Tommy Caldwell climbs El Capitan: 'My wife says I function better up on a big wall'

Caldwell and Kevin Jorgesen set off 19 days ago to free-climb the Dawn Wall

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The Independent US

After years eight years of practice, pitches and slow progress, it "only" took Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgesen 19 days to free-climb the world's toughest rock climb.

Tommy Caldwell, 36, began exploring the route of the south-eastern face of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park eight years ago, gradually working on pitches with a number of different climbing partners.

He joined forces with 30-year-old Kevin Jorgesen six years back and that's when progress began to speed up, with the pair spending weeks and months on the route as they attempted to find the best way to free-climb the rock face, meaning ropes are used only to break a climber’s fall, not to assist in their ascent.

Speaking to EpicTV before the climb, Caldwell explained how weird it would be once he had completed the project. "It’s been a huge part of my life for a decade now and it’s hard to imagine not having that as a thing that drives me every day".

El-Capitan-GRAPHIC.jpgThe pair were met at the summit by a crowd of around 40 family and friends who had trekked the long way round. Since the mountain was first scaled by climbers in 1958, others have ascended by several dozen routes. But until now, none had succeeded in defeating the Dawn Wall, a baby-smooth, approximately 900-metre sheer granite rock-face, so named because it catches the day’s first rays of sunlight.

Caldwell's climb is more remarkable given that every time he took a break from plotting pitches and practising, he would have to relearn everything the next time he returned to El Capitan.

Kevin Jorgeson of California, wearing green, and 36-year-old Tommy Caldwell, wearing blue, near the summit of El Capitan Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, as seen from the valley floor in Yosemite National Park

"I have to rework stuff. There’s a lot of pitches that are right at my limit. You have to get the muscle-memory thing going, you have to relearn the intricacies, it's incredibly technical climbing. So, if you’re just a tiny bit out of position, you fall off and it takes a bit to re-learn all of that."

Caldwell was already a "rock star" in the climbing world. Other climbers spoke of his prowess in the field before his legendary ascent: Emily Harrington said, "Ive always looked up to him...for being really passionate about climbing", while Hazel Findlay concluded, "Tommy is basically the master of big wall free climbing".

Yet it is perhaps Caldwell's wife who summarised her husband best: "My wife always says that I function better up on a big wall than I do anywhere else in life," Caldwell explained.

Video courtesy of Epic TV.