50th Anniversary of First Ascent of El Capitan
El Capitan dominates the Yosemite Valley vista, taunting climbers from around the globe. However, for generations the stark, bare face was considered unclimbable... that is, until November 1958.
Harding, Merry and Whitmore stepped into history with the first ascent; since then, climbers have scaled every aspect of the cliff face, and have since linked the discreet routes into several variations.
Fifty years on, the valley's elder statesmen/women and climbing newbies alike are convening to celebrate a milestone in climbing history.
caling the colossal, 3,000-foot-tall granite cliff known as El Capitan was something most people regarded as beyond the capability of humans, but when Warren Harding had a mind to do something, he did it.
It took Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore 47 days of climbing over 16 months to turn what had seemed like a fantasy into a reality.
While El Capitan has witnessed many astonishing climbs over the decades, none are more celebrated than the first ascent, a gargantuan effort finally completed in November 1958 by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore.
The route that Harding, the party leader and one of Yosemite's legendary figures, had chosen and literally nailed his way up would become known as the Nose.
Fifty years later, the Nose remains the most popular route out of dozens on El Capitan. Each year hundreds of climbers, many of them from far-away countries, travel to Yosemite to tackle iconic features such as Stoveleg Crack, King Swing and the Great Roof.
Faced with a blank, overhanging wall above him, an exhausted Harding worked through the night, pounding 28 bolts into the rock before finally pulling himself onto the summit slabs shortly after dawn on Nov. 12, 1958.
El Cap was considered only in terms of aid climbing until Todd Skinner and Paul Piana conquered the Salathe Wall in a 9-day war of attrition in 1988: 30 years after the first aid ascent. Skinner died in 2006 in a rappelling mishap.
Climbing phenomenon Lynn Hill then completed the first free ascent of The Nose in 1993, and then returned in 1994 to set the new benchmark: in 23 hours she turned El Capitan into a day-climb. Only a handful of people have repeated the feat, including Beth Rodden, and Tommy Caldwell.
Speed demon Hans Florine holds the record time for an aid ascent of El Cap: under three hours.
From Lynn Hill's account of her groundbreaking climb:
The final realization of this ascent was not only the culmination of my eighteen years of climbing, but it was also symbolic of the kind of values that give meaning and richness to my climbing experiences. Throughout my life, one of the underlying qualities that has inspired me to pursue my vision of what is possible has to do with trusting in what I truly love and believe in. Cultivating such feelings of passion and conviction is what has enabled me to tap the source of my being and access the immense power of the human spirit.
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