YOSEMITE – El Capitan, the impressive and imposing mass of almost vertically faced granite in nearby Yosemite National Park, is truly a spectacular sight. These days, many more eyes are trained on El Cap than usual, as two professional climbers prepare to make history by completing a nearly impossible climbing route up the Dawn Wall face of the monolith.
If all goes as planned, climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson will crest the magnificent face soon.
So what’s the big deal?
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El Capitan has been climbed before and is a popular climbing destination, it’s true, but it has not been climbed like this. Caldwell and Jorgenseon are free climbing, meaning ropes are used only to prevent falls and not aid the actual climb. It’s one of the smoothest, most featureless rock surfaces around, claimed by many to be one of the longest and hardest multi-pitch climb attempts in the world.
They have only their hands and feet to get them up the rock face. Some holds in the hardest pitches are so small, so thin, as to be called razor blades. It’s an apt name since these precarious holds are not just thin but are chewing up the fingers of the climbers; rest days are mandatory to allow for some recovery of muscle, psyche, and finger tip skin.
The public and media focus on this historic project is new but the effort itself is not. Tommy and Kevin have been tackling the Dawn Wall for a few years now. Caldwell started his quest back in 2007. Jorgenson joined him in 2009 and, since, the two have beem focused on the demanding work of the route: learning, prepping, and successfully completing (what climbers call sending) each of the 28 or so of the individual pitches that make up their chosen route. That route is just about straight up the unforgiving granite face, from the valley floor, to El Capitan’s summit.
At the end of last season the team came close to reaching their goal, but a few of the hardest parts of the route remained to be clearly sorted out. On their return to the valley last November the climbers successfully marked that last major accomplishment off their long to-do list, and with preparation complete, the stage was set for what is happening today.
The final effort, what Caldwell and Jorgenson call The Push, began from the ground on Dec. 27, and nearly two weeks in, the men are currently attempting the hardest parts of the climb.
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