PATH OF RESISTANCE: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempt the first ascent of El Cap's hardest free climb
When is a rock climb too hard, the holds too small, the cracks too thin? Black Diamond athletes Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson pushed those physical and mental boundaries to the limit this past fall when they spent nearly two months attempting to free a line on El Capitan’s southeast face, a 900-meter route (linking up sections of the Dawn Wall and Mescalito) that is likely the hardest big wall free climb in the world, mind-bogglingly stacked with numerous 5.14 pitches.
Below is the essay Caldwell wrote for our 2010 Free Climbing brochure, which highlights the gear they used during their attempts, as well as exclusive photos of the climb from photographer Tim Kemple.
To get a copy of the 2010 Free Climbing brochure, email our customer service crew at email@example.com and they’ll ship you out a fresh one or you can download a PDF of the brochure by clicking here.
To see a sampling of the gear Caldwell and Jorgeson took on the climb, go here.
Path Of Resistance
By Tommy Caldwell
There is an ominous feeling surrounding my tiny, lonely home two thousand feet in the sky. This is my third winter day in the middle of El Cap—alone. The past two mornings I have awoken early as the warming sun hits my hanging camp. A few moments of coziness are followed by quaky nervousness as I watch the ice that formed during the night melt from the wall above and begin bombing me. I zip up my portaledge fly and tuck my head inside my sleeping bag in an attempt to escape the frightening exposure, frigid wind and thoughts of the falling ice chunks. My chosen career is not the easy path, but I have little interest in a life of leisure. So I think up these super projects to push me hard and make me thrive.
I fully realize that free climbing the Dawn Wall of El Capitan is improbable. Miles of blank steep granite—no true weaknesses to follow. To free climb the Dawn Wall will mean catapulting forward what is thought possible in the world of big wall free climbing. I’ve spent parts of two years either rope soloing up or rapping down from the top, swinging around, searching and trying the moves. I’m trying to force a paradigm shift with this route, and the prospect of linking together at least seven pitches of 5.14 to 5.14+ and another ten in the 5.13 range is daunting. Several times I have given up and moved on, worried I might waste too much of my life searching for something that does not exist or that is too hard for me. But I have invested so much, and am unable to resist El Cap’s magnetic pull. Now, after two and a half years, I think I have finally found the path, done all the moves. But the journey is far from over.
In the off-season I sit at home, remembering the thrill of sticking that eight-foot sideways dyno for the first time or finding that improbable line of edges that linked a section I was sure was going to be completely blank. The psych hits me, and I run into the dusty storage room of my 600-square-foot cabin and crank out a few sets of fingertip pull-ups on my hangboard, then do sit-ups and pull-ups until my muscles quiver with fatigue. I know that to free this Holy Grail on El Cap will require me to train harder, endure more. I slide on my running shoes and look at the outdoor thermometer. It reads 10 degrees Fahrenheit. As I walk out the front door I’m hit in the face with a 50-mile-an-hour wind gust. I put my head down and start running.