In the world of mountain climbing, El Capitan is a legendary climb. First scaled in 1970, its Dawn Wall is considered one of the most difficult and punishing routes in the world.
Most climbers attempting to get to the top of the vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park in California use extensive mountain climbing equipment to assist them to the summit. But that challenge wasn't enough for Adam Ondra, who free-climbed the formation using only a rope for safety.
Mr. Ondra became the third person to free-climb the formation and made his way into the record books by doing it in only eight days – less than half the time of the previous two records. The 23-year-old professional Czech mountain climber gave regular updates of the attempt on social media, taking photos and recording videos for his followers on the way to the top.
The first climbers to conquer the Dawn Wall without special climbing tools were Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, who made it to the top of the 3,000-foot granite formation in January 2015. It took them years of planning and 19 days of climbing up 32 separate pitches of the unyielding, vertical granite. Following their example, Ondra hoped to use their experience to conquer the notorious climb even faster.
"I might have been too optimistic, but I definitely expected it to be easier," Ondra said in one of his regular updates on the climb posted to his sponsor's website, Black Diamond Equipment. "Every single pitch is so tricky and hard.... Hats off to Tommy and Kevin, who believed that the whole climb was possible before they free climbed. Without having the beta, some of the sections look just impossible. I have the advantage that I know that the climb is possible and that helps me to keep the faith that I might be able to do it as well. I am humbled and impressed by what Tommy and Kevin did!"
Ondra moved up the wall in stages, often falling and making repeat attempts on particularly difficult pitches. After a day of climbing, he would sleep in a tent suspended from the rock face. Despite a lack of experience with Yosemite-style granite climbs, he maintained an upbeat and excited attitude on Instagram for fans during the attempt, posting video updates from the cliff face discussing the technical intricacies of each day's climb.
Ondra, a two-time world champion climber, arrived in Yosemite in mid-October to prepare for the attempt. He practiced some of the hardest portions of the climb before beginning the full attempt on November 14, studying the routes of his two free-climbing predecessors to figure out the best way to make his ascent. On the way to the top, he faced rain and painfully worn-down skin on his hands from an often sharp and slippery rock face, making the already legendarily difficult route even harder. But on November 21 at 3:29 PM the climber stepped onto the summit of El Capitan and into climbing history, conquering the Dawn Wall climb in record time. At the summit, he posted a beaming picture of himself and other climbers with the caption, "Yes!!!!"
Despite the monumental effort, Ondra had hoped to finish El Capitan in only five or six days, though he was still pleased with his performance.
"It would be interesting to do the dawn wall much faster," he said Monday evening. "I think it is possible but it would take a lot a lot of work. Maybe I will come back and try again some day."
This article contains material from the Associated Press.