3 Lessons We Can Learn From The Incredible Free Climb of Dawn Wall

Chris McQueen

#1 the only way forward is up


Photo by Daniel Gorostieta from Pexels (evening view of El Capitan)

The world held its breath.

Some compared this feat to the moon landing. Fifteen news channels filmed the climbers from every angle. A movie was shot on location of this special event.

Why all this fuss?

It seemed to be an impossible route to climb: A 2307 meter cliff face of El Capitan that no one had ever tried climbing before. The Dawn Wall.

Thirty-two pitches (rope lengths) of some of the most challenging climbs on this planet made this route extremely hard to climb.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson accepted this challenge against raw nature. They were determined to make it up this rock face no one had ever even dreamed of ascending.

Every rock climber can dream of such great success. But these two humble men taught us a lot about life. Life in its rawest form. Hidden in this incredible event in sports history, lie lessons for you and me.

The following lessons are also for athletes that do not want to sleep on a so-called portaledge, with thousands of meters below them.

Years of preparation came to a culmination on the 28th December 2014. Kevin and Tommy started their ascent of the Dawn Wall.

They took their turn in leading the routes (setting up the ropes). At night they slept on the wall. Their exercise consisted of one tough climb after the other.

Now you know the outline of the story, let’s dive into the lessons.

#1 The only way forward is up

For years before this day in 2014, Tommy had dreamed of ascending this monster of a rock unconventionally. He had wanted to show others how the impossible was possible.

Once Tommy and Kevin got their harnesses strapped up, their goal was to go up. And only up. There were times when they had severe struggles. But at the end of the day, going up was the only viable option for both of them.

Application to our lives

We might not scale a 3000-foot wall every day. However, we do have our mountains to climb.

Life is one big mountain. Sometimes we reach our next milestone. Sometimes we fall. Sometimes we suffer.

For us, our way up is to live on, face the challenges, and set our heart on the goal ahead.

Whenever you face a giant rock face, think of how these two climbed an incredible rock. No one thought was climbable.

Do the impossible. Fight to get over the mountain in your life. It’s worth the view from the top.

#2 Never give up

Tommy was a born climber. Kevin was a boulderer. Kevin was never more than a few meters from the ground.

Yet Kevin overcame his fear and climbed one of the most challenging climbs ever done in history.

Tommy had one huge disadvantage as he chopped his finger off working in his shed at home. Not just any finger; his index finger.

Most climbers mourned his loss and were sure he’d never be able to climb a wall in his life again.

He proved them all wrong. A year after his accident, Tommy went out and climbed a route he had never completed before.

Tommy and Kevin never gave up. Not even on the route.

Fifteen pitches up. Both had to master one of the toughest traverses in history. Tommy went first and completed it. Then Kevin tried and tried and tried.

They wouldn’t give up. Not just yet.

Application to our lives

Sometimes life deals us a hard deck of cards. Our favourite University declines our application, a long-term relationship comes to an abrupt halt, or we lose our day-job.

All these events could cause us to give up. Throw in the towel and despair.

Alternatively, we could use these challenges as stepping stones. Every time we fail, there is one obstacle less in our way. When we don’t get what we think we deserve, we start looking for other solutions.

Our lives are full of obstacles that help us grow as a person and develop our characters. Don’t let these obstacles trip you up. Climb on top of them and catch a glimpse of your goal.

Then carry on with life. Get active, switch up your thoughts, think out of the box. Keep on keeping on.

#3 Working as a team will get you to your goal

Remember the 15th pitch we talked about earlier? This pitch was the make or break of the route.

It also created a rift between Tommy and Kevin. While Tommy had completed this challenging traverse, Kevin had not.

Kevin tried for days on end, to no avail. So Tommy pushed forward for about 3–4 pitches. Then he realised, even if he’d make it to the top of El Cap alone, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Tommy made the bold decision to not go to the top without Kevin also making it up. So they prepared Kevin for the big traverse.

Meanwhile, the story had gone viral. People were coming to watch these two climbers make history. Suddenly, these two climbers were being filmed and shown live on TV.

Kevin struggled to keep it together. All eyes were on him while the pressure increased.

Day eleven on the rock was going to be the big day. Kevin had rested for two days and was ready to tackle his most challenging climb.

In a great attempt, that gave everyone goosebumps, Kevin managed to nail that section. Then he did the next, and the next, until he caught up to Tommy.

The joy they shared amongst each other was overwhelming. They developed this deep friendship that went far beyond the climb itself.

As a team, they completed the climb in 20 days.

Applying the lessons to our lives

We also need a team — a strong team. Our lives are significantly harder if we think we can manage all hurdles on our own.

The fact is, we really can’t. We need a family, a friend, or a partner to make a reliable team.

Kevin and Tommy had that bond. A deep connection they felt they valued higher than anything else.

Try to develop that bond with a loved one. Speak to them about your goals, motivations and frustrations, and what you want to achieve in life.

That way, you will connect beyond a physical level and explore the emotional side of a partnership.

The fantastic story of Tommy and Kevin shows how strong a team can be. Would you give up your life's goal to serve your friend or partner?

Further inspiration

The story of Kevin and Tommy fascinated me for two main reasons:

  1. I love climbing, and I love writing about what I'm passionate about.
  2. The level of commitment Tommy and Kevin had to each other blew me away. It must be amazing to have a friend you can connect to so profoundly.

Tommy and Kevin were filmed during this crazy unfolding of events. Their story is captured for generations to come.

They taught us that

  • The only way in life is up and forward
  • To never give up
  • What teamwork means

I’m looking forward to seeing how they inspire climbers worldwide to push their limits and work as a team.

If you want to watch one of the best documentaries on Netflix, you’re in for a treat with “The Dawn Wall”.

Thanks a lot for reading!

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