Emily Harrington has become the fourth woman to free-climb El Capitan, the 3,000ft granite wall in Yosemite national park, in a single day.
While most of the US was focused on the results of the presidential election early on Wednesday, the 34-year-old began her climb. She reached the top 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds later. Only three women have previously made the free climb in a day.
Free-climbing means climbing with a rope for protection in case of falls but otherwise climbing purely with hands and feet on rock, never taking advantage of artificial protection.
It is distinct from free-solo climbing, made famous by an Oscar-winning documentary about an ascent by Alex Honnold of the same cliff, in that in free-solo climbing there are no ropes.
A few dozen men have “free-climbed” El Capitan, but only three – Tommy Caldwell, Honnold and the late Brad Gobright – have gone up the route Harrington achieved, known as Golden Gate.
El Capitan was first free-climbed in a day in 1994 by Lynn Hill, who managed the feat before anyone else had free-climbed the cliff in any amount of time. It was another four years after Hill’s feat that a climber would first find another free way to the top.
After Hill, Steph Davis and Mayan Smith-Gobat also free-climbed El Capitan in a day, in 2004 and 2011, respectively. Achieving the feat in a male-dominated sport mattered, Harrington said.
“I spent a lot of years feeling like I didn’t belong, like maybe I hadn’t earned my place to be a Yosemite climber,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But throughout this experience I learned that there is no belonging or not belonging, no formula to achievement up there. I was creative and experimental and I found my own way.”
El Capitan is one of the world’s most famous climbing spots, a proving ground for the best climbers for decades in a national park which many consider the birthplace of modern rock climbing.
Harrington had climbed a particular route on the wall, called Golden Gate, many times, but never in one day. Nearly a year ago, she endured a scary fall and was taken to the hospital with injuries. She vowed to try again and spent months training in her home gym in Tahoe City, California.
This time, she ascended with the assistance of her boyfriend Adrian Ballinger, a renowned Mount Everest guide, and Alex Honnold, famous for his unprecedented free solo climb of El Capitan. They were tied to the same rope.
When Harrington reached one of the route’s most difficult sections, her foot slipped and she fell sideways, hitting her head on the granite.
“Blood just started pouring down her face, dripping on to me at the belay,” Ballinger told the Chronicle. “We immediately thought her day was done. It was a wild, scary flashback to last year’s fall.”
But after taking an hour-long rest and bandaging her wound, Harrington continued.
“There was a part of me that wanted to give up and quit,” she said. “But this other part of me was like, ‘This is why you’re here. It’s supposed to be hard. You owe it to yourself to try again.’”