SAN FRANCISCO — Hands torn and bleeding, the second of two men attempting a grueling climb up a half-mile of sheer granite in California’s Yosemite National Park cleared one of the ascent’s most difficult stretches after days of failed attempts and waiting.
Growing crowds of onlookers at the foot of the Dawn Wall at Yosemite’s El Capitan peak broke into cheers — and some tears — Friday when Kevin Jorgeson finally grasped a razor-sharp hold that had eluded him, clipped an anchor to secure himself, then shouted in triumph, according to online accounts by colleagues at the scene.
“Pure joy,” Jorgeson wrote afterward on his Facebook page, next to a photograph showing his bloody, bandaged hands.
Jorgeson, 30, of Santa Rosa, California, and Tommy Caldwell, 36, of Colorado are two weeks into what is billed as the first free climb of the vertical Dawn Wall to reach the 3,000-foot summit of El Capitan. Free climb means the men are climbing without the aid of pegs, ropes or other gear to help them ascend, although they are using safety gear to guard against what could be deadly falls.
Friday’s climb keeps Jorgeson in the effort, after Caldwell moved several segments ahead of him. Caldwell is now 2,000 feet up, about 1,000 feet from finishing. Support crews have said they hope the two men will reach the top by mid-next week.
The two men are attempting what has been called the hardest rock climb in the world. They’re relying completely on their physical strength and dexterity to make their way up the Dawn Wall, a vertical face on one side of the famous rock formation known as El Capitan. The attempt — their third since 2010 — has caught the world’s attention.
Here are some answers to common questions about the climb:
Q: WHY IS THIS CONSIDERED SO DIFFICULT?
A: No one has ever “free climbed” to the top of the Dawn Wall. In 1970, Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell — no relation to Tommy — spent more than 27 days free climbing the wall but did not make it to the summit. The climbers use harnesses and ropes to catch them if they slip, but the equipment does not help them ascend.
There are about 100 routes up El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world, which rises more than 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. Of those, the hardest and steepest is the Dawn Wall, so named because it faces east toward the rising sun.
Q: WHAT IS FREE CLIMBING AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM OTHER TYPES OF CLIMBING?
A: In free climbing, athletes use only their hands and feet. They grip cracks in the granite as thin as razor blades and as small as a dime. Most footholds are nothing more than an indentation on the wall. Free climbing should not be confused with solo climbing, where climbers are alone and without ropes, harnesses or any protective gear.
Q: WHO ARE THE CLIMBERS?
A: Caldwell is a professional climber who has free climbed 11 routes on El Capitan. He’s been climbing since he was 17.
He’s been in peril before. In 2000, Caldwell and three other climbers went to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan to scale the towering rock walls of its southern mountains. Seventeen days in, they were captured by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Caldwell shoved a guard over a cliff, and the climbers fled, eventually reaching a Kyrgyz army outpost. The guard survived the fall.
In 2001, Caldwell accidentally cut off his left index finger with a table saw. Six months later, he scaled a different route up El Capitan in 19½ hours with only protective hardware to stop any falls. Only once before had anyone managed such a climb in less than 24 hours.
Jorgeson is also a professional climber, speaker and instructor. On his personal website he says he’s been climbing all his life.
“At first, it was fences, cupboards, ladders and trees.” “Climbing was always a very natural thing for me to do, so when I found rock climbing, it felt perfect. I can’t imagine a sport that fits my personality any better.”