Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to summit the Dawn Wall on the monolithic El Capitan, relying on their hands and feet and physical strength, using ropes and harnesses only to arrest any falls.
Both said they had been touched by the number of online followers inspired by their journey up a half-mile of pale, smooth stone.
Mr Jorgeson said the climb should show the value of teamwork and that it had “recalibrated” his perception “of what possible”.
After the climb began on 27 December, the two ate and slept in tents fastened to the rock thousands of feet above the ground while battling painful cuts to their fingers.
They also took punishment whenever their grip slipped, pitching them into swinging falls that bounced them off the rockface. The tumbles, which they called “taking a whipper,” ended with startling jolts from safety ropes.
Mr Caldwell said support climbers provided fresh fruit and vegetables every five days. “We like to say you can’t put a price on morale,” he whispered, having lost his voice shouting to his partner during the climb.
There wasn’t much downtime, he said, but in spare moments he read an autobiography of climber Barry Blanchard.
Mr Jorgeson said the Dawn Wall “personifies dreaming big and making it happen. It’s just a super-concrete example and an iconic, beautiful place with amazing images and a great story of perseverance and teamwork and making it” .
Mr Caldwell, 36, from Colorado, and Mr Jorgeson, 30, from California, trained for years to prepare for the climb.
Ken Yager, president of the Yosemite Climbing Association, said El Capitan was first scaled in 1958, followed decades later by the first one-day ascent and the duo who set a speed record in 2012 of 2 hours 23 minutes.
Mr Caldwell and Mr Jorgeson “proved that there’s still a golden age in Yosemite’s climbing,” Mr Yager said.
Mr Jorgeson said Mr Caldwell first envisioned the climb in 2007. After seeing a short film about his ambition to free climb the Dawn Wall, Mr Jorgeson called to ask if Mr Caldwell needed a partner. They started their plans in 2009.
“I never thought rock climbing could garner so much attention from the world,” Mr Jorgeson said.
There are about 100 routes up the rock known among climbers as “El Cap”. Even the Dawn Wall had been scaled. Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation) made it up in 1970, using climbing ropes and countless rivets over 27 days.
No-one had ever made it to the summit in one continuous free-climb … until now.
The pioneering ascent comes after failed attempts by both men. They only got about a third of the way up in 2010 when a storm turned them back. A year later, Mr Jorgeson fell and broke an ankle in another attempt.
Mr Jorgeson got stuck in a lower section this time round that took 11 attempts over seven days. “I didn’t want to accept any other outcome but getting up that route,” he told US TV.