Yosemite: Thomas’s Fall

June 23rd, 2006

THURSDAY JUNE 22, 2006 – YOSEMITE 11.30 in the a.m. and it’s baking out in the valley but here, in the fern filled grotto beneath a house size boulder, it’s cool. Seven of us are hiding in its shaded protection as the rest of the film crew trundles rocks in the gully above. (El Cap at left, Bridlevail Falls at right, Halfdome in the center / Thomas Huber at right)

(Alexander Huber) I am covering a German and Austrian film crew doing a documentary on the Huber brothers, Alexander and Thomas, who are two of the fastest, most skilled rock climbers in the world. The German brothers are here to break the speed record on the Nose, a 3000 foot rock route up the sweeping prow of El Capitan.

(The Nose of El Capitan) Now one of the most celebrated climbs in the world, in 1958 the first ascent was done in 45 days over the course of 18 months. Today most climbers take three days; many do it in one. Two weeks ago the brothers made it in 3 hrs 10 min. The record stands at 2 hrs 48 min.

Five days ago, on Saturday, they were on track to beat the record, running at one hour, ten minutes above the Great Roof. But not long after, in the dihedrals, Thomas fell. He plummeted 10 meters (30 feet) before hitting a small ledge with his butt. He bounced off for another several meters before his brother arrested the fall with the rope.

Down in El Capitan meadows the director of photography, Wolfgang Thaler, and every one in the crew not on the wall were watching the tiny figures. Through the radio mikes they heard Alexander scream “FUCK!”

Thomas was silent.

(Writer Christine Kruttschnitt in our boulder hideout) Today we are working with Alex in the approach gully for Higher Cathedral Rock; last year Alex was making the approach on low fifth class terrain when a hold broke. He fell, tumbling down steep slab for 20 meters (60 feet) before landing on his feet, uninjured. Thomas was not so fortunate this year as he is limping, a massive hematoma discoloring his right buttock. But both were lucky; both are alive.

(Film crew at dinner) So the film crew changes its plans on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, trying to accommodate Thomas’s recuperation while still staying on the shooting schedule. In the evenings there are hours of discussions about rigging, who’s going to shoot what, where the best angles will be, and which of the ‘monkeys’ (Valley Rats or climbing bums) will run support. Since the Huber’s are well known and because the film team has made every effort to engage the climbing community, I’ve been exposed to a veritable who’s who in climbing. I’m also seeing, for the first time with a climber’s eyes, some of the most hallowed places of American climbing history.

In summary? Holy shit. There’s a lot of rock here.

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