SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Two climbers whose historic ascent of Yosemite National Park's El Capitan rock formation in California drew international attention spoke to media for the first time on Thursday, expressing amazement at the outpouring of support they received.
Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, made it to the top of a sheer wall on the 3,000-foot (900-metre) formation's granite face known as the Dawn Wall without climbing tools, the first climbers ever to do so.
"I figured that if we managed to pull this off our community of climbers would be excited but I never imagined it would resonate with so many," said Caldwell, of Colorado, in a statement read by his wife, Becca, because he was having difficulty speaking due to hoarseness.
The two climbers completed their ascent on Wednesday after 19 days, making it to the top at around 3:30 p.m. Their success was greeted by a Facebook post by U.S. President Barack Obama, who wrote, "Congratulations to Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson for conquering Yosemite National Park's El Capitan! You remind us that anything is possible."
Obama's post was accompanied by a picture of himself smiling broadly and offering a thumbs-up in front of a painting of the Yosemite Valley and El Capitan.
Caldwell and Jorgeson, who were the first to climb El Capitan's so-called Dawn Wall without bolts or climbing tools but used safety ropes in case of falls, climbed the rock face in stages beginning on Dec. 27.
The Dawn Wall of El Capitan is divided into 32 climbing pitches, which are varying lengths of rock that the climbers mastered with only their hands and feet. The wall has been scaled before, but never without climbing tools.
Since the warmth of the day caused their hands and feet to perspire, the two often started climbing at dusk. They used ropes and other tools to move back and forth between the pitches and their campsite, perched high on the rock.
Jorgeson struggled for several days on difficult pitch 15, at one point being forced to rest for two days while the skin on his fingers healed after being ripped off by razor-sharp ledges.
But the two said their climb was more about perseverance than competition.
"This isn't about conquering," said Jorgeson, who lives in California. "It comes back to that dream of seeing something through. It's something pretty simple and something pretty much everybody can relate to."
Editing by Eric Walsh