Yosemite Climbers Make History With Free Climb Summit of El Capitan

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Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to ever complete a free climb of Yosemite's Dawn Wall. Chris Burkard/Patagonia

Updated | Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson have been on a daunting mission that began at the tail end of 2014. On December 27, after years of preparation, they set out to free climb the Dawn Wall route on El Capitan, a steep slab of exposed granite at Yosemite National Park in California.

On Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. local time, the pair made history when they became the first to complete a free climb—i.e. a climb without any assistance using only the hands and feet to move up, attached to a rope only in case of a fall—of what is considered one of the most difficult routes in the world.

"It's an amazing feeling to accomplish something you have devoted your life to for years," Jorgeson is quoted as saying in a press release from sponsor Adidas Outdoor. "Free climbing the Dawn Wall had been considered impossible. Tommy dreamed it could be done, and I could not be more honored to have been his partner on this journey. I hope it might inspire others who may not have been familiar with rock climbing to experience it for themselves, and I'm looking forward to mapping out my next objective."

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Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson celebrating their ascent of the Dawn Wall, January 14, 2015. Ted Distel/Adidas Outdoor
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Tommy Caldwell celebrating the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall. Chris Burkard/Patagonia

Throughout the 19-day expedition, Caldwell—a Patagonia climbing ambassador—and Jorgeson have been documenting their progress on social media, posting on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and garnering a following of vicarious adventurers around the world. Caldwell's wife has also been blogging from the ground, while other crews have been taking photos and videos, like a series made by Adidas Outdoor.

The 3,000-foot climb up the wall was broken into 31 segments or pitches, each one roughly equivalent to a rope-length of climbing and some more technically challenging than others.

The last few days have been some of the most memorable climbing days of my life. Yesterday I finished the last... http://t.co/v7S9XDyFAb

— Tommy Caldwell (@tommycaldwell1) January 10, 2015

I am really feeling the Yosemite love these days. After a lifetime of climbing here I am still struck by the... http://t.co/werp87SZCm

— Tommy Caldwell (@tommycaldwell1) January 11, 2015

Sitting on Wino Tower engulfed in a cloud after a foot slip at the top of pitch 20. Felt strong. Just a matter of time. #dawnwall

— Kevin Jorgeson (@kjorgeson) January 13, 2015

It's not over till it's over. #DawnWall

— Kevin Jorgeson (@kjorgeson) January 14, 2015

On Monday evening, Jorgeson successfully climbed pitch 20 on his third attempt and caught up with Caldwell.

"In another inspiring battle late into the night Kevin managed to send pitches 18, 19, and 20. Clouds swirled all around It was truly a surreal scene," Caldwell wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday.

"Tomorrow we leave our bacecamp [sic] and blast towards the top. With some luck we will be standing on top in a couple days. I an [sic] excited to walk on flat ground again although I am sure I will truly miss this experience."

In a Tuesday evening email update, a spokesman for the climbers said they were progressing steadily toward the top, and were expected to arrive sometime Wednesday afternoon.

John Branch, a sports reporter for The New York Times who has covered their journey, tweeted a striking photo from the top of El Capitan Wednesday morning local time as he waited for Caldwell and Jorgeson to arrive, and continued sharing updates throughout the day.

Top of El Capitan, with Half Dome in the distance, 9:17 am PST. pic.twitter.com/X9cFhxkQDI

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

Did I mention that there is not one cloud in the sky, a gentle breeze and temps in the 40s atop El Capitan?

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

Family, including @tommycaldwell1 wife Rebecca and @kjorgeson girlfriend Jacqui Becker, are on top, on a ledge, watching and cheering.

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

Climbers finished first of remaining four pitches. Cheers erupt. But 3 more: difficulties 12b, 13a, 12b remain. Could be 2 hours or more

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

Eric Jorgeson, @kjorgeson father, introduced his son to climbing lessons. He just arrived atop El Cap.

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

Side view of what they have remaining;
They're near bottom of frame, going just short of high point. pic.twitter.com/FpOKiPRYq2

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

On final pitch, @tommycaldwell1 will lead. The Dawn Wall was his dream. Interesting to see if the first celebration waits for @kjorgeson

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015

Crowd of family/friends on the ledge watching now hiking up the granite slab to the top-out spot. Want to be there when it happens.

— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 14, 2015