el cap climbing
(Photo/Soline Kentzel)

Seemingly Impossible: Woman Frees El Cap 3 Months After Learning to Crack Climb

A lot of climbers dream of sending on ‘The Big Stone’ as soon as they throw their first hand jam. For one woman, the dream became reality at lightspeed.

This winter, Soline Kentzel and Sébastien Berthe sailed from Europe to North America to climb at Yosemite. Two months later, Kentzel, 21, may have become the youngest woman to free climb El Capitan.


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A post shared by Soline (@solinekentzel)

By Berthe’s count and according to his assessment, Kentzel could “barely reach the anchor of some 5.8s shortly before the trip.

Got whiplash? We would, too — but because nobody we know has ever progressed in trad climbing nearly as fast as Kentzel apparently has, we don’t know what it feels like.

Kentzel and Berthe summitted the Captain in late April, after 9 days on “Golden Gate” (5.13a, 36 pitches). Berthe, who had just admitted defeat on “The Dawn Wall” after an exhaustive effort, both supported Kentzel on the send and free climbed the route himself.

During the long stay in the vertical, the two faced nasty weather, falling ice, and the challenges of the route itself — although “Golden Gate” is the same grade as “Freerider,” it’s got a reputation for being significantly more sustained and harder overall.

Kentzel, though, wouldn’t necessarily know the difference. How could you tell, if the bulk of your brief previous experience added up to struggling up 5.8 cracks?

Regardless, she became the sixth woman to free climb “Golden Gate,” and maybe the youngest ever to free climb El Cap at 21.

el capitan
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Berthe’s social media ascent report rings with not only amazement at his partner’s accomplishments but also pride in her dedication.

“From the moment we set sail with the boat until last week, the level of dedication, commitment and perseverance she brought into the whole process of improving and discovering trad and crack climbing is huge. It has been truly inspiring to witness her path,” he wrote.


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A post shared by Sébastien Berthe (@sebertheclimber)

The story of the send reflects Kentzel’s committed attitude. Between several rainy, snowy forced-rest days, she battled through the route’s cruxes.

Despite multiple falls on many of the route’s hardest pitches, she eventually resolved each one. It’s worth noting that she was already a solid, experienced sport climber — her evident acuity at working cruxes appears to have translated well to big wall climbing.

“On day 9, she worked the a5 traverse and then sent it 2 tries after in a pumpy battle,” Berthe reported. “We ran to the summit the same afternoon!”

There’s no indication of what’s next for Kentzel and Berthe, but they’ve both earned some time to bask in the glow. While they do so, they can catch up on their messages from Yosemite climbing legends like Tommy Caldwell and Thomas Huber — they’ve got no shortage of them in their Instagram inboxes.

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Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson is a staff writer at GearJunkie, and several other All Gear websites.

He has been writing about climbing, cycling, running, wildlife, outdoor policy, the outdoor industry, vehicles, and more for 2 years. Prior to GearJunkie, he owned and operated his own business before freelancing at GearHungry. Based in Austin, Texas, Anderson loves to climb, boulder, road bike, trail run, and frequent local watering holes (of both varieties).