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

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Emily Harrington became last week the fourth person and first woman to free-climb Yosemite National Park's El Capitan within a day.

The 34-year-old began her climb at 1:34 a.m. on Wednesday, attempting to become the first woman to conquer the 3,000 foot granite slope in under 24 hours. She reached the top that night in 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds.

Free climbing can be extremely dangerous. Athletes are allowed to use ropes while they climb to catch them if they fall but are not allowed to use anything for assistance as they work their way up the mountain. 

Harrington tried to climb the same route twice in 2019, with her second attempt ended in a 150-foot fall. Neck burns from the ropes that caught her sent Harrington to the hospital and took her out for the rest of that climbing season. 

She faced similar dangers in her most recent pursuit, as her foot slipped during one of the route's most difficult portions. Harrington fell, puncturing her head on a rock on her way down, and was forced to take a break to evaluate her injuries before continuing.  

Harrington's climbing partner and fiancé, Adrian Ballinger, conducted a concussion test to determine whether she was safe to go on. She was cleared to continue but was faced with the difficult decision to keep climbing after another scary setback. 

"A nasty slip on the 13a Golden Desert pitch almost took my resolve - a deep gash on my forehead left me bloody and defeated," Harrington said in an Instagram post. "I pulled on again, part of me not really wanting to stay on the wall, the other part gathering courage and flow."

Harrington completed the rest of her journey, finishing at 10:30 p.m. that evening, three hours within her 24-hour goal. 

"Impossible dreams challenge us to rise above who we are now to see if we can become better versions of ourselves," Harrington said.