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The Inertia

Emily Harrington is a gifted climber. Make no bones about it. She’s won championships in the competitive arena and she’s more than paid her dues on natural rock. But like any seasoned vet, that doesn’t make her immune to accident. The 33-year-old was attempting the Golden Gate (VI 5.13) route on El Capitan in a single day – she would have been only the fourth climber and first woman ever to complete it – when things went wrong and she took a hellacious fall. She free-climbed that same route in a six day stretch in 2015 and nearly did it in a day, earlier this month (see Instagram, below).

According to reports, Alex Honnold (one of the three climbers to have done Golden Gate in a day ) was in play as Harrington’s partner and they were at the beginning pitches when Harrington fell, gruesomely wrapping her neck in the rope on the way down. Her boyfriend, accomplished climber and skier Adrian Ballinger, was assisting from a pitch above. Both Harrington and Ballinger gave Honnold credit during the rescue attempt as the Free Solo star stabilized Harrington until Search and Rescue could arrive.

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Most important to this insty – @emilyaharrington is going to be ok! ❤️🙏 Two mornings ago was the scene we all dread. The most important person in my world crumpled on a ledge after a big fall in below freezing temperatures with real injuries and a lot of reasons to suspect spinal injury. But looking back it was also the best case scenario of the worst case scenario – @alexhonnold with Em calmly maintaining spinal immobilization on the wall, getting things ready for an evac, and telling stories and keeping her talking throughout. Clear and consistent comms and planning by @jonglassberg and @sannimccandless from the ground. @tarakerzhner keeping me calm as we ran from the other side of the mountain and up the wall to be first on scene to get Em warm and stabilized. YOSAR (Yosemite Search and Rescue) on scene within 90 minutes with a big crew and the necessary equipment to get her off the wall and to the road. Competent paramedics and Trauma 1 Center docs to give the good drugs and eventually to clear Em of spinal injury despite some gnarly wounds. The outpouring of help and support from friends at home and in Yosemite to clean up our chaos from plans very rapidly changed. And finally, Em herself and her warrior mentality. She dealt with the pain, helped where she could, and stayed positive throughout. It’s gonna take a bit of time, but Em and her blood stained 🦖 earrings and new neck tattoo will be back in the vertical world soon. // Photos: 2,5 @tarakerzhner / 4 @emilyaharrington / 1,3,6,7 AB

A post shared by Adrian Ballinger (@adrianballinger) on

“The most important person in my world crumpled on a ledge after a big fall in below freezing temperatures with real injuries and a lot of reasons to suspect spinal injury,” wrote Ballinger on Instagram. “But looking back it was also the best case scenario of the worst case scenario – @alexhonnold with Em calmly maintaining spinal immobilization on the wall, getting things ready for an evac, and telling stories and keeping her talking throughout.”

The duo were using a fast but risky technique called simul-climbing, where both lead and belay scale a wall at the same time. While much faster, falls are also much more devastating: if the belayer slips he drags the lead with, if the lead falls it’s a much longer fall than normal because there’s so much less gear being used. The belayer is cleaning as he/she comes up from just behind.

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It was a scary moment for one of the best female climbers in the world and the entire climbing community seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief.

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We reached the base of the Monster Offwidth in a little less than 4 hours after leaving the ground. It was the fastest I’d climbed the bottom of El Capitan – with the golden ticket of a partner @alexhonnold simuling/jugging behind me. It felt pretty amazing to cover so much rock so quickly. After the powerful downclimb I lurched into the offwidth, shimying my body upward in the nausea-inducing way wide climbing provides. Although now I have a cheeky system that helps me squeak through this pitch w less drama and blood than before. After the downclimb I scrape my way up 15ft to a no hands pedestal and sit. I tag across a right approach shoe (@lasportivana TX4) and a #6 Camelot. I switch my right TC pro for the TX4 and now with a slightly larger more comfy right foot I am able to cam and heel-toe, a much more effective method than my prior reverse cheese grater strategy. Yesterday it felt easy. I was moving upward at a slow but consistent pace. Even the #6 – which is usually annoying to push above my head – was sliding smoothly and not snagging like usual. The 6 is the only protection you get on the Monster, aside from a cam at the start and a bolt about 30ft up. Then it’s around 80ft of shuffling that 6 above your head until it’s too tight and you have to leave it behind for the last 20ft. It came time to leave the 6 and I cautiously moved out a bit to get around it when I glanced down and realized that it wasn’t clipped to anything. I had pushed the cam up the entire Monster without actually clipping into it. I lol’ed at the horror of taking a 100+ft whipper and understood immediately why it was so easy to push up. My day did not end with a send of Golden Gate in a day, but I was damn close and I made it a lot further than I expected. I feel really lucky and grateful that I have the opportunity to put everything I have (time, energy, passion) into such a big project, that I have so much support from partners, friends, and sponsors; and that the Monster Offwidth is no longer my biggest fear on El Cap. Maybe I should just ditch that #6 all together next time? 📸 @austin_siadak of me entering the Monster at sunrise // @thenorthface_climb // @petzl_official

A post shared by Emily Harrington (@emilyaharrington) on

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