2 men reach top of Yosemite’s El Capitan in historic climb

2 men reach top of Yosemite’s El Capitan in historic climb
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2 men reach top of Yosemite’s El Capitan in historic climb
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2 men reach top of Yosemite’s El Capitan in historic climb
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Updated 15 January 2015

2 men reach top of Yosemite’s El Capitan in historic climb

2 men reach top of Yosemite’s El Capitan in historic climb

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California: Years of practice, failed attempts and 19 grueling days of scaling by their fingertips have culminated in success for two American rock climbers who completed the first free climb of the 3,000-foot (900-meter) vertical wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Tommy Caldwell was first to pull himself atop the ledge, capping what has long been considered the world’s most difficult rock climb. He was followed minutes later by Kevin Jorgeson.
The two longtime friends embraced, and then Jorgeson pumped his arm in the air and clapped his hands above his head.
“That’s a deep, abiding, lifelong friendship, built over suffering on the wall together over six years,” said Caldwell’s mother, Terry, among some 200 people thousands of meters below in the valley floor who broke into cheers.
She said her son could have reached the top several days ago, but he waited for his friend to make sure they made it together.
The pair captivated Americans and world through social media, livestreamed video coverage while documentary filmmakers dangled from ropes capturing each move.
Caldwell, 36, and Jorgeson, 30, became the first to free-climb the rock formation’s Dawn Wall, a feat that many had considered impossible. They used ropes and safety harnesses to catch themselves in case of a fall, but relied entirely on their own strength and dexterity to ascend by grasping cracks as thin as razor blades and as small as dimes.
The two dealt with constant falls and injuries. But their success completes a yearslong dream that bordered on obsession for the men.
At the top another crowd was waiting for them, including Caldwell’s wife and Jorgeson’s girlfriend, who welcomed them to the top with hugs and kisses. It will take the pair two to three hours to hike down the mountain.
President Barack Obama sent his congratulations from the White House Twitter account, saying the men “remind us that anything is possible.”
The trek up the world’s largest granite monolith began Dec. 27. Caldwell and Jorgeson lived on the wall itself, eating and sleeping in tents fastened to the rock thousands of feet above the ground and battling painful cuts to their fingertips much of the way.
Free-climbers do not pull themselves up with cables or use chisels to carve out handholds. Instead, they climb bit by bit, wedging their fingers and feet into tiny crevices or gripping sharp, thin projections of rock. In photographs, the two appeared at times like Spider-Man, with arms and legs splayed across the pale stone that has been described as smooth as a bedroom wall.
Both men needed to take rest days to heal. They used tape and even superglue to help protect their raw skin. At one point, Caldwell set an alarm to wake him every few hours to apply a special lotion to his throbbing hands.
They also endured physical punishment whenever their grip slipped, pitching them into long, swinging falls that left them bouncing off the rock face. The tumbles, which they called “taking a whipper,” ended with startling jolts from their safety ropes.
Caldwell and Jorgeson had help from a team of supporters who brought food and supplies and shot video of the adventure.
The pair ate canned peaches. They watched their urine evaporate into the thin, dry air and handed toilet sacks, called “wag bags,” to helpers who disposed of them.
There are about 100 routes up the rock known among climbers as “El Cap,” and many have made it to the top, the first in 1958. Even the Dawn Wall had been scaled. Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy) made it up in 1970, using climbing ropes and countless rivets over 27 days.
No one, however, had ever made it to the summit in one continuous free-climb — until now.
“He doesn’t understand the magnitude of the accomplishment and the excitement generated,” said Caldwell’s father, Mike Caldwell.
The pioneering ascent comes after five years of training and failed attempts for both men. They only got about a third of the way up in 2010 when they were turned back by storms. A year later, Jorgeson fell and broke an ankle in another attempt. Since then, each has spent time on the rock practicing and mapping out strategy.
John Long, the first person to climb up El Capitan in one day in 1975, said it was almost inconceivable that anyone could do something as “continuously difficult” as Caldwell and Jorgeson’s free-climb.