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El Capitan climber: ‘Just a matter of time’ to complete historic ascent (w/video)

In this Jan. 9, 2015 photo provided by Tom Evans, Kevin Jorgeson climbs on what is known as pitch 15 during what has been called the hardest rock climb in the world: a free climb of El Capitan, the largest monolith of granite in the world, a half-mile section of exposed granite in California's Yosemite National Park. The first climber reached its summit in 1958, and there are roughly 100 routes up to the top. (AP Photo/Tom Evans, elcapreport)

PHIL BARBER, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Kevin Jorgeson finally caught up to his climbing partner, Tommy Caldwell, on the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Now both are ready to resume the climb of their lives.

While Caldwell spent Monday resting and supporting his friend’s efforts, Jorgeson setting about completing pitches 18, 19 and 20 of the never-before-climbed Dawn Wall route. It was a little after 9 p.m. when word finally came: Jorgeson had successfully made up the ground.

Since Dec. 27, Jorgeson, a Santa Rosa native, and Caldwell have been attempting to free climb — that is, use ropes and clips for safety, but not for an upward boost — the Dawn Wall. Their odds of landing this historic achievement now seem good, though much work lies ahead.

Having finally completed treacherous Pitch 15 on Friday after fighting it for a week, Jorgeson knocked off pitches 16 and 17 on Saturday, then rested (along with Caldwell) on Sunday.

Monday, Jorgeson hoped to climb another three segments and reach the point at which Caldwell had stopped to wait for him — the natural rock ledge known as Wino Tower.

Jorgeson, who has maintained a presence on social media throughout the climb, sounded upbeat late Monday morning. “Nothing like clouds and a cold breeze to boost motivation for the hard day ahead,” he posted on Twitter.

Sure enough, Jorgeson fairly efficiently “sent” pitches 18 and 19 in the early afternoon. But he struggled to catch up with Caldwell, who is from Estes Park, Colo.

“Sitting on Wino Tower engulfed in a cloud after a foot slip at the top of pitch 20,” Jorgeson tweeted at about 7 p.m. “Felt strong. Just a matter of time.”

He had changed his tune on the weather report, though.

“Can someone turn the humidity down by about 90 percent?” he added.

Jorgeson went back to the beginning of Pitch 19 and started again. His persistence finally paid off, and now the two climbers can again take turns leading one another up the rock.

On the ground, there is growing expectation that the two elite climbers will make it to the top of El Capitan. They have completed all of the sections rated in the hyper-difficult 5.14 category, including both of the grueling 5.14d pitches (Nos. 14 and 15). Above Wino Tower, all of the pitches are rated 5.12 — challenging for most seasoned climbers but relatively straightforward in the context of this climb.

Barring an injury or a dramatic turn in the weather, Jorgeson and Caldwell should reach the top sometime soon, though no one knows exactly when. Representatives of the climbers’ sponsors believe it’s most likely to happen Wednesday or Thursday.

For now, the duo will continue to sleep in a small portaledge suspended a couple thousand feet off the floor of Yosemite Valley.

“You have to go from zero to climbing as hard as you can, really quickly, because your window of opportunity is so small, with the conditions and the light,” Jorgeson said in a phone interview with National Geographic. “The terrain doesn’t allow much opportunity to warm up in a traditional sense. And neither does the schedule. You just have to pull on and go for it.”

Soon, Jorgeson hopes, he and Caldwell will take their first steps on solid ground in more than two weeks. If successful, they will gain legendary status among climbers.