You may feel inundated with stories of climbers accomplishing never-before-done feats at Yosemite’s El Capitan. You’ve seen “Free Solo” win an Oscar for Alex Hannold’s ropeless ascent of the Freerider route. There was “The Dawn Wall,” which tracked Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s free-climb of the route of the same name. Then it was Hannold and Caldwell breaking the speed record of climbing up the Nose of El Capitan. But just because these are more documented in more detail than they have been before, that shouldn’t make anyone’s appreciation for the sheer magnitude and amazement of what these climbers have done and are doing.
And the same is true for Emily Harrington’s one-day ascent of Golden Gate, the first woman to complete that route in less than 24 hours. She did it last week, and it was her third attempt to complete the route in less than a day. She is only the fourth woman to complete any route on El Capitan in less than 24 hours, and only the fourth person to do Golden Gate in that same time frame.
To give perspective on the difficulty, Golden Gate is a route most climbers would take slightly less than a week to ascend — and by that we mean the best climbers in the world, not jackasses like me dying on a 5.10c at the local climbing gym — with breaks to sleep, rest, and maybe get any sort of feeling back in your forearms. Harrington did it in less than a day, 3,000 feet in 21 hours. That’s 142 feet per hour of one of the toughest climbs in the world.
In a bit of symmetry, Hannold belayed her for the first portion of her climb. Free climbing does involve ropes but only to protect from falls. The climber performs each pitch (section) using only their feet and arms to progress, and then, after each pitch, they reset with the belayer. Golden Gate has 41 different pitches, including four demonic 5.13-rated ones, the hardest class (5.15 is the hardest, and there’s only three of those in the US). If you need footage that will only baffle you more as to how someone could accomplish this, here you go.
Harrington has summited Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam in the past, as well as other historic speed and free-climbs around the world. She had to fight through a particularly nasty fall toward the end of this climb that left a gnarly gash above her left eye, and the reminders of a bad fall last year that curtailed her attempts to perform the feat then. Not this time.