Rock Climber Becomes First Woman to Free-Climb El Capitan in Single Day: 'I Did It My Own Way'

Rachel DeSantis
·3 min read

Paul Zimmerman/Getty Emily Harrington

Professional rock climber Emily Harrington recently made history as the first woman to ever free-climb Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan in one day.

Harrington accomplished the impressive feat on Wednesday, reportedly making her just the fourth person to ever scale the 3,000-foot granite summit without the help of rope or other mechanisms.

The athlete shared the news on Instagram, and wrote that initially, the thought of completing the climb within 24 hours was too daunting to even consider.

“I never believed I could actually free-climb El Cap in a day when I first set the goal for myself,” she wrote. “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.”

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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

A post shared by ᴇᴍɪʟʏ ʜᴀʀʀɪɴɢᴛᴏɴ (@emilyaharrington) on Nov 7, 2020 at 8:06am PST

Harrington said she began climbing at 1:34 a.m. on Wednesday with Alex Honnold, who chronicled his own journey climbing El Capitan in the Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo.

The mission wasn’t without obstacles – at one point, Harrington said she had a “nasty slip” that left her with a gash on her forehead and a sense of defeat.

“I pulled on again, part of me not really wanting to stay on the wall, the other part gathering courage and flow,” she wrote. “I kept thinking, ‘Why am I still hanging on?’”

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By the time she made it to the same point where she had failed in her quest last year, Harrington said she was filled with emotion.

“This time it was not my limit,” she wrote. “The final five pitches felt scary in my current state but I pulled over the final lip at 10:30 p.m. in disbelief.”

Harrington ultimately completed her climb in 21 hours and 13 minutes, finally accomplishing a feat she'd attempted and failed to do two times last year, according to ABC News.

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“[Climbing] still is very much a world where men kind of dominate, and I think for me it took a long time to realize that I did belong up there and that I didn’t have to do it the way everyone else said I had to do it,” she told the outlet. “There’s no formula and I did it my own way.”

Free climbers are attached to ropes during their climbs so that they’ll have a safety net if they fall, but the ropes and other safety gear do not aid in the climb.

Harrington made headlines last year when she fell while climbing El Capitan and was hospitalized.

RELATED: Free Solo Directors Bring Subject Alex Honnold on Stage as They Win Best Documentary Feature

“I had an accident yesterday on El Cap. I’m banged up but gonna be ok thankfully,” she wrote at the time. “Not much to say except I took a bad fall and pin balled a bit then somehow hit the rope [with] my neck 🤷🏼‍♀️🤦🏼‍♀️‍.”

She has free-climbed El Capitan in the past and has also summited Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, according to her website.

Harrington is a former member of the USA climbing team and has competed in five U.S. sport climbing championships and two North American championships.