Climbers hope historic ascent inspires fans to follow dreams


A day after completing what had been considered the world’s most difficult rock climb, two Americans who spent 19 days living on a sheer granite wall said they hope their feat inspires others to follow their own passions.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to free-climb the Dawn Wall on the famous El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Unlike climbers who need more elaborate equipment, the men relied entirely on their hands and feet and physical strength, using ropes and harnesses only for safety in case of a fall.

Speaking Jan. 15 to reporters, both men said they had been touched by the number of people who found their journey inspirational.

Jorgeson said the climb should show people to use teamwork and never give up on their dreams.

He said the experience “recalibrates your perception of what you can do and what’s possible. Now that we’ve done this, who knows what comes. I have a whole new bar for what’s possible and what I’m capable of personally.”

The trek began Dec. 27. For 19 days, the two lived on the wall itself, eating and sleeping in tents fastened to the rock thousands of feet above the ground and battling painful cuts to their fingertips.

They also endured punishment whenever their grip slipped, pitching them into swinging falls that left them bouncing off the rock face. The tumbles, which they called “taking a whipper,” ended with startling jolts from their safety ropes.

Caldwell described how support climbers provided them with fresh fruit and vegetables every five days.

They also ate Indian food, burritos and other “pretty normal stuff,” including coffee. For treats, they enjoyed chocolate and Woodford Reserve whiskey.

“We like to say you can’t put a price on morale,” said Caldwell, who spoke in a whisper because he had lost his voice from shouting so much during the climb.

There wasn’t much downtime, Caldwell said, but in spare moments he read from the autobiography of legendary climber Barry Blanchard.

Asked why the achievement resonated with so many people, Jorgeson said the Dawn Wall “just personifies dreaming big and making it happen. It’s just a super-concrete example and an iconic, beautiful place with amazing images and a great story of perseverance and teamwork and making it.”

Caldwell of Estes Park, Colorado, and Jorgeson of Santa Rosa, California, trained for years to get ready.

There are about 100 routes up the rock known among climbers as “El Cap,” and many have made it to the top, the first in 1958. Even the Dawn Wall had been scaled. Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy) made it up in 1970, using climbing ropes and countless rivets over 27 days.

No one, however, had ever made it to the summit in one continuous free-climb — until now.

The pioneering ascent comes after failed attempts for both men. They only got about a third of the way up in 2010 when storms turned them back. A year later, Jorgeson fell and broke an ankle in another attempt. Since then, each has spent time on the rock practicing and mapping out strategy.

This time, as the world watched and followed on Facebook and Twitter, Jorgeson got stalled in a lower section that took 11 attempts over seven days.

“I didn’t want to accept any other outcome but getting up that route,” Jorgeson said on Good Morning America. “I tried to push all the negative thoughts of not being able to do it out and picture getting across that traverse, and that’s eventually what happened.”

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