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Another climbing milestone reached on ‘El Cap’

APClimbers Hans Florine, top, and Steve Gerberding make their 100th ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on Sept. 15. Florine is a pro climber and Gerberding is a climbing teacher in Joshua Tree National Park
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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — With headlamps lighting the way out of the abyss, two rock climbers scrambled atop El Capitan and stepped into the record books on the most celebrated hunk of granite on Earth.

When Hans Florine and Steve Gerberding each scaled the 3,000-foot wall for the 100th time earlier this month, they set a mark that once seemed unreachable and demonstrated just how much the sport has evolved in a half century.

Two helmet-mounted headlamps appeared among the rocky outcroppings on a ledge at about 9 p.m. on Sept. 14. A weary voice cried out, “Yowww!”



After 14 hours of nonstop climbing, Gerberding sprawled on the rock and said it would take a few days for the personal milestone, 19 years in the making, to sink in.

“When you’re wasted, nothing feels that special,” he said. “Special would be if there’s a helicopter up here.”




As the duo contemplated how they were going to get down, Gerberding vomited from a combination of exhaustion and dehydration.

“I’m not gonna die. I’m just beat, dude,” he said.

Car headlights looked like lightning bugs darting through the trees and meadows on the valley floor below. Any crowds that had stopped during the day to gawk up at the various high-wire acts on the face had packed up and left. If any were lucky enough to spot the pair speeding to the top, they were probably unaware they had witnessed climbing history.

“The fact that they’ve each done it 100 times definitely shows that climbing El Cap has evolved from the unimaginable in the mid-’50s — the 4-minute mile of its time, an unbreakable barrier from something nobody’s even tried — to something guys build a life around,” said Daniel Duane, author of “El Capitan,” a history of the peak and its memorable ascents.

El Cap was not conquered until 1958, five years after mountaineers reached the summit of Mount Everest.

At 7,000 feet, El Capitan casts an imposing shadow over Yosemite Valley, which sits at 4,000 feet in the glacier-sculpted canyon. It was considered unassailable until new techniques and equipment were developed after World War II. It wasn’t seriously attempted for another decade.

The first ascent, led by Warren Harding, took 45 days. The second trip took less than a week. Today, the fastest climbers, including Florine, have made it up the most direct route in less than four hours.

“If we climbed it once in a season, we figured we could go home,” said Tom Frost, who was on the second team to summit. “These guys could climb it every day. Things have changed so much you couldn’t have foreseen the differences.”

For accomplished climbers, the summit is still a three or four-day proposition, as they cling to barely visible outcroppings on the sheer cliff, pry their way up cracks invisible from below, and haul hundreds of pounds of gear behind them.

Those who can reach the top in less than 24 hours are a new breed of climber, taking less equipment, moving faster and taking greater risks.

“These guys are immortals,” Duane said.

Like other extreme sports, where fewer firsts remain, the emphasis among a core of elite athletes is on speed or some other measure of accomplishment. With the milestone climb, which shattered the previous 22-hour mark for that route, Florine has 13 records on El Cap.

Florine proposed the climb to Gerberding because they had both topped out 99 times. Reaching the summit for the 100th time was less a goal then an inevitability after years spent going up and down.

Gerberding, 42, a reserved climbing instructor from Joshua Tree, said he was “bummed out” when he finished climbing El Cap for the first time in 1983 and has returned ever since, exploring new avenues to the top.

Florine, 38, a marketing representative for a San Francisco rock gym company, said his act of repetition is more a matter of convenience on what is considered the Mecca of big wall climbing.

“You can find walls as big, but you might be taking an airplane, riding on horseback or taking a two day ride to get there,” Florine said. “I don’t think there’s any place in the world that has a 3,000 foot wall 12 minutes from asphalt.”

Both men said they were resetting their odometers after reaching the summit by way of the lesser-scaled route up Dihedral Wall.

When first ascended in 1962, the route took 42 days to climb over eight months. When the trio reached the top they were greeted by a crowd of friends and photographers.

Florine and Gerberding received no such welcome.

They exchanged a quick handshake at the top, Florine phoned his wife and then they posed for a couple self-timed photos to record the event themselves.


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