Climbing Yosemite’s Dawn Wall: Because it’s there

El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. Somewhere up there along that route, two guys are pitting themselves against the mountain.

This week two climbers, Kevin Jorgeson, 30, and Tommy Caldwell, 36, are attempting the first ever free climb of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. They are climbing tonight, in the dark and cold, because they think cold, dry fingers will serve them better than sweaty ones.

Tommy is a local from Estes Park, Colo. How could I not root for him? Kevin is from Santa Rosa, Calif. Wherever, however they got together, they began making plans to climb The Dawn Wall. It is a sheer vertical face of some 3,000 feet, with only miniscule finger and toes holds, some just tiny razor edges. The ropes they carry are for protection only, to stop falls. They do not help the ascent at all.

This is Kevin’s fifth year of focusing on this climb. Two previous attempts have failed.

The media are full of stories about the climb, but beware of reporters who know nothing about climbing and commenters who know even less. Yes, the team has sponsors. Yes, there’s a film crew filming the entire climb. So yes, there’s money to be made. But those who think the climb is being attempted just for money and fame are so wrong. There are many safer, easier ways to make money, if that’s what it’s all about. And much easier ways to become famous.

Kevin and Tommy are climbing for the same reason I would if I were thirty years younger. They’re climbing because it’s there and because they dare. No amount of explaining can make someone else understand this. You either feel the thrill and challenge yourself and know why they climb, or you don’t and no one will ever be able to explain it to you.

I climbed my mountain. I trained for months. And it wasn’t nearly enough. But I pushed on until I didn’t have a drop left in the tank. And then I pushed further. Summit fever got me to the top of the only mountain I ever wanted to climb, and pure necessity got me down. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t well done. But it was done, and at the end of it all, that’s all that mattered. It was and remains the triumph of my lifetime.

Rock on, Kevin and Tommy. The hearts of many admirers are with you on the mountain tonight.

Tommy Caldwell on The Dawn Wall


Kevin Jorgeson


There are countless videos about this climb, but this one does a particularly good job of making your stomach lurch and your fingers scream:


Jan. 9:  To more fully appreciate the scale and difficulty of this climb, don’t miss the wonderful interactive “climb” of the Dawn Wall posted by the New York Times.

24 thoughts on “Climbing Yosemite’s Dawn Wall: Because it’s there

  1. I get terrified just looking at the pictures in your post PT, I get dizzy standing on a chair, yet I love flying. I envy these men in the best possible way I just wish I’d had what it takes to endeavour such a feat.

    By the bye the Yosemite Park is my favourite place on earth, when I visited it I thought that this was the perfect place where I’d like to die, Magnificent I just love it, Gobsmacking grandeur at it’s best

    1. Yosemite is at or near the top of my bucket list, if only I could visit without the hoards of other people. In a way, they are the reason we have national parks, and yet they are the parks’ biggest shortcoming.

      I’m not particularly subject to vertigo. But fear of falling … that’s kind of big with me.

      1. Forget the people PT when you’re there and look up you’ll not even notice the sight or sound of fellow human beings, it’s breathtaking, awe inspiring magical. You become enveloped in the peace and beauty around you.

        I kind of like the place. 🙂

    1. I’ve read my share of technical climbing stories, but this one really takes the cake. It stands so far above the others — no pun intended — that I don’t have words for it.

  2. Wow! Remember the Star Trek movie… with the whales, i think? And how it opened with zooming through Yosemite valley and in to Kirk free climbing midway up the face. That was fiction and movie magic, while these two adventurers are REAL. Bravo, guys! (And Bravo to you for bagging that 14-er!)

    1. I don’t remember that scene very well, I’m afraid, but I’m absolutely in awe of these guys. Total awe. My little foray on Longs was nothing compared to this climb.

      Hmm, I wonder if somebody has posted that scene on YouTube …

        1. You find Everything!! Have you heard how they are doing/how they did? I’ve not had time to do much but ck your blog 😁

          1. At last report about 20 hours ago, Tommy had “sent” (conquered) pitch 15, and Kevin was still struggling with it, hampered by badly torn up fingertips. He’s resting, trying to heal a bit. The issue becomes, will Tommy go ahead and finish by himself (he’s now past the hardest parts) if Kevin can’t do the pitch. They’ve been attempting this wall as a team for years. It would crush both of them not to finish together. But it’s Tommy’s for the taking now. We’ll just have to wait and see.

            Kevin’s hands. Ouch!


  3. Kevin and Tommy…you guys rock!! I have 4 rocks in my collection that were taken from the edge of El Capatian from a pair of hikers who went up on a more accessible rout to see the edge of the cliff opposite the sheer face.

    1. Treasure those rocks, because it was likely illegal to take them from the park. Most, if not all, national parks have such rules, for obvious reasons. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill only time.”

  4. One of my dreams was to climb El Cap. Not like these guys, though. Traditional trad climbing on one of the easier routes. But the key element was to do a climb that required at least two days as I really wanted to sleep in a bivy. I was probably in good enough shape about 5 years ago, but life happens. Now my back hurts too much and I’ve lost the desire to do something like this as it would require a lot of training. I suppose you can say I’ve gotten lazy.

    1. I’ve thought about you and your climbing as I’ve followed this story. Lazy, busy, old. Stuff happens and dreams remain just that. But vicariously, more than most of us, I’ll bet you’re feeling every crevice up there. Heh, if only they were crevices. I don’t know what you call the miniscule irregularities they’re hanging on to.

      1. Ha! “miniscule irregularities” can be something the size of a Tic-tac for a foothold, and a crack you can get the pad of one finger into for a handhold. I was never that good. Fairly good in my heyday, but not like that. Few people are.

        1. I can’t imagine being able to hold one’s body weight from just one or two or three fingertips, and it seems like much of this wall requires that. It’s certainly easy to understand how those pads get torn up. Breaks my heart to think that alone might keep Kevin from finishing.

          1. There was one climb I used to do that had one move where only one finger could be used on each had. Two little pockets big enough to fit a finger each. And the toe holds weren’t much better. But the rock was real tacky so was easier to stick to.

            The move at the point where it was just my middle finger on my left hand, and middle finger on my right hand, was an intermediary move — meaning it was a move in momentum to get from a solid hold to another solid hold. So use your momentum to get through that tough one then lunge for the bomber hold after the two finger holds. I took lots of falls….

        2. Just found this apt description in a New York Times article: “The potato-chip-thin rock flakes to which Mr. Caldwell clung on this passage left deep lacerations on his fingertips.”

  5. Posted last night, Jan. 8, by Tommy Caldwell’s wife:

    Hearing from Tommy that he finished pitches 19 & 20 tonight and stepped onto Wino Tower having free climbed all of the 5.13-5.14 pitches below him finally allowed me to take a little breath. I’ve mostly kept my feelings about this attempt locked in a box. I didn’t know what was going to happen…even after the hard 12, 14, 15, and 16th pitches. Wino was the place that I felt if he made it that far…this thing would be possible. I didn’t realize he felt the same way, too. He stood atop Wino Tower with tears in his own eyes tonight. This journey isn’t over yet, but we can start to see what it might look like standing on top of this route…and it’s beautiful.

    Tommy will now go down and be support for Kevin as he works some more on pitch 15. Good luck to Kevin – thankful for all of his support to Tommy. You’ve got this!! And congratulations on getting this far, baby. I’m so proud of you.

... and that's my two cents