How to Climb the Yosemite Triple Crown in Under 24 Hours

Edelweiss athlete, Cheyne Lempe recently completed the Yosemite Triple Crown with Dave Allfrey in 22 hours 59 minutes, making them the third pair of climbers to ever complete a one-day linkup of Yosemite’s biggest walls. Photos courtesy of Cheyne Lempe.

I was 19 years old when I first came to Yosemite Valley. During the Spring Break of my first year at Colorado University, my friend Colin Simon and I had our sights on The Nose of El Capitan. Climbing the biggest granite wall in the U.S. was the craziest idea I ever dreamed of, and the mountain pushed me to my breaking point. We climbed for 4 days up the soaking wet wall, a frightening and painful introduction to a whole new world of climbing.

If you spend enough time doing anything, you will get really good at it. Whether it's running, shooting hoops, writing, or sitting through 10 hours of your favorite TV series, your body adapts and becomes a better tool for what you use it for. Since my first experience on The Nose, I have spent a significant amount of time hanging off the side of Yosemite's granite monoliths. I would never say that I have some sort of 'gift' or 'talent' for climbing, but I have easily dedicated a serious amount of time to it. Over the years I have very slowly learned how to become more efficient while both aid and free climbing, allowing me to put less energy into the vertical movements.

My good friend Dave Allfrey and I had the dream to climb as much Yosemite rock as possible in a single day. Dave is a master aid climber, a skilled free climber, and a huge inspiration of mine. Over the past few years Dave has been rewriting the speed climbing game in Yosemite, and I have been very lucky to be able to learn from him. Be psyched, move consistently, and relax. Those are the three simple things that he has taught me to focus on.

Our goal was to climb El Capitan, Mt Watkins, and Half Dome, the three biggest walls in The Valley, in a single 24-hour block of time. There was no magic involved, no serious amounts of danger, and no techniques that are too difficult to learn. What it did require was psych, pre-planning, and experience. The three techniques that we used to move efficiently were free climbing, simul-climbing, and short-fixing.

Free Climbing
Free climbing as much as possible is by far the best way to cover terrain the fastest. It's easy to fall into the aid-climbing trap when you're up on the wall because of the intense amount of exposure, but this slows progress. There is a significant amount of climbing that is 5.10 and easier on each of the walls, and it was important that we free climbed whatever we could. We would intermittently pull on a cam of fixed piton for most of the route, and then quickly aid climb through the most difficult sections.

We simul-climbed on terrain that was relatively easy so that we could quickly cover more ground. Simul-climbing inherently has the greatest risk involved, but we introduced an incredible tool into the system that greatly increases the safety margin, the Kong Duck. I first heard of using these devices when Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold climbed the Triple Crown. They free climbed each route almost entirely while simul-climbing. When used correctly, the Duck is placed on a bomber piece of gear between climbers, and ensures that the leader would not get ripped off the wall if the second climber were to fall.

We also short-fixed when the climbing was steep or difficult enough, making it more efficient for the second to ascend the rope. Short fixing allows the team to constantly make upward progress, just like simul-climbing. Short fixing can be more efficient than simul-climbing when the terrain gets more difficult. Only the leader needs to climb the difficult section of rock, and then the second will ascend the rope, which requires less energy.

Other extremely important factors we paid attention to on the wall were hydration and fuel. We would always spike our water with Nuun or Clif Shot Hydration to keep our muscles working smoothly, preventing any cramps. We focused on the amount we drank too. We made sure not to drink too much as it would flush out the important minerals from your system. We ate energy bars and Clif Shot Blocks, making sure beforehand that our stomachs approved of them. The last thing we wanted on three big walls were upset stomachs.

For each route, we brought the minimal amount of gear needed, while bringing just enough to make all of the climbing safe. We only placed two nuts on The Nose, using cams for the rest of it. Nuts are bomber protection, but they are more time consuming to place and clean.

Teamwork, psych, and encouragement within the partnership were three of the most important ingredients that made this mega-linkup possible. It was critical to lift each other up when we were both digging deep and suffering. When we were on our third and final wall, I was exhausted beyond belief. Without Dave's shouts of positive energy up to me when we were climbing the final pitches, I don't know if I would have made it to the top.

While reading The Rock Warriors Way by Arno Ilgner, I’ve learned two truths that have helped free my mind from self limiting expectations and habits, allowing me to tackle adventures like the Yosemite Triple Crown:
  • If I embrace that my mind is limiting me, not external factors, it will open up powerful possibilities.
  • Difficult experiences are the way we learn, and they are how we appreciate ease.
Whatever it is that you're psyched on, go out and give it your best effort. It's definitely not necessary to go out and have a suffer fest like I did, but it's important to get out and do what inspires you most.

History of the Yosemite Triple Crown:
Dean Potter and Timmy O'Neal - 2001 in 21:37
Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell - 2012 in 21:15 (Free-climbed every pitch by climbing Freerider instead of The Nose.)
Alex Honnold Solo 2012 in 18 hours 59 minutes

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