2015 Hot 20: Kevin Jorgeson, The First Man to Free Climb Dawn Wall

By

Six years of training. Three thousand vertical feet climbed. Nineteen days living on sheer rock face. This had been Santa Rosa native Kevin Jorgeson’s reality up until January 14, when he and fellow climber Tommy Caldwell became the first to free climb what many believe is the most difficult route in the world—El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park.


It was a story that garnered international headlines and even a tweet from the president: “So proud of @TommyCaldwell1 and @KJorgeson for conquering El Capitan. You remind us that anything is possible. -bo”

For anyone who may not know, to free climb is to use only your hands and feet to move upward, with ropes employed solely to protect from falls and carry gear. In other words, don’t try this at home, kids. While the idea to free climb the Dawn Wall was Caldwell’s decade-old dream, Jorgeson came on board in 2010, seeing Caldwell in need of a partner. Previously a bouldering expert, Jorgeson decided to tackle his first big wall climb with the hardest ever.

And it wasn’t without its epic battles: While Caldwell made it up the route steadily, Jorgeson found his achilles heel in Pitch 15, a spot where he fell 10 times over the course of a week, shredding the skin off his right fingers on what he described as a razor blade. Yet he remained determined, posting to Instagram on day 6: “Despite failing, it will always be one of my most memorable climbing experiences....As disappointing as this is, I'm learning new levels of patience, perseverance and desire. I'm not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed.” On day seven, he did. Five days after that, they were on top.

So what was it like? “On a big wall, everything is amplified. Colors are more crisp, emotions are right on the surface, the highs are unbelievably high, the lows are very dark lows, sunsets are more majestic, food tastes better, bad jokes are funny, and life becomes very, very simple. I miss that simplicity in a lot of ways,” he says. And it seems he won’t have to miss it for long—Jorgeson has set his sights on searching El Cap for a new free climbing line to the left of the Dawn Wall. Since Caldwell had already planned the route when they teamed up, this is Jorgeson’s chance to have the full experience of establishing a new big wall free climb from start to finish. “It took me about nine months to get my big wall appetite back, but it's back!” he says.

(photo by Caroline Treadway) 

In the meantime, Jorgeson is using his newfound platform to continue his work as the cofounder and CEO of Pro Climbers International, which aims to introduce one million kids to climbing by installing walls in Boys and Girls Clubs across the country. “Climbing has such a positive impact on kids lives, I want to provide that opportunity,” says Jorgeson, whose adolescence was shaped by climbing when Santa Rosa’s Vertex Climbing Center opened when he was 11. With the first project completed in Sonoma and the second underway in St. Louis, Jorgeson hopes that, with the completion of these and other pilot programs, the process will continue on a greater scale and at a faster clip, eventually spreading nationwide.

Climb on, Kevin.  //  proclimbers.com

DON'T MISS A BAY AREA BEAT! SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER.