Kevin Jorgeson, one of two men to successfully free climb Yosemite's Dawn Wall, was clinging to a particularly treacherous stretch of granite when the pain and doubts began to set in.
For days, the professional climber had struggled to move past Pitch 15, an “extremely sharp” climbing section. His fingers were bloodied, cut and blistered. And he was trailing his climbing partner, Tommy Caldwell.
“I was definitely getting frustrated,” Jorgeson, 30, said Thursday as he and Caldwell recounted their adventure, standing near the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley's El Capitan Meadow.
Tethered to ropes used only to provide a safety line to catch them when they fell, the pair used only their hands and feet to scale the sheer granite monolith.
At times, it was touch and go. Jorgeson's skills and toughness were tested as the section required him to stretch his wingspan and hang midair, supporting himself with just two fingers.
But both climbers -- relying on each other for motivation and inspiration -- were determined to make it to the top together. On Wednesday, they did, becoming the first to conquer the route to the top of El Capitan without using climbing aids.
Once they reached the top, Jorgeson realized there was nowhere else to go. The pair exchanged a fist bump before they were greeted by family and friends.
“We are going to remember this for the rest of our lives,” Caldwell told Jorgeson.
Then the pain set in. They had not used their legs during the climb, so the hike down the rock left their legs sore. Suspended in air during the entire 19-day journey, the climbers ate, slept and lived on the rock.
Much of their agony was in their fingers, they said.
They used sanding blocks to file down rough skin, moisturizers to treat blisters and cuts and relied heavily on ibuprofen.
But even then, some wounds remained raw. If there had been no hiccups, the climb would have taken 12 days, they said. But Jorgeson had to make time for healing, so the climb took longer.
With razor-sharp holds, Dawn Wall’s 31 climbing sections are rated the most difficult in the world, according to Patagonia, which sponsored the pair.
“This isn’t so much a man-versus-nature-type project,” Jorgeson said . “It comes back to inspiration, the dream of seeing something through.”
His dream of scaling the massive 3,000-foot vertical wall at El Capitan began in 2008 when he asked Caldwell, 36, if he wanted a climbing partner. Together, they trained for six years for the journey that began Dec. 27. But Caldwell's inspiration came long, long before that.
He recalled being 3 years old, visiting the park with his father and watching him rock climb.
Caldwell went on to scale El Capitan 60 times before Dawn Wall became his objective.
“I have totally fallen in love with that piece of rock,” he said.
Once, however, may have been enough. He doesn't plan to climb Dawn Wall anytime again in the near future.
“I think I aged about 50 years,” Caldwell said.
The pair were surprised by the fanfare surrounding their climb.
“I never thought rock climbing could garner so much attention around the world,” Jorgeson said.
In the United States, the climb was lauded. Even President Obama took to Twitter to congratulate the climbers. He tweeted a photograph of himself in front of a painting of Yosemite with his thumb up.
"So proud of @tommycaldwell1 and @kjorgeson for conquering El Capitan. You remind us that anything is possible," he tweeted.
The climbers remain humble.
“We are just two people that did it in such a way that got notice,” Jorgeson said.
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