As I write this, Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, are pushing
hard on the Dawn Wall. On Friday, Jorgeson completed pitch 15, an especially vexing 5.14d that Caldwell had sent, but which had stymied Jorgeson. With
that pitch behind them both now, they are poised to complete what will be the all-time most difficult rock climb.
They have been on the wall since December 27 without coming down. Caldwell has the crux pitches behind him, and said on Friday that “It’s not over yet,
but things are looking good.” If Caldwell simply wanted to free the Dawn Wall, he probably would already have topped out. But, this is a team ascent.
Both climbers will free the entire wall, or fail.
But you know all of this. At Rockandice.com we’ve been posting nearly daily updates. Untold photographers and videographers are on site, capturing the
action and dispersing it practically intergalactically. Caldwell and Jorgeson have been posting frequent updates on Facebook. Most national media is
covering the ascent—the New York Times has published no less than six articles. Not only will the Dawn Wall end up being the most difficult
rock climb, it will also be the most broadcast. Thanks to the Internet and cell phones, millions of people can stay tuned in to progress.
This connectivity has prompted comments from climbers and non-climbers that adventure is dead. “Where is the solitude?” posted “’Deeply Imbedded’ on newyorktimes.com.
“With twitter, and the stupidity of smart devices it all becomes a questionable joke. Imagine the solitary mountain man with a smart phone—So
much for any spirituality of endeavor.”
The image of a Solitary Mountain Man braced against the wind, disconnected from the rest of humanity and pushing for the summit is romantic, but I wonder
if it ever really existed beyond the likes of Messner and Charlie Porter. I also wonder if Messner were to attempt the first supplemental oxygen-less
ascent of Everest today, and if Porter were to go for his big solo of Mount Asgard, whether they would tie into the modern communications systems—Star
Trek technology that didn’t exist when they were active—or unplug.
Even if they were to carry phones I don’t see how that would diminish the “spirituality of endeavor.” Is spirituality really so frail it is threatened
The answer to that question doesn’t matter because we’re not talking about spirituality anyway. Climbing can have a spiritual component, but what that
confused NYT reader really meant was “spirit of adventure.” Adventure, arguably, is the mental and physical challenge, while exploration is
the journey into the unknown. Both are in abundance on the Dawn Wall and the fact that Caldwell and Jorgeson are connected and pumping out media content
doesn’t take away from either—we watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon via a live television feed, and I don’t recall anyone saying, “Well,
there goes adventure!”
Even with the photographers and reporters and social blitz, those two climbers up there must still contend with hardship and uncertainty, and do nearly
impossible moves on a huge, sheer granite wall.
Will they make it?