Summit Exclusive: How NBC’s Miguel Almaguer Got to the Top in Time for ‘Nightly News’

By Mark Joyella 

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Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made the really big news on El Capitan Wednesday. The two Americans did what many had long thought impossible–free climbing their way up the Dawn Wall, 3,000 feet straight up, and known as the hardest rock climb in the world. But NBC’s Miguel Almaguer earned some bragging rights as well. The network believes Almaguer, who reported live for Wednesday’s “Nightly News” from atop El Capitan, is the first person ever to broadcast live from the summit–and it was no easy liveshot to pull off.

Almaguer has earned a reputation at NBC News as a correspondent willing to try just about anything to get a better shot, to tell a better story. “Whenever you watch a Miguel piece, there will always be something unique,” one NBC Newser said. So it was not surprising on Tuesday when a discussion between Almaguer and a group of “Nightly News” producers about covering the end of the 19-day El Capitan climb ended with a bold idea: meet the climbers at the top and go live.

By five a.m. PT Wednesday, an NBC team consisting of Almaguer, five crew members, a few porters and guides began  climbing El Capitan. The crew took the traditional hiking path, shooting a story about their own climb as they went, and using latakoo to stream the HD video to the NBC News bureau in Los Angeles. Editors in L.A. would put Almaguer’s story together, as there would be little time once they reached the summit–assuming they did–before the East Coast broadcast of “Nightly.”

Almaguer and team reached the summit a mere thirty minutes before “Nightly News” was set to air in New York. At that time, Caldwell and Jorgeson had not reached the top, and it wasn’t clear if they would before the broadcast began. The NBC News crew was prepared to cover the story either way–still waiting, or celebrating the historic moment–but they had a problem: the camera wasn’t working.

Almaguer and crew shot some look-lives and fed them to L.A. via latakoo, and then, at 6:25 p.m. ET, the climbers reached the top. The emotional images led “Nightly News,” and Almaguer was live, shot on an iPhone. The crew’s reward for pulling it off? Well, it wasn’t a chopper ride off the mountain. They camped overnight in sub-freezing temperatures and made the climb back down early Thursday, reaching the bottom just before 4 p.m. ET.