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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.

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