Know Right Now: The Hardest Climb in the World

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Two rock climbers have completed what is considered the hardest climb ever: the vertical ascent of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, a rock formation in Yosemite Valley, without ropes.

The two climbers, Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, were “free climbing”—or scaling a wall with your hands and feet, and only using ropes to catch your fall. What’s more, they climbed the Dawn Wall, the formation’s most difficult route, which had never before been climbed without the aid of ropes. Caldwell and Jorgeson reached the summit Wednesday.

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more about the hardest climb ever.

Rock Stars: See Historic Climbing Moments on El Capitan

1958: Warren Harding climbs the Nose
1958: Warren Harding climbs the Nose El Capitan soars 3,000 vertical feet above the Yosemite Valley. The climbing community once considered the granite pillar insurmountable. Warren Harding proved otherwise. He was the first climber to lead a team up a route known as the Nose, which today is considered one of the great classics of “big wall” climbing. Harding worked on the project over two climbing seasons – a collective 47 days – and finally managed to reach the top in November 1958.Courtesy of the Yosemite Climbing Association
1961: Royal Robbins scales the Salathé Wall
1961: Royal Robbins scales the Salathé Wall Royal Robbins, a climbing pioneer, made an unprecedented ascent up the Salathé Wall route on El Capitan. Robbins and his climbing partners, Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt, weren’t the first to ascend El Capitan. However, Robbins proved that using lots of climbing gear wasn’t always the best way to reach the summit. Climbing Salathé, he heavily relied on the natural features of the rock, and only 13 bolts and a few fixed ropes to aid in the ascent.Tom Frost—Wikimedia Commons
1964: Conquering the other side of El Cap
1964: Conquering the other side of El Cap Not long after summiting Salathé, Royal Robbins was making history again. With Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt, he made the first ascent of the southeast face of El Capitan, in the area called the North America Wall. Unlike the southwest face, the southeast façade didn’t have “trails” of cracks that climbers could follow up. The rock was steeper, with overhanging ledges, and more difficult than what had been previously attempted. But as an added challenge, Robbins decided against using “fixed” ropes, which are used to ferry supplies to the climbers and quickly ascend or descend in an emergency. This meant the team had to reach the top in one push.Tom Frost—Wikimedia Commons
1970: Warren Harding wrestles the Dawn Wall
1970: Warren Harding wrestles the Dawn Wall Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy Caldwell) were the first to climb the Dawn Wall in 1970. At the time, the route was called Wall of the Early Morning Light. The team heavily relied on ropes and bolts, yet still the climb was a struggle because vast swaths of the route are very sheer and very steep. To boot, the team’s progress was stymied for several days by a severe storm. Park rangers attempted a rescue mission but Harding, determined to make it to the top, shooed them away.AP
1975: Jim Bridwell blazes up El Cap in a day
1975: Jim Bridwell blazes up El Cap in a day Plenty of hardy “big wall” climbers had made it up El Capitan by the mid 70s. But Jim Bridwell, with climbing partners Billy Westbay and John Long, broke a record when he climbed The Nose in less than a day. To this day, so-called “speed climbers” are still competing for the fastest ascent. (The current record holders are Alex Honnold and Hans Florine, who, in 2012, finished The Nose in less than two and a half hours).StoneMastersPress—Wikimedia Commons
1988-1993: “Freeing” El Cap
1988-1993: “Freeing” El Cap Free climbing is a technique in which ropes and climbing gear is used in case of a fall, but not to assist in the climber’s ascent. The climbing community hadn’t considered the technique to be possible on an entire “big wall” route – until Todd Skinner and Paul Piana did it in 1988 on the Salathé Wall. Five years later, Lynn Hill (pictured above), a renowned female climber, “freed” the Nose with climbing partner Brooke Sandahl.Heinz Zak—Courtesy of Lynn Hill
1989: First paraplegic ascent
1989: First paraplegic ascent Mark Wellman, a climber who had minimal use of his legs, ascended El Capitan in July 1989. Wellman’s climbing partner, Mike Corbett, scaled ahead to set the climbing ropes in rock and Wellman followed, pulling himself up the ropes with a T-bar lift device.Eric Risberg—AP
2000s: Tommy Caldwell free climbs
2000s: Tommy Caldwell frees more routes Tommy Caldwell has established some of the hardest climbing routes in the country. But his playground is Yosemite. He has free climbed the most routes on El Capitan than any other climber and he was the first to free climb routes including the Dihedral Wall, Magic Mushrooms and Muir Wall.Corey Rich—Aurora Photos
2015: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson free climb the Dawn Wall
2015: The Dawn Wall meets its match In January 2015, some 45 years after Warren Harding first established the Dawn Wall route, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson summited without rope assistance. Their free climb took 19 days. The Dawn Wall is considered by some in the climbing community to be the most challenging route to free climb in the world.Brett Lowell—Aurora Photo

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