First to the Gate

Leilani Labong      November 30, 2006


Eight years ago, Jacqueline Florine stood in the meadow at the base of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, staring up at its landmark 7,569-foot monolith. The former model had scaled El Cap numerous times before using various routes, but that day she thought, Maybe “the Nose”—the most well-known route—could stand to be conquered by a very pretty girl.

If she were successful, she would be the first woman to complete a solo climb on that route. “Soloing the nose is the ultimate statement of competency,” says the former New Yorker and current East Bay resident, whose face graced the covers of Vogue and Glamour in the ’80s. “I don’t know about you, but I get such joy in becoming competent!”
 Florine began her ascent on a sunny day in June 2002, carrying more than 70 pounds of gear, including enough water to last five days. She claims that her training regimen—which involved climbing other routes on El Cap during stormy weather—was more difficult than actually traversing the Nose, but she does bow down to one passage on the route called Texas Flake Chimney.
“You climb 50 feet without any protection,” says the 40-something mother of two. “There’s nothing to keep you from hitting the rock below. You’re always managing risk, making sure you don’t end up as paste on the ground for someone to clean up.”

Florine completed her solo mission in an impressive four and a half days. But how’s this for a little perspective: Her husband, speed climber Hans Florine—the current speed-record holder on the Nose—completed the route in two hours and 48 minutes with Yuji Hirayama in 2002.

“Hans challenges me to think in terms of what I’ve accomplished, instead of becoming overwhelmed by what I haven’t,” says Florine, who is also the first woman to climb all 14 of California’s 14,000-foot peaks in one continuous push (nine days, 12 hours and 17 minutes).

“I’m not an extraordinary athlete,” says Florine. “I’m just average. But I figure out the stuff no other women have done, and then I go for it.” —Leilani Labong

2009 Jacqueline Florine

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