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Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell complete "Continental Divide Ultimate Linkup" in Rocky Mountain National Park
Posted on: July 22, 2020
Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell can be seen standing on the summit of the Sharkstooth (12,630') in Rocky Mountain National Park at sunrise on Saturday, July 18, during their "Continental Divide Ultimate Linkup" (CDUL). [Photo] Adam Stack
Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold have completed another linkup of staggering proportions that left them both "hobbling around," as Honnold recently told Alpinist.
But this time, instead of Yosemite or Patagonia (where the two have made headlines numerous times in the past) it was in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, near Caldwell's home in Estes Park—a place where he grew up climbing with his dad.
They dubbed their route the Continental Divide Ultimate Linkup (CDUL, "pronounced 'cuddle' for how we warmed up in the middle of the night," Caldwell wrote on Instagram). They stood atop 17 summits that included 11 technical climbing routes (approximately 65 pitches of 5.6 to 5.11), covering about 35 miles and 20,000 feet of vertical gain in roughly 36.5 hours.
Honnold and Caldwell take break during their 36-hour push. [Photo] Adam Stack
They left the Longs Peak Ranger Station around 5:15 a.m. on Friday, July 17, and finished at Bear Lake at 5:40 p.m. Saturday, July 18. Honnold said they simulclimbed nearly all their roped pitches and scrambled the rest, including the Sharkstooth (5.6) and the Central Ramp (5.8) on Mt. Alice.
"In some places it was better to free solo and leave our packs at the base," Honnold told Alpinist. Of course, for the pair that set the speed record on the Nose of El Capitan (1 hour, 58 minutes, 7 seconds) in 2018, and for Honnold, who free soloed El Cap's Freerider (5.12d/13a, 3,000') in 2017, their ropeless climbing on the CDUL traverse was well within their comfort zone.
Honnold nearing the top of Birds of Fire (IV 5.11a) on Chiefs Head (13,579'). [Photo] Maury Birdwell
The CDUL includes the following routes and peaks in order of ascent:
Flying Buttress (III 5.9), Mt. Meeker (13,911')
Caldwell and Honnold on the go, somewhere in Rocky Mountain National Park. [Photo] Adam Stack
Caldwell and Honnold, still on the move in Rocky Mountain National Park. [Photo] Adam Stack
"We're both slightly injured," Honnold told Alpinist over the phone on July 21. He was resting at Caldwell's house and had been playing board games with Caldwell's children. Honnold said he slipped and bruised his hip, and that Caldwell had a sore Achilles tendon.
"I'm not from here, so this terrain is pretty new to me," Honnold said. When jokingly asked how Rocky Mountain National Park compares to Patagonia, he replied, "It actually does have a similar vibe to Patagonia because it has surprisingly complicated terrain. The places are different in terms of scale, of course, but one of the cruxes [for the CDUL] was the constant decision-making. We were only on a trail for the start and finish."
"Huge thanks to Maury Birdwell and Adam Stack for supporting us during the journey with key resupplies," Honnold wrote on Instagram July 20.
Adding to their challenge was that they missed a resupply. Caldwell wrote in a July 21 Instagram post:
I guess my wish for a character-building experience paid off. From a runner's perspective, we made some rookie mistakes. We missed our pre-night support drop-off and therefore ended up climbing through the night in our short shorts [amid] howling winds at 13,000 feet [with a] phone jammed under my hat as a flashlight. [We were] calorie deprived until our hero [Adam Stack] rescued us with food and headlamps. By mid-morning I was throwing up. [Alex] of course was steady and high-spirited as always....
Stack posted on July 20:
99.9% of people would have given up when they did not have a headlamp or food for part of the night. The quote of the night [from Alex]: "Soloing by iPhone is not that sweet." Proud of [them] for an epic effort and setting a new bar for what is possible when you combine ultra running and climbing.
Caldwell takes a rest. Adam Stack posted on Instagram, "I've always wondered if Tommy was human. I had to include [this] photo as proof [that] he is. Love you buddy, way to push through the pain." [Photo] Adam Stack
Caldwell had been preparing for the big day for some time with Stack as a partner. Honnold said Caldwell invited him to go for the linkup about two weeks beforehand.
In a June 29 Instagram post, Caldwell wrote:
I've been working in getting faster in the mountains lately. Curious about combining the disciplines of mountain running and climbing. With this mentality climbs that used to be punishing full-day endeavors are now just morning jaunts. And if I have a full day I get to link a bunch of features.
I turn 42 next month, which means I have been climbing for 39 years. Finding ways to continuously improve takes creativity and an appetite for relentless tinkering with training, nutrition, and body maintenance. This summer I've aspired to combine ultra running with climbing and was worried that my body might not hold up....
Honnold and Caldwell finishing Notchtop, the last climb of their 36-hour push. Longs Peak, where they started the CDUL, is visible in the background. [Photo] Maury Birdwell
A Brief History of RMNP Linkups
Kelly Cordes, a world-class alpinist who has lived in Estes Park for many years and completed some of his own epic linkups in Rocky Mountain National Park, told Alpinist in an email:
Someone needs to invent new adjectives for what Alex and Tommy are capable of when they team up. Mind-blowing, amazing, awesome—all [those descriptions] fall short. On the one hand, linkups are usually evolutions of what's been done; they're obvious, they've been around forever, and they typically build. But the previous big linkups in the park were all baby steps leading to this big leap. It leaves me shaking my head (again). I love how they combine high-end endurance with their obvious climbing skills. I've long thought of mountain running and climbing as existing on a continuum, rather than entirely separate entities. It's all moving in the mountains, just with different emphases. Combine them both? You cover more terrain, have more fun, [and] expand your capabilities. So on one hand, you knew this was coming (it's a fairly obvious linkup for those with that mindset), but on the other, so few people are capable of pulling it off—which is why folks (like me) have talked about it, but nobody had done it. Talk is cheap....
It seems weird that until now nobody had continued to the next cirque (the Longs/Meeker cirque is the obvious starting point), but perhaps the requisite levels of climbing and endurance weeds-out folks after a while. [There are] plenty of people who can do one or the other, but it's pretty damned next level to witness what Alex and Tommy can do on this type of terrain.
Cordes offered a brief list of the previous big linkups in RMNP that he is aware of:
Mid-1990s—Mike Pennings and Topher Donahue climb the Diamond of Longs Peak, Spearhead, Petit Grepon, Hallett and Notchtop in less than 23 hours.
2003—Cordes and Jonny Copp complete what they called the Triple Lindy in 22:42: the Diamond, Chiefs Head and Mt. Alice. The latter is a "pain in the ass because it's so out of the way," Cordes said. (Trivia note: the "Triple Lindy" is the name of the unbelievable platform dive by Rodney Dangerfield's character in the 1986 movie "Back to School.")
2011—Scott Bennett and Blake Herrington complete the Quadruple Lindy, adding Spearhead to the Triple Lindy linkup, which they finish in less than 24 hours.
Regarding the Continental Divide Ultimate Linkup, Donahue told Alpinist in an email, "It sounds like a pretty idyllic day-and-a-half to go climb pretty much everything in the park with snack delivery service along the way!"
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