News that Lonnie Kauk has repeated Magic Line—an offset Yosemite seam first climbed his father Ron Kauk in 1996—might inspire deja vu: Didn’t he already repeat it? While Lonnie did make the second ascent in December 2016, the style in which he did so was similar to the style in which his father established it: with at least some pre-placed gear (known in climbing lingo these days as a pink-point). There was still room to raise the bar.
On Wednesday, November 14, Lonnie did just that. “Magic Line 14c The final chapter,” he posted on Instagram, an acknowledgement that he had made the first ever ascent without preplaced gear. He had climbed from the bottom to the top, fiddling in small pro throughout before finally clipped the anchors. Pure magic.
Located beside Vernal Falls in Yosemite, Magic Line was arguably Ron Kauk’s crowning achievement in a career at the leading edge of Yosemite climbing, along with names like John Bachar, John Long and Lynn Hill. He freed it using pre-placed gear in December 1996, just days before the New Year, and graded in 5.14b, making it the hardest single pitch in Yosemite.
And then, for twenty years, it sat unrepeated.
Lonnie, 34, has spent the past decade ticking off many of the testpieces created by his father, John Bachar and their contemporaries. In a 2012 interview, conducted by Hazel Findlay, with UKClimbing.com, Lonnie explained his path in climbing and how he has sought out his father’s routes along the way:
I think its cool to have a father like him and what he has accomplished in Yosemite with climbing but he didn’t push me to climb at all, or be what I am today. I just sat back and watched the time go by, in middle school I was dreaming, ‘should I be a pro skateboarder or snowboarder?’ But I never thought to be a climber because I didn’t know anything about it other than what I had seen as a kid. We saw dad climb on the videos like Masters of Stone, he was more like a dissident hero. When I found climbing for myself, I felt something inside; it felt like it was in my blood to do this. Whether it’s hard climbing or not, it’s in my soul and I can feel it every time I go climbing. Now I’ve climbed a bunch of his routes like Crossroads, 13d, Peace, 13c, Sacred Fire, 13a, Thriller, V10, Midnight Lightning, V8. Pretty cool to think that when I was growing up I was looking at photos of all these routes and I wasn’t even climbing at the time.
Magic Line was always that next level though. While those other lines Lonnie mentions had seen repeats, Magic Line had not. Almost 20 years to the day after his father’s first ascent, Lonnie repeated Magic Line (with at least some preplaced gear) on December 30, 2016. His father belayed him on the actual send.
But Magic Line was still incomplete in a certain sense: it awaited a purely traditional redpoint ascent. Nearly two years after he clipped the anchors for the first time, Lonnie did so again and closed the book on the route. With Lonnie’s improvement in style also comes a bump in the grade; his suggestion of 5.14c puts Magic Line right up there with Meltdown as one of the two hardest single-pitch routes in Yosemite. Meltdown—discovered and equipped with anchors by Ron Kauk, and first freed by Beth Rodden in 2008—also just received a second ascent, by Carlo Traversi, last week.
Beyond Magic Line and the routes mentioned above, Lonnie has become known as one of the preeminent free soloists and highball boulderers. In the latter category, he has climbed several of the most imposing lines in the Buttermilks, Bishop, California, including Ambrosia (V11) and Too Big to Flail (V10). His was the second ascent of the latter problem. He is also a professional snowboarder.
Lonnie Kauk making the second ascent of Too Big to Flail, Buttermilks, Bishop, California