The New York Times took a serialized approach to covering the attempt by two climbers to be the first to free climb El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park. From the start, the reporter, John Branch, was virtually embedded with the climbers on the mountain, maintaining cellphone and social-media contact with the pair to receive pitch-by-pitch updates of their ascent. Those updates were published around the clock as soon as the climbers reached, or failed to reach, each of the 31 pitches. The Times was the first major media outlet reporting from the mountain, and maintained authority over the story even as others began taking notice and covering the event.
To help readers visualize the ascent, we created a vertigo-inducing 3D interactive map of the climb, annotated with photos and analysis of the most important sections. This helped the average reader, unfamiliar with mountain climbing, get a better understanding of the challenge the two men were taking on.
And to show the scale of mountain, we created The Dawn Wall, Up Close, an interactive, 3.4 gigapixel composite image that allowed the reader to zoom in and out to explore El Capitan’s various faces and dangers. The composite was taken while climber Kevin Jorgeson was attempting to complete one of the pitches, allowing the reader a chance to try and find the speck of a man on the face of a huge mountain.
When the climbers made history and reached the top of the mountain, John Branch and a photographer, Max Whittaker, were waiting for them. The two journalists had to make the 8-hour trek up the “easy” side of the mountain to reach the top, and the The Times was the first media outlet to publish the accomplishment.