Ahab, Yosemite

by Nicolas Favresse
Spring 2009 - Classic Climbs

The weight of the obstacle ahead of me was almost unbearable. Wide and open, the crack was about to throw itself down on top of me. I shook a few minutes at the last resting position, reminding myself what brought me here: On expedition in Patagonia I was once told, “No Euro can onsight Ahab.” Considering its relatively low grade (5.10b), this claim struck me with curiosity and I was sparked to explore the challenge. Later, what I read in the guidebook fueled me more: “Ahab is a tough offwidth/flare ... Ninetynine out of a hundred 5.13 gym climbers will be completely shut down by this climb.”

I took a last breath then charged. After 15 minutes of desperately squeezing myself up the hold-free smooth open walls of Ahab, I had the impression of good progress. Suddenly, I slipped only a few inches and realized all my gain was lost. I tested a few different positions, but all of them felt hopeless. As I groveled back up, I was tempted to give up. The only thing that fueled my determination was my progress, measured by the minuscule crystals in the granite that scraped at my bare knees and elbows. The intense effort put me into a kind of a trance.

Every inch was a battle. Early in the climb I was pacing myself, now I was just giving it everything I had. After an hour of fighting, the sight of the anchor brought me out of my trance. I had never been in the red zone for so long. I clipped myself in, high from the adrenaline, and looked up. All I could see was the infinite ocean of perfect granite of El Capitan. In comparison, Ahab below me looked so insignificant. A few minutes later, my stomach rolled over emptying all there was left in me. Ahab cleansed me. It reminded me that each rock is unique and so is its challenge.

About the Author

Ever since he was a child in Belgium playing outside and developing a passion for music, Nicolas Favresse has felt drawn to creativity and exploration. When he discovered traditional climbing, these expressions resulted in major ascents of granite walls from the Torres del Paine to Pakistan, a recent new free route (The Secret Passage 5.13c R) on El Capitan, and an ongoing search for natural sequences on rock in the world’s most beautiful places. He considers Ahab one of his greatest climbing accomplishments.