Posted on: March 1, 2004

In Spring 2003 my brother, Thomas, and I started trying to free Zodiac (VI 5.11 A3+, 16 pitches, Porter, 1972). Though we succeeded in doing all the moves on a free variation to the route, we failed to make a continuous redpoint ascent—the weather was simply too hot. Hoping for better temperatures, we planned to return in the fall to try again. This was an error. Due to the position of the sun in the autumn sky, Zodiac gets no morning or afternoon shade. This meant that for the critical, friction-intensive crux pitches, we could only climb at dusk or dawn for two hours a day. Therefore progress was not as fast as we had expected. Also during the final redpoint ascent, the climbing was not as fast as we had originally planned, and a full sixty-eight hours was needed for the redpoint effort, whereas the actual time for climbing was no more than eighteen hours.

As on our other free routes on El Capitan, we had to bypass several sections of the original aid line to free the route. We started sixty meters right of Zodiac, linking various corners and ramps to join Zodiac after four pitches. After a few meters on the route another variation avoids the long bolt ladder on the fifth pitch, before rejoining the route just before the short bolt ladder of Pitch 6.

The free crux was in the heart of the Gray Circle, an El Cap landmark and the route's most eye-catching feature. The third Circle pitch involved a holdless 5.13d stemming corner. Next came the route's crux, the Nipple Pitch, so named for the arching fingertip pin-scar undercling that runs out the overhanging main wall and culminates at a point (the Nipple) where the crack widens abruptly to four inches, ending the difficulties. The pitch now goes free at 5.13d. After that the doors are open, and the free line more or less follows Zodiac's original line to the top.


— Alexander Huber, Berchtesgaden, Germany

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