Age: 22 Specs: 5-foot-9, 150 pounds
Home: Estes Park, Colorado
THE CASE: In terms of pure climbing skill, the Tommy-Caldwell-versus-Chris-Sharma debate could drag on for days. This time around, we'll take Caldwell, mainly because he's put up brilliantly tough routes—sport climbs, free ascents, you name it—while Sharma's been away perfecting his bouldering technique. And, frankly, Caldwell's had a hell of a year. In the span of 12 months he has established a route in Colorado's Fortress of Solitude called Kryptonite, which, if confirmed at 5.14d, is now the hardest sport climb on the continent; found himself a girlfriend in world-class climber Beth Rodden; with her, put up the first free ascent of the El Cap aid route Lurking Fear; and, along with Rodden and climbers Jason Smith and John Dickey, escaped from gun-wielding rebels while on a trip in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. The tale of their escape (reported in Outside's November issue) will undoubtedly become part of American climbing mythology. And, we would posit, so will Caldwell's accomplishments.
SECOND OPINION: "In his heart of hearts," says climbing partner Nick Sagar, "Tommy wishes he could climb as hard as he can every day and never take a rest."
MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Aside from Kyrgyzstan?
WHAT'S NEXT: Free-climbing Yosemite's Muir Wall.