Emily Harrington: First woman to free-climb El Capitan’s Golden Gate route in one day

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Rock climber Emily Harrington has become the first woman, and fourth person, to free-climb the Golden Gate route on Yosemite National Park’s 3,000-foot (914-meter) granite wall in a single day.

While most of the country was focused on the results of the U.S. presidential election early Wednesday, the 34-year-old began to scale El Capitan, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday. She reached the top 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds later. Only three people — all men — have made the free climb on that route in a day.

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Golden Gate ✨ Free 💫 In A Day ⚡️ 📸 @jonglassberg / @jess_talley / @louderthan11 I never believed I could actually free climb El Cap in a day when I first set the goal for myself. It didn’t seem like a realistic objective for me. I didn’t have the skills, fitness, or risk profile to move so quickly over such a large piece of stone. But I chose it exactly for that reason. Impossible dreams challenge us to rise above who we are now to see if we can become better versions of ourselves. On Nov 4 I started climbing with @alexhonnold at 1:34am, caught between my own internal drama of achieving a life goal and the more prevalent one of the elections – both unfolding in parallel ways in my brain. I knew I was in for a big day – but that’s exactly why I was there. I wanted to find my limit and exist in it and fight beyond it. A nasty slip on the 13a Golden Desert pitch almost took my resolve – a deep gash on my forehead left me bloody and defeated. I pulled on again, part of me not really wanting to stay on the wall, the other part gathering courage and flow. I kept thinking “why am I still hanging on?” The next pitch was the A5 traverse, where I failed last year. This time it was not my limit. I fought hard but with flawless movements in the dark. I cried at the belay – it could happen this time….The final 5 pitches felt scary in my current state but I pulled over the final lip at 10:30pm in disbelief. There’s a lot more to say but mostly I wanted to express my gratitude for the love and support from friends, family, and strangers. I feel the love so intensely right now. Thank you all 🙏🏻 Massive thanks to @alexhonnold for climbing with me over these years, you’ve inspired me to think bigger and believe in myself in ways you cannot imagine. To @jonglassberg for your friendship, creativity, and ability to capture a story while at the same time keeping it light and always fun. And finally to my best friend, partner, lover, fave human of all time @adrianballinger – your support and love for me through the darkness and the light has never wavered. I love you endlessly ❤️❤️❤️ More to come!!! @thenorthface / @kodiakcakes / @petzl_official / @lasportivana

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Free climbers use ropes to catch them if they fall, but not to help them ascend.

El Capitan is one of the world’s most famous climbing spots. It has been a proving ground for the best climbers for decades in the national park, which many consider the birthplace of modern rock climbing.

Harrington had climbed a particular route on the wall, called Golden Gate, many times, but never in a single day. Nearly a year ago, she endured a scary fall and was taken to the hospital with injuries. She vowed to try again and spent months training in her home gym in Tahoe City, California.

This time, she ascended with the assistance of her boyfriend Adrian Ballinger, a renowned Mount Everest guide, and Alex Honnold, famous for his unprecedented free solo climb of El Capitan. They were tied to the same rope.

When Harrington reached one of the route’s most difficult sections, her foot slipped and she fell sideways, hitting her head into the granite wall.

“Blood just started pouring down her face, dripping onto me at the belay,” Ballinger told the Chronicle. “We immediately thought her day was done. It was a wild, scary flashback to last year’s fall.”

But after taking an hour-long rest and bandaging her wound, Harrington continued.

“There was a part of me that wanted to give up and quit,” she said. “But this other part of me was like, this is why you’re here. It’s supposed to be hard. You owe it to yourself to try again.”

Being the first woman to achieve the feat in the male-dominated sport mattered to her, she said.

“I spent a lot of years feeling like I didn’t belong, like maybe I hadn’t earned my place to be a Yosemite climber,” she said. “But throughout this experience I learned that there is no belonging or not belonging, no formula to achievement up there. I was creative and experimental and I found my own way.”

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