More Details on Magic Mushroom

Posted on: May 20, 2008

El Capitan, showing the approximate free line of Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14, ca. 2,900', Caldwell-Sjong, 2008). Tommy Caldwell and Justen Sjong freed the route in a push from May 12–17. The route features eleven 5.13 to 5.14 pitches and nine 5.12 to 5.12+ pitches, making it the hardest, most sustained bigwall free climb in the world. [Photo] Luke Bauer

In the past twenty-four hours more details have emerged about the first free ascent of Magic Mushroom (VI 5.7 A3, 2,900', the El Cap aid line to the left of the Nose that was established by Hugh Burton and Steve Sutton in 1972 and freed by Tommy Caldwell and Justen Sjong in a five-day push from May 12-17 at 5.14.

The route had first been suggested to Caldwell and Sjong by their mutual friend, Adam Stack, who had worked on freeing it for some two years. Stack had figured out most of the moves and the actual line the free route should take three years ago but had been unable to free it. He told the pair there was nothing he’d like better than for the two of them to do it together. Though Caldwell and Sjong had spent time hanging out on top of El Cap during their efforts on various free routes, Magic Mushroom marked the first time they had climbed together.

After working the route for five weeks, Caldwell and Sjong began their free ascent on May 12 at 5 a.m. Climbing ground up in a push, they each freed every pitch, swinging leads. The route is reported as very high quality, and very steep: the top twelve pitches overhang the entire way. Though the 5.14a crux of the Dihedral Wall (VI 5.8 A3, Baldwin-Cooper-Denny, 1962), which Caldwell freed at 5.14a in 2005, is perhaps more difficult than any single move on Magic Mushroom, Magic Mushroom is far more sustained, with eleven 5.13 or 5.14 pitches and nine 5.12 to 5.12+ pitches.

The route featured technical chimney climbing that maxed out the rubber on their shoes and wore away the skin on their backs. Sjong was reported to have had gaping wounds on his back from rubbing up "miles" of flared climbing.


Magic Mushroom was the third route Caldwell had climbed in a push: he did the Salathe Wall in a day in 1998, and the Dihedral Wall in a push in 2005. His approach to freeing routes on El Cap has evolved: when he began he believed it was acceptable to return to the ground during free attempts as long as the pitches were climbed in the proper order. Magic Mushroom represents his current standard: free routes should be climbed ground up in a single push.

Caldwell believes the first free ascent of Magic Mushroom parallels the evolution of climbing on El Cap in general. Fifty years ago, when Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore completed the first ascent of the Nose, climbers sought out the major weaknesses on the wall. In the 1970s the emphasis turned to the harder aid lines, ones that linked together less prominent features. In 1988, when Todd Skinner and Paul Piana made the first free ascent of the Salathé Wall, the focus turned to free climbing El Cap by the major weaknesses again—i.e., the classic, easier aid routes.

Even so, Magic Mushroom represented an evolution of its own. In its effort to climb new ground, the aid route took more of a meandering path. The free version, which adheres only 60 or 70% to the original route, takes a line more logical to free climbers. The result is a much straighter, more direct line. “It pretty much goes straight up the wall,” said a source familiar to the climb.

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Great job. It would be extremely interesting and cool if one of the greatest big wall climbers went to Madagascar to try 'Tough Enough.' I hear it is the hardest big wall free climb right now.

2008-05-28 22:51:59
B. Kimball

CONGRATULATIONS to Tommy and Justin on the most amazing, most difficult and most inspiring Big Wall Free Climbing achievement in the HISTORY OF MAN KIND!

I look at the free topo of Dihedral Wall and think 'WOW...this is practically impossible'. To think that Magic is even harder and more sustained just blows my mind. I could not be happier for these guys. Nor could I be more inspired to push my own personal limits. The scary thing is that for these two climbers Magic is probably NOT THEIR PERSONAL LIMITS...WOW, now that’s SCARY!

It is too bad that the free climbing community makes such a big deal about Alex Honnald running a quick solo lap up the Moonlight Buttress 5.12c but then hardly makes a big deal at all when the hardest, most sustained Big Wall Free Climb goes up and in such fine style. Personally I find this ascent all the more appealing and inspiring that BOTH climbers freed the route and swinging leads making it less of a selfish pursuit and more of a team effort...AWESOME!

ALPINIST~^> This should be celebrated as the greatest big wall free climbing achievement in the history of man kind, no? I hope you give this ascent and these guys the prop's they deserve. We will all look forward to any further information, story's, pictures and especially a free topo of this amazing new free line. PUBLISH A TOPO PLEASE!

Erik L.~> I thought you said that it is Alpinist policy to not consider a top rope a valid free ascent? I am glad you decided to give TC and JS there much deserved First Free Ascent Credit. Though I will have to point out that your contradicting yourself. Or maybe it is Alpinist policy to count Big Wall top roping as (free climbing) but just not single pitch climbs. To which I will say that 'technically China Doll is a 2 or 3 pitch climb to it's 130' anchor depending on who you ask' so what is the difference?

Maybe if I would have lead the 40' 5.9 pitch to the ledge and then had my partner aid-lead the next 90' and belay from above then my TR ascent would have been a FFA? Sorry I could not resist, I guess am just trying to figure out what precisely is the 'Alpinist free climbing policy' anyways and if there are any gray areas or maybe you just don’t like me...I could understand that...I am being QUITE ANNOYING I realize! :)

SPONSORS~> Both Tommy and Justin should MOST DEFINITELY get a BIG CASH BONUS from all of there supporters for the work they put into this route. I mean think about it...when you land a big get a big bonus. Well they just bagged the hardest big wall on the planet and it took them 5 weeks to do it so I think that this is worthy of a couple of VERY BIG CHECKS. Show your support for two of the worlds very best athletes representing YOUR PRODUCTS and the sport of climbing across America and around the globe.

2008-05-22 19:18:03

Ground up in a single push keepin it pure !

2008-05-22 10:43:10

What a great achievment. Good luck to both of you and Congrats. With peace, En paz, S. Melendez.

2008-05-21 19:31:11

Editor: You're absolutely correct about the dates for the Salathe twbaker. The date has been changed in the text of the article. Thank you for the sharp eyes.

2008-05-21 14:31:10

Surely you have the year Caldwell freed Salathe confused with the FFA.

2008-05-21 12:11:19


Although the lower part of the route is rarely done, it offers challenging climbing including the scariest 5.9 OW groove you will ever enconter. The upper wall is awkward nailing in flared slots that may someday see a free ascent. Submitted by: admin on 2006-03-26 Views: 156 Route ID: 43819

I can only imagine whats next.Unbelievable achievement!

2008-05-20 21:39:07

Rocco Balducci. That's who!

2008-05-20 20:30:35

Who will free the Shield? With the peg scaring I guess its just a question of Time.

2008-05-20 18:16:46
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