In January, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell became the first people to free climb the Dawn Wall on the east side of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. This month, the annually published American Alpine Journal (AAJ) released Jorgeson’s first-hand account of the monumental achievement.
The Dawn Wall is widely considered the most difficult route up El Capitan, and one of the most dangerous climbs in the world. Prior to Jorgeson's and Caldwell's free climb, the Dawn Wall had only been climbed in its entirety using aid climbing techniques (using ropes and gear to assist in the assent, rather than just protection against a fall).
In his essay for the AAJ, Jorgeson recounts how Caldwell’s segment in the 2009 climbing film Progression served as an “invitation” to him to move into big-wall climbing. At the time, Jorgeson had been focusing on bouldering. He emailed Caldwell to ask the elite climber if he needed a partner for the upcomming season. A few months later, the two met in the El Capitan Meadow to begin working on what would become a six-year project, culminating in the 18-day free ascent that was completed on January 14 of this year.
On the climb, the 15th pitch, a 5.14d traverse, stalled Joregeson for several days. Jorgeson felt he hadn’t spent enough time practicing this particular pitch during his earlier preparation with Caldwell. He realized that if he couldn’t complete the pitch quickly, he would have to call off his ascent to assist Caldwell to the top. He writes:
The last ten times I’ve been at this spot the result has been the same. Something has to change. I’ve decided to revert to a foot sequence from earlier in the season. The difference is subtle, but while holding the crux iron cross, from fingertip to fingertip, I feel the difference I’ve been seeking. My right foot is secure. Anxiety is replaced by confidence. Trembling is replaced by control. I’m through the crux, with one more bolt of insecure climbing to negotiate. As I grab one of the final crimps, I see the tape on my index finger saturated with blood. Doubt lasts only an instant. Moments later, everything is silent except the strong wind in my ears.
For a few moments there’s no celebration, just breathing. Did that just happen? I do a last few moves and clip the anchors at the no-hands stance. My scream reverberates down to the meadow, and cheers echo back up to the wall. Yes, that just happened.
Read Jorgeson’s entire account of free climbing the Dawn Wall online in the American Alpine Journal.