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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

In Northern California, two men have set a world record for climbing the face of El Capitan. That's the iconic granite mountain in the Yosemite Valley. It takes some people days to climb the mountain-face. And yesterday, it took those climbers less than three hours. NPR's John McChesney was there to see it.

JOHN McCHESNEY: When you stand at the foot of El Capitan, staring up, your heart simply stops. The giant, up-thrust expanse of rock seems to lean over you, threatening, daring you to come on up.

Two men - one from Japan, one from California - took that dare one more time. They climbed what's called the nose route, straight up the middle. Hans Florine has climbed the nose 68 times now, and until last October, he and Yuji Hirayama owned the record. Then two well-sponsored Germen brothers, Thomas and Alexander Huber, showed up and broke it. Their time: two hours and 45 minutes. Hans Florine honored their record.

Mr. HANS FLORINE (Mountain Climber): What's super impressive that the Huber brothers broke our record is that they're not local.

McCHESNEY: Probably no one has more local knowledge of El Cap than Hans Florine. He's had to reclaim the record nine times from challengers. And for you geezer jocks out there, take hope. Florine is 44 and Hirayama is 39, and no bulging muscles, just wiry arms and legs.

Sitting on a purple, flowered meadow in front of El Cap, neither is very articulate about why they pursue such a dangerous sport. This is the closest Hans comes.

Mr. FLORINE: There's 2,500 feet of air below you, and it's quite amazing. You're looking down at these trees and pine trees and oak trees that look like a broccoli patch. So it's a wild view from up there.

Mr. YUJI HIRAYAMA (Mountain Climber): I just go up.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: Have fun, Yuji.

Unidentified Man #2: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #1: Go, Yuji.

McCHESNEY: And as they hit the wall at 6:40 a.m., the first of many cheers from supporters during the day breaks out.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

McCHESNEY: No one says much about Yuji peeling off and falling 20 feet during the warm-up. The climbers follow the cracks in the face where they can wedge their pitons. It seems only minutes before they're ant-sized on the face. When they reach a boot-shaped formation, they have to execute one of the most dangerous parts of the climb. Tom Evans, a veteran climber, tells me to watch through his telescope.

Mr. TOM EVANS (Mountain Climber): He's about to do the big pendulum, called the king swing. Okay, now, just look in. You'll see him take the swing. And he's high on the wall now. Here he comes.

McCHESNEY: Yuji, 1,000 feet up, runs to his left to get momentum, then he swings right, nearly 100 feet across the face and grabs a crack.

Mr. EVANS: He'll climb over the corner. Yeah, you bet, man. That's worth cheering for. And then Hans will be right behind him, do the same thing.

(Soundbite of air horn)

McCHESNEY: Tom Frost, now 74 and a legendary climber of El Cap, sits in the meadow as a silver-topped cheerleader.

Mr. TOM FROST (Mountain Climber): They're 10 minutes ahead at halfway.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

McCHESNEY: But that 10-minute cushion disappears, and it becomes a real nail-biter. Jacqueline Florine, Hans' wife, a supermodel and the only woman to solo-climb El Cap, starts sweating.

Ms. JACQUELINE FLORINE (Supermodel Mountain Climber): Honey, you bring home the record today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

McCHESNEY: Tension builds as the human specks finish the last leg over the lift, and the cheering is non-stop. Everyone awaits Hans' radio message from the top. People have been running their own clocks, but only Hans can confirm the record, through a radio held by his wife, and then he calls.

Mr. FLORINE: Two forty-three, thirty-three.

McCHESNEY: Two hours, 43 minutes, good enough by two minutes to make Yuji and Hans the world-record holders once again. John McChesney, NPR News, Yosemite Valley.

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