Update From The Dawn Wall: Climbers Above Hardest Pitches, Success Still Not Assured

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The efforts of rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on the Dawn Wall in Yosemite continue to garner lots of attention within the climbing community, as well as beyond. The two men launched their bid to climb what many consider the toughest route in the world back on December 27, and more than two weeks later, they’re still making their way up El Capitan’s most daunting face. Over the weekend, the duo made headway, and although they are now past the most difficult pitches, they still have some challenges ahead.

For those that don’t know, the Dawn Wall is so named because it faces east and is the first section of El Cap to receive light in the morning. The 3000-foot (900 meter) granite face was first climbed by Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy) back in 1970. But that ascent was made with the use of ropes and protection to get to the top. Even with aid, the duo still struggled to compete the route, even refusing a rescue at one point. What Tommy and Kevin are attempting to do is on a completely different level however, as they are free climbing the wall. That means they’re only using ropes and protection to arrest their fall, but are making the ascent completely under their own power, using nothing more than than their physical strength and considerable climbing skills.

Most experts indicate that the 15th and 16th pitches are the two toughest on the entire route, which consists of 30 pitches over all. Last week, Caldwell was able to get past both of those challenges, and seemed poised to scamper up the rest of the route, reaching the top as early as this past weekend. Meanwhile, Kevin struggled for seven days on the 15th pitch, falling 11 times over that period. As the skin on his fingers wore thin, it started to look like he might not be able to get past those daunting sections. Over the weekend however, he managed to finish the 15th pitch at last, and his momentum even carried up the 16th with little trouble as well. His partner watched on with interest, offering encouragement, and cheering the success of his friend.

Now, the two men are reunited on the Dawn Wall, and will continue upwards together. They have passed what most consider the most difficult part of the climb, and are now getting ready to push towards the top. They still have some considerable obstacles to overcome, but considering their talent, nothing that remains on the route should be insurmountable. That said, until they finish the last pitch, success it still not assured.

This is the biggest climb in the world, and many observers have been transfixed by the events that are unfolding in Yosemite. Even non-climbers are watching with anticipation to see if Tommy and Kevin can complete the route. In a few days time, we should know more.

Kraig Becker