Why the Dawn Wall is so frustrating (to me)

If you’re like me, you have a family. You also have friends. Among those, some climb, some don’t. That’s pretty obvious since auntie Germane can’t fit her artificial hips into a damn swami without complaining that she’s going to die. Poor lady, but why don’t you learn to campus and quit all that complaining about hipsters(?).

So this family of yours, they probably have Facebook or some type social media or they even maybe open up the New York Times every once in a while. Let’s come out with it: everyone in the planet (our side of the Oceans, and our language only actually) has probably heard about the Dawn Wall by now. Here’s the thing, most news covers these sort of things quite topically and in such they fail to really expose the ‘why’ of the store. Every. Single. Piece. (except maybe the better news sources)

So, quick run down. Why is the dawn wall so damn important? Haven’t we freed El Cap yet? Didn’t some joe blow named Warren Harding do it? Wasn’t he a politician? 

In order of questioning:  1. it’s an exceptional and difficult line 2. yes 3. yes, er, kinda, 4. no

Okay so let’s run through some quick history.

Warren Harding was a badass. Why? He hated everyone and climbed for the pleasure of doing so, and was really good. So one day, being the badass that he is, he decided to climb The Wall of Early Morning Light. However, when I say climb, I mean he pulled himself up it using steel rivets that he hammered into the wall. At the time, this was fair means and also quite the accomplishment. For more on this the movie “Yosemite Rising” is a great way to see these events unfold.

Anyhow, later on, we decided as a species that we did not want to nail stuff into rock, it was too easy. Pulling of stuff was too easy too. So now we have people climbing with their hands and their feet instead of pulling on stuff. Still with ropes, but no more pulling. We now define:

Free climbing: To climb without pulling on stuff

Aid Climbing: To climb with the pulling of pre-attached stuff.

Quiz: which is this climber doing??




If you said free climbing then you are not really reading but instead using your brain as pudding and your eyes as jello. You are sentenced to twenty pages of Hunger Games.

So yeah, we decided this was too easy and so anyone could either make it to the top using any aid technique. So, the revolution of free climbing starts.

However, another trend started at exact the same time which was called Free Solo climbing which does not imply so much climbing safety as it does the no-rope attitude. Basically, if you were to use a better word for this, it would be Un-roped free climbing.

So, now, in 2014, about 44 years after the first time Harding went up the Dawn wall, we have someone who can actually think, “hey, I think I can successfully do all of this without pulling (cheating).” And they did. Incredible!

But, you say, “why is this so cool? didn’t Lynn Hill, a badass, also climb El Capitain Free in 1993?

Yes. She did. It was basically the same incredible wave of ‘wow’ that propagated itself through the community like this time. And then Tommy Caldwell also freed El Capitain via The Nose Route.

Difference: two different routes up the formation. The Nose was also climbed but much later than Dawn wall on aid and then the same thing happened as a free climb. Interesting right?

So basically this is the next step in the difficulty of free climbing. We have already defined that free climbing is considered ‘harder’ (okay aid climbers, calm down) and that now we also have things that are harder than others.

Another thing to note is that at the time that Lynn Hill did her thing, we already had really hard single pitch (one rope length, 30-60 meters) climbs. We also had really hard boulders. However, now, The Dawn Wall basically is about the same level of hard as some of the hardest climbs out there. But you have to live in a tent for 19 days, only do it in one continuous go and pee on rock and poop in a bag.

Now you’re asking: “the next obvious and logical step is to solo this right?”


Why: Because the Dawn wall is not something that anyone would consider a possible ‘on-sight’ or a climb you can do without memorizing the moves before hand. Even if you did know them and had done this wall 100 times, it would still be quite hard due to the fact there are many places where you risk your life over dime sized holds and four point off jumps. No one will everever ever, ever ever ever, ever consider soloing this. It would be death.


1. Is this as Dangerous as Everest? K2?

In my view, no. Any no real climber will tell you yes (hopefully). Everest is a monster that can avalanche at any time for no reason. Dawn Wall is a sheer slab of rock that is stable. They use ropes that are industrially rated for 10X their weight. This is as safe as driving a car. Everest is still pretty safe, but has had really bad accidents depending on who you were and where you were when. Just last season, a dozen Sherpa died putting up the ropes.

2. Is this the hardest climb ever?

In my view, yes, but only for the discipline. I don’t think Tommy or Kevin will do a V16, 5.15b or K6 in their lives but I don’t think accomplished Boulderers, Sport climbers, or Alpinists will be able to do this either.

Think of it this way: why doesn’t Hussein Bolt compete in the Marathon? Both are basically the same motion, right? For obvious reasons they are not really that easy to compare. Same with Ice Hockey and Figure Skating.

3. Why did they use both siege and ground up tactics? 

The current ethic is to use ground up tactics but it’s obvious that at a certain point as long as they stay on the wall, there should be some things allowed (such as people taking care of their poop tubes when they are too full and going back to their bivy spots).

4. What is a poop tube?

A piece of pipe that you put your poop into. you can’t hold poop for 19 days.

5. Where do they pee? 

Generally they lower down, pee, then climb the rope back up.

6. Why do they stop?

Rest and recovering skin generally.

7. Will Alex Honnold climb or free solo this?

He has said pretty much no to both of those, so i think it’s a no.

8. Can we stop talking about climbing?

No, not until you stray away from this page.

That’s about it.



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