The Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, 3,000 feet of sheer, smooth granite, has been called the most difficult climb in the world.
Climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson just became the first people on the planet to conquer it without the upward help of ropes.
After 19 days on the wall, sleeping in tents secured with rope, the two climbers reached the summit mid-afternoon on Jan. 15. They were greeted at the top with champagne by a crowd of 70 people.
The Dawn Wall was first scaled in 1970 by Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to famed climber Tommy Caldwell). It took them 27 days, making ample use of ropes and rivets to help the ascent. This is known as aid climbing. Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell are the first to free-climb the wall, meaning they used ropes as safety measures to catch them if they fell, but did all climbing only with hands and feet.
The 36-year-old Caldwell has been obsessed with free-climbing the Dawn Wall for a decade. “This is my Moby-Dick, for sure,” he told the New York Times. Jorgeson, age 30, joined him in pursuit in 2009.
Caldwell and Jorgeson attempted to climb the wall in 2010, but Jorgeson broke an ankle early on and had to turn back, while Caldwell was unable to complete the most difficult pitch. This time around, the climbers worked on each pitch individually before beginning the full attempt in Dec. 2014.
Neither climber has another project lined up. The Dawn Wall “was the biggest canvas and the most audacious project I could join and see to the finish,” Jorgeson told the Times. “Like Tommy, I don’t know what is next.”