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25 May 2024

2 men attempt free climb in California, use social media to keep in touch

Two men, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, are roughly halfway through climbing El Capitan: a free climb of a half-mile section of exposed granite in California's Yosemite National Park. El Capitan, the largest monolith of granite in the world, rises more than 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. (AP)


Two men are roughly halfway through what has been called the hardest rock climb in the world: a free climb of a half-mile section of exposed granite in California's Yosemite National Park.

Tom Evans, a climber and photographer, has been chronicling Kevin Jorgeson. 30, of Santa Rosa, California, and Tommy Caldwell, 36, of Estes Park, Colorado, as they scale their way using only their hands and feet.

El Capitan, the largest monolith of granite in the world, rises more than 3,000 feet (914 meters) above the Yosemite Valley floor.

The men eat, stretch and sleep in hanging tents suspended to El Capitan's Dawn Wall. They don't have the creature comforts of home, but they have kept in touch with the outside world thanks to social media — tweeting, posting on Facebook, feeding information for blogs and keeping in touch with a bevy of supporters on the ground.

"The guys are doing great," said Josh Lowell with Big Up Productions, which has been chronicling their climbs for the last six years. "(Monday) they are resting and trying to grow skin back on their fingertips so they can continue to do battle with the hardest climbing sections, which involve grabbing tiny, razor-sharp edges of rock."

If all goes as planned, the duo could be at the top as soon as Friday or Saturday, Lowell said.

"But that's best-case scenario. It could take several more days just to get through the difficult section where they currently are. If any weather moves in, that could also delay things, but the forecast is looking good for now," he said.

Many have climbed Dawn Wall but the pair would be the first to "free climb" the section using ropes only as a safeguard against falls. The first climber reached El Capitan's summit in 1958, and there are roughly 100 routes up to the top.

Evans said the two have a cellphone on their ascent, but they weren't taking calls Monday because they were resting and "want no distractions while on the cliff." The two also weren't answering emails from roughly 1,500 feet (450 meters) above the ground.

These practices may not seem unusual, but the climbers have relied heavily on social media to document their adventure. Both update their Facebook pages regularly and tweet from the Dawn Wall, which has been called "as smooth as alabaster, as steep as the bedroom wall."

Last Friday, Jorgeson hosted a live question-and-answer session from the wall.

Caldwell's wife', Becca, has also been blogging about their trip daily and wrote this post last weekend, "Being up on the wall for over a week and the hard climbing Tommy and Kevin have done up until now adds an element of difficulty on top of the hard climbing they have to do," she wrote. "I know Tommy has made an effort to try and do stretching, pushups, (and) yoga in the (hanging tent) hoping this might combat the unusual circumstances of living like veal between their climbing."

Jorgeson tweeted late Saturday about his difficulty scaling one section: "Battling. #dawnwall."

There are 32 sections of the climb. On Sunday night, Lowell said Caldwell, climbing in the dark, completed the last of the three hardest sections of climbing, which was a major breakthrough, Lowell said.

"He still has 1,500 feet of hard, scary climbing ahead, but mentally he is feeling really confident right now, and incredibly excited. (Jorgeson) is extremely close to completing pitch 15, one of the hardest. (Tuesday) he will try to complete it and catch up to Tommy so they can continue forging ahead."

In 1970, Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy Caldwell) climbed Dawn Wall using ropes and countless rivets over 27 days.
John Long, the first person to climb El Capitan in one day in 1975, said he speaks to the climbers several times a day.

"It's almost inconceivable that anyone could do something that continuously difficult," he said Monday, adding that he believes they spent the equivalent of a year's time on the wall in preparation for the climb.