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The Final Frontier

By James Lucas

Final Frontier_Schaefer_1

I screamed at the granite wall. The sound bounced off Yosemite’s Fifi Buttress and drowned into the roar of Bridalveil Falls. I lowered to the belay, where Katie stood at a small stance. I was six inches from a free ascent. It felt like six miles. I’d cleaned the route. Pulled out old gear. Placed bolts. Climbed on the pitches a ton. I’d trained hard. I stopped sleeping. Would the work ever pan out?

Dan McDevitt established The Final Frontier, a Grade V 5.7 A3 route in 1999 with Sue McDevitt, Brittany Griffith and Sue’s sister Penny Black. He climbed the route again with Jim Karn, the first American to win a World Cup in climbing and America’s best sport climber in the ’80s. While they were climbing, Jim Karn told Dan, “It’ll go free.”

[Above: Mikey Schaefer photo of me climbing the penultimate arch pitch.]


The Final Frontier on Fifi Buttress. Photos by James Lucas (unless otherwise noted)

Last spring, Lucho Rivera freed Dan McDevitt’s Romulan Warbird. I climbed a few times with him while he was working on the first free ascent of the 5.12 route. Gabe Mange, an El Portal climber, had ropes on the Final Frontier. Mange wanted to repeat The Final Frontier and worked his way up the route 200 feet left of Romulan Warbird, fixing lines as he went. One day, instead of climbing with Lucho, I jumared 600 feet up The Final Frontier. Dan mentioned Jim’s comment to me. The route looked like it would go but it would be a lot of work.


Corner 1

Nik works the 5.12+ Lower Corner Pitch.


Fifi Crux 2

Nik finishes up the 5.13 traverse.


“This route was a savior and a gift for me,” Nik Berry said. In April, Nik and I started up the Dihedral Wall on El Capitan to scope a free ascent. After two pitches, I scanned my phone and realized the wall was closed for peregrines. We bailed. Remembering The Final Frontier, Nik and I hiked to Fifi Buttress. Gabe’s lines still hung off the 900-foot wall. We jumared the route and examined the free line. Nik had an immense amount of psyche from listening to Katy Perry all morning and a limited amount of time in Yosemite. “The next day, we started to put all our energy in