It’s On Like Dawn for Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson

I just wrote a news story for National Geographic Adventure recapping Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s ongoing push—and highpoint—on their Dawn Wall project. Check it out.

For the core climbing world, I thought I’d provide more details about the ascent, which I learned after speaking to Tommy on the phone on Friday, January 2, during a well-deserved rest day for the team. The day before, New Year’s day, both Tommy and Kevin fired pitch 14: the first traversing pitch, which is rated 5.14d.

Today, they are working on pitch 15, also 5.14d, which thus far only Tommy has redpointed (in 2013).

Because I already wrote a complete recap for National Geographic—which, again, I hope you take the time to read!—I’m just going to compile some facts, quotes and notes for you core climbers to sift through. Enjoy. I can safely say that the climbing world is rightly excited to see this thing go down, and that we’re all rooting for Tommy and Kevin to get er done.

photo 1-2
Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions


Day 1: December 27: Pitches 1-5. Swap leads.

p1: 5.12b

p2: 5.13a

p3: 5.13c

p4: 5.12b

p5: 5.12d


On style:

Tommy: “Yeah, we are trying for a ‘team free’ ascent. We want to both free very pitch. We started out swinging leas. Then, at some point it just doesn’t really make sense. When we reached pitches where we had to try them a bunch [to redpoint], we would just alternate [lead] tries. If one person sends it, the other person would just top rope it afterwards. So far this has worked out great. There’s enough sketchy gear up here that, mentally, it’s a lot easier to just top-rope [certain] pitches. We can play off each other’s strengths that way.”

Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions
Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions

Day 2: December 28: Pitches 6-9

p6: 5.13c – TC leads first go. KJ follows TR first go.

p7: 5.14a – (the first 5.14 pitch, obvi). KJ sent second go. TC follows on TR first go.

p8: 5.13d – TC sends in three goes. KJ sends in two.

p9: 5.13c – KJ sent second go. TC first go.


Day 3: December 29: Pitch 10

Supposed to be a rest day. Alex Honnold pops in to bring treats and show Tommy and Kevin support. They decide to climb.


Taking 3 attempts each, both send p10: 5.14a.

Pitch 10: Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions
Pitch 10: Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions


Pitch 10, according to Kevin: “50′ of two finger pin scar lie backing protected by 7 consecutive beaks leads to a 20′ permanently wet section for both hands and feet. Nails. After a good rest where you can dry your hands and shoes, you climb 35′ of 5.12 terrain. This all leads up to a crux undercling boulder problem capped by a nerve wracking, tenuous face traverse to the anchors (pictured).”  

Day 4: December 30. Rest.  


On food:  

Tommy: “One of the nice things about climbing in the winter is it’s like a refrigerator up here. We brought a giant tupperware with bell peppers, avocados, cucumbers, salami sandwiches. We have three double portaledges set up. It’s like a five-star hotel up here!”  

Photo: Tommy Caldwell
Photo: Tommy Caldwell

  By the skin of it: Tommy: “It’s the most chapping environment in the world up here. Windy. Cold. Super dry. We’re grabbing razor blades. I wake up twice a night and reapply lotion to my hands. We sand our fingertips to keep them smooth. We sand our shoe rubber. … I’m not usually a very anal person, but I’ve gotten really dialed in on this route and analyzed everything. Skin care is part of it.”  

Day 5: December 31. Pitches 11-12

p11: 5.13c – TC leads. KJ follows.

p12: 5.14b – “The Molar Traverse” – KJ leads after a few attempts, surpassing his high point. TC follows after a few attempts.

Tommy sending pitch 11 (5.13c). Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions
Tommy sending pitch 11 (5.13c). Photo: Brett Lowell / Big Up Productions


More on the Molar Traverse This was a major crux for the team on their first push attempt in 2010. That year it took Tommy five tries to send it, and Kevin was unable to send. In 2011 it took Tommy as many, if not more tries, to redpoint the Molar Traverse. According to his wife, Becca Caldwell, who was belaying him that year, Tommy would come painfully close to sending but his feet would slip off the smears right toward the end.    


On warming up and tickmarks: Tommy: “To warm up, we jug about 100 feet and then we usually give a warm-up burn on whatever pitch we’re going to do. We re-work the moves, bolt-to-bolt style. The climbing is so technical that you have to map it out really well. Kevin is super good at that. He spends, like, an hour ticking holds and stuff before each hard pitch we try. Totally makes a road map for the climbing, and that’s all a warm-up, too.” (Check out Tom Evans’ blog to see the tick marks.)  


Day 6: New Year’s Eve. Pitches 13-14.

p13: 5.12d

p14: 5.14d

[Tommy: “Pitch 14 used to be pitch 13, but we added a belay at a no-hand’s stance.”] Both Kevin and Tommy lead, and send, pitch 14.

Tommy: “Oh snap. The hardest pitch got sent by both of us tonight. I might be in a little shock right now. The route is taking a toll on our fingertips as we are now both climbing with taped up fingertips, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing us down too much. Oh yeah!!!!” 


The Grand Traverses: the two hardest pitches in Yosemite, pitch 14-15, stacked right on top of one another in the middle of El Cap.

Pitch 14. 5.14d. TC first redpointed in November 18, 2014 and called it the hardest pitch on the Dawn Wall—harder than pitch 15. Kevin came close on this attempt, but didn’t send. As of January 1, 2015, both TC and KJ have redpointed pitch 14.

Pitch 15: 5.14d. TC first redpointed in 2013 after a rather tough season in which Yosemite was closed during the government shutdown. Also, Tommy fractured a rib when a haul bag took a whipper directly onto his harness. Never one to be slowed down by something like a little ripped rib, Tommy returned a few weeks later and sent p15, dubbing it (at that point) the hardest single pitch in Yosemite. Ostensibly, p14 has since claimed that title.


On Nerves:

Tommy: “I’m not too nervous. When I used to comp climb, or sport climb at Rifle, I would get really nervous. But big walls are, like, my zone. I know this mental space. I can just get there. I have just the right amount of nervousness right now. And I think Kevin is figuring that out, too. He’s striking that balance really well on this push. I will say this: It’s intense right now. It’s really, really intense.”


On the falling ice:

“We’re dodging chunks of ice all the time. IT’s getting better now but there was one really cold night all day long randomly the chunks flying down at us. When it’s warmer the chunks are small, but when it’s really cold the chunks are bigger, peel off. Wish that wouldn’t happen. It makes it feel like not only a big-wall adventure but like an alpine big wall adventure.”


What’s next:

Pitches 15, 16, 17 and 18 are all tough—how many days these pitches will take is unknown. In a best-case scenario, the two climbers are planning to tackle pitch 15 (5.14d) on January 3.

They will attempt pitch 16, the infamous “Dyno Pitch,” on January 4.

Pitch numbers 17 and 18 (rated 5.13c and 5.13d, respectively) could go down on January 5.

And if the two climbers can get through these four crux pitches, all that will remain is 12 more pitches of relatively easier climbing—“mostly 5.11, some 5.12 and one move of 5.13 climbing”—which might take upwards of three more days to complete due to the fact that they are expecting the pitches to be dirty and might need cleaning. If all goes according to plan, they could emerge on the summit of El Cap on January 9, after 14 days on the wall.


Pitch 16: The Dyno Pitch / “The Loop Pitch” (?) 

This pitch is probably the most famous pitch of the Dawn Wall thanks to the footage of Kevin and Tommy trying to latch a 6-foot horizontal dyno, which appeared in the film Progression and during various REEL Rock Tours.

According to Tommy, Kevin is still planing on attempting to stick the dyno move. Tommy, however, has felt that this move was too inconsistent for him to ever realistically complete. His plan, instead, is to do a giant “Loop Pitch,” which will involve reversing 20 feet down Pitch 15, down-climbing 50 feet from the belay, then coming back up the other side circumnavigating the belay stance (all while on top-rope) to re-join Pitch 16 at the end of the dyno.

Tommy says that this Loop variation is probably only 5.14a.



Update January 4, 2015

On January 3, Tommy sent pitch 15 (5.14d) on his second try. Kevin gave at least three burns, and came quite close to sending pitch 15 too, but did not manage to send. Tommy also sussed out all the moves on pitch 16, and will be trying to send his Loop variation this evening.

  • Lil_Pete

    Thanks for the write-up – great description of the challenges on the wall!

  • Wolfi Hofer

    according Tommy fb he sent the second traverse pitch ( “tonight” – does it mean they climb in thenight also in this winter conditions?)
    Also according this Kevin missed the sent very close – horrible pressure now on him to keep the set train moving – climbable weather will not continue forever
    see also message on