In January 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson caused a worldwide media spectacle. They embarked on one of the toughest multi-pitch tours in the world: The Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley. Red Bull Media House and Sender Films accompanied the two and produced a breathtaking film that premieres in Switzerland on October 4th. The film will be released on iTunes on November 20th.
It was one of the climbing highlights of the decade that kept a global audience in suspense for nearly three weeks: two climbers tackled one of the world's toughest multi-pitch rides. With the celebration of the Dawn Wall im Yosemite Valley went for Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson a long-standing dream come true. 19 days spent in the 914 high wall with their 32 rope lengths in the successful attempt to cross. Until then, it was a long and stony path.
The story behind the ascent
A film crew followed every step of Caldwell and Jorgeson and now, three years later, the project comes back to life. The film The dawn wall (Through the Wall) documents not only the successful ascent, but also Caldwell's seven-year obsession with the route and the paths that ultimately led him to the goal.
“It's only in the film that you get an idea of what the two of them have taken on and gone through.” - Director Peter Mortimer
Trailer of the movie The Dawn Wall
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Tommy Caldwell in an interview on the commission of Dawn Wall
Tommy, how did you come up with the idea to climb the Dawn Wall?
I've been climbing El Capitan since 25 years. In the meantime I climbed all existing routes x times. I climbed through every crack, every crack. At some point came the moment in which I wondered how much would be possible for me up there. And because I had so much experience with this mountain, I was probably the only person who could judge that the mirror-smooth structure of the Dawn Wall, which looked invincible to anyone else, could perhaps be climbed. So I started looking for a route. Then Kevin came along and joined the project.
What has driven you for so many years?
In the beginning it was just a wish to find out if you could climb this wall at all. Then I had to go through a divorce, and the thought of the Dawn Wall helped me to cope better with the loss and pain. This led back to the idea that on this wall might be more feasible than you think. At the beginning of the film there is a sequence about Kyrgyzstan - I was abducted by militant Islamists there. During this kidnapping, I coped with situations that I would never have expected before. It also made me realize that we humans can do much more than we think. Anyway, more than is required of us in everyday life. Since then, I've been curious what I can do, and the Dawn Wall continued to fuel this curiosity.
Can you describe what a day in the wall looks like - from getting up to going to bed?
Usually big-wall climbing is like this: You get up at dawn and climb all day until it gets dark again. The Dawn Wall is totally different: to climb there you need the best conditions, and that means cold. When it's hot, the fingertips are soft and break more easily, even the rubber on the shoes rubs off much faster. So we had to wait until it was cool enough, which often caused us to climb at night. So our daily routine was pretty weird. We woke up with the sun - there is no shade on the wall and it is impossible to sleep in the blazing sun - so we were awake and lingering in the Portaledge all day until the sun no longer shone on the wall. That was against 17 clock, from then on we climbed to 1 clock at night, most of the time with headlamps. But it was a good combination: during the day we could enjoy the impressive place where we stayed, talked and fooled around. In the evening it became serious and we spent several hours in full concentration.
“We climbed until 1 a.m., most of the time with a headlamp. It was too hot during the day. ”- Tommy Caldwell
How important is a climbing partner in a long-standing project, like the Dawn Wall?
Couple has much more energy than alone! No matter what you do, it is always important to have a good partner. With Kevin you can embark on adventure, but you can also bring a company to an end. Besides, sometimes we want to outdo each other, and then we go out of their way in a different way.
How did your family and friends support you over the years?
My parents have always supported me, they often came to Yosemite National Park and watched me climbing. Sometimes they came up and secured me. Then there were all the people - from friends to fence-saws, who now and then gathered at the foot of the wall to cheer Kevin and me. It was quite interesting: There were people who supported us because they knew what climbing meant. Whether our Dawn Wall project would ever be a success, they did not care. But there were those who thought we were pretty idiots because we wereted years on something that would probably never work out. Of course, the courage gave us the others, and the family and friends.
The event caused a huge media response. How did it feel to be filmed all the time? What was it like to be watched by the whole world while making the most difficult route of your life?
This media circus was one of the most absurd things I've ever experienced. I never felt very well when I was in public, and suddenly I was more than ever. That was quite cool in one way because it justified our obsession - we thought, now we get the respect for all the years we spent with our experiments on the Dawn Wall. Nevertheless, there were also spectators who declared us crazy. On the other hand, we have inspired a lot of people and that has been a great pleasure to me. All in all, it was strange to see yourself on every station in the USA, and also on a number of other worldwide.
How did you learn that the kidnapper was still alive in Kyrgyzstan?
At that time, we were able to get out of the hostage situation because I pushed our kidnapper down a rock face. Then we ran away and found a military post, which helped us further and provided. Back home, I was convinced that I had killed the rebel. About three months later, a journalist found out that the man had survived. The Kyrgyz military had found him and imprisoned him. After being told that he was alive, I did not believe it at first. But the information was proved, which made it much easier for me. The thought that I had killed someone had come terribly close to my mind. What scared me the most was the realization that I was capable of killing someone. Of course, one could think that he was one of the Kyrgyz rebels, he was my enemy, but I saw the rebels at the time as a victim of their circumstances. I mean, who knows: If I had grown up in their world, maybe I would have become one of them.
Credits: cover picture and interview Red Bull Content Pool