El Capitan has seen its share of historic climbs over the years, but right now two American climbers are determined to set a nearly impossible standard to beat.
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson are currently attempting to finish the first free climb (using ropes only for protection, not as climbing aids) of the absolute hardest route up the famed peak in Yosemite National Park. The Dawn Wall. The two began their record-setting attempt Dec. 27, but the effort up the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall climb has been eight years in the making; Caldwell began preparing for the attempt back in 2007, with Jorgenson signing on two years later.
Because the pair is free climbing, they’re using only their limbs to move up the 30-pitch route where many holds are only as thick as a dime. Most of the 30 pitches are rated as expert-level (5.13a and above), with about five rated at 5.14a and above. Whenthey fall, they must descend to the bottom of the pitch and try again.
Both Jorgeson and Caldwell captured the attention of the public at large by documenting their adventures extensively on social media. Their Instagram and Facebook feeds have been filled with images from the unofficial third member of the team, Josh Lowell of Big Up Productions.
The duo’s history-making attempt could be one of the greatest climbing feats achieved on El Capitan. To honor their climb, we dug into the best El Cap moments ever caught on video.
El Capitan Film Trailer (1979)
Filmed in 1968, released 12 years later, and finally restored and re-released in 2003, El Capitan is considered to be one of the finest climbing films ever made. Following an early, three-day ascent of The Nose, the trailer here offers breathtaking imagery and illustrates how while the gear has changed, climbers’ obsessions with conquering El Cap dates back decades.
Lynn Hill on The Nose (1994)
This footage of one of the sports greatest climbers — male or female — documents Hill's reconnaissance and attempts at the first free climb of The Nose in less than 24 hours. In 1993, she and climbing partner Brooke Sandahl became the first people to free climb the The Nose, and after multiple attempts the following year, she tackled the entire free climb in one day.
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson Attempting to Free El Cap's Hardest Climb (2010)
To get a sense of what Caldwell and Jorgeson are trying to accomplish, check out this video from their 2010 attempt. In the second part (above, watch Part One here), Jorgeson makes an incredible eight-foot leap up and across the sheer rock face, desperately grabbing for a small crack that appears to be the width of a quarter. After failing several times, he impossibly snags the minuscule ledge, holding on by the very tips of his fingers.
The Nose, El Capitan (2011)
Summiting El Cap is a remarkable achievement for anyone, but to do it six weeks after a failed heart procedure is almost unbelievable. But that’s exactly what Erik Fischer did in 2011, with the help of his climbing partner Ross Andrea. Their home movie-style four-day journey up the mountain is filled with humor, cliffside Bloody Marys, and lots of rain.
El Capitan "Nose" Speed Ascent Record by Alex Honnold and Hans Florine (2012)
Although Caldwell and Jorgeson are gunning for the most difficult ascent up El Capitan, their contemporaries logged the fastest effort up the mountain. Alex Honnold and Hans Florine managed to climb the popular Nose route in under 2 hours and 24 minutes, beating the previous record by 13 minutes. In the video, shot by DSLR with a telephoto lens, shows the two climbers scurry up the rock face almost as easily as if they were taking the stairs. Interestingly, Florine has been part of more than half of the 15 record-holding duos since 1990.
Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier
To climb El Cap with no ropes or safety equipment, you need nerves of steel and a peak physical condition, so it’s no wonder a middle-aged Captain Kirk took a stab at it (or rather, will take a stab at it in the 23rd century). There’s little doubt Starfleet’s finest captain would have defeated the mountain as easily as he had legions of Klingons, were it not for the untimely distraction of a certain Vulcan science officer.