Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, made history Wednesday as the first people to successfully free-climb El Capitan, a 3,000-foot vertical rock formation in California’s Yosemite National Park.
Although people have tackled El Capitan before, it is still considered one of the most difficult climbs in the world.
It was even more challenging for Caldwell and Joregson, who used a method known as free-climbing, meaning the pair could not use ropes or other gear to assist in the climb. They used just their bare hands and feet (wearing rubber-soled shoes) to scale the exposed granite. Safety ropes and bolts were only used as a safety precaution to catch them in the event of a fall.
These two paragraphs from The New York Times perfectly summarise why the rock is notoriously hard to summit without special equipment. It’s very steep and there are not many cracks to grip:
El Capitan is the height of three Empire State Buildings stacked atop one another, but with many fewer, and smaller, things to hold on to on the way up. The climb was divided into 31 pitches, or sections, like way points on a dot-to-dot drawing. When one pitch was successfully navigated, the climbers stopped and prepared for the next. Much of the work was done in the cool of the evening, when hands would sweat less and the soles of their shoes had better grip.
Some pitches were well over 100 feet straight up the rock, while others were sideways shuffles to connect two vertical pitches. One required a dyno, a jump from one precarious hold to another. Falls were not unusual; Jorgeson needed seven days and 10 attempts to navigate the horizontal traverse of Pitch 15, unexpectedly slowing the expedition, which was blessed by an uncharacteristic stretch of dry weather.
This is also the first time climbers have attacked the wall all in one shot.
“Expert climbers have taken on this kind of difficulty before, but only in short bursts on boulders or in 100-foot sections,” SFGate said. “Never before has anyone climbed such difficult terrain consistently for two weeks on a big wall for as much as 3,000 feet.”
The Americans split the climb into 32 pitches, or segments, taking breaks to sleep in hanging tents.
On Jan. 2, Kevin Jorgeson posted on his Facebook page about a particularly hard pitch that took many attempts to finish: “Tonight, I sent the hardest pitch of my life and the hardest on the Dawn Wall!”
It took the duo 19 days to summit. They started the climb on Dec. 27 and reached the top around 3:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
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