Miška Izakovičová manages a free ascent of the Golden Gate big wall route

34-year-old Slovakian Miška Izakovičová free climbs Golden Gate on El Capitan. The line was freed in 2000 by Thomas and Alex Huber and over the years has become a big wall classic in the Yosemite Valley.

An experience report by Miška Izakovičová

The Yosemite Valley is one of my favorite places in the world and climbing El Capitan has been my dream since I started climbing. After climbing Freerider in 2018, I set my eyes on another route: Golden Gate.

I tried it briefly in 2019, but at the time it was too difficult for me and climbing it felt absolutely impossible.

I returned to the valley last year, but after a few years off everything felt so big and scary. I decided to try the route and it went surprisingly well. I felt like I might have a chance of doing it one day, but it still felt too hard.

I couldn't make the moves on the Move pitch and the rest of the route felt difficult even though I was able to climb most of the pitches. I knew I wanted to come back, but stronger and better prepared.

After Freerider, Golden Gate is the second big wall route that Miška Izakovičová was able to climb freely.
After Freerider, Golden Gate is the second big wall route that Miška Izakovičová was able to climb freely.

Compulsory break due to injury

Unfortunately, sometimes things don't work out the way you expect. In the spring I injured my ankle and had to miss climbing and even hiking for almost three months. I thought it unlikely that I would climb the route this year.

But the fall season was going really well for me back home, so I decided to come back to the valley and give it a try. I felt different than I did a year ago, I was very motivated, confident and not afraid at all.

From day one I climbed better and felt stronger than ever. After three weeks in the Valley, everything came together and I was finally able to venture onto the wall.

The right rope partner

I climbed with my friend Karel from the Czech Republic. He decided to support my dream and I'm very happy about that because he was exactly the partner I needed up there.

We hauled to the Heart Ledges, rested, and then launched from the ground. The first day went very well, I had a really good flow and we made it to Hollow Flake Ledge at sunset.

Bivy on the Tower to the People
Miška Izakovičová with her rope partner Karel. Photo: Tim Greenwood

Brilliant start

On the second day we climbed up to the downclimb (5.13a), the first of four key pitches on the route. I wanted to try it early in the morning the next day before the sun hits the wall.

I figured it would take me some time to climb the pitch, so we figured we'd stay here at least another night. But the reality was different because I managed the pitch on the second attempt and we were back at our camp by 8am and decided to continue climbing.

The plan was to climb up to the Tower to the People and set up camp there. That day I didn't really try Move Pitch (5.13a), the second key pitch, as we climbed it in the middle of the day when it was too hot for serious attempts. We reached the tower on the evening of Day 3, and since I was climbing every pitch and hauling most of the route, I was pretty exhausted.

After finally finding the right beta after a long time of trying, the Slovakian was able to get through the move pitch straight away. Photo: William Fazio
After finally finding the right beta after a long time of trying, the Slovakian was able to get through the move pitch straight away. Photo: William Fazio

Finding the right beta

The next morning we slept in, I had no energy to try out the move pitch. We spent most of the day chilling at the tower, eating and drinking lots of water.

After sunset we dropped down to the Move Pitch and I started attempting the crux. At first it felt impossible, I spent over an hour trying at least ten different options but none of them felt remotely good.

Afterwards, I returned to the stand to rest. I was pretty sad, I was hoping there would be at least some progress compared to last year, but the rest of the route felt harder and I still couldn't make those moves.

After the break I tried one last beta I could think of and much to my surprise I managed the boulder, I dropped down and did it again. Suddenly I was able to do it, I was just too tired to seriously attempt a red dot that evening.

We jumarted back to our portaledge and as I fell asleep I climbed the boulder at least 20 times in my head.

The next morning we returned and I climbed the pitch on the first attempt. The conditions for climbing that day were terrible, the sun was very strong and it was too hot for difficult climbing.

Miška Izakovičová gets ready for the next difficult pitch: The Golden Desert. Photo: Jonah Philips
Miška Izakovičová gets ready for the next difficult pitch: The Golden Desert. Photo: Jonah Philips 

Fall with consequences

So I waited until sunset again to try the next key pitch, The Golden Desert (5.13a). I thought that this pitch would be easy to climb and that I would be able to score it in the evening.

Maybe I underestimated them, or maybe I just remembered them as not being that difficult, but I really struggled. On my first attempt I made a pretty long takeoff when I fell while clipping and even ripped a safety out from under me.

For a second I thought I was going to land on the portaledge, but luckily I stopped before then.

On my second attempt, I slipped again as I tried to steady myself in the shallow corner. My right foot scrapes the rock as I fall, injuring my already damaged ankle.

I had enough for that night, my ankle hurt and I didn't want to climb anymore. I felt really bad, I thought it might be over for me.

Miška Izakovičová climbs the difficult Golden Desert pitch. Photo: Jonah Philips
Miška Izakovičová climbs the difficult Golden Desert pitch. Photo: Jonah Philips 

Moral rock bottom

When I woke up the next morning my ankle was swollen, slightly bruised and aching, but I was determined to give climbing a try. I had to do it! It was supposed to be our second to last day on the wall.

We only had two days until the 4 day storm and we needed to reach the summit before the rain. My first attempt in the morning at Golden Desert was very shaky, I was afraid of falling and my ankle was quite stiff and painful and I only tried the crux.

I rappelled down and tried again. I fell three more times that morning and was completely exhausted and couldn't try anymore. I knew I didn't have much time left, so I decided to attempt the A5 Traverse (5.13a), the final crux pitch.

I tried it twice that day but I really struggled, it was already in the sun and it seemed impossible for me to climb it. Afterwards I was pretty exhausted and had no skin left on my fingertips, so I decided to call it a day and went back to the portaledge.

in Portaledge
A well-rehearsed team: Miška and Karel

Time is running out

At this point I thought I wouldn't be able to climb the route anymore, we only had one day left and we still had to get to the summit.

I didn't climb that evening and decided to give Golden Desert and the A5 Traverse another try the next morning. I wanted to give it my all, even if it felt unlikely that I would make it.

Fight to the last

On my last morning on the wall I started with Golden Desert and from the first few hits I felt much better than before. I was able to give it my all and climb the pitch. There was one last crux pitch left and I knew I probably only had one attempt.

I don't think I've ever fought as hard on a pitch as I did in this attempt on the A5 Traverse. Halfway up the rope I was in danger of falling with every single pull, I had cramps in my forearms, but somehow I refused to let go and pulled through.

I couldn't believe what had just happened. I didn't want to celebrate too much as there were still 5 pitches to the summit, but I knew that wouldn't stop me from climbing the route.

Golden Gate is by far the hardest thing I've ever climbed, and I really appreciate this climb because I climbed the route ground-up and climbed and free climbed every single pitch.

This was exactly the kind of climb I dreamed of and I still can't believe it happened.

That might interest you

Do you like our climbing magazine? When launching the climbing magazine Lacrux, we decided not to introduce a paywall because we want to provide as many like-minded people as possible with news from the climbing scene.

In order to be more independent of advertising revenue in the future and to provide you with even more and better content, we need your support.

Therefore: Help and support our magazine with a small contribution. Naturally you benefit multiple times. How? You will find out here.

+ + +

Credits: Cover picture Jonah Philips 

News

Adam Ondra's ride on the wave of success

Successful climbing trip: After climbing Bon Voyage, Adam Ondra scores more hard routes on the way home.

Watch Reel Rock Episode Sleeping Lion with Chris Sharma for free

Accompany Chris Sharma in his mega project Sleeping Lion from the countless attempts at project planning to the final implementation.

Next Level: This is how you crack the 7th degree

Get ahead where there are a lot of climbers queuing: With these professional tips you can make the jump to the 7th degree.

Stefano Ghisolfi climbs the legendary Action Directe (9a) | Video

First 9a in the world: With Action Directe, Stefano Ghisolfi repeated one of the most iconic lines in the world last fall.

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter now and stay up to date.

Adam Ondra's ride on the wave of success

Successful climbing trip: After climbing Bon Voyage, Adam Ondra scores more hard routes on the way home.

Watch Reel Rock Episode Sleeping Lion with Chris Sharma for free

Accompany Chris Sharma in his mega project Sleeping Lion from the countless attempts at project planning to the final implementation.

Next Level: This is how you crack the 7th degree

Get ahead where there are a lot of climbers queuing: With these professional tips you can make the jump to the 7th degree.