Emily Harrington is the First Woman to Free-Climb El Capitan in Under 24 Hours

Published on November 11, 2020

Emily Harrington made history as the first women to free-climb the Golden Gate route of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan in under 24 hours. She reached the top of the 3,000 ft mountain in 21 hours, 13 minutes, and 51 seconds. Harrington is the fourth woman to ever free-climb the mountain, one of the most popular climbing mountains in the world.

El Capitan is one of the most arduous rock-climbing venues on the planet. In 1994, Lynn Hill was the first person to climb it. Steph Davis and Mayan Smith-Gobat followed in her footsteps. They did it by free-climbing, too. A free-climb means climbers must use only their hands and feet. For safety, Harrington wore ropes and other protective gear in case she fell. “I think the reason it was successful was kind of a mixture of finally being prepared enough, finally having the experience required, having the fitness and the training, as well as a little bit of luck,” Harrington told NPR

Harrington began her epic climb at 1:30 in the morning. She kept telling herself, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast,” to keep herself going. Harrington suffered one injury along the journey. She slipped and hit her head against a rock. The climber was bloody and considered stopping. Harrington described herself as mentally broken down at this point, but she kept going. The climber reached the top at 10:30 at night. “I had definitely dreamed of that moment for some years now, and I had always sort of imagined it in my head as being this huge sense of relief and joy and celebration,” she said. “And it was kind of like that, I would say. But 20 hours in, you’re pretty tired.”

Originally, Harrington didn’t think free-climbing to the top would be realistic. She challenged herself and did everything she could to ensure she made it to the top, though. “I never believed I could actually free climb El Cap in a day when I first set the goal for myself,” she wrote on Instagram. “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.”

Harrington had attempted the climb before. Where she got hurt was around where she originally stopped climbing during her first attempt. “A nasty slip on the 13a Golden Desert pitch almost took my resolve – a deep gash on my forehead left me bloody and defeated,” she added. 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.”

It’s an incredible accomplishment. Harrington thanked her family, friends, and strangers for all their support. The story initially reported Harrington was the first woman ever to free-climb the 3,000 ft mountain, but as aforementioned, three women had come before her. Harrington is, however, the first woman to complete the climb in under 24 hours. The extraordinary climber ended her celebratory and thankful Instagram post with, “More to come.”

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

Read more

More GD News