Two men close to completing world's toughest climb
Two men are attempting what has been called the hardest rock climb in the world. It's a free climb of a half-mile section of exposed granite. It's located in California's Yosemite National Park.
Kevin Jorgeson, 30, of Santa Rosa, California, and Tommy Caldwell, 36, of Estes Park, Colorado, are the climbers. They are using only their hands and feet. They are making their way up the steep and difficult exposed granite on one side of El Capitan. The attempt is their third since 2010. It has caught the world's attention.
They have been climbing to the towering summit for two weeks. They could finish today. If they do, they will be the first people in the world to complete the free climb.
Here's a look at the latest:
Q: WHY IS THIS FREE CLIMB ON EL CAPITAN'S DAWN WALL SO DIFFICULT?
A: No one has ever free-climbed the Dawn Wall on El Capitan. It is the largest monolith of granite in the world. It rises more than 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. For more than 27 days in 1970, Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell no relation to Tommy climbed the Dawn Wall using harnesses and ropes. But they didn't make it to the top. There are about 100 routes to the top of El Capitan. Of those routes, the hardest and steepest is the Dawn Wall. It faces east toward the rising sun. The climbers are using only harnesses and ropes. The equipment will catch them if they slip from the wall during a pitch from one area to the next.
Q: WHAT IS FREE CLIMBING AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM OTHER TYPES OF CLIMBING?
A: In free climbing, athletes use only their physical strength and their hands and feet to scale the glacier-polished granite. The cracks that they grip are as thin as razor blades. Some are the size of a dime. The footholds are nothing more than an indentation on the wall. Athletes are harnessed to ropes, which are there to catch them if they fall.
Free climbing should not be confused with solo climbing. That's where a person goes alone and does not use ropes, harnesses or any other protective gear. A fall can mean serious injury or death.
Q: WHO ARE THE CLIMBERS?
A: Caldwell is a professional climber. He has free-climbed 11 routes on El Capitan. He's been climbing since he was 17.
His life has been peppered with some peril. In August 2000, Caldwell and three other climbers went to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. They wanted to scale the towering rock walls of its southern mountains. Seventeen days in, they were captured by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Caldwell shoved a guard over a cliff (he survived). The climbers bolted and eventually got to a Kyrgyz army outpost.
In 2001, Caldwell cut off his left index finger with a table saw. Six months later, he scaled El Capitan in 19 1/2 hours. He used protective hardware to stop any falls. Only once before had anyone managed such a climb in less than 24 hours.
Jorgeson is also a professional climber, speaker and instructor. On his personal website he says he's been climbing since he was born.
"At first, it was fences, cupboards, ladders and trees."
''Climbing was always a very natural thing for me to do. So when I found rock climbing, it felt perfect. I can't imagine a sport that fits my personality any better," he writes on his website.
Q: HOW LONG HAVE THEY BEEN TRAINING?
A: Jorgeson has been training for five years. Caldwell put in about seven years of training. They tried the climb in 2010. But they only made it a third of the way because of storms. A year later, Jorgeson broke an ankle after a fall during another attempt.
Q: HOW ARE THEY MAINTAINING CONTACT WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD?
A: The men eat, drink coffee, stretch and sleep in hanging tents. Those are suspended from the wall. They have supporters helping them. The helpers bring food and coffee and restock things they run out of. That includes Advil, batteries and superglue for their fingers.
They keep in touch by Tweeting and posting on Facebook. They also feed information for blogs and talk with supporters on the ground.
Q: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
A: They started together on Dec. 27. They were expected to finish Jan. 9 or 10. Now it appears it will take longer. Caldwell's wife's blog says he is ahead of Jorgeson. Once Caldwell hits a rare ledge, called Wino Tower, he'll wait for Jorgeson.
Critical thinking challenge: Why is it called the Dawn Wall?