Emily Harrington becomes first woman to free-climb El Capitan route in 1 day

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Breaking granite ceilings.

Professional mountain athlete Emily Harrington scaled the entire 3,000-foot granite wall of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan last week, becoming the first woman to ever complete a free climb up the façade’s Golden Gate route in under 24 hours.

Harrington, 34, managed to finish the difficult climbing route in 21 hours, 13 minutes on Wednesday, to join the ranks of the only three other free climbers to ever complete the Golden Gate. Free climbers use only a rope to protect against falls during the assent.

Emily Harrington practiced for years before finally facing the 24-hour climb last week.
(Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for The North Face)

“The idea is to not stop until you get to the top,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle of the challenging trek. “That’s the essence of big-wall free climbing.”

Harrington had reportedly been training for five years with the Golden Gate route in mind.

She had attempted a trial run back in November of last year, but fell 40 feet and had to be carried away in a stretcher due to her injuries, the Chronicle reported.

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However, undeterred, Harrington continued to train and when coronavirus limited her traveling, she instead focused on dedicating hours of practice in the gym to prep for the climb.

“She is considerably stronger physically and emotionally than a year ago,” Adrian Ballinger, an athlete and Harrington’s boyfriend, told the Chronicle.

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Before Harrington, only three people had successfully completed the free-climb up the Goldern Gate route in 24 hours. They were all men.
(iStock)

On Wednesday, Harrington, Ballinger and fellow professional climber Alex Honnold, the star of the Oscar-winning “Free Solo” documentary chronicling his attempt a free climbing up El Capitan in June 2017, began the journey up.

The group began at 1:34 a.m., using headlamps to light the route up, Harrington shared on her Instagram.

Harrington quickly scaled the first 2,600 feet before running into problems around noon when she fell. After a brief rest, she tried again and slipped a second time and hit her head on the wall, prompting the crew to take a long break, the Chronicle shared.

“Blood just started pouring down her face, dripping onto me at the belay,” Ballinger told the outlet.

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Harrington refused to give up. Knowing she was up against the clock, she set out again after the heat let up.

A little over 21 hours later, at around 10:45 p.m., Harrington pulled herself up over the top of El Capitan.

“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,” she wrote on Instagram.  

“Impossible dreams challenge us to rise above who we are now to see if we can become better versions of ourselves.”

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