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Speed Series Part IV: Hans Florine
Hans Florine on The Nose of El Capitan. [Photo] Paul Hara
With that sort of objective measurement of success, you inevitably have a sense of competition with yourself and other climbers. You can compare your time or your numbers with other climbers. Do you think it detracts from the sport or do you think it's a positive thing?
It's nothing but positive. I do a lot of motivational speaking for folks, and I tell them that you can't improve things until you start looking at—they call them The Five Ms: measure, monitor, manage, motivate and manifest. If you don't measure where you're at, then you don't know how to motivate or manage or manifest some sort of change. Some people go and climb and think, "Oh, I did a 5.11," and that might be their loose measurement to see if they improve. But one 5.11 isn't the same as another 5.11.
Everybody has this urge to improve from 5.10a to 10c or from 5.9 to 5.10, or 12 to 13, or climbing the next hard big-wall route. Climbers have that urge to improve, and that's nothing more than being—if you want to use the "C word"—competitive with themselves. They're just trying to improve; they're not trying to beat anybody else.
Can you please tell me about speedclimb.com? How and why did you start it?
I started it because I saw the reaction from people just getting their names down as having done something. I had just huge numbers of people contacting me saying, "We did this route, that route at this time" and that's how I filled in that archival information about people climbing different things in Yosemite... I'd get people correcting me on minute differences. It's cute and interesting that people would care. Invariably you get somebody saying, "You know, these guys reported that they climbed that thing for the first time in-a-day in 1994, but I know somebody who did it in 1982 so they weren't the first." Or they find somebody who's written something in a summit register on one of the 14ers. They climbed something from base camp in six hours or something and they take a picture and send it to me. People find out they weren't the fastest. I thought that was super interesting and kept the climbing community interested in what they were doing. No one else was doing it at the time—in the late '90s.
Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama pose for the cameras after a record-breaking ascent on The Nose. [Photo] Paul Hara
What kind of compromises to your safety, if any, do you make when you're speed climbing?
Oh that's a great question. The Nose speed record is a great example... When people sit on The Nose route for four days and they're belaying somebody on a single pitch for an hour, sometimes two hours, you start kind of looking at the clouds, maybe chatting with the people next to you—maybe not 100 percent attentive on the belay, which isn't per-say dangerous as long as you have your brake-hand on. But that whole three days that you're up there, that's three days that you're on a 3,000-foot cliff where things can go wrong, as opposed to being on it for six hours only. And in that six hours, or in the case of Dean and Sean who did it in 2 hours, 36 minutes and 50 seconds, or something like that. Those two guys are focused 100 percent of every second of that 2 hours and 36 minutes and 50 seconds on climbing the route. They're not thinking about their taxes or their girlfriend or anything. They're thinking about that next placement. That next hand jam and belaying, attentively, the person in the hard section. Although they're moving and covering more ground than the person who sat on The Nose for three days, they're 100 percent focused on climbing and nothing else—not watching the clouds or anything else.
So you think it's safer—or at least safer than climbing the route using big-wall tactics?
After saying what I just did, it is really interesting that the search and rescue folks at Yosemite—this was in 2004 or something—kind of said, "I wonder when we're going to be rescuing one of you speed climbers." That's kind of when it hit me—that analogy I just gave you—it's like "well, the reason you haven't is because most speed climbers are really competent." And there are lots of competent climbers who get in accidents, but they're usually either guiding somebody or they're descending or they're really tired or any number of reasons when it's user error. And that's why I, in general, think that speed climbing, to a degree, is going to be safer, more attentive climbing than bumbling around on an A5 for five days or something.
Speed Series Part I: Alex Honnold - "It's all super safe as long as no one falls."
Speed Series Part II: Sean Leary and Dean Potter - "We're always filled with the knowledge that if we fall, it's a minimum 100-footer and probably way more. You're going to kill your friend and probably mutilate or kill yourself."
Speed Series Part III: Ueli Steck - "I think it is nice to be able to climb a peak in several hours instead of several days. You don't have to suffer so much."