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2 Men Reach Climbing Milestone on El Capitan

September 16, 2002|From Associated Press

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — With headlamps lighting the way out of the abyss, two rock climbers scrambled atop El Capitan and stepped into the record books.

Hans Florine and Steve Gerberding, two of the best climbers in the world, each scaled the 3,000-foot wall for the 100th time Saturday, setting a mark that once seemed unreachable and demonstrating just how much the sport has evolved in half a century.

Two helmet-mounted headlamps appeared among the rocky outcroppings on a ledge about 9 p.m., and a weary voice cried out, "Yowww!"

After 14 hours of nonstop climbing, Gerberding, 42, a climbing instructor from Joshua Tree, sprawled on the rock and said it would take a few days for the personal milestone--19 years in the making--to sink in.

"When you're wasted, nothing feels that special," he said. "Special would be if there's a helicopter up here."

As the two contemplated how they were going to get down, Gerberding vomited from a combination of exhaustion and dehydration. "I'm not going to die. I'm just beat, dude," he said.

El Capitan was not conquered until 1958, five years after mountaineers reached the summit of Mt. Everest. At 7,000 feet, it casts an imposing shadow over Yosemite Valley, a glacier-shaped canyon at 4,000 feet.

It was considered unassailable until new techniques and equipment were developed after World War II. It wasn't seriously attempted for another decade.

The first ascent, led by Warren Harding, took 45 days. The second took less than a week.

Today, the fastest climbers, including Florine, 38, a marketing representative for a San Francisco gym company, have made it up the most direct route in less than four hours.

Those who can reach the top in less than 24 hours are a new breed of climber, taking less equipment, moving faster and taking greater risks.

Like other extreme sports, where fewer firsts remain, the emphasis among a core of elite athletes is on speed or some other measure of accomplishment.

With Saturday's climb, which shattered the previous 22-hour mark for that route, Florine has 13 records on El Capitan.

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