A historic climb on Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan appeared to be within hours of completion Wednesday afternoon by two men who have captured the nation’s attention by scaling the enormous Dawn Wall using only their hands and feet.
At 12:40 p.m., dozens watching below cheered as Tommy Caldwell finished the second of four pitches needed to reach the top.
Kevin Jorgeson was still working to get to the top of that pitch, and the pitch that follows it is the most difficult section of the day, said Tom Evans, who runs ElCap Reports and is a staff photographer for Adidas, which sponsors Jorgeson. Evans estimated they could reach the top about 4 p.m.
Early Wednesday morning, the two were about 500 feet from completing the 3,000-foot climb. 8:40 a.m., Jorgeson was ready for the push ahead but aware of possible challenges, tweeting: "It's not over till it's over. #dawnwall."
Eight people, including Jorgeson's girlfriend, Jacqui Becker of Santa Rosa, were climbing and hiking Wednesday morning to El Capitan's summit to greet the duo. The group was three-fourths of the way there about 9 a.m.
"We feel super-strong and super-thrilled!" said friend and fellow climber Chris Idiart of Sebastopol. "Every one of us has a bottle of Iron Horse sparkling cider. ... Spirits couldn't be higher as we are so proud of Kevin and Tommy, with the spirit of Brad with all of us!"
Brad Parker is a friend of Jorgeson who fell to his death climbing in Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows last year. Friends say that during the Dawn Wall climb, Jorgeson has worn a T-shirt that bears a design Parker drew on the back of a dusty van window.
John Long, 56, who began climbing in Yosemite in the 1970s and did the first one-day ascent of El Capitan, was among several dozen people watching the duo climb Wednesday morning from the meadow below.
There are numerous "firsts" for this Dawn Wall climb, Long said. Of those: the duration of the free climb -- now on its 19th day -- and the amount of time both men have been training and practicing sections of this climb. For Caldwell, making the summit would be the culmination of a seven-year dream.
Long noted the first successful assault of the Dawn Wall was in 1970 "with direct aid — meaning they engineered a ladder of bolts and pitons that supported their weight from bottom to top. It took 27 days and they basically hammered their way up the mountain.
"Now, three generations later, guys are good enough to be able to climb this thing free climbing — gymnastic-style using only hands and feet. The difficulty is so stacked.
"Things like resting two days for the skin to heal on your fingertips — nobody's ever heard of that before."
Long called Caldwell a "beast" big-wall climber and Jorgeson a "super gymnast," known for working through difficult bouldering problems.
On Tuesday night, the duo stopped their ascent to camp near pitch 27, one of the climb’s 32 sections, spokespeople for the athletes said.
Cheers erupted from a crowd of friends and family in the Yosemite Valley meadow below El Capitan after both men made it to the top of pitch 26 shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Becker, Jorgeson’s girlfriend, said Jorgeson splits his time between running a nonprofit, Pro Climbers International, and climbing.
“I think it’s a testimony almost to his unspeakable ability that this guy can come from life as an entrepreneur — climbing when he can in between meetings, taking calls, setting up projects, scheduling clinics and coordinating with athletes — to scale the hardest climb in the world. I think it really helps put in perspective just how astounding his talent is,” Becker said.
The duo are free climbing, which means they only use their hands and feet to get up the rock, with ropes attached only as a safeguard.
Jerry Dodrill, one of Jorgeson’s friends and fellow climbers, said Wednesday’s anticipated summit will mark the first time Jorgeson has completed an entire El Capitan climb in one push from the ground up. That’s “amusing from a climbers’ perspective,” Dodrill said, because most who climb the massive granite monolith have to use some kind of special equipment to aid them — what Jorgeson and Caldwell are going without.
Jorgeson’s father, Eric Jorgeson, also watching the climb on Tuesday evening, marveled at how the Dawn Wall ascent has excited climbers and non-climbers alike. “Overcoming adversity — that’s inspired people.”
He said the climb has summoned this thought in minds across the globe: “What can I do in my life that maybe I’ve been struggling with? If I tried a little harder or tried a different angle at it, I could achieve something.”
Jorgeson completed pitch 20 on Monday night, putting Caldwell and Jorgeson on equal footing again. Jorgeson — previously delayed by tricky moves on pitch 15 — opted to let the shredded skin on his hands heal as Caldwell free climbed ahead. As Caldwell advanced, Jorgeson tagged along in a support role below wearing gloves until Caldwell reached the top of Wino Tower, pitch 20, Evans said.
It was a monumental moment for Caldwell, who wrote about it Friday on his Facebook account: “Yesterday I finished the last two 5.13+ pitches of the climb. This marks the end of the major difficulties. I kind of lost it when I pulled onto Wino Tower knowing that this seven-year dream is looking more and more like it could become a reality.”
After that, Caldwell descended to support Jorgeson as he free climbed up to the same point.
“The word team is really, really key,” Evans said. “You never leave your partner. Tommy would never leave Kevin five pitches down there. … They depend on each other for security and moral support.”
Evans hopes people following the climb take away this message: “Against seemingly impossible odds, a team can succeed by helping each other and having the tenacity to continue — the character. You care about your partner. It’s not a selfish endeavor.”