By Matt Niswonger
Brad Gobright has just free climbed the Muir route on El Capitan. Topping out after dark on May 8th, Gobright and his belay partner Maison Deschamps completed the mega route in 17.5 hours. The crux pitch he free climbed on top rope, to avoid leading the final 30 feet with dangerous fixed gear in the dark.
The Muir takes a direct line up the vast, center face of El Capitan. “It’s an incredible climb I’ve dreamed about doing for some time. I trained for it all winter and I think I can say it’s the hardest climb I’ve done. It’s a good step up in difficulty from El Cap free routes like the Salathe Wall and El Corazon,” Brad told ASJ the next day.
The Muir has been free climbed only a handful of times, most notably by Alex Honnold in 2014 as training for his infamous ropeless climb of the nearby El Cap route Freerider, later depicted in the movie Free Solo.
Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the brand Patagonia, first climbed the Muir route in 1965 with Yosemite legend TM Herbert. It was a bold, cutting-edge effort that took nine days of total commitment. He named the route the “Muir Wall” after his hero John Muir. Chouinard’s account of the groundbreaking climb was published in the American Alpine Journal the following year.
The climb was less popular than some other El Capitan routes in the 1970s and 1980s, but experienced a resurgence of interest after Lynn Hill ushered in the El Capitan free climbing revolution with her groundbreaking first free ascent of the Nose in 1993.
The following year, Yosemite climbers Scott Cosgrove and Kurt Smith attempted to free climb the Muir and came within 30 feet of succeeding when they were stymied by the tricky top-out moves. It was another 17 years before none other than Tommy Caldwell freed the final 30 feet in 2001.
With this climb Gobright proves that he deserves a seat at the table (alongside Caldwell and Honnold) with the very best El Capitan free climbers working today. He calls the line a “nautical trad route,” in reference to its oceanic size and commitment level.
Upon completion of the Muir Wall back in 1964, Chouinard realized his epic nine-day battle with fear was only personal. The climb itself was still a mystery to him. In a subsequent American Alpine Club article he wrote:
“Looking back up at our route late one afternoon when a bluish haze covered the west side of El Capitan, it seemed to have lost a bit of its frightfulness but appeared even more aloof and mysterious than before. It is far too deep-rooted to be affected by the mere presence of man. But we had been changed. We had absorbed some of its strength and serenity.”