Daily Stoke: Come Prepared like Tommy Caldwell

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson recently completed the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall of El Cap. Considered the longest, hardest free climb in the world, the Dawn Wall was the culmination of over seven years of vision, hard work and hard training on the part of both climbers.

As news sources around the world tried to grapple with what the hell these climbers were doing; as the core climbing world tried to wrap its own head around what to call the style with which they dispatched the gnar; and as everyone waited and wondered whether Kevin would ever redpoint pitch 15—one of the most important elements of this story was lost amid the media frenzy.

That was the fact that Tommy Caldwell basically fucking bone-crushed this monster of a route!

“I trained so hard for this for so many years,” Tommy said in our interview the day after the send. “My biggest moments of doubt came before we even left the ground. Once we started climbing I was just confident. I had it on lock down, honestly.”

Tommy never tried any pitch more than three times, from my count. Mostly, he climbed each pitch on his first or second try.

Without any pre-inspection on this push, Tommy racked up and sent pitches 20 and 21—both 5.13d, both complex and tricky, and both a whopping 180 feet long. I don’t believe that he had actually led either of these pitches before, having only ever worked them on Mini-Traxion. Pretty boss, if you ask me.

Preparation is the most major part of every important endeavor. Only when a fisherman puts in the hours needed to repair his net and keep his boat in shape does the act of fishing become a mere formality.

Likewise, our goal as climbers is to make the act of redpointing our projects mere formalities as well.

Again, as Tommy said, “I trained so hard for this for so many years. My biggest moments of doubt came before we even left the ground. Once we started climbing I was just confident. I had it on lock down, honestly.”

He had reached a state of physical and mental preparation in which sending was really just a matter of showing up. There’s some serious inspiration there. Show up prepared. Strive to turn your projects into mere formalities.

Preparation demands patience, planning and timing. The work of practicing moves at our limits is a particular type of drudgery. Sending feels so distant. We can’t really see how that hold will ever be good enough to clip from, or shake from, or move from. When that happens, we must persevere nevertheless. We strive to build ourselves up into industructible, bone-crushing machines like Tommy Caldwell, even when we feel that all circumstances—life, work, fitness, technique, and so on—are against us. Patience. Planning. Timing. That’s what brings us steadily toward our goals.

Show up prepared. And turn your projects into mere formalities.



About the Photo

Caption: Tommy Caldwell on pitch 20 (5.13d) of the Dawn Wall.

Photo (c) Corey Rich / Aurora Photos


  • Gianluca Boldetti

    great writing!

    I am wondering if reading it will do the average recreational climber a favour, though.

    I see quite a lot of climbers whose main problem in not “getting prepared enough”, but rather giving a proper 100% effort.
    For several reasons they are not overly confortable with the inherent uncertainty of trying hard, and therefore they are quite easily pushed out of the “zone”: they can only send when they feel they “have it on lock down”, to paraphrase the article.

    There is an element of self-feeding loop as well: as they are often uncomfortable and unsuccessful when trying really hard, they will be conservative when choosing their goals, and therefore miss opportunities to become comfortable in precarious situations or with obscene levels of pump.

    It would be interesting to ask TC if he has higher-than-usual tolerance for “trying hard” and if, as a result, his perception of being “solid” on something is closer-than-usual to “barely managing it”.