Interview: Jordan Cannon on Freeing “Golden Gate” (5.13b, 41 Pitches) In a Day
“It’s the first big thing I’ve done in climbing that I’m super proud of,” Cannon said of his one-day free ascent of Golden Gate.
On his first attempt at freeing Golden Gate in a day earlier this season, Jordan Cannon came up just shy. He freed everything up to the A5 Traverse, one of the 5.13 cruxes on the route, near the top. He was just too gassed. He hadn’t rehearsed the pitch this season, and his tactics—climbing through the sunny afternoon, El Cap’s granite radiating heat—had left him drained.
“I was really proud of my effort the first time,” Cannon said. He wasn’t sure he needed to go back and prove anything, to himself or anyone else.
Mark Hudon supported him up the wall. “I was really stoked and glad I got to share that experience with Mark before he left for the season,” Cannon said.
Cannon worked on recovering and supporting his good friend Emily Harrington in her own quest to free Golden Gate in a day. She succeeded on November 4.
Inspired by Harrington, Cannon decided to boot up for one more try.
“I was in limbo for a while, balancing weather, still recovering, wondering if I had the fitness to give it another go in the same season, finding a partner,” Cannon told Rock and Ice.
Early this week it all came together. He had rehearsed the crux pitches more and this time he climbed smarter: he took a page from Harrington’s playbook by resting during the hottest part of the day. Twenty hours 26 minutes after starting up from the base of El Capitan, Cannon topped out, becoming the fifth person to free Golden Gate in under 24 hours, following Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Brad Gobright and Harrington.
Read more about Cannon’s saga on Golden Gate in the interview below!
Q&A with Jordan Cannon
Congrats! How does it feel to have done it?
It feels really good, especially this season when I got really close on my first attempt and then was up there with Emily. That first time I had what I thought was going to be a perfect day and it didn’t happen.
It was hard for me to re-motivate and stay focused and hold on to the idea that I could still maybe do it this season. So again, I’m really glad it worked out.
It’s the first big thing I’ve done in climbing that I’m super proud of.
You freed Golden Gate the fist time in a multi-day effort several years ago. When did you decide you wanted to try it in a day?
Last year was all focused on doing the Freerider with Mark. I always told myself that I wanted to try to do the Freerider in a day first before I moved onto Golden Gate.
With Freerider, I had never tried something like that before. But when I did it, it didn’t feel that bad, so I was like, “I can definitely do more.” My mental limit was pushed withh the Freerider, but I wanted the physical limit to be pushed further.
It was Emily who put the idea in my mind [to go after Golden Gate], to be honest. She was up there working on doing it in a day last season. The power of inspiration goes a long way.
What happened on the first attempt this year?
So the funny thing about the first attempt is that I really didn’t have much time to prepare. I scrapped it together at the last minute. Mark Hudon decided to stick around to support me before leaving to go climb in Mexico with his daughter.
Emily was prepping for her ascent, too. To prep, we rapped in together to the downclimb on Golden Gate and climbed to the top. Then we did the bottom half. So we rehearsed it in two big chunks.
In reality, I needed another solid day on the upper pitches. I didn’t get enough time to really dial in the beta on that one day up there.
Still, with the time I had and the weather forecast and Mark about to leave, I had to give it a go.
On the first attempt I cimbed all the way from the ground to Tower of the People with no falls in 12 hours. That’s about 200 meters from the top. Off the tower you have the Golden Desert and then the A5 Traverse pitches—both 13a. Golden Desert is a thin tips layback in a corner and then the A5 is a slopey pumpy traverse.
The day was going really well and the idea started to creep into my mind that I might even do the route with no falls.
But then the sun came out. This weird thing happened with the sun this season: Whenever I was rehearsing the route or anything, the sunny days were great. Nice and cool and breezy. But on actual attempt days, I was melting off of everything. I fell on my first burn up the Golden Desert.
I started to get impatient and frustrated and fell on the Golden Desert a few more times. In hindsight I should have waited until the cooler temps in the afternoon.
I ended up waiting until sunset and then I tried the Golden Desert again, and sent it first time, no problem. But I had wasted too much energy by then.
I tried the A5 Traverse once in the dark, and got past the crux, but then fell. I was just super pumped. I felt pretty defeated by then. I knew I would try the pitch once more, but deep down I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. So then Mark and I jugged out our fixed lines.
Was it an absolute heartbreaker? Or no, since it was such a strong effort?
I was really happy with my mentality going into it the first time. I just felt really excited to try. I really wasn’t attached to any outcome.
I was really proud of my effort the first time. I felt like I learned a lot about tactics and timing and how to be patient, and the value of having a good partner up there that you’re comfortable with. I was really stoked and glad I got to share that experience with Mark before he left for the season
But I was so worked and needed a long time to recover. I didn’t have much to think about other than supporting Emily on her attempt in a few days.
It was funny: I drove back into the Valley the day she was up there. She was having an identical day to me, where she got super hot and was melting on the upper pitches. Then she sent the Golden Desert at sunset, same as me. And this is where her tactics helped her: she had a small portaledge and rested. She sent the A5 first try. So I totally learned from her up there.
I was partly thinking, If she doesn’t do it, maybe we can team free it. But then she sent and got me all psyched to try again. She was telling me I should go back up there.
I was in limbo for a while, balancing weather, still recovering, wondering if I had the fitness to give it another go in the same season, finding a partner.
And there was this pressure… I didn’t want to go up and do worse.
So I took it one step at a time and told myself that at the very least I needed to go up and rehearse those pitches one more time. I found a partner, Josh McClure, and he was psyched to join me on the rest of the adventure. My friend Max Buschini was going to come take photos too.
I rappeled the whole mountain and stashed gear and practiced the A5 pitch. I had to retick everything because rain had washed chalk off the holds.
So how did it all play out?
It was great. Normally I struggle a bit on the Golden Desert and the A5; even when I redpointed the route on multiday outings I’ve never done those pitches first try. This time I did
I fell on the Downclimb pitch, the first pitch of the route. Historically it’s not that hard for me. I haven’t fallen on it since I first tried it four years ago. I was a bit overconfident going in and had a little foot slip. But I did it the next try.
I also fell on the 5.12 after the A5. Just a little sleeper crux that people don’t talk about. It’s a one-move boulder problem off the belay, so easy to just try it again. I did it second go.
In all, the route took me 20 hours and 26 minutes. We got to the Tower in like 11 hours and then literally just hung out on our ledge for five hours. We took a nap and set up a ledge, dangled all our clothes off the side to make a shade fort, watched “The Office” on my iPhone, and ate candy for hours. Ideally the experience you want is to climb bottom to top without really stopping, but it’s also kind of fun to be forced to slow down up there and enjoy the view and the position and be on the wall a bit longer.
Any moments where you thought you might come up short again?
I had a deja vu moment on the Tower. It was honestly just as hot as my first try. And it was really hard to know what to do. Should I go? Should I wait? The rock didn’t feel that hot, the breeze was good. But you you don’t want to waste energy by making poor decisions. Still, I felt much less anxious this time. I was really well prepared, I knew exactly what to do. I got up there and it was just as hot and my feet were on fire, but I knew my sequences.
I just decided to fucking commit to it, climb it like I knew how, and focus on executing and not all those other things. So I fixed the rope after sending the Golden Desert, to let the A5 pitch cool off. I knew I was being smart, there was no rush.
When I jugged up to do the A5, sunset was approaching. When you’re baking all day and your core temp is really high, you start to feel drowsy, so it’s hard to get ready to climb again, particularly for what is for me the hardest pitch on the route. I was definitely having a bit of doubt and uncertainty. But my friend Jon Glassberg, who is making a film about Emily, texted me exactly what I needed to hear: “Kill it dude. Kill mode.” And I was just like, Yea, I’m gonna turn the kill switch on. I just set off and charged across. It was exactly the experience I wanted.
Best moment of the day?
Best moment was definitely being at the anchor of the A5. I’m not sure if they could actually see me down there, but right when I sent I heard some hollers from the meadow, friends below cheering me on. I texted Mark and he called me back immediately, so we got to talk a little bit.
That’s the pitch that has shut me down over the years. And that’s my favorite place to be, on that pitch on El Cap at sunset. It’s just so pretty up there.
And I cried up there. You can put that in the interview [laughs]. I always cry at the end of that pitch, whether I send or not! I cried the first time when I failed this season. I cried the first time when I succeeded after four days on the wall. And I cried when I sent this time.
How much food did you eat afterward? How much did you sleep?
Dude, honestly, not enough! I mean we kind of walked down like zombies. I just started hallucinating a little bit going down the East Ledges and then in the trees.
I climbed the route in under 24 hours, but we got back to camp at 1:00 am and I had woken up at 10:30 the night before. So that’s over 26 hours. I fell asleep eating my pasta dinner.
You trained a lot of sport climbing this summer and fall right? Did that help you out you think?
It totally helped. Ever since Covid hit, I’ve been training, bouldering, sport climbing. I did a sport-climbing roadtrip in the second half of the summer with Mark after training for a while around Tahoe. We went to Ten Sleep and Rifle. I got to climb a lot with Emily there. And that’s really where our worlds shifted: I was in Emily’s worlds and she and her friends were giving me a lot of insight and encouragement and knowledge to become a better sport climber. And Golden Gate takes a lot of sport climbing fitness. So it seemed like a good way to prepare.
How much harder is it to do Golden Gate in a day than Freerider?
Ohhh boyyy… It’s a lot harder. Freerider basically has two crux pitches, the Boulder Problem or Teflon Corner and then the Enduro Corner. The rest is pretty physical and demanding, but pretty locked-in crack climbing. So Golden Gate is a lot harder.
Any other big plans in the Valley? Must be getting pretty cold there no? Any storms yet?
It’s snowing and raining right now, but I’m hopeful for more good climbing days. I’m planning to stay until December 1. I’m supposed to hike in tomorrow to rap in and try the Salathé headwall. I probably won’t be able to really try the route until the spring though.
I’d really like to go do some bouldering and some single-pitch stuff to round out my season here. After that I’m going to Vegas to go sport climbing with Emily and Adrian Ballinger.
So Salathé is your next big goal on the Big Stone?
Salathé, definitely. I wanted to try it in the spring before Covid hit. Mark has been putting it in my ear for a while. Then maybe the Heart Route or El Corazon, or a Muir Wall variation. Who knows.
No matter what it is though, it’ll be something that doesn’t involve the Freerider or Golden Gate pitches at all!
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