Wall climbing

Tommy Caldwell: Before the Dawn Wall

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This article appeared in rock and ice number 217 (April 2014).


Climbing taught me a lot. It allowed me to travel and boil the world, and gave me a place to live a very full and exciting life. Above all, I think climbing taught me to live without fear.

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My greatest difficulty would be the ordeal in Kyrgyzstan where four of us were kidnapped by Islamist militants for six days. It’s a long and complicated story but, in short, we and our captors were driven out by the Kyrgyz army. We left behind our food and warm clothes and hid under rocks and in holes in the ground. We finally escaped when I pushed one of our captors off a cliff and we ran to the nearest army
outpost.

***

The experience in Kyrgyzstan shook my world in a way I’m still learning about 14 years later. There was definitely a dark side to the recovery process, but in the end it made me a much stronger and more loving person. The amount of pain and fear we endured made the rest of life seem like a walk in the park. It reset my idea of ​​what real pain is (both physical and emotional) and now I go through life without too much fear. I have learned
this pain sharpens us.

***

Kyrgyzstan tops the list of difficult experiences, but my divorce in 2010 comes close behind. Cutting my index finger was stressful because I thought it might end my full-time climbing career at a time when I still had a ton of big dreams I wanted to pursue. But through these experiences, I have learned that difficulties are what change us the most. It puts us in an intense meditative state where we discover what we really want. And it motivates
us to go towards those things that we have always dreamed of.

***

I have learned that the more I climb, the more I will like it. And I learned that I can’t predict what will happen in my life a year in advance, let alone 25.

***

My wife, Beca, and welcomed an amazing baby boy into our lives nine months ago. His birth made me much more responsible and intentional because I want to set a good example. But having a son also makes me want to let go and have fun. I want little Fitz to see how great life can be.

From dawn wall project, I learned to enjoy the process and to be patient. I like the way the dawn wall breathes energy into my whole life. And I love how it motivates me to constantly challenge myself.

***

To be able to doing it as a professional climber is way better than winning the lottery. I can imagine the biggest adventures I can and go for them without having to worry about a nine-to-five job. It doesn’t get much better than that.

***

There are rigors be a professional climber. Like everyone these days, I spend quite a bit of time on the computer. And the constant travel can drain my power. But in times like these, I try to remember that when you’re doing what you love, you never work a day in your life.

***

But to climb just like being very rich tends to spoil people. Many of us become self-centered, and this selfishness makes both escalation and relationships difficult. I learned that I like climbing, but I like people more.

***

From dawn wall project, I learned to enjoy the process and to be patient. I like the way the dawn wall breathes energy into my whole life. And I love how it motivates me to constantly challenge myself.

***

I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to climb dawn wall alone. I’m incredibly lucky to have found such an amazing partner in Kevin Jorgeson. Sharing the experience with him made her much richer than she would have been without him.

***

This season in Yosemite, Kevin and I experienced setbacks both from the government shutdown and my injury. One of the biggest challenges in free climbing dawn wall was that the southern aspect of the climb makes it boiling hot most of the way. But because of the setbacks, we climbed a lot in December, which actually gave us good conditions and helped us realize that it’s better to do a free climb in winter. When I got injured, it seemed like the cards were stacked against me this season. It would have been really easy to throw in the towel for the year. But on a project like this, it’s important to maintain a sense of urgency. While I was injured, I continued to do finger strengthening exercises and started climbing again as soon as possible. In the end it paid off. I learned to trust my instincts and keep pushing forward.

***

I found that my her strengths are the ability to dream big, never give up, and endure a lot. Combine those with training in sport climbing, and free climbing big walls is the thing in life where I can be the best. The best times of my climbing life have been on El Cap.

***

My goals for the future is to be a loving husband, a wonderful father and to share my love of life and climbing with the people who will listen…and hopefully send the Dawn wall.