from the not-a-molehill dept.
For most climbers, The Nose of El Capitan is such an outrageous challenge that climbing it is the crowning achievement of a climbing career. Now John Branch reports at The New York Times that Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, are trying something that has never been done — scaling El Capitan's Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, as smooth as alabaster, as steep as the bedroom wall, and more than half a mile tall — without the benefit of ropes, other than to catch their falls. “If they get it completed, it will be the hardest completed rock climb in the world,” says Tom Evans. “This will be the climb of the first half of the 21st century.” After a week of slow, steady progress, and with good weather forecast for the next week, optimism is building that Caldwell and Jorgeson would complete a task they had worked toward — studying, training and failing on a couple of prior pushes — for several years with single-minded obsession. Evans says that only about 13 of El Capitan’s climbing routes had been free climbed, meaning that moving upward is done only with hands and feet. The Dawn Wall, so named because its southeast orientation catches the first light of morning, is far harder than any of the others. “What makes the Dawn Wall so special is that it’s almost not possible,” says Alex Honnold. “The hardest pitches on the Dawn Wall are harder than I’ve ever climbed.”
The rock climbing on this particular route is defined by grabbing edges of rock as thin and sharp as razor blades, and balancing across the most friction-dependent smears of blank, glacier-polished granite. But part of the difficulty of such a quest is the cumulative effect on the mind and body. Climbing for days in a row can rub fingers raw. Sleeping in slings amid the elements can be taxing, if not dangerous. Climbing mostly in the late afternoon and into the night, using headlamps and the lights of the roped-in camera crew recording the expedition, Caldwell and Jorgeson are moving steadily. Family members and friends are tracking the climb through text messages and social media and if things continue to go well, they will converge on El Capitan sometime in the coming days. “Best case is seven days,” Caldwell says of the finish. “Worst case is mid-February. Or not at all, I suppose.”