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How Google's Street view scaled Yosemite's El Capitán (+video)

Google’s Street view just went vertical, letting people climb the world's hardest big-wall free climb from their couch.

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Google Street View already helps you know what your destination looks like, and it even lets you feel as though you’re standing in that exact spot with its 360-degree view capability.

But now, with Google's vertical Street View, you can virtually climb the sheer, 3,000 foot-high vertical rock face of Dawn Wall, part of El Capitán in California's Yosemite National Park, making it possible for billions around the world to visit this natural wonder from their computers.

This week, Google officially launched its vertical Street View capability. The industry innovator filmed the footage for the most difficult climb in Yosemite (and the world) this past January, with the help of climbers Lynn Hill, Alex Honnold, and Tommy Caldwell.

Ms. Hill and Mr. Caldwell are the only two people in the world to have successfully completed an all free, one-day ascent of The Nose, a famous wall climb in Yosemite National Park. Mr. Honnold is an American rock climber and in January 2014, he became the first person to climb El Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path), a rock climb in Mexico, alone and without ropes.

The team took a camera designed for the interior of a restaurant in order to capture the vertical views. However, fitting a camera to a rock face was just one of the “absurd challenges” that faced the crew, Caldwell mentioned in a Google blog post announcing the new vertical view.

“These 360-degree panoramic images are the closest thing I’ve ever witnessed to actually being thousands of feet up a vertical rock face – better than any video or photo. But my hope is that this new imagery will inspire you to get out there and see Yosemite for yourself… whether you travel up a rock wall or just down the trail.” said Caldwell in the Google blog post. He wanted to be a part of the team because, “Yosemite has been such an important part of my life that telling the story of El Capitan through Street View was right up my alley.”

For many, the thought of climbing any vertical rock face, regardless of height, is exhilarating at best. And for others, the park may be inaccessible. In 2014, Yosemite welcomed 4,029,416 visitors. That same year, the United Nations reported that there were just under 3 billion Internet users, although The Washington Post noted at the time that 4.4 billion people lived without access to the web. Now Internet users around the globe have the ability to access some of the world’s most scenic views, virtually opening up a portion of the park to billions.  

The rock-climbing journey is part of a larger series of adventures made possible through Google Trek. In the interactive maps and videos, users can “visit” tourist destinations such as Venice and the Eiffel Tower, as well as explore less crowded destinations such as Mt. Fuji and a base camp near Mt. Everest.

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