Tahoe climber sets record as first woman to free-climb El Capitan's Golden Gate route in a day

A 34-year-old climber from Tahoe City has placed her name in the record books, becoming the first woman to free-climb the Golden Gate route of Yosemite National Park’s famed El Capitan in less than one day.

Emily Harrington accomplished the monumental feat on Nov. 4, scaling to the top of the 3,000 foot granite monolith in an astounding 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds.

The achievement also secured Harrington a place in an exclusive group of only three other women to free-climb the world’s most famous rock wall in less than 24 hours. 

The decorated professional climber, who has also scaled Mount Everest had attempted the goal three times before. She said that doubt and nerves were always present and that she used those emotions to help keep her focused.

“For me it's about accepting those emotions and understanding that they're never going to go away, and I just have to learn how to deal with them is really the trick more than anything. It can be uncomfortable but I think the outcome is worth it.”

At one point, an injury from a slip could have stopped her ascent. It was on one of the more grueling pitches when she lost sure footing, sending her crashing into the unforgiving granite surface.  

She suffered a bloody head wound that forced her to take a moment’s rest as her team assessed her injury. She admitted that there was a part of her that did not want to keep going.

In a Facebook post on Nov. 9, Harrington relived the experience, sharing, “A nasty slip on the 13a Golden Desert pitch almost took my resolve - a deep gash on my forehead left me bloody and defeated.”

She would not remain defeated. As much as she wanted to stop, she said she knew she owed it to herself to stay on course. “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?’” 

There was another major hurdle when she came upon the A5 traverse, the same pitch that stopped her from making it the last time she'd taken on the challenge. 

“This time it was not my limit,” she wrote triumphantly. “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.”

Friend and legendary climber Alex Honnold joined Harrington for the first part of the ascent. Harrington thanked him saying, "you’ve inspired me to think bigger and believe in myself in ways you cannot imagine."

She also expressed her love and gratitude to her boyfriend and experienced mountain guide Adrian Ballinger, who joined her for the last part of the climb. And she thanked family, friends and even strangers for the outpouring of support she's received. "I feel the love so intensely right now," she wrote. 

Harrington also started from the beginning to when she first made the decision to climb El Capitan in a day. She said that she herself did not believe she had the ability or skills to actually make it happen, noting, “It didn’t seem like a realistic objective for me.”

And then she explained that was precisely why she made the commitment to take on that goal: “Impossible dreams challenge us to rise above who we are now to see if we can become better versions of ourselves," Harrington shared, adding, "I wanted to find my limit and exist in it and fight beyond it.” And that's exactly what she did. 

KCRA contributed to this report.