My Perfect Pack: Climber Kevin Jorgeson
Last winter, the free climber teamed up with Tommy Caldwell to make history by ascending El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in 19 days. Their secret sauce? Night climbing and gear they could trust.
From his home in Santa Rosa, California, Duracell-sponsored climber Kevin Jorgeson, 30, is always on the hunt for a bigger and better challenge. “My roots are in highball bouldering, and once I sent Ambrosia outside of Bishop in 2009 (a 50-foot tall ascent rated V11), I felt I’d pushed highballs as far as I could,” he says. “The Dawn Wall seemed like a good transition,” he says with a laugh. With seven 5.14 pitches and seven 5.13 pitches, the 3,000-foot, 32-pitch climb is considered one of the most difficult in the world. It took the duo 19 days to complete the climb, the culmination of seven-year project and five previous attempts.
WatchKevin Jorgeson on the benefits of climbing at night.
The Dawn Wall is too hot to climb in the summer—the rock face heats up and can become scorching. Even in Janauary, when the duo finally notched the historic climb, the intensity of the direct winter sun forced them to do much of their work at night, when the wall finally cooled down. “Success on the Dawn Wall depends on climbing in the dark,” he says. “It’s too hot during the day. Even in the middle of winter.”
Since that triumph, every day Jorgeson gets asked, “What’s next?” His response: Something he’s never done before. “I’ve spent the past six climbing seasons in Yosemite,” he says. “I want something completely different, so I’m going to explore deep-water soloing in Majorca, Spain.”
Wherever Jorgeson’s climbing, be it a remote big wall or reconning routes above the Mediterranean Sea, the following items are usually along for the ride.
Black Diamond Icon
“This is our safety lamp,” says Jorgeson of the Icon ($90), Black Diamond’s most powerful headlamp. “Most accidents in climbing happen on the way down, so anytime we’re rapelling, we’ve got the Icon on so we have plenty of light.” Powered by four AA batteries, the Icon can illuminate terrain more than 100 yards away at full power.
Black Diamond Spot
For downtime in camp or on a portaledge 2,500 feet off the deck, Jorgeson donned the spare, utilitarian Spot ($40) headlamp. “We wear this in the tent when we want to see what we’re doing but not accidentally blind anyone when we look their way,” he says. At full power, its roughly 75 yards of range is just bright enough to double as an emergency backup to the more potent Icon. Powered by three AAA batteries, the Spot weighs just over three ounces.
Duracell Quantum Batteries
For the Dawn Wall, Jorgeson realized he’d be spending the majority of his time climbing in the dark. Accordingly, he stocked up on power-dense AA and AAA Quantum batteries from Duracell. However, it turns out he needed fewer batteries than he thought to make it through 18 nights on the wall. “I changed climbing shoes more often than batteries on the Dawn Wall,” he says. “I think over the whole experience, I didn’t have to swap in new batteries once.”
Adidas Outdoor Terrex Korum Jacket
“If the weather doesn’t call for any precip, this is my go-to insulation piece,” says Jorgeson. The 700-fill goose down hooded jacket is cut for athletes, with side panels and articulated sleeves that give this insulation layer a tighter fit, making it perfect for layering underneath a lightweight, waterproof rain shell or winter parka. “In really cold conditions, I wear the Adidas Stockhorn Fleece Hoodie underneath it.”
La Sportiva TC Pro
Tommy Caldwell worked with La Sportiva to develop the TC Pro ($18) specifically for the Dawn Wall climb, with its sheer face and almost nonexistent edges. “The shoe was designed for edging and the pressure of standing on vertical terrain,” says Jorgeson. “I mean, you’re standing on nothing, really, and these shoes will let you do it.” Padding in the ankle and over the toes protects feet during crack climbing, and a proprietary Vibram rubber compound grips like glue.
Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
Basic, light, comfortable, durable—that sums up the Half Dome ($60), BD’s all-around climbing helmet. A twist-to-fit dial on the back head strap allows wearers to fine-tune the fit on the fly while headlamp clips hold lights secure. “On the Dawn Wall, we didn’t climb with helmets until we got to the top third of the climb. That’s when the rock got tricky and we had to watch out for rock falls. Once we got there, I wore the helmet all the time.”
Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Bottle
On an expedition, little things take on outsized emotional importance. “Tommy and I called this flask ‘Happiness,’ as in ‘I could use some Happiness. Pass it over.’” That’s because they filled this 32-ounce, double-walled, stainless-steel bottle ($34) with coffee every morning—and it stayed hot all day (or night) long.
Climber’s Tool Kit
Wherever he climbs, Jorgeson packs these five essentials to keep him going:
Ibuprofen: “For the pain of ripped-up hands and sore muscles.”
Krazy Glue: “To seal split fingers and secure tape. It’s important to get the brush applicator!”
Elastoplast tape: “Split tips are part of the game, so you have to tape over them and climb anyway.”
Clif Shots: “I always carry a couple of extra espresso-flavored gels for when I need a quick shot of energy.”
Sanding block: “Before and after every climb, I use this to sand off and sand down any burrs or tears in the soles of my climbing shoes. If I don’t, that’s where the shoe is going to start failing.”