Two men are making history on El Capitan. For over two weeks, the 36 year old Estes Park resident, Tommy Caldwell and the 30 year old Santa Rosa local, Kevin Jorgenson have battled up El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in the hopes of making the first free ascent of the world’s hardest big wall free climb.
The pair began climbing on December 27th and made steady upward progress. The normally wet lower pitches, the climbing ropelengths, were dry. Temps were cool ensuring ideal friction. Jorgenson split a tip, damaging his finger tips, but remained undeterred. They dispatched the initial 1200 feet to their basecamp. Then the climbing became hard.
I brought bell peppers, cucumbers, pasta, and tea for Tommy. I brought bourbon and sour Skittles for Kevin. I shouldered the 40 pound haulbag and made the 1200 foot commute to their basecamp, where I dropped off the goods for the men. They were in solid spirits a week ago.
Caldwell managed to dance carefully across a huge white dike feature, connecting two features. Kevin fired it as well. Caldwell dispatched the next few pitches in the dark. His experience having freed a half dozen other free routes on El Cap shone. He dispatched the continuing hard climbing.
But Jorgenson struggled. His skin split more. He kept failing at the end of the dike. The razor blade holds sliced his fingers. He could barely hold on. Caldwell could have gone to the top, easily making a succsful ascent. Instead, he supported the man who had worked on the route for the past six year with him.
A few days ago, with tape covering his finger tips, Jorgenson stuck the credit card holds. He then made an enormous 8 foot sideways leap to join into Caldwell’s section.
“Momentum is a powerful force,” posted Jorgeson on Facebook. “When it’s on your side, everything feels a bit easier.”
The pair have a few more days, and the trials are far from over. When and if they top out, the pair will have cemented themselves as legends of climbing, having established the world’s hardest big wall free climb.