Emily Harrington’s fall in Yosemite recently made big news, and now Emily has released a video about the whole incident. The video doesn’t show the fall but does show the rescue and what happened. Read on for what happened and watch the video at the bottom of the article.
Update: Just one year later Emily went back up and became the first woman to climb Golden Gate in a day!
Emily Harrington was in Yosemite a few months back trying a variety of hard routes and free ascents in Yosemite. For the last few days of the season before winter would hit Emily wanted to try and free climb the Golden Gate route in a day. Golden Gate is a 5.13 modern classic free’d in 2001, with 36(ish) pitches over 3,000 feet. The route has only seen two female free ascents – Hazel Findlay first in 2011, and then Emily Harrington herself in 2015.
Luckily Emily’s old belay buddy Alex Honnold was about. He obviously has the experience on this route and the (very similar) Freerider, as well as a lot of Yosemite speed knowledge. For the first few “easy” pitches (2,000 feet worth…) they planned to simul-climb. This is where both climbers are climbing at the same time, with the leader placing gear for protection and the follower cleaning it. The idea is that as long as the rope doesn’t have a huge amount of slack and there is adequate protection, a fall by the leader would be caught by the follower’s body weight. This isn’t particularly safe as it has a large amount of risks, though they can be managed to a degree.
Unfortunately for Emily the fall happened fairly early in the climb on a 5.10c (6a+) pitched when she absolutely didn’t expect to come off. The problem was that Alex hadn’t started climbing yet and hadn’t switched from his approach shoes to rock boots. He was belaying – and simul climbing with – a gri-gri which allowed him to take in and give slack as the pair hit easier or harder sections to keep the slack/tension about right. Near the start of the real climbing Alex sat down to change into his climbing shoes and gave out a lot of slack so Emily could continue climbing. This is where she fell. Because there was so much slack in the system because of this, plus the last piece of protection below Emily was fairly low – this meant a massive fall that could have been around 100-150 feet. No-one knows the exact fall length as it was dark, and no-one was filming or watching at the time.
Because of the nature of the fall and because Emily was much higher than her last piece, this meant that the rope in front of Alex wasn’t being pulled up like in a normal climb. The rope in front of Alex was actually falling at the same speed Emily was. So in order to shorten the fall Alex actually grabbed the rope in front of him (called the live rope or climber’s rope) rather than the brake/dead side of the rope behind the gri-gri. This isn’t generally done but definitely shortened Emily’s fall by a good amount.
The fall was big and the images from the injury seemed really bad. Emily suffered some rope burn where her rope possibly wrapped around her neck but came loose, and she walked away very bruised and bloody, but with no serious long term issues or neck/back fractures. She also doesn’t remember the climb or parts of the rescue. Honnold lowered Emily to a decent ledge, and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Sanni McCandless took the belay while he free solo’d up to Emily. Yosmite Search And Rescue got involved at this point and Emily was safely brought down.
Watch the video below for a recap from Emily Harrington herself, who was back climbing just a couple of weeks later!