US duo master ‘world’s hardest climb’ El Capitan

Caldwell, left, and Jorgeson toast their ascent of the Dawn Wall. Picture: AP
Caldwell, left, and Jorgeson toast their ascent of the Dawn Wall. Picture: AP
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TWO Americans have scaled El Capitan, the world’s most difficult rock climb, without using ropes to help them ascend.

The pair free-climbed the 3,000ft forbidding granite wall in Yosemite National Park that has beckoned adventurers for more than half a century.

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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 smaller than pennies and as thin as razor blades.

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.

Caldwell was the first to finish on 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. In the meadow far below, a second 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.

US 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 on 27 December. Caldwell and Jorgeson lived on the wall, 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.

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 hands.

The climbers 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 filmed 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,” which was first conquered in 1958. No-one, however, had ever made it to the summit in one continuous free-climb – until now.

Caldwell’s father, Mike said: “He doesn’t understand the magnitude of the accomplishment and the excitement.”

The pioneering ascent comes after five years of training and failed attempts. They 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.

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