about it. He’s always happy to share, happy to help, happy to talk shit, and happy to try his best to beat you.

Hans made speed climbing cool. Not many people were really that into it, and even now, it’s getting some negative feedback about being a part of the Olympics in 2020. But Hans took it to the big walls and was this really strong proponent of it who single-handedly made it awesome. He also paved the way for doing linkups [multiple big-wall routes in a day or less] — climbing El Cap three times in one day, soloing it by himself twice in one day, many of which I’ve now done or tried. In that way, he really showed me what was possible."

Erik Weihenmayer

Claim to Fame: Blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer is the first and only blind person to climb El Capitan, an effort that took five days, following the Nose route with Florine. Weihenmayer was already famous for being the first blind person to summit Mount Everest, on May 25, 2001.

I divide the world into believers and naysayers, I sort of have to. And Hans is on the believer side. When I first met him, I felt it pretty quickly. He just has this enthusiasm that exudes from his whole psyche. It’s so cool. When I told him I wanted to be the first blind person to climb El Cap, he had no doubts about the project. He was like, "This absolutely can be done, and I’m absolutely the guy who can help you do it."

At one point on the Nose, I remember mentioning to Hans that I’d never heard him yell or get really angry at someone. He said that’s because, "I’m very careful about who I let into my life." I was like, "Whoa, he’s so right, we should all be careful in that way." And I felt so honored to be one of those people. It was a gift, really, because it made me want to be even better and kinder, just better in every way, because this guy was counting on me and I wanted to live up to that.

I’ve also had some really cool experiences with Hans outside of the Nose. Like on Mount Kenya and Carstensz Pyramid. He steps up to make these things happen, in a really positive way, and stays positive the whole time. On Mount Kenya, we started climbing at 5 in the morning, and at 10 at night he was still really positive. When we summited, it was cold, threatening to rain on us, and we had to spend the night up there with barely any food. And Hans was just happy, sharing food, talking, and laughing. He walks his talk, you know.

But the best thing about Hans is how much he values relationships. It’s not just a climb and we’re done; Hans translates it into a lifelong friendship. Instead of sending me an email or a text, he’ll text me an audio file, so I can hear his voice, because he knows it will be way more personal. For Hans, it’s not just about what happens on the mountains, he has a depth and a kindness, a goodness, that is part of everything he does."

Libby Sauter

Claim to Fame: Libby Sauter is the youngest person to ever be inducted into the Hall of Mountaineering Excellence and one of only five women. She’s best known for her accomplishments in Yosemite, including the female speed record on the Nose of El Capitan (2014), and the first all-female, one-day ascent of the Nose’s neighboring route, the Salathé Wall, in 2015. She is also a notable highliner, having been the first woman to walk the Lost Arrow Spire Highline, nearly 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.

"Even before I became I rock climber I knew of Hans Florine; he was the Yosemite Adonis who raced up vertical rock faces, turning big-wall climbing into something any kid could understand. He made it about competition, going fast, and having fun.

Once I became a rock climber, and got to know Hans, he helped me push my own goals with his open excitement for the rock. His genuine excitement for the speed-climbing style and his openness in sharing techniques that he himself pioneered, ensures that those of us following in his footsteps are better prepared for a safe and challenging day out.

Whether we realize it or not, an entire generation of climbers has been influenced by Hans's passion. His fixation on climbing the Nose in a day (as well as many other El Cap routes) shifted the realm of the possible for our tribe. Once considered an extreme elite activity reserved for the very best in the world, climbing the NIAD (Nose in a Day) is now something most Yosemite climbers, myself included, aspire to do at least once."