Honnold, Caldwell’s Mega-Linkup Finally Repeated: 58 Hours, $60 Worth of Granola Bars

Climbing
honnold caldwell cdul first repeat
Ben Wilbur and John Ebers re-rack during the first repeat of Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold's epic linkup. Photo: Jack Plantz

Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell’s Continental Divide Ultimate Linkup (CUDL) in Colorado is a beast: 56km of terrain, 6,000m of elevation, 17 peaks, and 11 alpine rock routes graded 5.6-5.11, totaling 65 pitches.

Rock climbing’s golden boys first did the CUDL in July 2020; Ben Wilbur and John Ebers claimed its first repeat this August.

The task took the blazingly speedy Honnold and Caldwell 36 hours. While that may not seem painfully long considering the work involved, it proposes a significant challenge to any other team. Honnold and Caldwell are arguably the fastest roped team in the world, holding speed records on multiple routes, including The Nose of El Cap.

No wonder, then, that it took the accomplished Wilber and Ebers three days. After the first CDUL, Caldwell called the objective a “death march” and told Climbing Magazine that he thought endurance athletes would likely repeat it, running between features.

Wilbur and Ebers’ ascent confirmed Caldwell’s proposal.

The ‘Ultimate Linkup’: what it takes

“The mentality of ultra running is critical,” Wilbur told Climbing. “You need to be able to go for a really long time without stopping. But you also need to be climbing decently well. Routes like Birds of Fire…it’s not easy. Mid 5.11, runout, a little bit scary. [And] to link all this stuff up you need to be able to simul-climb.”

honnold and caldwell cdul first repeat

The tiny figures of Wilbur and Ebers simul-climb on the CDUL. Photo: Jack Plantz

The team simul-climbed plenty, committing to the method by chopping their brand new 70m tagline down to 45m. They first tried the linkup in August 2020 but fell short after getting mentally and emotionally burned out by the runouts on the aforementioned Birds of Fire. This time, they kept going. How? Maybe simply on the strength of energy bars.

“We invested in this linkup. I bought like $60 worth of granola bars,” Wilbur quipped.

Wilbur nearly fainted from fatigue on one exposed ridge

Jokes aside, the team went into the outing expecting a fight and got one. The adventure started at 3:30 am on August 28 at the Longs Peak Ranger Station. Though they punched out a successful first day, summiting seven out of the CDUL’s 17 required formations, they flagged late. Wilbur nearly passed out on an exposed ridgeline, and their one-person resupply team failed to meet them at their rendezvous point.

The Petit Grepon, the Saber, and the Sharkstooth (left to right) in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo: Krittiya Muenjorn

The mistake could have been critical — it left the team short of sleeping bags and food — but they stoically pressed on.

“I think the only reason I can do things [like the CDUL] is [because] I’m the only one stubborn enough to keep up with John,” Wilbur said.

At this point, it’s worth noting that Wilbur and Ebers climb superlatively well, both individually and as a team. Ebers has sent the hardest route on The Diamond, The Dunn-Westbay Direct (IV, 5.14-). Wilbur has redpointed the notoriously difficult The Honeymoon is Over (5.13c) on the same face. Together, they own the speed record on the exposed, technical The Naked Edge (5.11b, 460 ft.) in Eldorado Canyon.

honnold caldwell continental divide ultimate linkup first repeat

The Diamond, Longs Peak, Colorado. Photo: Shutterstock

The two leaned into their experience and camaraderie as the outing entered its second day. And then its third.

Work, exhaustion, triumph, and work again

With characteristic frankness, Honnold told Climbing, “I’m impressed that they stuck with it for so long. Tommy and I did something like 36 hours, and it felt long and kind of heinous by the end. Going longer must have been tough.”

Wilbur and Ebers kept cranking out the kilometres and ascents. Finally, they got an overdue resupply. The final task was to top out Sharkstooth (3,850m) via the Northeast Ridge (II, 5.6). On August 30, at 1:30 pm, they finished the linkup for its first repeat. Unfortunately, their labors were not over yet.

“We both had to work the next day, which was rough,” Ebers said.

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About the Author

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.

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Jake
Jake
1 month ago

Congrats boys! Great to see some Jack Plantz photos in here!

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Eric Thompson
1 month ago

WOW!!!

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Don Paul
Don Paul
1 month ago

A grand tour of RMNP, just doing those routes one at a time.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Paul

1. Flying Buttress (5.9), Mount Meeker 
2. Casual Route (10-), The Diamond, Longs Peak
3. Pagoda
4. The Barb (5.10), Spearhead
5. Birds of Fire (5.11a). Chief’s Head 
6. Central Ramp (5.8), Mount Alice 
7. Arrowplane (5.11a). Arrowhead
8. McHenry
9. Powell
10. Taylor
11. South Face (5.8), The Petit Grepon
12. SW Corner (5.10b), The Saber [Ed. Honnold wrote Spearhead, but The Saber seems more likely given the location.]
13. Sharkstooth (5.6)
14. Otis
15. Culp-Bossier (5.8+), Hallet Peak
16. Flattop
17. Ptarmigan
18. and finally the cool crack on Notchtop (5.9)

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