"For most climbers, Yosemite is the best place on Earth," says 30-year-old Tommy Caldwell, one of the most accomplished rock climbers on the planet. "The rock is perfect, the walls are big, and the place has so much history." As park visitors flock to the Sierra Nevada's granite giants, they also pay their respects to renowned Midnight Lightning, located on the massive Columbia Boulder at Camp 4.
Located on the northeast face, the boulder problem was believed unclimbable until Ron Kauk claimed the first ascent in 1978. "When Midnight Lightning was established, it was the hardest problem on the planet," says Contributing Photographer Corey Rich, who is also a climber. "And it could not be ignored: Anytime you sat on a bench, walked to the restrooms, or peeked out of your tent, it was there." Today, every great contemporary climber—including Yosemite legend Lynn Hill, who was the first woman to make the ascent in 1998—has touched those holds.
Rated a V8, Midnight Lightning may not be the hardest problem (ratings cap at V15), but it's nothing to scoff at. "Climbing Midnight Lightning is equivalent to running a 4.5-minute mile," notes Rich. "To this day, only a small percentage of climbers will ever be able to savor the view from the top."
Until now, that is. With the help of Microsoft Live Lab’s new Photosynth, a Web tool that stitches together related images to create 3-D models of places, anyone—climber or not—can get a glimpse of victory.