Fifty Year Ago Today, Batso Harding and his Buddies Finally Conquered "Unclimbable" El Capitan

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November 12, 1958, was an auspicious day for the climbing world and Yosemite National Park. Using siege tactics considered primitive by modern standards, a team led by Warren J. "Batso" Harding finally conquered "unclimbable" El Capitan.

El Capitan is a truly impressive hunk of granite. It soars 3,600 feet almost vertically from the Yosemite Valley floor, and to the untrained eye it appears to be utterly sheer, offering no purchase for anything more substantial than flies and geckos. Small wonder that it was widely considered unclimbable until a half-century ago when Batso Harding and his buddies actually climbed the damn thing.

Back in the 1950s, Batso was obsessed with the daunting rock that many climbers now call "The Captain." He studied and studied it, finally deciding that if it were ever to be climbed, it would be via a route along a roughly prow-shaped part of the rock face called the Nose. (As the accompanying photo shows, the Nose is apparent only when viewed from the side, a perspective that reveals its southeastward and southwestward facing angles.)

Batso came to believe that the job could be done by a team of climbers willing to work very hard for as long as it may take. To Batso, it was the doing of the thing that mattered, not the style. Instead of completing the route in a continuous push, which was clearly infeasible, he elected to put the route up in increments using siege tactics rarely if ever used before in Yosemite. He would use whatever hardware was necessary, too....

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