The two climbers struggling up the mammoth southeast face of El Capitan in Yosemite were close to joining forces again Sunday after one of them got stuck on the most difficult section of the hardest free climb in history.

Kevin Jorgeson, 30, of Santa Rosa was working his way up toward Pitch 20, where his climbing partner, Tommy Caldwell, left off in his quest to become the first to free-climb the vertical 3,000-foot Dawn Wall, a feat that until recently most people thought was impossible.

Jorgeson was making fast progress Sunday on this “easier” section of the seemingly smooth-as-slate granite face, an area that, to most climbers, would still be staggeringly difficult even using ropes. He had fallen 11 times in a seven-day battle with Pitch 15, which required him to hold onto a tiny knife-edge flake the width of a credit card that cut his fingers to ribbons.

Turning point

His success there on Friday was seen as the turning point in the climb. He has since climbed equally difficult Pitch 16, which included an 8-foot Dyno jump from one tiny hold to another. That leap is so difficult that Caldwell, 36, of Colorado, climbed an even harder section just to get around it. Jorgeson was approaching what is called Wino Tower on Sunday, where the two men are expected to join forces for the final push to the summit.

“Momentum is a powerful force,” Jorgeson wrote on his Facebook page. “When it’s on your side, everything feels a bit easier. When it’s not on your side, it feels like wading through mud. For 7 days, my momentum was halted by Pitch 15. It took everything in my power to stay positive and resolved that I would succeed. Now that momentum has returned to my side, I’m staying just as focused and resolved because a lot of hard climbing remains.”

Before climbing began Sunday a supply team brought the two men food, water, recharged batteries and, according to sharp-eyed observers, whiskey, a rejuvenating nighttime comfort that had apparently reached critically low levels.

The assault on the Dawn Wall, which began Dec. 27, is the first time anyone has ever tried to climb this blank easel of granite using only their hands and feet. That’s because the mammoth rock, which got its name because it glows with the first morning light, is little more than glacier-polished granite, with tiny cracks here and there.

‘Feeling the Yosemite love’

The men are essentially doing thousands of pull-ups with their fingertips wedged in cracks, an activity that requires immense strength, including vise-grip hands, superhuman stamina, a tolerance for intense pain and perfect technique. The ropes attached to them are there only to catch them when they fall. The men must climb all 31 pitches, which can be as long as 150 feet, in sequence, according to free-climbing protocol. The climbers have to go back to the belay, or to the nearest spot where they can stand up, and do the entire pitch over when they fall.

The grandeur of the place and the gravity of what they are doing seemed to be having an affect on the climbers as they rested Saturday night.

“I am really feeling the Yosemite love these days,” Caldwell wrote on his Facebook page. “After a lifetime of climbing here, I am still struck by the grandness and beauty.”

Caldwell, whose left index finger was lopped off in an accident with a saw years ago, is famous for more than his prodigious climbing talents, which include many free-climbing firsts. In August 2000, he was one of four climbers in Kyrgyzstan who were taken hostage by Islamic terrorists, according to accounts by Greg Child in Outside magazine and later a book. The four suffered under threat of death until Caldwell pushed their guard off a cliff and they escaped, a heroic ending that caused an international sensation.

The Dawn Wall, originally named Wall of Early Morning Light, was first climbed with ropes by Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell in 1970, a feat that made the national news. Harding and Caldwell, who is not related to the current climber, famously turned down a rescue attempt during the climb and instead offered National Park Service rangers some of their wine.

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @pfimrite