Cliffhanger as climbers hit new highpoint

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson set up camp as they begin a free climb of a El Capitan. Picture: AP
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson set up camp as they begin a free climb of a El Capitan. Picture: AP
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TWO climbers are closing in on a first ascent of the world’s largest granite monolith.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson have spent two weeks free-climbing the Dawn Wall, a 3,000ft vertical face on one side of the El Capitan rock ­formation in the Yosemite ­National Park, California.

The pair are on their third attempt to make the ascent, using only harnesses and ropes that catch them if they slip from the face of the half-mile of exposed rock.

They have been attempting the 32 sections or “pitches” of the climb at night, because of unusually high temperatures in the national park.

Caldwell, 36, from Colorado, is hundreds of feet ahead of Jorgeson, 30, from Santa Rosa, having completed 20 pitches. Jorgeson has been delayed after the skin was ripped off his fingers. Caldwell reached Wino Tower, one of the few ledges on the ascent, on Friday after completing the most difficult sections and has since been waiting on his long-time climbing partner to recover.

Yesterday, Jorgeson made it past one of the hardest pitches of the climb, the 15th, where he had been stuck last week. A crowd of supporters gathered 1,500ft below to cheer him on.

The climb, planned over ­seven years, has generated attention, with dramatic pictures and updates posted on Facebook and Twitter by the climbers, who sleep in tents suspended from the rockface.

Caldwell, who is about 1,000ft from the tip of El Capitan, told Facebook followers yesterday: “The last few days have been some of the most memorable climbing days of my life.

“Yesterday I finished the last two pitches of the climb. This marks the end of the major ­difficulties.

“Now I am in full support mode until Kevin catches up.

“Today he managed to climb pitch 15 in the most inspired climbing moment of his life. It’s not over yet, but things are looking good.”

Jorgeson added: “Pure joy. Pitch 15 finally went down after 11 attempts over seven days. Thank you so much to everyone who has followed along, believed and supported us. It’s not over yet.”

Earlier, Caldwell said he was determined the pair would complete the challenge side by side. He said: “We gotta make that happen. It would be such a bummer to finish this thing without Kevin.”

Caldwell is a professional climber who has free climbed 11 routes on El Capitan. He’s been climbing since he was 17. In 2000, he and three other climbers were captured by Islamist fighters while climbing in Kyrgyzstan. Caldwell shoved a guard over a cliff, and the climbers fled to safety. The guard survived the fall.

In 2001, Caldwell accidentally cut off his left index finger with a table saw. Six months later, he scaled another El Capitan route in a record 19 hours.