This past Wednesday rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the summit of El Captain’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park after nineteen days of climbing. Until they accomplished this amazing feat, no one had ever free climbed the vertical, sheer, 3,000 foot Dawn Wall. The climbers used only their hands and feet to ascend, using ropes only as safety precautions to catch either climber should one of them fall, and to hold their tent and sleeping platform at night. Free climbing, as you can imagine, is by far the most extreme and challenging form of rock climbing.
To provide some idea of how difficult the climb was it is important to understand that one portion of the climb took Jorgeson seven days and ten attempts to complete. Caldwell, having already completed this difficult section, was forced to wait on the wall for his climbing partner to catch up to him. At other times during the climb, they were forced to pause their ascent as they waited until lacerations in their fingers and hands healed enough for them to be able to continue. It was not uncommon for them to use super glue to close the cuts in their fingers. Their patience and determination was tested in every way. The sheer magnitude of what these two individuals accomplished is almost impossible for most of us to fully comprehend, especially if we are not climbers ourselves. Caldwell and Jorgeson will now clearly be seen as two of the most accomplished and skilled individuals in the history of rock climbing.
As I have read the stories of the amazing success of these two men, one thing that stands out to me is that an essential ingredient in their success is the fact that they accomplished this climb together. Their partnership is not just a nice addition to their success, but rather an essential and necessary ingredient. Neither man could have done this alone.
Caldwell and Jorgeson have spent many years and thousands of hours planning and practicing this epic climb up the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. They knew from the beginning that they would need to make this journey as a team and there was always the intention that they would both succeed in reaching the top together. During the climb, they of course cheered each other on and at other times belayed each other, assisting with the ropes to help keep the other person remain safe even if one lost his grip and fell. Because this was a free climb, neither climber could ever use the ropes to help himself or his partner to ascend in any way, yet they could use the ropes to catch their friend if they were to fall.
There is a great wellness message in all of this. Each of our journeys in life is in many ways an individual journey. There is much in life that we can only do by ourselves. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson could only do their own individuals climbs–they could not do one another’s climbs. At the same time, though, they could only achieve what they achieved because they did it with the support of each other. There is an African proverb that sums this up so well: “If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel with others.”
When asked by reporters at the top of their climb if they hoped that their feat would inspire others, Jorgeson replied, “I think everyone has their own Dawn Wall, some big goal they would like to achieve.” With this in mind, may we look now to Jorgeson and Caldwell as a reminder that whatever challenges we find ourselves climbing or whatever difficult goals we have set for ourselves, we will always climb farther and higher together.