On Wednesday, July 2, speed-climbers, Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama regained the Nose Route record the Huber brothers wrested from them on El Capitan last October at Yosemite National Park. The new record for the Nose, a big-wall climb that normally takes seasoned climbers three or more days to complete, is two hours, 43 minutes, and 33 seconds.
The New York Times reported that Florine and Hirayama, international celebrity speed-climbers who draw on two decades of experience, shaved a full two minutes and 12 seconds off the old record. In the speed-climbing world that’s a pretty hefty margin.
Though 2-43-33 is a gaudy record, it’s one that is sure to fall (no pun there; this is serious business).
After their record climb last fall, the Hubers said they felt it was too dangerous to continue ramping up the speed of the famed El Cap climb. They might change their mind now that their record has been eclipsed and some of the shine has been taken off their new film “To the Limit.”
But if the Hubers don’t crack the 2-43-33 record, another team surely will. It’s the nature of the highly competitive sport. And when their present record is eclipsed, Florine and Hirayama will be back to set a new one. They’ll do it again and again – if they don’t make a fatal mistake, that is.
There aren’t many two-man climbing teams that specialize in this fringe area of the climbing sports, and there’s a good reason why. Speed-climbing on big walls is a very risky business that requires tremendous athleticism, extremely proficient rope- and equipment-handling skills, exquisitely synchronized teamwork, and nerves of steel. Speed climbs are protected, meaning that the climbers wear harnesses clipped to ropes that are attached to equipment (chocks, cams, etc.) temporarily stuck into cracks and crevices in the rock. But the protection is tenuous some of the time, and safety is commonly sacrificed for speed. Given the slim margin for error, something could go fatally wrong in an eye blink.
Thus, while admirers rave, critics grumble. The risk-to-reward ration is getting out of whack, many say, and somebody is going to die while trying to save a few seconds.
Some others complain that speed-climbing distorts the public perception of rock climbing and draws attention away from the esthetic facets of the sport. Those who hold this view tend to think of climbing as “a dance on the rock” that is best done to a slower beat. They wonder what the big hurry is all about. They wonder why anybody would want to rush through a climb so fast that there’s no time to communicate with nature, enjoy companionship, and contemplate one’s inner self. In other words, there’s no time to savor the experience.
The speed-climbing champs clearly feel that it’s winning that is really worth savoring. Different strokes for different folks. And a dangerous game to play on a 3,000-foot vertical rock face.