Tommy Caldwell captured the world’s attention when he and Kevin Jorgeson scaled Yosemite’s El Capitan last month. They became the first people to free-climb the entire Dawn Wall face, considered the most difficult ascent up El Capitan.
Caldwell grew up in Estes Park and got an early start climbing. His dad, Mike, took him out to Rocky Mountain National Park at age three.
- More photos and videos of the record-setting ascent below.
The Caldwells talked with Colorado Matters guest host Elaine Grant about Tommy's 19 days on the Dawn Wall, what his next goal will be, and how being kidnapped by Islamic terrorists 15 years ago during a climb in Asia changed his life.
Tommy Caldwell on what his fingers look like now, more than two weeks after summitting the Dawn Wall
They're shedding like a snake or something. The callus got so think from just the environment and grabbing the really sharp holds. They became like a hard shell on the end of my fingertips. And now, two weeks later, it's coming off and they look kind of shocking at the moment... [But] the pain has subsided.
Mike Caldwell on the magnitude of his son's accomplishment
It's being called the hardest rock climb in the world. There are climbs that are short climbs that are technically more difficult. But this combines endurance and long periods of sacrifice and a great friendship between Tommy and Kevin. It's going to be interesting to see what the climbing world does with this climb, if people are going to try to repeat it, or if they'll stand back for a while.
Tommy Caldwell on what he has learned from his dad
My dad is a huge optimist and that has been contagious throughout my life. He dreams big and has this real love for the mountains. Those are all things I learned from a really young age. And also just an appreciation for adventure. I could go out into the mountains and have these 20-hour days, we're up hiking and climbing and getting in thunderstorms, and come back home and I would feel energized by that, and know I had a great adventure. I knew that feeling at age 10, or maybe even younger than that. So that's served me well throughout my life.
Tommy Caldwell on his experience being captured and held in captivity by Islamic militants in Kyrgyzstan
It was my first big international climbing expedition... We got stuck in the middle [of a conflict between militants and the Kyrgyz military]. We saw a lot of people get murdered, and it's one of those experiences in life that was so intense, it still seems surreal.
Tommy Caldwell on how the incident still affects him
I came back from that experience feeling like I had to live every day to its fullest, really with a renewed appreciation for family and friends... [And] I think it gave me a glimpse into the amount of mental and physical pain and anguish you can go through, because we had to push beyond any barriers that I thought we could. There were several, many times during those six days of captivity where I felt like we couldn't take another step, and we had to. And then you'd break through that and see that you're capable of so much... I don't think I ever would've believed that the Dawn Wall was possible without having been through that.
Tommy Caldwell on what his next challenge will be
I view the Dawn Wall as sort of my PhD thesis or something after my 17-[year]-long study of El Capitan University. I mean, I'm sure things are going to change. I'm going to have goals and they're going to be different. I'm not immediately looking for the next big wall challenge that's bigger than the Dawn Wall, because at this point that's a little too much to take on.
On how he'll know when the next goal appears
It has to grow organically. It's something that has to wake you up in the middle of the night. And it has to become something that you just can't not do before you're really going to throw your life at it in the way that it takes to pursue something like the Dawn Wall.
Here's some breathtaking video of what it took to scale the Dawn Wall:
And here is a 360-degree panorama from high above Yosemite Valley, courtesy of Sender Films and Google Maps. Click and drag on the image to to get sense of the sheer wall on El Capitan: