Making History: First Free Climb of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall

Andrew Bisharat in National Geographic:

Elcapitan-finish-03_adapt_1190_1Nineteen days after they set out to achieve one of climbing's most difficult challenges, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the summit of the 3,000-foot rock known as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, marking the first free ascent of a notoriously difficult section called the Dawn Wall. Caldwell and Jorgeson reached the summit just after 6:00 p.m. EST, where a contingent of 40 friends and family members, plus a group of reporters, stood ready to greet them, having arrived via an eight-mile (13-kilometer) hike around the backside of the mountain. The crowd had already begun toasting the duo's accomplishment with champagne. (See pictures from the photographer who is documenting Caldwell's and Jorgeson's attempt to make history.) The ascent represents the realization of Caldwell's vision to find a way to free climb the Dawn Wall—widely considered too steep and too difficult for free climbing—a dream that began seven years ago, when Caldwell began exploring this historic granite face.

…Free climbing means using one's hands and feet to ascend a rock's natural features, employing ropes and other gear only to stop a fall. At roughly 3,000 feet (915 meters) tall, the Dawn Wall comprises 32 “pitches”—or 32 rope-lengths—of climbing. Caldwell's and Jorgeson's goal was to free climb all 32 pitches—without falling and without returning to the ground in between. If one of them fell while attempting a pitch, he would have to try that individual pitch from its beginning again. (Read about Jorgeson's attempts to catch up to Caldwell.) They began their ascent on December 27, and committed to living up on the side of El Cap for as long as it took each of them to free climb every pitch in succession. Their base camp consisted of three portaledges—each one a six-foot by four-foot (2-meter by 1-meter) platform with tent fly, suspended by nylon straps and hanging from bolts in the sheer granite wall. For breakfast they ate whole-wheat bagels topped with cream cheese, red bell pepper, cucumber, and salami or salmon. At night, they sipped whiskey. Every few days, one of the friends waiting on the ground ascended 1,200 feet (366 meters) of rope to bring the team a new cache of supplies and water.

More here.