Update, 3:30 p.m. Jan. 14: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed their historic 19-day climb of El Capitan's Dawn Wall around 3:20 p.m. today.
It is being celebrated by many as the completion of the world's most difficult rock climb. No one had made it to the summit in one continuous free climb -- until now.
Caldwell led the final pitch, raising his arms in triumph after he hoisted himself up the final step. But before celebrations began in earnest, Caldwell clipped in to wait for Jorgeson to make his final ascent. The two were greeted at the top by about 40 friends and relatives.
The climbers started their journey scaling El Capitan's Dawn Wall on Dec. 27.
Update, 2:15 p.m., Jan 14:
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson are making the final push to the summit of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park today. If all goes as expected, the duo will complete the final pitch this afternoon, making them the first in the world to use only their hands and feet to scale the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall.
A group, including the climbers' family members and the media, has assembled at the top of the mountain. The New York Times described the scene:
The top of El Capitan is not flat, so there will be no cartoonlike arrival — no hand appearing on the ledge from the abyss below. The vertical wall has no sharp edge at the top, but gives way to a steep slab of granite, sprinkled with crumbling rocks and small pines and shrubs. A dropped ball 100 yards from the cliff would bounce and roll downhill and then plunge out of sight. The climbers are expected to finish the last pitch and perhaps scramble or crawl the last few feet to their awaiting friends and families.
Watch a live feed of the climb.
When you're thinking about hair-raising danger, coming to work in a public media newsroom probably ranks right up there near the top of your list. Your Clipper Card could fail, you might meet someone rude on BART, and when you get to work it's possible that none of your co-workers will have brought in fresh baked goods.
But here's something that looks even hairier than surfing the Web, goofing around with HTML tags and applying the fine points of Associated Press style to public policy blog posts:
Yeah. That's a photograph of climber Kevin Jorgeson about 1,200 feet up the granite face of Yosemite's El Capitan a couple nights ago. He posted the photo, by mountaineering photojournalist Corey Rich, as part of his online account of a historic climb of Yosemite's El Capitan.
To anyone firmly earthbound, El Capitan is El Capitan, a landmark granite wall that rises more than 3,000 feet from the floor of Yosemite Valley. But Jorgeson and his climbing partner, Tommy Caldwell, are not just climbing El Capitan -- it's a climbing mecca that sees hundreds of ascents each year -- but doing a free climb up what Adventure Journal describes as "the steepest, blankest section" of the immense face.
I am not a climber -- stairs are more my thing (those ones outside the Burger King at 16th Street BART can be a real adventure) -- so I will turn to Adventure Journal for an explanation of "free climbing":
What’s free climbing?
Free climbing is climbing using only your hands and feet to pull you up the rock. You have a rope tied to your harness in case you fall.
Adventure Journal also addresses the question of the day:
If you’re not a climber, you might be wondering, why is it such a big deal? Don’t people do hard climbs all the time? Well, yes, but nothing this long and continuously difficult. Most people who focus on pure hard climbing usually set their sights on a route that’s around 100-150 feet long. The Dawn Wall is more than 3,000 feet long, with several long sections of very technically demanding climbing. Tommy Caldwell first envisioned, and has been working on sections of the climb, since 2007. He wasn’t even sure he could climb the hardest pitch of the climb until last November. Kevin Jorgeson joined Caldwell in 2009, and the two have been steadily working on the project since.
There's another, less tangible reason this adventure is a big deal: the fascination inherent in the spectacle of watching two people take on something so difficult. And make no mistake: Despite the years of preparation and the support they get as they make the climb, this is a punishing undertaking. Jorgeson, pictured above, has been unable so far to complete the 15th of the 30 pitches involved in the climb because the razor-sharp granite in that section has shredded his fingers. As Caldwell continues to move up the wall, Jorgeson has been forced to rest and let his skin recover.
I'll leave off the narrative here and point you to some of the very, very fine coverage of this adventure:
- First, see the blog by Caldwell's wife, Becca, a climber familiar with the physical demands of such a long climb: Day 12 on the Dawn Wall
- Tom Evans has climbed El Capitan five times, is an excellent photographer and is covering the climb from Yosemite Valley on his El Cap Report blog. His latest:
El Cap Report: Special Dawn Wall Edition Day 12
- National Geographic is doing a blog of the climb. Amazing pictures and background information, including an interview with Corey Rich, the photojournalist dangling down the face of El Capitan on a 2,700-foot rope to document the event:
Live From Yosemite's El Capitan: Photographer Captures Attempt at History-Making Climb
- Adventure Journal's excellent explanatory post:
Why Is Climbing the Dawn Wall Such a Big Deal?
- Many news outlets are following this, too. The New York Times has had a couple excellent pieces, including this one on climber Tommy Caldwell:
Abduction. Lost Finger. Now, a Rock Climber’s Tallest Hurdle.
- Adventure Journal also has a funny post on social media commentary about the climb:
NY Times Commenters Explain Why The Dawn Wall Climb Is Dumb
- The best "coverage" may be coming, via social media, from those on the Dawn Wall:
Kevin Jorgeson on Instagram, Tommy Caldwell on Facebook and Corey Rich on Instagram.