American climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson etched their names into the record books on Wednesday when the pair summited Dawn Wall of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. The climbers were the first in a single expedition to free climb—using only their hands and feet—their way to the top of the mountain’s Dawn Wall, a sheer 3,000-foot rock face. The climb, which took 19 days to complete with ropes used only to catch a fall, is largely considered the most difficult in the world.
Here’s more on the anatomy of the climb from the New York Times:
El Capitan is the height of three Empire State Buildings stacked atop one another, but with infinitely fewer, and smaller, things to hold on the way up. The climb was divided into 32 pitches, or sections, like way points on a dot-to-dot drawing. When one pitch was successfully navigated, the climbers stopped and prepared for the next. Much of the work was done in the cool of the evening, when hands would sweat less and the soles of their shoes had better grip.
Some pitches were well more than 100 feet straight up the rock, while others were sideways shuffles to connect two vertical pitches. One required a dyno, or a jump from one precarious hold to another. Falls were not unusual; Jorgeson needed seven days and 10 attempts to navigate the horizontal traverse of Pitch 15, unexpectedly slowing the expedition, which was blessed by an uncharacteristic stretch of dry weather.
Two pitches were rated at 5.14d on climbing’s scale of difficulty, making them among the hardest sections of rock ever climbed in the world. Nearly all were rated at least 5.12. To many rock climbers, completing one such pitch would be a career highlight. Few can fathom the difficulty of stringing together nearly three dozen of them without returning to the ground.
As Caldwell and Jorgenson inched up the mountain, they slept in a nylon tent that hung from the side of the mountain and received daily food and water rations from below. Once the pair reached the top, they were greeted by a group of 40 friends, family, and reporters.
Here are some photos of their extraordinary journey: