I knew this whole Dawn Wall climb was big when President Obama started tweeting about it. In case you’ve been living under a rock (or on one), Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson recently completed the world’s most difficult rock climb, the Dawn Wall on the 3,000-foot monolith, El Capitan in Yosemite.
by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine
Praise and adoration has come far and wide for these two, as they spent 19 days on the face of El Cap, living on the wall in portaledges, while also documenting the climb in real time, with photographers and videographers following every move. As the climb went on the coverage got more and more intense, from The New York Times to ESPN, and finally a presidential thumbs up.
Yes, climbing has seen more coverage in mainstream media in the last few weeks than it has in years, and with many new climbing media outlets, which have cropped up in the last five years, the voices are plentiful. One of my favorite new forms of climbing media is the Enormocast podcast, produced by climber and all around good guy, Chris Kalous, out of Carbondale.
Kalous has spent his fair share of time on El Capitan, and when our boys started up the Dawn Wall, right around the holidays, he poignantly noted on Facebook, “Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson are starting their Dawn Wall push today. Me, I’m idly pinching my new holiday jelly roll and looking at my phone.”
I felt similarly. My holidays were spent sedentarily in the Midwest, loving loved ones, trying not to eat too many cookies, taking in my annual dose of Mainstream America, and treating the eventual case of stir craziness with running and a couple sweet road rides on cold, country roads (take me home).
At the end of the week I was ready to return home to Colorado, to see mountains again, and Subarus and people wearing fleeces covered with dog hair. My Mother dropped me off at the Chicago airport, and I was homeward bound. I typically don’t mind air travel; people watching is one of my favorite pastimes, and America, well, we’ve got some interesting people to say the least.
I like people watching, but I get annoyed with small talk on airplanes, and I’m a little claustrophobic, which makes me easily agitated on a plane. My routine is always the same; I put on my headphones, and sink off into a podcast or some music. Of course if there’s a beautiful single woman seated next to me, like any gentlemen would, I break my code of silence and oblige with exchanging pleasantries.
On my first flight, headphones on, trying to mind my own business, I caught a glimpse out of my peripheral: a large person wearing a wife beater (if you’re not familiar, what I’m referring to here is a white, tight fitting tank top). Odd, I thought, because we were flying out on a cold, Windy City morning. Then I get another glimpse, girl pants (I guess I owe another explanation here: girl pants have fancy buttons and embroidery on their bottoms.) A wife beater and girl pants! For a people watcher that’s gold, baby! I take a mental note of her awesomeness and go back to headphone world.
When the flight finally lands I’m feeling hangry (hungry + angry), and apparently so is white beater lady. The pilot asks us to let those who have limited time until their connecting flight to get off the plane first. Wife Beater Lady starts berating everyone to start moving quicker, “C’mon people, why is this taking so long…ahhhhh,” she screams.
Five minutes of her angry rants and I’m ready to explode. Finally, its time to move on, and I’m glad I don’t have to experience this person for the rest of my life, though she did deserve a comment on her swag.
As I finally escaped Mainstream America back to Durango, the eyes of Mainstream America started tuning in to our culture, the culture of climbers. Everyone was fascinated with these two guys perched on El Capitan in the dead of winter, working on the hardest climb in the world.
To most climbers, it didn’t really hit home until they made some progress. Caldwell has been trying the Dawn Wall for seven years, and Jorgensen slightly less. It’s been covered by the climbing media at each attempt, and I think many of us were convinced it was a project for the next generation.
Pitch by pitch they started to succeed, and then climbers really started to take notice. On rest days they did interviews with NPR, and posted photos on Instagram. The world’s hardest climb started receiving the world’s most attention for a climb. Footage of some of the most difficult moves involving sideways dynos, and holds only the tip of their thumbs could hold onto. While the world struggled with our terminology as climbers, and many incorrect terms were used, we all were on board with wanting Caldwell and Jorgenson to succeed.
When they did finally top out they were greeted old school style on the top of El Capitan, with family members, news crews, and bottles of champagne. I couldn’t help but feel a tingle in my spine of inspiration; that I could try harder and put more effort into my own goals.
In the interviews that followed their success our boys showed a lot of heart. Jorgenson expressed that this was not about “conquering” anything. (For some reason mainstream media can’t get away from the 1940s when men “conquered” mountains.) Caldwell said he was happy that there was such positive attention to our national park’s system.
I think one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is motivation. Jorgenson recognizes that too, and in an interview with The New York Times he eloquently said, “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.”
So, what’s your Dawn Wall?
This article is published in this week’s Durango Telegraph
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle. You can now subscribe to The Climbing Zine as well! We have also published two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall.