The numbers are staggering—so is the cliff: 19 days, 3,000 vertical feet, 10 years of planning, and 20 chalked and bloodied fingers.
Just before dusk on January 14, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell crept above the edge of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, completing what many consider the toughest climbing route ever achieved.
The duo free-climbed to the summit, meaning ropes were used merely as a safety precaution in case fingers slipped on the pebble-thin crevasses. They slept in tents pitched against the smooth granite rock face, 1,200 feet above solid ground. And each day they ascended sections of the route, starting where they left off the night before.
The Dawn Wall is a familiar climbing destination. Thousands ascend portions of the rock face each year. But as New York Times journalist John Branch—who was at the top along with the climbers’ family, friends, and a few bottles of champagne—puts it, “But that was part of what made this expedition monumental—El Capitan’s familiarity. It is one of the best-known pieces of granite in the world, majestic and monolithic, causing crane-necked, open-mouthed gawkers to stand at its base and drivers in Yosemite Valley to veer off the road.”
For non-climbers, it’s hard to put the achievement in perspective. Elite ice climber Will Gadd tries to in the NYT: “This is just amazing, really beautifully amazing, like a four-minute mile or a sub-two-hour marathon or Tiger Woods destroying every single major for a year or something, just off the charts awesome.”
Alex Honnold, considered the best free-solo climber in the world (climbing without any safety equipment), also greeted Jorgeson and Caldwell at the top. Men’s Fitness profiled Honnold in March 2014 and learned a bit more about the tremendous strength it takes to climb unsupported:
“During a good gym workout, Honnold will climb all the expert-level routes in the facility, and his posture on the wall is one of great comfort. He’s methodical, stalking the holds like a tiger on the hunt. In terms of movement, he looks more like an orangutan, with long, rubbery arms that seem to contort and almost dislocate; when he moves, it’s in slow motion, never overexerting himself.”
It’s no Dawn Wall, but if you’re ready to tackle rock climbing yourself, try the brutal wall workout here, because this sport is the ultimate metaphor for fitness—you only reach the top if you are strong enough.