Emily Harrington: Climbing Into the History Books

By Paige Francis
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“Emily Harrington climbed her way into the history books last week, becoming the first woman to free-climb the Golden Gate route of Yosemite National Park's El Capitan in less than one day.” (npr.org) Harrington conquered El Cap on Wednesday, November 3rd in 21 hours, 13 minutes, and 51 seconds. This climb made her the fourth woman to free climb El Capitan. 


El Capitan is a mountian located in Yosemite National Park, California. The summit stands at an intimidating 3,000 feet and is “considered one of the most historic and difficult rock-climbing venues in the world.” (npr.org) El Capitan has a lot of different routes to hike up the mountain. Harrington took the Golden Gate route and she was the fourth one to free climb this route. Free climbing is a method where climbers use their hands and feet to push themselves up. They wear ropes and other protective gear to catch them in case they fall. Even with this protective gear, free climbing is dangerous and one of Harrington’s climbs on El Capitan didn’t go well and she ended up in the hospital. However, this time around she was safe and made history.


Emily Harrington began her climb with her friend Alex Honnold, who in 2017 climbed El Capitan, without a rope. This method of climbing is called “free soloing” and is very dangerous. Many climbers have died from attempting free solo climbs. However, Alex did it and was the first person ever to successfully free solo El Capitan. His story has been made into a documentary called Free Solo and won an Oscar.  Honnold is a very experienced climber and is good friends with Harrington. Harrington started her ascent a little past 1:30 a.m. while Honnold was serving as her belayer for the first part of her climb. Once she began, Harrington repeated a mantra to herself: "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast." At a difficult spot in the climb, as Harrington was reaching for her next move, her hands were sweaty and she slipped and hit her head against a rock. Luckily, the injury wasn’t severe but Harrington felt exhausted and defeated and even considered stopping. Harrington felt “mentally [and] emotionally broken at that point.” After taking a break and putting on a bandage, she kept going. "I found it within myself to continue climbing," she said. (npr.org)


At 10:30 p.m., Emily Harrington reached the summit. At the top, she was greeted by her close friends and fiancé, Adrian Ballinger, a mountain guide. Harrington described the moment as “surreal”, and went on to say, "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. And it was kind of like that, I would say. But 20 hours in, you're pretty tired." The moment was celebrated with some champagne and now that this life dream was out of the way for Harrington, she and her fiancé plan to take a break from the “big, lofty goals” for a bit. (npr.org)


Emily Harrington thinks this climb was successful because it “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.” She was definitely prepared and was able to conquer this historic climb. Harrington made history, and more people will definitely follow suit.