On election night while most of the Americans were Social media doom scrolling into the wee hours of the morning, climber Emily Harrington I was optimistic when I gathered at the base of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. At 1:34 a.m., she began her free ascent on the Golden Gate route, hoping to do it all in one day.
“I knew I was so ready,” says Harrington, who lives in Tahoe City, California. “But I also knew that I would need a little luck too.”
Over the next 21 hours 13 minutes and In 51 seconds, Harrington drove up the 3,000-foot line and was the first woman to accomplish the feat. and only the fourth woman to have freely climbed El Capitan in one day on any route. (In 1994, Lynn Hill was the first person to climb the nose freely in less than 24 hours. Steph Davis and Mayan Smith-Gobat climbed the freerider in one day in 2004 and 2011, respectively.)
However, for Harrington it was not easy or risky to broadcast Golden Gate in one day. On one of the most difficult stretches of the route, the Golden Desert playing field, her foot slipped unexpectedly and she fell sideways, hit her head on a protruding crystal of rock, and stabbed her forehead.
“It looked like a gunshot wound. Blood was splattering everywhere, ”she says. “I thought, oh no, that’s it. It’s over. “
(Photo: Courtesy Emily Harrington)
She immediately settled down to the safety anchor, where her partner Adrian Ballinger (“AB”), a renowned Mount Everest guide, checked her vital signs. After cleaning the blood and applying a bandage, he found that she was physically fine. The fall, however, really shook Harrington.
“I was ready to give up,” she says. “I was emotionally enthusiastic. But AB said, ‘You should try again.’ “
Climbing free a great wall like El Capitan requires a climber to climb each pitch in turn without falling. In contrast to free solo, free climbing allows the use of a rope and equipment. If a fall occurs, the climber can start over at the top of the field and try again for this to be counted as a success. The Golden Gate with a degree of difficulty of 5.13 b contains a total of 41 pitches, of which the toughest in the last ten are a long time coming. This makes the route so demanding in part that it can be freely climbed within 24 hours. In fact, only three other people succeeded at the Golden Gate in one day: Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, and the late Brad Gobright.
Harrington’s is a five-time national sport climbing champion Spanning successes the range of disciplines. She has completed several significant 5.14 women’s first climbs on sports routes, free climbed some of the toughest great walls in the world, won titles in elite competitions, and proven herself in the field of high altitude mountaineering with peaks of Everest and Cho Oyu.
“Emily has always been one of the most versatile climbers,” says Honnold, who belayed and climbed the first 2,000 feet of the Golden Gate with Harrington before being released from belaying duty by Ballinger, Harrington’s fiancé. “By climbing the Golden Gate free in one day, Em has shown once again that she is one of the most skilled climbers.”
This isn’t the first time Golden Gate has drawn blood from Harrington. In November 2019, she tried the route twice. The first time, with Honnold, she ran out of gas in the upper crux fields. She returned with Honnold two weeks later, but had a terrible crash in first place, which eventually brought her to the hospital with a severe rope burn on her neck. This fall could have been much worse, however, as Harrington and Honnold used a risky, albeit common, speed climbing tactic called simul climbing. When Harrington fell, there was a healthy loop in the rope. Somehow, Honnold managed to stop her fall by holding onto the hissing rope with his bare hands.
(Photo: Jon Glassberg / Louder than 11)
“I got so much shit from not wearing a helmet, mostly men’s, even though I wear one 95 percent of the time,” says Harrington, who needed stitches on her forehead after her fall this week. “But that’s the reality of climbing at your limit – sometimes you can’t wear a helmet because it makes climbing so much more difficult. You have to choose your risk and accept the consequences. I made this decision consciously and would make it again. “
One playing field that a helmet makes climbing difficult is the Monster Offwidth, whose true difficulty is belied by a rating of 5.11. The monster is especially tough on smaller climbers like Harrington, who is five foot two, because it’s harder to make a purchase on either side of the wide rift. When Harrington first tried the 100-foot field, it took her two and a half hours to step up.
This week Harrington had found a clever solution for climbing the Monster: She wore Alex Honnold’s climbing shoes her own.
“I wore two pairs of La Sportiva TC Pros,” she says. “My shoes and Alex’s shoes over mine. This allowed me to climb the monster like everyone else and not get hit by the top like that. “
It was an unconventional tactic to say the least. But credits Harrington for saving her energy for the upper crux pitches and ultimately helping her clear the route in one day.
“As a kid, I focused on competitions and sport climbing, and I didn’t have a lot of drive for that style,” says Harrington. “I only recently realized that this is the epitome of what I love about climbing. So many things can go wrong, there is so much uncertainty. But yesterday it all paid off. It was one of those days that I will never forget. “
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Main photo: Jon Glassberg / Louder than 11
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