As many of you may recall, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s 2015 free-climbing ascent of El Capitan’s 3,000-foot Dawn Wall nearly broke the Internet. Almost overnight, the world became transfixed by the story: after seven years of meticulous planning and months spent scouring the mostly blank cliff face to find barely-there cracks and edges, here were two dudes, in the middle of winter, living in a tiny hanging tent on the side of a sheer vertical cliff, attempting the most continuously difficult rock climb in the world. Camera crews flooded Yosemite Valley. Caldwell spoke to reporters mid-climb, from their perch on the wall. President Obama even got in on the action, tweeting words of encouragement to the duo.
It was a spectacle unlike anything the adventure world had ever known. In the end, it took Caldwell and Jorgenson 19 days to climb all 32 pitches. But here’s the really crazy thing: all of the above barely scratches the surface of what makes Red Bull Media House and Sender Film's new feature-length film The Dawn Wall, which is available for pre-order on iTunes, an instant classic. Yes, it’s a climbing movie, but it’s really a positive and uplifting film about overcoming life’s obstacles, whatever they may be, that will have you cheering throughout the film. Here are five reasons it’s worth a watch.
Big Wall, Big Screen
Even if you don’t care about the difference between free climbing (ropes so you don’t die) and free soloing (no ropes!), the film’s mix of the hardest rock climb on earth, Ansel Adams’s favorite Yosemite Valley landscape, and award-winning cinematography by Big UP Productions and Sender Films are reason enough to watch. The footage puts you right in the climbing shoes of a human attached to a sheer face with thousands of feet of air beneath their feet. If The Dawn Wall doesn't make your heart soar, it’ll certainly make your stomach drop.
The Backstory Involves International Terrorism, Household Accidents, and Divorce
Younger audiences might not recall that Caldwell and three climbing partners, including Beth Rodden, who he would later marry, were once kidnapped in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan by Islamist rebels with ties to Osama bin Laden. The whole ordeal—and how the four young climbers eventually escaped—is practically worthy of its own film. Then, a year later, at home in Colorado, Caldwell had a potentially career-ending mishap with a table saw and he and Rodden's marriage fell apart.
There’s an Underdog to Root For
Kevin Jorgeson had never climbed El Capitan before emailing Caldwell about partnering on the Dawn Wall. With a background in bouldering—climbing on boulders, typically 12 to 20 feet in height, sans ropes—Jorgeson was accustomed to pulling difficult moves just 15 feet above crash pads, not 1,500 feet above the ground. During the ascent, Jorgeson got hung up on pitch 15—the route’s crux, rated at 5.14d. Figuring it out—over the course of a week, with the world watching online—required him to summon the effort of his life.
Actually, the Entire Project Was an Underdog
The climbing world was familiar with Caldwell and Jorgeson’s seven-year Dawn Wall obsession. Given all the years that Caldwell—considered one of Yosemite’s most prolific climbers—had come up short, many climbing enthusiasts were skeptical that the Dawn Wall would ever be free-climbed. It almost seemed as if climbers were tuning out on the Dawn Wall story just when mainstream media outlets and casual fans suddenly tuned in. It was a moment in time when the niche sport of rock climbing pierced the mainstream consciousness. It even inspired a meme: “What’s Your Dawn Wall?”
You Don’t Have to Just Take Our Word for It
The Dawn Wall has already racked up awards from festivals like SXSW (winner of the audience award) and San Francisco's DocFest (the audience award again) and took three category wins at the Trento Film Festival, including Best Mountaineering Film. It was also a nominee at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.