Speed Series Part IV: Hans Florine

Posted on: March 30, 2011


Hans Florine prepares for a speed-ascent of The Nose, El Capitan. Florine has held the speed record seven times and has climbed the route 81 times. [Photo] Paul Hara

Outdoors enthusiasts love to quantify their pursuits. Kayakers measure difficulty with a I-VI class system; BASE jumpers use meters and seconds; even skiers have the D System for quantifying risk, difficulty and length. But no outdoors-person loves to quantify his or her feats more than climbers. From length and commitment to medium and style, climbers have a classification for everything. The growing popularity of speed climbing has brought to the forefront an entirely different way to quantify our sport: time.

Recently, we at Alpinist picked the brains of the speediest climbers to learn more about speed climbing and how it fits into our grade-crazy community.

This week, we sat down with Hans Florine, a Yosemite veteran who holds numerous speed records in the Valley. Florine first broke The Nose speed record in 1990, with a time of 8 hours and 5 minutes. In total, he has held the record seven times and has climbed the route 81 times.

Please tell me about your experience speed climbing in the Valley.

In general, I think we may have [speed climbed] before we called it that. We did it because we liked getting in lots of climbing. That started with zipping up there on weekends from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. We were in college, and we wanted to get in as much climbing as we could before classes on Monday. It wasn't like, "Let's go try and set some sort of record." It was like, "We have a limited about of time because we have to get back for classes, so let's just get in as much climbing as we can." We never timed how long it took to do a route.

When and why did you start timing your climbs? Had official time records been kept in Yosemite before that?

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I think the very first time was the very first time I climbed with [Steve] Schneider in 1990. There were records before that. People like Dave Bengston and Steve Gerberding had been doing single pushes on routes. There was a loose collection of climbing records. I can't even recall... but it was kind of word-of-mouth I think. That was prior to Internet stuff.

What interested you about speed climbing?

Before I went up The Nose with Steve, the only thing I knew of big-wall climbing was carrying an 80- or 100-pound haul bag to the base—vertical camping. You're exhausted just getting to the base of the route. I wasn't so game for that. After doing it once I was like "I'm good with sport climbing or single-pitch trad if I have to deal with this huge haul bag and stuff."

Obviously big-wall climbing grew on you a bit. You've been doing it for quite some time now.

Yeah. Once I had unlocked that gem—you could be up on El Cap with a 10-pound pack on your back instead of an 80-pound. My eyebrows rose up and it was like "Oh we can climb all these big routes here—well, the easy ones at first—in a single push and be back at your car or campsite that night."

Have you done much speed climbing outside the Valley?

Certainly on competition routes. The one time I went to Patagonia I did it, but down there it was sort of a necessity rather than break some record or another. There the driving force was that you have a window of weather and if you don't go quick enough then you fail.

Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama celebrate on the summit of El Capitan on October 28, 2008, having completed the fastest ascent of The Nose with a time of 2:37:05. Two years later, Sean Leary and Dean Potter bested their time by 20 seconds to break the speed record. Read an interview with Leary and Potter in Part II of the Speed Series. [Photo] Paul Hara

Where is the line, or is there a line between alpine climbing and speed climbing? How would you distinguish those two?

[Mark] Twight's got that line in his book [Extreme Alpinism] a hundred times: "speed equals success." You just have to move fast in the alpine environment. For example, Alex Lowe was the epitome of being super competitive. He'd do pull-ups and those Russian speed climbing/mountaineering races and all that stuff. But he's a super friendly, happy-go-lucky guy who was exceptional at alpinism because he knew how to do things efficiently, effectively and all that. So speed climbing and alpinism are mutually agreeable.

What is climbing "about" and how does speed climbing fit into that philosophy?

Your question is two-fold: Is it good for climbing? And what is climbing?

I think climbing is a gazillion different things. It's applied gymnastics. It's kind of like the comedian who has some canned joke that he can play. But ad-libbing is going out and onsighting—whether it be sport climbing or alpine routes or bouldering. It's going out there and applying all the tools you have to a problem.

Addressing it as a physical exercise, it's one of the only sports that uses the tip of your toes to the tip of your hands to your head. Nothing else really does that.

To answer your first question, "yes," speed climbing is good for climbing... I think it's a super objective way to measure how you're improving. And I do it with hard sport climbing—looking at what kind of mileage of 5.7s I can do, maybe outside or maybe in the gym. In the gym I can check off how many 10s, 11s, 12s, 13s I can do in three or four hours and I can measure that against what I did months ago or in the future and it's a totally cool, objective tool to see where my climbing fitness level is.

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