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One year later, the Dawn Wall remains the benchmark climb of 2015 (and late 2014, for that matter). When Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson topped out after their 19-day ascent on January 14, they completed the hardest big-wall free climb in the world. The climb has seven 5.14 pitches and a handful of 5.13+ leads as well. The three hardest free pitches on El Capitan are all found on this route—call it the four hardest pitches if you do it the way Jorgeson did, with the 8.5-foot, V11/12 sideways dyno on Pitch 16. (Caldwell chose an alternate route at 5.14a.) Both men freed every pitch.
The nearly three-week final push, and especially Jorgeson’s agonizing, weeklong effort to free Pitch 15, was a media sensation, with camera crews lined up in El Cap Meadow. The mainstream stories were often laughable. Example: The New York Times wrote, “They were scaling the Dawn Wall—as smooth as alabaster, as steep as a bedroom wall.” “This quote doesn’t offend me as a climber, it offends me as a writer,” DPM Climbing aptly commented. “This is the equivalent of saying, ‘The rock is as smooth as rock, and the wall is as steep as a wall.'” At Adventure Journal, Brendan Leonard took Times readers to task for their inane comments. (“How much does the Park charge for this nonsense? It better be a lot.”) When Tommy and Kevin finally topped out, President Obama tweeted his congratulations.
Looking back, Jorgeson told Climbing, “There are elements of my experience that I haven’t shared, either because the right question hasn’t been asked or it’s something I hold sacred. The facts of the climb have all been reported. However, the inner dialog that occurred, the conversations we had on the wall, the highs and lows of the six-year journey, the evolution of my friendship with Tommy, the unseen forces that added pressure, the unseen forces that added strength—these are all things that I haven’t really shared. Maybe one day!”
In the aftermath, both men capitalized on their fame with lucrative speaking engagements. (Good for them!) Jorgeson, who grew up going to San Francisco Giants baseball games, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in front of a sold-out crowd in October. “It was, hands down, the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “But it didn’t bounce! In fact, I think it may have been a high strike.” Jorgeson will be married this August; Caldwell is writing a book and expecting his second child. And Jorgeson, who was a complete rookie on El Cap when he began working on the Dawn Wall, returned to the Big Stone last fall to explore another possible free ascent—aptly, it’s called New Dawn.
“I’m eager to experience the El Cap first ascent experience from start to finish,” Jorgeson said. “With the Dawn Wall, Tommy already knew where 90 percent of the line was going to go when I joined in 2009. With New Dawn, everything is a question mark. So far, I’ve scoped out the top 600 feet of the line, and it’s possible but definitely very hard. I’m excited to explore the line more in the spring.”
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