Belgian Duo Climb New El Cap Free Route

by Nico Favresse Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O´Driscoll are on a road trip in the USA.They have recently completed a new free route on El Cap that they have named The Secret Passage. Click here for a full photo essay of the ascent – UKC Photo Essay Nico Reports: Sean Villanueva and I have just freed a new route on El Capitain! We just came down last Friday (10 of October) after 5 days on thewall. It´s for sure one of my best climbing accomplishments andstrongest climbing experience. All my years of climbing experience seemto have blended together to brew this new major piece of climbing. Theroute tested my physical and mental abilities to their limit, with thechallenge of many hard pitches to send each day on the wall plus thefatigue of hauling.In order to leave the aid routes their original way, we were pushed toclimb sometimes on very poor gear and at other times very spaced gear. Butbeside the physical and mental challenge, the experience exploring thewall for a way to free felt to me the most powerful. So many sectionslooked at first impossible but with optimism, faith and creativity allof them gave away a solution with an amazing amount of holds, which ifone of them did not exist the route wouldn´t go free. It felt like eachsolution was a sign of communication with the rock.The idea of trying to free this line came up in December 2006 when Iaid climbed Zodiac. I just couldn´t keep my eyes from looking rightat the line just like if I felt something instinctual. The line stayedin my mind and this year as I arrived in Yosemite with Sean Villanuevamid September, it was something I really wanted to check out. With him,I knew we could try our best to climb it in a fun style : no fixing, nojugging, no rappelling, just finding the way up from the ground andbringing the mandolin and flutes for some El Cap freestyle jamming.On our first exploration up the line we went big wall style and thegoal was just to see if it would go free. As my instinct felt alwaysstrong with the line, my rational mind on the other hand had a hardertime with rumors of impossible blank sections, that part of the wallhaving been unsuccessfully checked for free climbing on rappel bynotorious el cap free climbers.The first time up the line, we spent 4 days mostly following the aidroute Eagles Way. When a section of the aid line would not bepossible to free we would look at every option of the free climbinglabyrinth and that required sometimes doing long pendulums. Up to twopitches from the summit everything seemed possible to free with a fewvery hard pitches. But there, so close to the summit all the hopes offreeing the entire line dropped with 4 meters of blank rock.  We toppedout the wall then moved our rope to the side to make sure we didn´tmiss a free alternative. But no, the 4 meters of blank rock seemed to bethe easiest way up the wall.When we came down at first I wasn´t sure if I wanted to go back on theline. Why expend all this effort for something that wouldn´t goentirely free? Then after a day of rest, I woke up with a strongfeeling of needing to go back on the line. I thought if I can´t freethe whole line it could still be so fun to be up there hanging out onEl Cap, free climbing pitches at my limit and playing our musicalinstruments.Before setting off for another multiple day push on the line, Sean andI decided to work on the lower hard cruxes of the route on twoday-trips. We never fixed any line. Then we went again last week withthe potential to stay 5 days on the wall so that it would give usenough of a margin to explore and try to redpoint the upper part of thewall. After five days on the route, we reached the 4 meter blanksection. Up to there, I had been able to redpoint every single pitch ofthe climb with many of them on the edge of my limits. And as I gotready to aid the rivet ladder I looked down and to the side and saw atiny bit of dirt sticking out of the super blank polished granite. Ilowered down and discovered a very thin laser-cut looking seamimpossible to see unless you are at level with it. I cleaned the mossand ?The Secret Passage? appeared making one of the raddest pitches ofthe climb. We called our new free route ?The Secret Passage? after this unique pitch which allowed the climb to go 100% free.The route follows a mix of two already established aid lines (EaglesWay for its first 10 pitches and Bad To The Bones for the 8 upper pitchesof the climb) and a bit of new terrain as well. The route is extremelysteep and so the climb is very sustained with a total of 15 pitches (5-10+ R, 5-11, 5-9, 5-10+, 5-12a r, 5-13c R, 5-13a, 5-12+, 5-12c,5-13c, 5-12c R, 5-13a, 5-13a, 5-11R, 5-10+)   We added a bolt on anunprotectable face climb variation to the established aid line andplaced a bolt next to a rivet to make an anchor safe. We were able tofree climb the rest without adding any holes in the rock. The nature ofthe climb is quite run out and dangerous in places. One pitchis protected with hooks and fixed copperheads, a few others have hardcruxes way past the last piece of pro and there are a few scarysections with lose rock features that we couldn´t avoid.Sean and I started the route switching leads and following free. Then asthe climb got very sustained Sean didn´t succeed in redpointing everypitch. I took over the lead for the pitches that he didn´t succeed on andhe continued to follow free. Sean and Nico have an excellent blog:http://bigwallfiesta.blogspot.comwhich has details of their exploits and also jamming sessions from around the world. Watch this video of Sean and NicoJamming on El Cap: Nico is sponsored by FiveTen, Sterling Ropes, Julbo, Black Diamond and Patagonia.Sean is sponsored by FiveTen