How Many People Have Climbed the Dawn Wall?
Everything you need to know about the hardest big wall climb in the world.
In early 2015, news broke that Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson were gunning for the first ascent of the highly anticipated Dawn Wall.
The event quickly snowballed into a global phenomenon, and by the end of the 19-day climb, the story had captured the attention of everyone from Jared Leto to Barack Obama.
The first ascent, completed by both Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, was completed on the 14th January 2015.
What is the Dawn Wall?
The Dawn Wall – or the Wall of the Early Morning Light as it was originally known – is a 5.14d, 32 pitch climb on the Southeast face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
This new line overlaps with a handful of established routes, but the main feature of Tommy Caldwell’s futuristic project was the untouched panel of rock halfway up the Southeast face, known as the Dawn Wall.
It was one of the last major sections of El Cap that remained unclimbed and was so smooth that many people thought it unclimbable. That was until 2015, when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first people to successfully top out all 32 pitches.
But this amazing achievement didn’t come easy. The Dawn Wall had been a project of Tommy’s since 2007 and took over several years of piecing together pitches and working beta to conquer this blank slab of granite.
How many people have climbed the Dawn Wall?
There are only three people who have climbed the Dawn Wall – Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson and Adam Ondra.
Adam attempted the route in 2016, and after 8 days on the wall, managed to top out on the 21st of November.
Adam began working this iconic route on October 17th with fellow Czech climber Pavel Blazek and spent the next few weeks working out their beta for the route. Amazingly, this was Adam’s first trip to Yosemite, which makes this accomplishment even more impressive.
In early 2020, there were rumours that Nalle Hukkataival, one of the best boulders in the world, and his climbing partner Ignacio Mulero were on the Dawn wall and looking to bag the third ascent.
But on 22nd January the team threw in the towel. Bad weather and the amount of work proved too much, with both men vowing to return again next season to finish the job.
Apart from that, we are still waiting to see who will step up and take on this mammoth challenge. We hope to update this article as more world-class athletes complete the Dawn Wall.
Come on Nalle!
The First Ascent Team: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson
If you were to choose two guys to climb the hardest route on El Capitan, this probably would be the team you would put together.
It’s hardly surprising that Yosemite royalty, Tommy Caldwell, made the first ascent of the Dawn Wall.
Tommy has been bagging the hardest lines El Cap has to offer for decades, as well as setting up 5 of his own first accents on the rock. This includes the Dihedral Wall, a first ascent that Tommy bagged in 2004 that went unrepeated for over 12 years.
His endless list of accomplishments makes him one of the most accomplished big wall climbers in history.
He’s no stranger to facing tricky situations off the wall either.
Tommy and Beth Rodden, his partner at the time, were held hostage for 6 days after a climbing trip went wrong in Kyrgyzstan. Seeing an opportunity to escape, Tommy pushed one of his captives off a cliff and escaped to a nearby military camp.
A year later he cut off his left index finger with a table saw. While this would be a career-ending injury for most climbers, Tommy actually managed to become a better climber.
Less than a year after cutting his finger, he was back doing what he does best and putting up first ascents like The Honeymoon is Over in Longs Peak, Colorado.
Kevin, on the other hand, had virtually no big-wall experience at all prior to joining Tommy on his quest up the Dawn Wall.
Here’s Kevin’s palm-sweating story about one of his first times climbing in Yosemite.
Growing up in Sacramento, Kevin honed his skills in the local gym and started building a name as a skilled boulder.
He made some impressive ascents in the discipline of highballing (high bouldering). His first ascents of the 55-foot line Ambrosia (V11) and The Beautiful and Damned (V13) were widely praised within the climbing community.
After seeing Tommy discuss his Dawn Wall project in a 2009 climbing move called Progression, Kevin sent him a message asking if you could join the project.
Lucky for Kevin, Tommy didn’t have many offers. “He was the only one interested, everyone else thought I was crazy” Tommy jokes.
Tommy also knew Kevin’s experience in bouldering would bring a different dynamic to the project. The guys teamed up for the first time in October 2009 and started working on the hardest multi-pitch in the world.
Dawn Wall Route
In 2007, Tommy started looking for any features or cracks he could piece together in a desperate attempt to find a way up the elusive blank sections of rock.
He spent years, mostly alone, practising beta, cleaning rock and drilling bolts wherever needed. It wasn’t until about 2010, three years after starting the project, Tommy came up with the Dawn wall route.
Apart from a few new pitches, the Dawn Wall follows a very similar route to Mescalito for about 1400ft.
The route starts fairly easy, but the higher you get the tougher the climbing gets. It’s only when you get about halfway up this route that things start to get interesting.
One of the hardest pitches on the Dawn Wall, and one that caused Ondra a headache or two, was Pitch 14- the first traverse pitch on the route.
As Adam explained the pitch to Black Diamond “It took me a lot of time, skin, frustration, and swearing to finally find a satisfying sequence, but I was exhausted and my skin was thrashed. I still gave it another go that night, slipped on the first boulder problem, but then continued to the anchor, which gave me a lot of confidence that next time it should work out.”
Pitch 15, a 5.14d traverse, is another equally frustrating section of the route and the hardest pitch on the Dawn Wall. This section neither Tommy or Kevin had successfully completed whilst training.
Both guys had spent over 100 days and 1000’s of attempts on this single pitch without a single successful attempt before their final push.
After that, pitch 16 is waiting for you and offers two options. The first is the ‘Dyno’. This is a dynamic move that involves hurling yourself 8ft in the hope you can grab a wafer-thin flake. This pitch gave Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson such a headache that Tommy even reconstructed the move on his garage wall.
The other option is to follow Tommy’s alternative beta and complete a 200ft circuit, hailed by Kevin as ‘the world’s hardest down climb’.
This move was “like walking around the block to cross the street” as one of Tommy’s friends put it in the Dawn Wall Documentary.
After that, the climbers are faced with pitch after pitch of polished granite ranging from 5.13b – 5.14c to the top of the famous Wino Tower ledge.
From there, the route then intersects with Mescalito and The Tempest all the way to the summit.
For an interactive map of the dawn wall route, check this link out.
How hard is the Dawn Wall?
Don’t let Adam’s superhuman climbing skills trick you into thinking this is an easy route.
The Dawn Wall has been widely recognized as the hardest and longest route in the world pro athletes and numerous climbing publications. The route consists of 7 x 5.14, 12 x 5.13, 8 x 5.12, 4 x 5.11 and one pitch of 5.10.
To put this in perspective, the Dawn Wall has more 5.14d pitches on this one route than the rest of El Cap combined.
It’s also worth remembering Tommy, Kevin and Adam all attempted the route in winter. This is the best time climb as it gives you maximum friction on the rock, despite meaning they had to constantly battle bad weather and cold conditions.
How high is the Dawn Wall?
The Dawn Wall is approximately 3,000ft (914m) from base to summit.
The Story behind the Dawn Wall Documentary
Hardcore mountaineers have been climbing El cap for decades. Since the first ascent of the Nose in 1958 by Warren Harding, new routes have appeared all over the giant rock. To date, there are 252 climbs on El Capitan which are a mix of trad, aid and sport climbing.
Despite scores of ascents and numerous new lines being developed, the Wall of Early Morning Light remained untouched for decades.
If you have seen the Dawn Wall documentary (which I am sure you have) you would think that the duo were taking on this monumental task alone. But this is far from the truth.
Since Tommy first set his sights on the wall he has had a star-studded cast of climbers to help him work out the beta including Jonathan Siegrist, Chris Sharma – and even Tommy’s dad.
Even during their final push, over 800 pounds of food and water were delivered to the guys from their support team by eager helpers rappelling from the top or jumaring up to their portaledge via fixed ropes.
Alex Honnold even held the speed record for jumaring the line at one point.
But behind this amazing climbing achievement hides a sad story. After Tommy’s marriage to Beth Rodden broke down in 2008, Tommy set about developing the Dawn Wall route to escape the pain of his divorce.
As he explains in memoir, The Push: A Climbers Journey of Endurance, Risk and Going Beyond the Limits, whilst suffering from, depression and struggling to deal with the reality of the divorce, Tommy contemplated free soloing El Cap, because “if I fell to my death, at least the pain would be gone, too.”
But after seeing the sun rise on the Dawn Wall during an early morning hike, the route inspired him to find a new purpose for his life.
What climbing shoes did they use?
Since we are a climbing shoe review website it would be a crime if we didn’t mention the shoes they used!
All three of the guys used the La Sportiva TC Pro for their final assault on the Dawn Wall. It’s no surprise to see them using this shoe considering this is Tommy’s signature shoe that was designed for big wall climbing in Yosemite.
Apart from the TC pro, Adam also used the Katana during his trip to Yosemite on various other projects and while working on the beta.
The Dawn wall is an amazing testament to how far modern athletes have pushed the limits of modern climbing. To date, not many people have climbed the Dawn Wall, with only three climbers having topped out all 32 pitches.
Tommy and Kevin’s first ascent is an awesome story and an impressive feat of resilience and dedication. If you haven’t already done so, I would highly recommend you to take a read of The Push, where Tommy gives a real insight to his 7-year journey on conquering this monumental climb.
Every time a major landmark is reached in the sport, like the first ascent of the Dawn Wall, or Alex Honnold free soloing The Nose, it always leaves me asking the same question. What’s next?