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Dawn Wall Through the Eyes of Tom Evans

Tom Evans is the man behind the El Cap Report. During Yosemite’s peak season, his daily reports are the go-to resource for anyone wanting to know who is climbing what on El Cap. In late December, he started his off-season reports to cover the Dawn Wall. The reports were an important tool for media nation-wide and for thousands of climbers wanting to follow Tommy and Kevin up the wall.

Tom Evans
Tom Evans  Photo Ted Distel

Tom was born and raised in Virginia. It was in high school that he started climbing on his local cliffs of the Potomac River. Tom’s first trip to Yosemite was in 1967, after graduating from Virginia Military Institute with a B.S. in Civil Engineering.

In the late 60s, Tom climbed Quarter Dome, Washington’s Column, Sentinel and attempted the Northwest Face of Half Dome. He climbed with John Porter in France and learned new tricks. When he returned to Yosemite, he climbed the Northwest Face of Half Dome with George Homer in two-and-a-half days. Homer then moved to Canada and pioneered dozens of routes in the Canadian Rockies.

In 1971, Tom climbed The Nose with Paul Sibley. They endured a bad storm to make it up the route in six days. After that year, Tom moved to Missouri’s Ozarks.

Looking down at Tom Evans from the last pitch on The Nose. Photo from Tom Evans' collection
Tom Evans from the last pitch on The Nose. Photo Tom Evans’ collection

After years of life’s ups and downs, Tom is now settled in Southern California. He retired from teaching in 2003 and started spending more time in Yosemite. “I think these retirement years have been the best years of my life,” said Tom who is in his mid-70s. “I can tell you that life goes by really fast, so live it or it will live you.”

Gripped’s editor, Brandon Pullan, touched base with Tom after the post-Dawn Wall media storm. Tom said after he returned home, “I am home from the big climb. My email box doesn’t have a single request for any information or interviews. The storm has swept out as fast as it swept in and I am back to being an obscure photographer and blogger. It was an exciting, exhausting time and will be one of the highlights of my life. It will not happen again in my lifetime and I was fortunate to meet many wonderful media people and I have gained a new respect for what they do and the pressure they are under.”

Tom Evans on day 19 of the Dawn Wall climb, the day Tommy and Kevin completed it. Tom said, " My last early morning, in the cold meadow, shooting the climb. Photo by Lincoln Turner who was out there watching and shooting too."
Tom Evans in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Lincoln Turner 

Gripped: How long have you been doing the El Cap Report?
Tom: I have been doing the report for about eight years now and shooting climbers for 20.

G: What motivated you to do it?
T: I first started it so that friends in the Valley would stop bugging me asking what was going on.

G: How many routes have you climbed in the valley and on El Cap?
T: I have climbed a good number of routes in the Valley, how many ???  I have successfully climbed five routes on ElCap and bailed on another 10. I was not so good at it.

G: Where do you live full time when not in the valley?
T: I have a home in Crestline in SoCal.

G: When they started up Dawn Wall, how many other photographers were around?
T: The guys from Big UP Productions arrived at the same I did on Dec 27. They are a cool group and I appreciated the help and advice they gave. Corey Rich was also there with big up.

G: At what point did the news spread like a wildfire?
T: Things were pretty calm at first with just us photographers hanging out with the resupply crew lead by Erik Sloan. Then John Branch stopped by in the evening and asked, “Are you Tom, everyone said I need to talk to you?” We had a long chat and the next day the New York Times had the front page article and off it went.

G: What was the busiest day or did they get busier throughout?
T: All the days were quite busy after the rush started. I mostly spent my time dealing directly with the media, domestic and international as they all got my contact information from the Times’ article.

G: What were some questions folks asked?
T: Some people knew what was going on and quite a few climbers came by to see what the deal was. Tourons were clueless and I explained the situation to them. Several came back every day and followed the story on-line or on the news shows.

G: Were you the go-to guy for media?
T: I was the guy at the tip of the spear and got all the media requests due to the El Cap Report.

G: What was the valley like when Kevin sent p15?
T: That had been building up for several days as the press was on it and I fielded a lot of questions about that pitch and his failures at it. I had written about it on the report and as he Kevin it every day I wanted to get him psyched and ready for it. We watched him go out the first time on the pitch and fall. There was a large gathering by then and everyone knew this was it. He went again and was a new man and climbed great. Read day 14 on the report to get the feeling. When he sent, everyone erupted in cheers, I cried. Yeah, old men can’t hold in emotions like younger guys.

Kevin after sending pitch 15. "He let out a scream that could be heard down here in the meadow. He promptly jumped off the cliff. I think this shot tells it all," wrote Evans on his El Cap Report.
Kevin after sending pitch 15. Photo Tom Evans

G: What kind of camera do you use?
T: I use a canon T3i on a Nikon 600 mm f/4 manual lens. That set up gives me an effective 960 mm lens with excellent clarity.

G: Did you know Tommy and Kevin before the climb?
T: Yes, I have known Tommy for years and Kevin since he started on the Dawn Wall.

G: Did you make the hike to the top to meet them?
T: No, my duty was on the ground shooting and doing interviews on the last day.

G: What was the post-climb party like?
T: We went to the Mountain Room Broiler and had a nice dinner. Tommy was not there, but Kevin and a gang of friends were. My Adidas Outdoor crew was there for dinner. The climbers had to get up early for filmed interviews, something like 3:45 a.m. I went back to my hotel and did images for the video team.

G: What will you do for the rest of the winter until you return?
T: Next week, I will be on a cruise ship heading south for two weeks. Later in the winter, I am taking a 30-day cruise down to South America. Between cruises I will be visiting my family in Phoenix and doing some skiing at Mammoth Mountain.

G: What was your favourite part of their climb?
T: I enjoyed all the climbing, but was especially emotional when Kevin did pitch 15 and I was able to get some great shots and of course, summit day.

Tom Evans narrating Kevin Jorgensen finally sending pitch 16 for the Good Morning America news crew. Photo Paul Souza
Tom Evans and the Good Morning America news crew. Photo Paul Souza