34-year-old Slovakian Miška Izakovičová free climbs Golden Gate on El Capitan. The line was freed in 2000 by Thomas and Alex Huber and over the years has become a big wall classic in the Yosemite Valley.
An experience report by Miška Izakovičová
The Yosemite Valley is one of my favorite places in the world and climbing El Capitan has been my dream since I started climbing. After climbing Freerider in 2018, I set my eyes on another route: Golden Gate.
I returned to the valley last year, but after a few years off everything felt so big and scary. I decided to try the route and it went surprisingly well. I felt like I might have a chance of doing it one day, but it still felt too hard.
I couldn't make the moves on the Move pitch and the rest of the route felt difficult even though I was able to climb most of the pitches. I knew I wanted to come back, but stronger and better prepared.
Compulsory break due to injury
Unfortunately, sometimes things don't work out the way you expect. In the spring I injured my ankle and had to miss climbing and even hiking for almost three months. I thought it unlikely that I would climb the route this year.
But the fall season was going really well for me back home, so I decided to come back to the valley and give it a try. I felt different than I did a year ago, I was very motivated, confident and not afraid at all.
The right rope partner
I climbed with my friend Karel from the Czech Republic. He decided to support my dream and I'm very happy about that because he was exactly the partner I needed up there.
We hauled to the Heart Ledges, rested, and then launched from the ground. The first day went very well, I had a really good flow and we made it to Hollow Flake Ledge at sunset.
On the second day we climbed up to the downclimb (5.13a), the first of four key pitches on the route. I wanted to try it early in the morning the next day before the sun hits the wall.
I figured it would take me some time to climb the pitch, so we figured we'd stay here at least another night. But the reality was different because I managed the pitch on the second attempt and we were back at our camp by 8am and decided to continue climbing.
The plan was to climb up to the Tower to the People and set up camp there. That day I didn't really try Move Pitch (5.13a), the second key pitch, as we climbed it in the middle of the day when it was too hot for serious attempts. We reached the tower on the evening of Day 3, and since I was climbing every pitch and hauling most of the route, I was pretty exhausted.
Finding the right beta
The next morning we slept in, I had no energy to try out the move pitch. We spent most of the day chilling at the tower, eating and drinking lots of water.
After sunset we dropped down to the Move Pitch and I started attempting the crux. At first it felt impossible, I spent over an hour trying at least ten different options but none of them felt remotely good.
Afterwards, I returned to the stand to rest. I was pretty sad, I was hoping there would be at least some progress compared to last year, but the rest of the route felt harder and I still couldn't make those moves.
After the break I tried one last beta I could think of and much to my surprise I managed the boulder, I dropped down and did it again. Suddenly I was able to do it, I was just too tired to seriously attempt a red dot that evening.
The next morning we returned and I climbed the pitch on the first attempt. The conditions for climbing that day were terrible, the sun was very strong and it was too hot for difficult climbing.
Fall with consequences
So I waited until sunset again to try the next key pitch, The Golden Desert (5.13a). I thought that this pitch would be easy to climb and that I would be able to score it in the evening.
Maybe I underestimated them, or maybe I just remembered them as not being that difficult, but I really struggled. On my first attempt I made a pretty long takeoff when I fell while clipping and even ripped a safety out from under me.
On my second attempt, I slipped again as I tried to steady myself in the shallow corner. My right foot scrapes the rock as I fall, injuring my already damaged ankle.
Moral rock bottom
When I woke up the next morning my ankle was swollen, slightly bruised and aching, but I was determined to give climbing a try. I had to do it! It was supposed to be our second to last day on the wall.
We only had two days until the 4 day storm and we needed to reach the summit before the rain. My first attempt in the morning at Golden Desert was very shaky, I was afraid of falling and my ankle was quite stiff and painful and I only tried the crux.
I rappelled down and tried again. I fell three more times that morning and was completely exhausted and couldn't try anymore. I knew I didn't have much time left, so I decided to attempt the A5 Traverse (5.13a), the final crux pitch.
I tried it twice that day but I really struggled, it was already in the sun and it seemed impossible for me to climb it. Afterwards I was pretty exhausted and had no skin left on my fingertips, so I decided to call it a day and went back to the portaledge.
Time is running out
At this point I thought I wouldn't be able to climb the route anymore, we only had one day left and we still had to get to the summit.
I didn't climb that evening and decided to give Golden Desert and the A5 Traverse another try the next morning. I wanted to give it my all, even if it felt unlikely that I would make it.
Fight to the last
On my last morning on the wall I started with Golden Desert and from the first few hits I felt much better than before. I was able to give it my all and climb the pitch. There was one last crux pitch left and I knew I probably only had one attempt.
I couldn't believe what had just happened. I didn't want to celebrate too much as there were still 5 pitches to the summit, but I knew that wouldn't stop me from climbing the route.
This was exactly the kind of climb I dreamed of and I still can't believe it happened.
That might interest you
- Babsi Zangerl climbs the hardest trad line of her life: Meltdown (8c+)
- Vlog 6 - Adam Ondra trying to onsight the Salathé Wall in Yosemite Valley
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Credits: Cover picture Jonah Philips