Matt Niswonger

If you climb 5.13 and are pretty much fearless you have what it takes to free climb El Capitan. All others need not apply.

“climbing El Capitan without ropes has been my lifelong ambition,” she shared on her blog. “It’s been my goal since I first started climbing. I’ve always been drawn to massive walls and the thrill of being in exposed, breathtaking locations.”

In October 2009, she tackled Free Rider (5.12d, “nearly free”) on El Cap, igniting her passion for Yosemite’s towering cliffs. Her next target was the Salathé: “The incredibly steep, widening crack on the dizzyingly exposed headwall captivated me,” she explained. “It’s stunning yet mercilessly challenging.” She began working the route the previous year, attempting to decipher the beta for the overhanging, flaring crack on the headwall. However, a powerful storm forced her to abandon the climb after free climbing every pitch up to the headwall.

This year, Mayan “spent several days on the headwall alone, practicing the crux pitches using mini-traction before attempting the full ascent,” she revealed via email. She focused on building power before arriving in Yosemite, then concentrated on improving her fitness and mastering the moves on the crux pitches. “Once I was on the route, everything else faded away,” she said. “Another crucial factor was spending enough time on the granite to feel completely at ease and relaxed on the easier sections.”

Before her final push, she met Sean in Camp 4. “He expressed interest in joining me on the wall,” she recounted. “I eagerly accepted the opportunity to climb with such an experienced, strong partner, despite barely knowing him. He turned out to be an excellent companion on the wall—great energy and enthusiasm.”

Her final attempt lasted six days. The day before completing the route, she experienced a “devastating fall on the very last move.” However, with perfect weather conditions, Mayan successfully reached the top of the headwall (“every hand jam felt incredible, and the climbing flowed seamlessly,” she said), finally achieving her long-standing goal.

“Initially, I felt pure elation, followed by an overwhelming sense of relief. Now, there’s almost a feeling of emptiness and lack of direction, as I no longer have a goal consuming most of my energy and thoughts,” she reflected on completing the route.


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