Yosemite - A pair of Americans completed what had long been
considered the world's most difficult rock climb on Wednesday, using only their
hands and feet to scale a 3 000-foot (900-metre) vertical wall on El Capitan,
the forbidding granite pedestal in Yosemite National Park that has beckoned
adventurers for more than half a century.
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson 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 effort took 19 days as the two dealt with constant
falls and injuries. But their success completes a years-long dream that
bordered on obsession for the men.
Caldwell was the first to finish Wednesday afternoon.
He waited on a ledge for Jorgeson, who caught up minutes later. The two
embraced before Jorgeson pumped his arms in the air and clapped his hands above
his head. Then they sat down for a few moments, gathered their gear, changed
clothes and hiked to the nearby summit.
About 200 people were 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
In the meadow far below, another crowd broke into
cheers. Relatives of the men watched on telescopic monitors.
Caldwell's mother, Terry, said her son could have
reached the top several days ago, but he waited for his friend to make sure
they got there together.
"That's a deep, abiding, lifelong friendship,
built over suffering on the wall together over six years," she said.
President Barack Obama sent his congratulations from
the White House Twitter account, saying the men "remind us that anything
The trek up the world's largest granite monolith began
on December 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 inch by inch, 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
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
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, 36, and Jorgeson, 30, had help from a team
of supporters who brought food and supplies and shot video of the adventure.
The pair ate canned peaches and occasionally sipped
whiskey. 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
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.
On this try, as the world watched and followed on
Facebook and Twitter, Jorgeson was stalled in a lower section that took 11
attempts over seven days.
"As disappointing as this is, I'm learning new
levels of patience, perseverance and desire," Jorgeson posted online.
"I'm not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed."
Caldwell is no stranger to El Cap. He has free-climbed
11 different routes and was the first to make such ascents of the Dihedral Wall
and West Buttress. He was the third to free-climb the Nose on El Cap. He also
made his way up a challenging El Capitan route in fewer than 24 hours -
becoming only the second person to do so - only months after accidentally severing
his left index finger with a table saw in 2001.
Jorgeson has an impressive list of climbs in the USA,
Europe and South Africa. He works as a climbing instructor and co-founded an
advocacy group for climbers.
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 effort.