Yosemite climbers closing in on historic feat

For 18 days, two men have been attempting what many thought impossible - free-climbing to the summit of El Capitan's Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park in California.

Tommy Caldwell ascends what is known as pitch 10 on El Capitan, the largest monolith of granite in the world, a half-mile section of exposed granite in California's Yosemite National Park on December 28, 2014. Tom Evans, elcapreport/ AP Photo
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SAN FRANCISCO // Two climbers trying to become the first in the world to use only their hands and feet to scale a sheer granite face in Yosemite National Park in California are closing in on the summit.

Kevin Jorgeson, 30, of California, and Tommy Caldwell, 36, of Colorado are expected to finish the climb up El Capitan’s Dawn Wall late on Wednesday.

For 18 days, the two men have been attempting what many thought impossible.

They are free-climbing to the summit, meaning they do not use climbing aids, just harnesses and ropes to prevent deadly falls.

Each trained for more than five years, and they have battled bloodied fingers and unseasonably warm weather.

Jorgeson fell 11 times over seven days trying to get past one tough section. He took to Facebook on Sunday to publicly celebrate his victory.

“It took everything in my power to stay positive and resolved that I would succeed,” he wrote of his continued attempt to get past the grueling section.

The climb began on December 27 and was expected to take two weeks. If the men finish, they will have been on the wall closer to three weeks.

No one has ever “free climbed” to the top of the Dawn Wall. In 1970, Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell spent more than 27 days free climbing the wall but did not make it to the summit.

There are about 100 routes up El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world, which rises more than 900-metres above the Yosemite Valley floor. Of those, the hardest and steepest is the Dawn Wall, so named because it faces east toward the rising sun.

Caldwell is a professional climber who has free climbed 11 routes on El Capitan. He’s been climbing since he was 17.

His achievemnets are even more incredible for the fact that in 2001, he accidentally cut off his left index finger with a table saw. Six months later, he scaled a different route up El Capitan in 19 hours with only protective hardware to stop any falls. Only once before had anyone managed such a climb in less than 24 hours.

Jorgeson is also a professional climber and instructor.

The climbers’ fingers have been left in tatters by the rough granite. Jorgeson has battled with one lower section so many times that the sharp holds ripped both the tape and the skin off his fingers. Caldwell’s fingers are so raw that he sets his alarm to reapply a special product to his skin.

Caldwell said on Facebook that the middle section of the climb involves “some of the smallest and sharpest” holds he has ever attempted.

At one point, climbers have to jump completely off the wall to catch a grip the size of a matchstick. The warm weather has forced them at times to climb at night, when the rock is cold enough for maximum traction.

The pair tried the climb in 2010 but only made it a third of the way because of storms. A year later, Jorgeson broke an ankle after a fall during an attempt.

John Long, the first person to climb up El Capitan in one day in 1975, said earlier this week that it’s almost “inconceivable that anyone could do something that continuously difficult.” He said he believes the duo spent the equivalent of a year’s time on the wall in preparation.

The men eat, drink coffee, stretch and sleep in hanging tents suspended from the wall. Supporters bring supplies, including pain pills, batteries and super glue for their fingers. They keep in touch by regularly tweeting, posting on Facebook, feeding information for blogs and talking with teams on the ground. The tents are in the same location and the men return to them after they climb each day.

*Associated Press