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The Dawn Wall Really Is The Hardest Climb In The World

After 18 days and 3,000 vertical feet, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first ever free climb of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall on Wednesday. The route is technically difficult and extremely long, which are two distinct concepts in the world of climbing. The crux of the Dawn Wall on its own is among the world’s most difficult climbs, and it’s just one section of 33. Routes like this are practically nonexistent.

The best available data for climbing routes comes from the Mountain Project, a crowdsourced database that contains 123,307 distinct routes worldwide. (It does not currently include the Dawn Wall, as no users have added it.) The chart above breaks down all Mountain Project routes, plus the Dawn Wall, by their difficulty and length. Difficulty is measured on the Yosemite Decimal System — over 5.12a is very difficult, and over 5.13a is the kind of climb that only expert climbers can pull off. Length is measured in pitches, with one pitch representing a single section of ascent limited by the terrain and length of the climbing rope. (Pitch length is variable depending on rope length and courage.)

Taking these user-generated numbers with a grain of salt, just 227 routes in the database rated as 5.14a or higher (the Dawn Wall is 5.14d) and just 32 climbs of any difficulty were listed as greater than 30 pitches. Only one climb in the database was both: Magic Mushroom, also on Yosemite’s El Capitan. Caldwell was the first to free climb it in 2008 — and he did it in less than 30 pitches.

For Caldwell and Jorgenson, in other words, the Dawn Wall really is peerless.

CORRECTION (Jan. 15, 2:24 p.m.): An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the scale of the Yosemite Decimal System. Ratings for technical climbs begin with “5” not “15.”

Reuben Fischer-Baum was a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.