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Dawn Wall, Bigger Than Ever

In the days after the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, nearly every news outlet has covered the story in one way or another. After the 1970 first ascent of Dawn Wall by Warren Harding and Dean Campbell, few outside of the climbing crowd knew what the Dawn Wall was. Now, 45 years later, the world watched as Caldwell and Jorgeson tried to free the “impossible.” News vans lined the road in Yosemite and dozens of cameramen filled the valley.

We were contacted by CBC, NBC, The National Post, The Weather Channel and many more. Reporters scrambled to learn the ins and outs of our climbing culture, more specifically big wall free climbing, in an attempt to get the story right. Google Dawn Wall and pick through hundreds of stories, videos and photos.

For us and other climbing media, it’s been a pleasure to sit back and watch the chaos as the outside world tries desperately to understand what happened on El Cap and why it’s important. As climbers, we know why it’s important. The media coverage the Dawn Wall received neither takes away nor adds to what it is. Headlines such as, Pursuing the Impossible, World’s Hardest Climb, Most Daring Challenge Ever, First Men to Reach Summit Without Bolts or Tools, El Cap Conquered, Overwhelming Explorers and so on, mean very little to climbers, but they are fun to read.

Climbers want to know the ins and outs of the climb, the grades and cruxes. The Dawn Wall is 32-pitchies: two 5.14ds, one 5.14b, four 5.14as, two 5.13ds, seven 5.13cs, one 5.13b, two 5.13as, eight 5.12s, four 5.11s and one 5.9. The crux pitches from five years ago have been broken into shorter pitches and the crux undercling thumb catches on pitch 15 reportedly broke and made a bigger hold. Pitch 16 has an optional “loop” to the dyno move. Caldwell took the unfreed Dawn Wall and over seven years, meticulously broke it down into a free climb. For climbers, this was a breakthrough climb.

Conversation about who else could climb the Dawn Wall, if anyone, has started. Adam Ondra comes to mind, but the big wall logistics (hauling and ledges) might be out of his league. Sonnie Trotter, Will Stanhope, David Lama, the Huber brothers and the Favresse brothers also come to mind. In the end, it will likely be seconded by two climbers none of us have heard of, yet. Out there somewhere, among the millions of climbers. are at least two climbers with the drive of Caldwell and Jorgeson who will climb the Dawn Wall and then push the bar even higher. Maybe a one-day ascent of the Dawn Wall.

You’d think it’s time to put the feet up, but Caldwell is heading to Patagonia with Alex Honnold for one of the last unclimbed walls in the Fitz Roy area (we won’t spoil the surprise). Caldwell and Honnold made the first ascent of the Fitz Roy Traverse last year, another route that would be hard to explain to non-climbers.

In the end, the ascent of the Dawn Wall was perfect. Heroes were made and front pages read, El Cap Climbers Hope Their Journey Inspires Others. The Dawn Wall is bigger than ever.

“For me, I love to dream big, and I love to find ways to be a bit of an explorer,” Caldwell said. “These days it seems like everything is padded and comes with warning labels. This just lights a fire under me, and that’s a really exciting way to live.”