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Hikers attempt the world's toughest climb up El Capitan

A view of Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan to the left and Half Dome in the background.
A view of Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan to the left and Half Dome in the background.
Nick Chill / Flickr

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Rising more than 3,000 feet tall, El Capitan is the largest single block of granite in the world. It's a favorite with experienced rock climbers, like Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who right now are attempting to make history by free climbing the "Dawn Wall" route up the rock formation. 

The Dawn Wall Push: Day 1 from Rock & Ice on Vimeo.

Veteran free climber and author John Long says "free climbing" doesn't mean a climb without ropes. It means that the climbers are only using their hands and feet to make upward progress. The ropes are there to catch them if they fall.

The area of the wall that Caldwell and Jorgeson are climbing is called the Dawn Wall because it faces the East and the sun hits it in the morning.

"That particular part of the wall is steeper than almost anyplace else on it," Long explains. "It's world-class difficulty basically from the time they step off the ground to the time they get to the top."

Since starting out on their climb on December 27, Long says Caldwell and Jorgeson have been making good progress. They've even been able to give updates on their progress via social media:

If they complete the climb successfully, "there's no question that this is the high water mark in terms of long free climb," Long says.

"You're talking about guys that are the best in the world at a sport that's practiced by over 50 million people. And so when they're pushed to this extreme and they pull off something this rare, it's significant."