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Icons of outdoor Adventure From mountains to sea, trailblazers hope to provide inspiration to all By Nicholas O’Connell Opposite, Brett Lowell / Big UP Productions / Aurora Photos; top right, Corey Rich / Big UP Productions / Aurora Photos; bottom left, Corey Rich / Aurora Photos W hen Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson set out to climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan they had no idea if they could pull it off. After all, the route up the 3,000-foot vertical wall on the 7,573-foot iconic peak in Yosemite National Park had never been climbed “free,” with ropes only for safety. Other successful attempts relied on artificial aids such as pitons to allow climbers to hoist themselves up the wall. Only Caldwell had Tommy Caldwell attempted earlier to “free climb” the (pictured) and his partner Kevin Jorgeson face, and he had failed. relied on hands and feet The pair took off on December 27, to climb El Capitan; 2014. They traded leading pitches (a their ropes were just 200-foot rope-length) up the near for safety. vertical face, using the rope only to catch them if they fell, employ- ing finely honed rock climbing skills to ascend using tiny granite holds, thin cracks and any feature they could find. They easily made five of the route’s 32 pitches, making excellent progress. But then the climbing got harder, with a section near the top of the scale of rock climbing difficulty. Day two they did four pitches. Day three they climbed one difficult pitch and, exhausted, spent the next day resting on a small port-a-ledge attached to the granite face. Over the next 15 days, they battled their way through the most difficult sections on the wall. It took Jorgeson 10 attempts before he succeeded on a blank traverse rated the hardest pitch of the climb. On rest days, they repaired holes in their fingertips with sandpaper and Super Glue, hoping their bodies and hands could withstand the strain. When they topped out on day 19, the news went viral. The climb electrified the country. It inspired people who otherwise would have no interest in climbing. People may not have under- stood how or why they did it, but they recognized the skill, drive and aspiration needed to pull it off. “I learned from the Dawn Wall that I’m a hopeless optimist,” says Caldwell, of Estes Park, Colorado. “It sometimes seemed like all hope was lost. We kept climbing despite bad weather and our bodies failing, but I always believed we’d get there.” At a time when the news seems full of conflicts abroad and political wrangling at home, accomplishments such as Caldwell’s stand out as inspirational and hopeful, highlighting the best of the human spirit. Here was an adventurer hanging by his fingernails, literally, on a towering, sheer cliff face, declaring himself a “hope- less optimist.” July 2015 Alaska Beyond Magazine 137 AAM 07.15 Icons.indd 137 6/18/15 10:38 AM