Climbing duo on Dawn Wall success and the power of pep talks

Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service Team

A chat with doco protagonists Caldwell & Jorgeson three years after first ascent.

On January 14, 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson stepped on top of the Dawn Wall, a route on El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park thought to be unclimbable.

More than three years later, their story has travelled far beyond the vertical rock and its climbing crowd as The Dawn Wall movie hits theatres around the world.


Rugged, receptive, and a little jet lagged, we’ve met the two friends during their European tour.

How are you guys feeling? How many flights over the past weeks?

Tommy: Oh man. In three weeks, I bet I’ve taken 20 flights or something. Close to that.

That’s quite a change of rhythm for the two of you. Can you squeeze some climbing in?

Kevin: We’ve been able to climb in every city that we’ve gone to, which has been really fun.

Tommy: And then we went one day outside of Dresden in Germany. We went to the sandstones. It was good.

So, the movie. How does it feel to see your sport, once fairly niche, become more mainstream?

Tommy: There was a point in my life where it was more bittersweet, where I was like, oh, I liked it being quite small and intimate when not so many people were climbing. That ceased to be that way five or six years ago. I look at it differently now and I’m just happy that so many people can be part of a sport that brings them happiness and energy. That’s my feeling right now: it’s a good thing.

Do you see an impact on places you usually climb at?

Kevin: For sure. I go to the Buttermilks every year in Bishop, in California. The impact is very visual, you can really see it. A lot of erosion under the boulders and stuff. It’s a really popular area. But if you hike 15 minutes up a hill, then there is nobody there.

Tommy: The popular areas are more popular, but the ones that are less convenient are still not that crowed. People mostly go to the easy ones.

What’s the most touching feedback you’ve received on the movie so far?

Tommy. Most touching… we’ve had lots of people come up to us and say, that moment in the movie really touched me. When Kevin did Pitch 15, that’s the moment when everybody stands up and cheers. On both sides, Kevin’s success was hugely touching to people, and me waiting for him… it really centres around that Dawn Wall moment.

Can you tell me one Dawn Wall story that’s not featured in the movie?

Tommy (looking at Kevin): You should tell your story, you’ve got a good answer for that.

Kevin: The green shirt that I was wearing on the wall… I should have been wearing an Adidas shirt because they support me. But I wasn’t, I was wearing that shirt, a memorial shirt, because one of my best friends unfortunately fell to his death right before the Dawn Wall season. We’ve started a foundation in his name, working with kids and teaching them about adventure, stewardship and health. From certain points on the wall, you could look and see where he fell and, I don’t know… it was just really good to have him on the wall with me, in the form of that shirt.

How did you find motivation when it went wrong – was it in each other, or did you take time to reflect individually?

Tommy: There was a lot of pep talks.

Kevin: You gave me some good pep talks!

Tommy: It was seven years, right, so we got motivation from different places at different times. The thing that kept us coming back over and over again was the fact that the climb was so inspiring and felt like it might happen. It was hard to let go of that.

Your friendship is obviously a key part of the movie. Did you guys ever disagree… or argue?

Tommy: That did happen. We both gave up at various times. But on the wall, it was always good. In the off season, I wasn’t sure when he was coming and I was like, why does he not tell me when he is coming? That sort of stuff. Like any good friendship, there are highs and lows.

Actually, our biggest fight was in the middle of the winter. The weather was good but it was Christmas. And I was like, Kevin, just have Christmas with your family two days early, I’ll do the same, we’ll go and we’ll send. And Kevin wasn’t willing to do that. And I was like, aaahh! (screams).

Kevin: Pretty classic.

What’s your next big wall?

Tommy: I big-wall climb quite often, all over the place. It’s funny, big walls go pretty fast me now so they’re not really big walls anymore!

And, metaphorically?

Kevin: My next big project? Parenthood. I’m gonna have a kid in two months – a baby boy.

The Dawn Wall, in theaters this month – for details and tickets visit dawnwallfilm.com

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