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

Emily Harrington climbed alongside Alex Honnold of Free Solo fame

Emily Harrington
Emily Harrington. Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty

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.”

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?’”

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.

“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.

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