Women on El Capitan: Pioneering climbers

Written by By Vicki Behringer, Special to CNN Editor’s Note — This article is part of a special series celebrating female action sports athletes. She had completed the world’s highest ascent. She had climbed…

Women on El Capitan: Pioneering climbers

Written by By Vicki Behringer, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note — This article is part of a special series celebrating female action sports athletes.

She had completed the world’s highest ascent. She had climbed Machu Picchu. She had conquered Mt. Everest.

She had managed to do it all while juggling motherhood and running a business.

She had always wanted to live in the mountains and to climb the highest peaks. She had always dreamed of climbing one of the most dangerous — and most beautiful — places on earth, Yosemite National Park.

Her name was Asprita Lahiri and she was always the first Indian woman to make it to the summit of Mt. Everest. Now she is climbing El Capitan in Yosemite.

“If I don’t live up to the challenge, then I feel I have failed.”

In 2012, Lahiri told Travel + Leisure, “If I don’t live up to the challenge, then I feel I have failed,” during a pre-challenge interview. She and her partner, Michael Mooney, had done the Himalayas, Central America, and also trekked down the southern Appalachian mountains on the way to Everest base camp.

At the time, Lahiri was on her 35th day of climbing the 16,000-foot peak. Not even she could find the word joy in describing being on top.

El Capitan — the West Cliff — is the tallest sheer granite monolith in the world. It’s all so challenging.

This time, though, it was her mother’s birthday. This was a reason for her to get back to the park, despite having said exactly the opposite three years before.

All of the doubters and cynics had finally been proved wrong.

“I have spent my whole life wanted to be here,” she said at the start of the climb.

While on the summit, Lahiri saw the world reflected in a way she had never before experienced. With nothing to see but the powdery black granite and sprawling sunsets she found herself sitting on the top, staring at the surrounding granite.

One of the most famous climbers and elans of the world, Nima Arkani-Hamed was on the summit too. The youngest of the gruelling four-person team, he had climbed El Capitan twice before.

“One photo I think of,” Lahiri said, “what separates El Cap from other projects, is that it’s the one that I want to climb more than anything. It’s the one where no one can say, ‘It’s too hard.’”

They all came into Yosemite Park from India to do this challenge. From all over the world.

A photo opportunity this historic ascent never made it to the same place before.

Top climbs

El Capitan– the West Cliff– is the tallest sheer granite monolith in the world.

This is the peak on which Ayman al-Ramji, a Jordanian, had been killed in 1994. The 59-year-old Egyptian veteran had lived his life as a mountaineer, climbing mountains across the world. He had written one book on his experiences in the Himalayas.

In the mountain climbing world, no one goes to the climb without ropes.

Lahiri and her partner had two months to get their ropes up and down the rock face. Here, a simple rope can take 20 minutes to get up and down.

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