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Flashback: The historic 1970 climb up Yosemite's El Capitan

In this 1970 “CBS Evening News” report, climbers Dean Caldwell and Warren Harding make history as the first to climb El Capitan’s “Wall of Early Morning Light"
Flashback: When two men climbed El Capitan in 1970 02:07

Before Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson captivated the world's attention with their free-climb up El Capitan, two climbers bathed in nearly identical limelight. Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell's (no relation to Tommy) successful ascent was covered in a November 19, 1970 "CBS Evening News" broadcast, from which we posted the report in the video above.

An observer watches Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell climb Yosemite's El Capitan in 1970 CBS News

Back then "Dawn Wall" was called "Wall of Early Morning Light." After a nearly month-long climb the two men, appearing haggard, reached the summit in triumph. They had just become the first to climb the 3,600 foot face using ropes and rivets.

"Park officials say it was the greatest climb in American history," according to former CBS News reporter Jim Kilpatrick.

Warren Harding celebrates with his girlfriend CBS News

In the report, you see Harding and Caldwell toasting to their achievement with wine and champagne. The duo was greeted by a welcoming party of girlfriends, friends, and journalists, who had taken the easy way up the top - a hike up the backside of the peak.

"To climbers, Harding is something of a legendary hero," reported Kilpatrick. "He has ascended every mountain in Yosemite National Park."

Harding and Caldwell's climb wasn't without controversy. During a bad storm, the National Park Service was led to believe it needed to rescue the climbers. But when it attempted the rescue, Harding and Caldwell refused the help. The men were able to clear up the confusion only once they had reached the top.

Warren Harding is seen reaching the top of El Capitan in 1970 CBS News

"They (National Park Service) apparently, through circumstances, thought that a rescue was necessary however we were in very fine shape and in no condition to need a rescue or even contemplate one," Caldwell told reporters.

A reporter pressed and asked how the misunderstanding came to be.

"I don't know what the situation was, there was no communication between us and The National Park Service at all," answered Caldwell.

No communication. That's a far cry from the 2014 climb that's been instantly documented on the social media accounts of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson.

But more than 44 years apart, there is one stark similarity in both climbs: fascination by the public.

"Why on God's green Earth do you guys climb mountains?" asked a reporter.

"Because we're insane, can't be another reason," answered Harding.

Warren Harding, left, and Dean Caldwell, right, yield questions from the press CBS News

"It's really hard to say why you do something like this," added Caldwell. "There's a feeling of happiness that comes over you that's quite overwhelming. A person feels almost like exploding."

"Can you honestly say you enjoyed this climb more," asked another reporter.

"Oh yeah, it's the biggest thing I've ever done" said Harding.

After their ascent, the two climbers said they planned to conquer more mountains in the future. But little did they know their climb at Yosemite would one day help inspire a new generation of climbers who would follow their footsteps in their own unique way - this time with nothing but their hands and feet.

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