Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
10/12/14 – Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson are about to begin the eighth year of effort to free-climb the Dawn Wall on El Capitan. Caldwell and his family have arrived in the Valley, and Caldwell said he has “cleared my schedule until Christmas.” Jorgeson also said he would work on the Dawn Wall this autumn until the route was done—or until winter shuts them down again.
Caldwell, who has free-climbed more routes on El Capitan than anyone, began exploring the Dawn Wall, a link-up of aid climbs and some new ground on the southeast face of El Cap, in 2007. Jorgeson joined the project in 2009. Various other top climbers, including Jonathan Siegrist and Chris Sharma—not to mention a host of photographers, film crews, and other supporters—have also joined the effort. But Caldwell and Jorgeson have been the mainstays.
After attempting the climb in both spring and fall, the two men have begun returning to the Valley in recent years in mid-October, just as most climbers begin to leave. The route catches sun until midafternoon, making the wall too hot to use the micro-edges and smears on the crux leads. As a result, the climbers often don’t begin until late afternoon or early evening, and may climb late into the night by headlamp. December brings crisp conditions that allow climbing in the sun, but winter storms also brings snow and serious danger from falling ice.
All but two pitches of the 30-pitch line have been free-climbed. (The route has seven 5.14 pitches and seven 5.13 pitches in all.) The crux passage is a right-to-left traverse along a white dike in the center of the wall, leaving the Mescalito aid climb to join the Wall of Early Morning Light. Last fall, Caldwell had to abandon the route briefly after suffering a separated rib when a haul bag accidentally cut loose and shock-loaded his harness. But after recovering at home in Colorado, he returned to the project and made a breakthrough with the first redpoint of the 15th pitch, a long traverse across a vertical wall on infinitesimal holds. At 5.14d, it’s likely the hardest free pitch in Yosemite Valley.
Two more 5.14+ pitches remain: the first traverse pitch and the Dyno Pitch, with its now-famous eight-foot sideways leap. Both men have stuck the dyno but have not redpointed the full pitch. In 2011, Jorgeson tore ligaments in his ankle during the wild swing on the dyno, ending his season.
Caldwell said he has been “training like a beast and hucking they dyno simulator on the side of my shed a bunch” in preparation. After eight years, the pair’s goal remains unchanged: an all-free ascent of the world’s hardest big-wall free climb, from bottom to top, in a push.