They made it.
The two men who captured the nation’s attention by scaling El Capitan’s enormous Dawn Wall using only their hands and feet reached the top of the granite monolith Wednesday afternoon, ending a historic climb in Yosemite National Park that took nearly three weeks to complete.
Climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan about 3:20 p.m.
At the summit, the climbers shared a big embrace that was met with scores of cheers from observers in the meadow below.
“It’s an amazing feeling to accomplish something you have devoted your life to for years,” said Jorgeson in a statement issued by Adidas, which sponsors him. The duo made it to the top free climbing, meaning they used only their hands and feet to get up the rock, with ropes attached only to catch them when they fell.
“Free climbing the Dawn Wall had been considered impossible,” Jorgeson said. “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.”
Spokespeople for the athletes asked that reporters not speak to Caldwell and Jorgeson, at the climbers’ request, until a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning.
John Long, part of the first team to climb El Capitan in a single day, said Caldwell and Jorgeson’s summit was more than a climb — it became a “huge human event.”
“These guys are following in the footsteps of all the explorers, Apollo astronauts and everybody else who’s ticked the possible just that much further out there,” said Long, who watched Wednesday’s climb from the floor of Yosemite Valley. “This is their moment in time, it just happened to happen today on that rock.”
Also watching the climb from the meadow was Lupita Becerra, 82, of Midpines, who earlier in the day lit two small votive candles on a mound as prayers for Caldwell and Jorgeson.
“I pray for their safety and success,” she said on Wednesday afternoon, before the men reached the summit. “I really want them to get up there safe.”
When they made it, Becerra was ecstatic. “It really is overwhelming,” said Becerra, who said she came to watch and be part of history. “Can you imagine how the family is feeling? This is wonderful.”
The half-mile Dawn Wall is widely considered the hardest free climb ever completed for its long lineup of tricky moves on countless, tiny holds. The entire climb is “pretty much world-class,” Long said.
Even more incredible: Because each climber opted to start a pitch (climbing section) over when they fell, Long said, Caldwell and Jorgeson likely climbed the length of multiple El Capitans.
Because of falls, Long said Jorgeson recently had to do five incredibly hard pitches in a row. “That’s like running five all-out 800 meter dashes. Those things are so strenuous you can do maybe two, but five? That’s some crazy amount of strength endurance, man.”
Other remarkable climber facts: Caldwell only has half of his left index finger due to a band saw accident years ago, and Jorgeson, known for his bouldering skills, had little big-wall experience before attempting the Dawn Wall.
Jorgeson “went from the smallest stuff to the biggest, with no intermediate steps,” Long said. “That in itself is an interesting story.”
The duo was aided by a strategic gamble: They needed a cool but dry winter to make the ascent optimal, and they got it. Had they tried the climb in summer, sweaty palms and warming, more flexible shoe rubber would have made gripping the minuscule rock holds an even greater challenge.
“Kevin and Tommy have truly created a breakthrough in the world of rock climbing, and we are incredibly proud of them,” said Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor US, in a statement.
“They have made history today in the sport and have accomplished a truly amazing feat, not only in establishing the hardest big wall rock climb in the world but also doing it with impressive style and grace. They have set a new standard for dreaming big and never giving up until those dreams come true.”
Photographer Brett Lowell — who made the ascent with Caldwell and Jorgeson and has been documenting their efforts for the past five years — said watching them hit the summit was special, but not as emotional as the completion of a difficult pitch further below.
“The big moment for Tommy was when he reached Wino Tower (pitch 20 of 32 sections),” Lowell said. “I was just up there alone with him when he got up there, and that was like, in his mind, his big celebration because he knew he could make it to the top at that point.”
Lowell said watching Caldwell battle pitch 20 was “an amazing spectacle.” “He was giving it everything and just barely holding on and he did it, and he sat on this ledge and that was when the real tears came. ... That was almost more of a moment than the top-out (summit).”
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. They were among roughly 30 people, including Caldwell’s wife, who were at the top to welcome the pair.
“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.
Long, who began climbing in Yosemite in the 1970s, 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 — which took 19 days to complete — and the amount of time both men have been training and practicing sections of this climb. For Caldwell, making the summit is 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.
Caldwell’s 21-month-old son, Fitz, was among those in the meadow below El Capitan on Wednesday.
What would Caldwell like Fitz to think of, learning of this climb years later?
“Somebody asked Tommy this question low down on the wall,” said his father, Mike Caldwell, of Estes Park, Colorado. “And Tommy said, ‘The one thing I want him to learn is optimism.’ That was the main thing. I guess that sort of translates to belief in yourself.”