Tahoe, CA Woman Becomes First Female to Free-Climb El Capitan Route in Under 24-Hours

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The first woman to free-climb El Capitan in under 24-hours. Credit: Instagram

Mountain climber Emily Harrington just made history by becoming the first woman, and only the fourth person overall, to free-climb the Golden Gate route of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, CA in less than 24-hours. Free climbing means climbers have ropes to catch them if they fall, but they provide no assistance for the actual climbing.

Starting her ascent at 1:34 am on November 4, she scaled the 3,000-foot granite wall in 21 hours, 13 minutes, and 51 seconds. With her was partner Adrian Ballinger, founder of Squaw Valley based Alpenglow Expeditions, and himself no stranger to adventure, and Alex Honnold, famous for free soloing El Capitan (no ropes at all).


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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

At one point Harrington’s foot slipped and she fell sideways, banging her head into the rock face. After taking an hour rest and bandaging the wound, she continued.

“Blood just started pouring down her face, dripping onto me at the belay. We immediately thought her day was done. It was a wild, scary flashback to last year’s fall.”

– Adrian Ballinger

El Capitan, Emily Harrington,
Credit: Instagram
El Capitan, Emily Harrington,
Credit: Instagram

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2 thoughts on “Tahoe, CA Woman Becomes First Female to Free-Climb El Capitan Route in Under 24-Hours

  1. You might get a barrage of these responses, but the article title needs a slight tweak…

    First woman to free climb her particular route in under 24hrs, but the first to free climb El Cap (male or female) was Lynn Hill (’94).

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