I first met Hans Florine when I was 14 years old, competing in my first national climbing competition. Tall, lean and blonde, I’d only seen him on the pages of magazines. He climbed with decades of experience under his belt. With a larger than life public persona, I was more than intimidated to talk to him. After my dad’s encouragement to get an autograph, a kind and soft-spoken man greeted me.
Throughout the years I would run into Hans at competitions around the world and at local climbing gyms in the Bay Area. His kindness always out performed any preconceptions I had. As I started to drift away from competitions and into the wide world of outdoor climbing, I had my sights set on climbing The Nose of El Capitan. It’s the most famous rock climb in the world, and I wanted to experience it.
At that time, I believe Hans had climbed the Nose about 30 times. Now it’s over 90. I figured if there was anyone that could teach me about the route, who better than someone who could climb the route in his sleep?
We set out to climb the route in early March of 2000. I was 19 years old, fresh off a trip to Madagascar with Lynn Hill, Nancy Feagin and Kath Pyke. I felt like most 19 year olds do; I was ready to conquer the world. Hans’ amazing wife Jackie was the third person on our team. Along with being a world-class ultra runner, she was also a very accomplished climber (holding the speed record for a women’s solo on The Nose), and a top model before her retirement. To top it off, she was five months pregnant with their soon-to-be-daughter, Marianna.
I was definitely the Gumby of the team, a fact I was perfectly content with. I had no ambitions of speed, difficulty or proving anything otherwise; I just wanted to see the route first hand.
For anyone who has ever spent any time in Yosemite, it’ll be no surprise that I was completely flummoxed on pitch 1, a 5.10d. The holds were flaring, the rock was polished, yet I was climbing something that had first been climbed in mountain boots and gold line. Any minute amount of pride that I still had slowly fizzled and drained from my psyche. Clearly I must just need to warm up, I thought to myself.
As I started the second pitch, my pep talk didn’t last longer than three moves. Harder than the first pitch, I started to feel completely overwhelmed by my decision to climb The Nose. I stared up and saw nearly 3000 feet of granite staring back at me. I felt as if I had an endless ocean of rock to climb, and I was swimming up stream.
It’s no joke that Hans moves quickly. As I got to the top of the second pitch I wanted to talk to him about how intimidated I felt, and how perhaps I could just rap and he and Jackie could continue on. But, as soon as the first few words eeked out of my mouth, Hans was re-racked and halfway up the next pitch. Damn. He does move quickly, I thought to myself. Clearly I just needed to blurt it out quicker.
I suffered through the third pitch and started into my speech as quickly as I could, only to be flummoxed again. This continued pitch after pitch, slowly dwindling my hopes of bailing. The safety of the ground became further and further away from my grasp. I realized that there was going to be no way off of this dreadful cliff; I would have to suffer all the way to the summit.
As we entered The Stove Legs, I kept telling myself that I should have become a boulderer. The simplicity of one pair of shoes, a chalk bag, and lazy noon starts never sounded more appealing to me. Hans made climbing look easy and simple, but it never felt harder to me. Each time I looked down to place my foot, I was reminded of how high I was. Trees started to look like broccoli tops. Cars were smaller than my Christmas toy train. My hands were swollen from rope work, climbing and gear sorting.
My attitude started to change each subsequent day on the wall. I’m not sure if it was due to the summit becoming closer and closer, or because I started to embrace life on the wall. I started to notice the birds swooping in and around the cliff, the delicate plant life that somehow survives in the vertical realm, the unique perspective of Yosemite Valley several thousand feet off the ground.
After three days, we reached the summit and were shortly back in the comfort of Hans’ warm home. By that evening, I was already planning my next trip up El Cap. Funny how things can change so quickly, from only remembering and embracing the good times to learning from the challenging ones.
I’ve known Hans for almost twenty years now. I’ve seen his kids grow up, and watched as he’s remained on top of the sport for decade upon decade. Most recently, he reclaimed the speed record of The Nose of El Capitan, partnered with Alex Honnold. He’s held the record on and off for twenty years.