Tommy and Kevin, World Tour and Life After Dawn Wall

With the Dawn Wall on a world tour, we flew to Vienna to get a first hand account from Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson about their climb and the tour.  Actually we telephoned in our PJs, however they were kind enough to give an insight into what the process is like going from big walling to big screening.-ML

Sunset in Yosemite Valley, Dawn Wall on the right.
Sunset in Yosemite Valley, Dawn Wall on the right.  Shawn Reeder / Red Bull Content Pool

Are there any questions everyone asks you about the Dawn Wall? What’s the one thing you wish everyone would ask instead?

There are definitely a handful of questions that are asked every time, like “Did I drop my phone”, “what’s next”, “how do you go to the bathroom up on the wall”.  Those questions are like ughhh do I have to answer that again..

We had a couple people ask “what was left out” of the film, or the book. I think that’s a super relevant question. Any movie around any story is going to be one version of that story if that makes sense. It’s still a very narrow glimpse of the overall experience. So that’s probably the most interesting question and one that doesn’t get asked very often.

article continues below

Is there something you wish people were naturally more interested in instead?

I don’t know if I can pinpoint one thing I wish people would ask about more, but people who find ways to ask questions in new ways or ask new questions.  You know definitely when I hear a new questions I’m like, “Ah that’s cool someone is coming at this in a creative new way.”

Any kind of character development would have been nice. I understand that they made the movie off Tommy’s book, and that was the best format. I’m happy with the film–don’t get me wrong.  But there are two types of stories.

Waiting for the sun to go down on the Dawn Wall and continue projecting the crux pitches.
Waiting for the sun to go down and continue projecting the crux pitches.  Corey Rich / Red Bull Content Pool
The 5.14d traverse pitch.  Brett Lowell / Red Bull Content Pool

Does the media seem to “get it”?  Or are your motives and aspirations sort of lost in translation?

When we did the climb there was a lot of media going on. I would say like 95% of them just had no idea what they were talking about. They didn’t know what climbing was, they didn’t really know what we were doing up there on the Dawn Wall.  And this time around it’s completely different as most the media has seen the film, like the screeners. The film does a really good job of explaining exactly what we were doing and why we were doing it. And so yeah I’ve been quite excited that this whole Dawn Wall thing is educating why we climb, why climbing is cool, why Kevin and I were up there.  Yeah it’s been pretty positive this time around.

There is a lot of genuine curiosity for our world, the passion that we have, how we spend our time, the adventures we tackle, and kind of what drives us to do that and what is inside of us that enables us to complete these things. I think it speaks to some common spirit that we all have of striving and achieving and overcoming. I think that’s one of the reasons this story went big to begin with.  Its two guys on a big adventure, they are the underdog, its a partnership, and it was a feel good story in a time full of bad news–it just kind of worked. I think the reason people like the story now is similar to the reason they liked it then–and it’s not because they understand the nuance of what we are doing up there. It’s more simple and human than that.

So your hearing a lot less about “conquering” and more about what it actually means to climb?

Yeah it’s way more about the relationships or the journey than it is about conquering, or the success, or the stunts.  You know a lot of people just want to write about the extreme aspects of the sport. And that’s just not our story, that’s just not the Dawn Wall.  I feel like most people are getting it this time, which is cool.

Kevin working the show stopping crux pitch on the Dawn Wall.
Kevin working the show stopping crux pitch.  Corey Rich / Red Bull Content Pool
Tommy Caldwell climbing on the dawn wall
Tommy questing up, up and away.  Corey Rich / Red Bull Content Pool

As of now would y’all be super happy if the Dawn Wall and sub 2 hour Nose climb, was your legacy to climbing? Or do y’all even care about a legacy, if everyone forgot about you tomorrow would that be better?

That’s a complicated question, I’ve never thought about legacy building.  You know that’s never been my motivation, actually I’m a quite shy person, all the media and the eyes on me, it’s been hard on me in a lot of way.  But the fact that Kevin and I, the fact that I can make a living as a full-time climber, a living doing exactly what I want to do in life—that’s privilege. I’ve lead a really really good life because of kinda what’s gone down in media and climbing.  But in terms of legacy building, I’m still too not interested in that.

Even still, you think of all the legends of Yosemite’s past and the Dawn Wall certainly adds to that story.

Yeah I mean people that watch the film or read my book they’ll come up to me all the time and say a certain part of the film connected with them, or it inspired them to change their life in a certain way, and that is really cool. I am humbled and kind of shocked to hear that kind of stuff. The fact that it’s happening, it’s hard to deny that it’s cool. Right now in the world these days there is so much negative news, and the Dawn Wall is the exception. It’s a very postive story, and its very cool to be a part of it.

Kevin, any thoughts on what the legacy of this climb might be?

It was never intentional but now that it’s upon us I think Tommy and I both feel that we have a responsibility to use it as a power for good. For Tommy that’s environmental advocacy work. For me, that’s introducing the sport to another generation through my nonprofit called 1Climb. The Dawn Wall has given us a voice and a platform, and for me I want to take the attention off me and turn it into an opportunity for kids that wouldn’t otherwise have it to experience the sport. When we bring these walls into the cities, people see that wall and they light up.  They are excited, they are intimidated, and they’re super natural at it–that’s what it’s all about. So I’m honestly more proud of what I’m building with one climb than I am of the Dawn Wall, because it’s not about me.

Do you see your motivation Kevin growing for One Climb and helping these kids finding a path and passion as something that’s beginning to overshadow your climbing goals at all?

That’s a hard question because they serve different aspects of my life, so it’s not really fair to put them side by side because it’s all together. I’m not gonna stop climbing and having climbing objectives, but my life has always required more than climbing objectives in order to have a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. That was true before the Dawn Wall, and it’s true after the Dawn Wall. So, it’s just kind of more of the same.

Kevin checking out how much skin has grown back over night on the Dawn Wall
Kevin checking out how much skin has grown back overnight.  Corey Rich / Red Bull Content Pool
Tommy working one of the stem corners on the Dawn Wall.
Tommy working one of the stem corners.  Corey Rich / Red Bull Content Pool

Where do you see your focus for the next bit or a few years? More big wall climbing or do you have desires to head back to places like Chalten at all?  Tommy are you going to pull a Kevin, switch it up and start bouldering?

It’s complicated a little bit. Emotionally, I would love to go into more adventure style and go more into the mountains, and do more expeditions. Lifestyle wise, that just doesn’t fit anymore and it’s not that smart to do with children because I’d eventually end up dying if I did that. So, I think where I’ve come around to is that in a lot of ways Yosemite is still my sweet spot.  It feels adventurous, it feels engaged and it kind of utilizes all the skills I’ve been working on my whole life, but I don’t feel like I’m going to die. I feel like it’s pretty safe, so i’ll keep going back there–at least for now. At least until my kids are old enough and they don’t need me around anymore!

Anything you’re psyched on in Yosemite?

Yeah, so I’ve got another project that I’m looking at right next to the dawn wall. I’ll probably go back to El Chalten. I mean there are climbs there that are within the realm of safety for me and I can bring the family down there. I’ve got a 2 year old and a 5 year old, and this is such  precious time and I don’t want to miss out on it. So, I look for places I can bring them. In Chalten you rent a house, hang out, and the weather is so bad all the time anyways. Also, the fact that we’re raising our kids largely in Yosemite, it’s such a good way to raise kids. The community is awesome, the place is so beautiful, it just makes very life-loving kids who are just stoked.

People say a good climbing partnership is harder to find than a perfect marriage.  What is y’alls like?

The Dawn wall was the glue of our relationship, for sure. Tommy has his life in Colorado with 2 kids. I got married shortly after the Dawn wall, so we are kind of living our own lives. We cross paths at events and stuff like that. We haven’t climbed together on a big project since the Dawn Wall. I’m certainly open to it, but yeah the Dawn Wall was the thing that brought us together–It was amazing. It couldn’t have worked out any better.

To find a screening near you check out the Canadian Tour and Global Tour, grab some popcorn and sit back.