Rock climbing is such a hassle. Right from the terrain leading you to the rock to the actual rock hurdle. For backpacking aficionados, some hurdles can be so impenetrable that they bluntly give up at the thought of the process. 

But what makes you a legend is you aren’t daring to try that which others fear? Always be ready to task risks as a climber. In the first quarter of 2015, there was news of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson ascending the Dawn Wall, the most challenging wall to climb in the world. 

On the 14th of January, they made it! Maybe you’re wondering how many people have climbed the Dawn Wall? Six years later, no one has smashed this record. Their climbing story remains one of the greatest victories in climbing history. 

Yosemite Dawn Wall

What is the Dawn Wall?

Originally called the Wall of the Early Morning Light, the Dawn Wall is a 32 pitch, 5.14d climb located in the Yosemite National Park, Southeast of El Captain in the United States. 

There are established routes in the forest. However, Tommy Caldwell was interested in the southeast face of El Cap. The last major sections remained unclimbed and were so smooth. With climbers only doing it halfway then thinking it was unclimbable.

It was until 2015 when Tommy Caldwell bagged all the 32 pitches to the top. This wasn’t an easy journey. Tommy started planning for The Dawn Wall project in 2007. It took him quite some time to figure out piecing together pitches on how to conquer the blank granite slab. 

How Many People Have Climbed the Dawn Wall?

So far, only three people have climbed the Dawn Wall – Adam Ondra, Kevin Jorgeson, and Tommy Caldwell. The first two to climb the Dawn Wall were the duo Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell. In 2016, Adam Ondra climbed the Dawn Wall successfully.

On 21st November 2016, Adam managed to reach the zenith after eight days on the wall. Adam with Pavel Blazek, a fellow Czech climber, began working on this iconic journey on October 17th. His accomplishment is more stunning since it was his first time visiting Yosemite.

And on the first trial, he made it! At the beginning of 2020, there were speculations that Nalle Hukkataival and his climbing partner Ignacio Mulero had started their third ascent challenge on the Dawn Wall.

However, on 22nd January, the duo gave in. They cited bad weather and too much exhausting work as a barrier. Vowing to show up again the following season to complete the task.

The First Ascent Duo: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson

If you were to pick on a duo that would climb the hardest rocks you imagine, these two have it.

Tommy Caldwell

Tommy Caldwell, a Yosemite royalty, first broke the record of ascending the Dawn Wall. For a long time, Tommy conquers the hardest lines El Chap puts forward. In 2004, Tommy made his first ascent to the Dihedral Wall, a record that went unrepeated for almost twelve years.

Tommy is no stranger when it comes to tricky wall situations. He does the best he can. After some climbing rendezvous went south in Kyrgyzstan, Tommy and Beth Rodden, his counterpart by then, were taken as hostages. With the slightest escape opportunity, Tommy hauled down the cliff one of his captives and sought refuge in a nearby military camp.

A year later, his index finger is chopped off by a table saw. This injury, to most climbers, would be the end of their careers. For Tommy, this meant scaling to even greater heights. A start to a better climbing career. Barely a year after his finger accident, Tommy made his first ascent to The Honeymoon is Over in Colorado.

Kevin Jorgeson

Kevin’s wall experience is way less than Tommy’s. He had very little experience before joining Tommy on the Dawn Wall quest. Look at Kevin’s heartwarming story on his first climbing attempts in Yosemite. Burgeoning in Sacramento, the local gymnasium attributed to his career as a skilled boulder. 

He made spectacular ascents in high bouldering. His first breathtaking ascents were The Beautiful and Damned and the 55-foot line Ambrosia, which made him gain popularity and acclamation within the climbing clique. 

Tommy’s discussion in a climbing move progression called Progression about his Dawn Wall project made the duo partners. Kevin messaged Tommy if he could join the project. To his surprise, he was the only one interested. The duo first teamed up in October 2009 and embarked on working on the world’s hardest multi-pitch. 

Dawn Wall Route

In 2007, Tommy frantically started to search for any features or even cracks he could use to find his way up the Dawn Wall’s elusive rocks. For years, alone, he practiced beta, bolt-drilling, and rock cleaning wherever it was called for.

After three years of desperate attempts and trials, Tommy finally came up with an exclusive Dawn Wall route in 2020. For about 1400ft, the Dawn Wall follows an akin route to Mescalito, except for a few new pitches. The beginning of the route is manageable, but the higher you get, the tougher the climbing becomes.

The Dawn Wall Route

It’s not until you get half the route that things start getting enthralling. Among the hardest pitches on the Dawn Wall, Pitch 14- will make you lose your cool. You might literally start thinking about going down. It is this same pitch that caused Ondra uncountable headaches.

Pitch 15 is another equally crazy section of the route. This pitch is the hardest on the Down Wall. Neither Kevin nor Tommy successfully completed it while training. Both pairs had made thousands of attempts and over one hundred days on this pitch without any successful attempt.

Next, pitch 16 welcomes you. However, it offers you two options—first, the “dyno.” The dyno is a dynamic move that calls for an 8ft hurling of yourself. The second option is Tommy’s alternative beta that requires you to exhaust a 200ft circuit. Kevin refers to this as the hardest down climb in the world.

After that, climbers are tasked with multiple pitches of polished granite that range from 5.13b-5.14c till the top of the Wino Tower ledge. The route then joins with Mescalito all the way to the peak. 

How Hard is the Dawn Wall?

Don’t let Tommy’s superhuman climbing prowess trick you into thinking this is a walk in the park. It is a hard venture. The Dawn Wall receives numerous recognitions as the world’s hardest and longest route. The route has 4 X5.11, 8 X 5.12, 7 X 5.14, 12 X 5.13, and a single pitch of 5.10.

Cumulatively, the Dawn Wall route has more pitches than the rest of the whole El Cap. It’s worth noting that Adam, Tommy, and Kevin dared the route in winter. Winter is the perfect time to climb since there’s maximum friction on the boulder. However, battling cold conditions and bad weather is part and parcel of the climb.

How High is the Dawn Wall?

From the base to the summit, the Dawn Wall is approximately 914m (3,000ft).

The Story Behind the Dawn Wall Documentary

For decades, El Cap has been climbed by diehard mountaineers. On the giant rock, there are 252 climbs with several routes. The climbs are a mix of sport climbing and trad. Despite numerous lines developing on the giant rock, the Dawn Wall remained unmarred. Since Tommy discovered the wall, he had numerous climbers aid in working out the beta.

These included his dad, Chris Sharma, and Jonathan Siegrist. The duo also had water and over 800 pounds of food delivered to them by helpers rappelling to the top or via fixed ropes. Behind Tommy’s climbing accomplishment conceals a sad story.

After his marriage broke down in 2008, Tommy’s Dawn Wall route development was an escape from his divorce pain. He even says that if he fell to his death, that would have taken the pain away. However, through an early hike, the sunrise on the Dawn Wall route motivated him to find a new purpose in life. 

What Climbing Shoes Did They Use?

All the three guys, Tommy, Kevin, and Adam, used the La Sportiva TC Pro for their crackdown of the Dawn Wall. The shoe is Tommy’s signature shoe too!

Adam used the La Sportiva Katana too. This was during his frequent trips to Yosemite while handling the beta and various other projects. 

The Legacy

The Wall of Early Morning Light is a bewildering indication of how far mountaineers have set the mountain climbing bar so high. To date, only three climbers have conquered all the thirty-two pitches. 

Kevin and Tommy’s first ascent story is an amazing one. A story of pure dedication and resilience. Fighting all odds to achieve your wildest dreams. Reading “The Push” will give you the perfect picture of the hurdles Tommy experiences.

An insight into the 7-year journey that he took before conquering the Dawn Wall; an immense climb – a narration of pain and heartbreak! Despair that makes him wish himself death. Above all, the Dawn Wall gives him the hunger and spirit to fight. A reason to always look forward to a new sunrise.

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