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California

Jun 26, 2018

The Dawn Wall Project: Revisited.

This story originally featured in The Outdoor Journal Summer 2015 edition. Subscribe here. The article refers to the 14th January 2015, when at 3:30 pm Pacific Time, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson free climbed the Dawn Wall, El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Preparing for the fight of their life, over a nineteen day push, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson free climbed the Dawn Wall, the hardest big wall free route in the world.

Kevin’s fingers opened on the small granite holds. Tommy pulled in the rope. Exhausted, the two men were a mere three hundred feet from the summit of El Capitan. Then Kevin fell.

“You can do it!” I shouted from a rigging rope a hundred feet above. A hundred reporters, friends and family members shouted across the wall with me.  We all had a vested interest in seeing the men succeed.

On January 24th, the two tired men were poised to climb to the top of Yosemite’s El Capitan and into climbing history. Over a nineteen-day push, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson attempted to free climb the 32 pitch Dawn Wall, the hardest big wall free route in the world. The pair had worked on the route for seven years, piecing together miniscule hand and footholds to create a barely possible path up the 3,000-foot face.

Tommy reaches for a rope on the wall.
Tommy reaches for a rope on the wall.

This past November, I dried their shoes in front of the fire in Yosemite Village. They’d left a haul bag of gear and rock shoes at the base of the wall. Kevin forgot to grab it before a storm and I’d hooked them up by drying their gear. They picked up the haul bag a few days later. They’d been stoked, calling me the “Mayor of Yosemite.” Every season, they came to the Valley. Kevin and I sat in the Mountain Room Bar the winter before. Tommy had parked his Sprinter van in the meadow for years. They recounted their successes and failures every time I saw them.

The Dawn Wall became one of the biggest climbs in Yosemite history not only because it was one of the hardest but also because of new technology. In the past few years, cell phone coverage and data has reached the Sierra. 3G networks allow climbers to email, update social media, and connect instantly. Over the past few years, not only had Yosemite locals followed the Dawn Wall progress but also Brett from Big Up Productions filmed Tommy working on the route. The slow release of the climbing excited the media. From the wall, Tommy and Kevin updated the status of their ascent on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Photographer, Cory Rich photographed the two on the wall. Yosemite photographer, Tom Evans followed the exploits from El Capitan meadow with a high-powered camera. The momentum spread as the men progressed up the wall. The Dawn Wall had a history.

Kevin traverses along steep granite on his penultimate day on the wall.
Kevin traverses along steep granite on his penultimate day on the wall.

Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell first climbed the Dawn Wall’s steep, nearly blank section of granite in 1970. The pair’s ascent became national news after they spent twenty-seven days on the wall, refusing a rescue. They summated to throngs of reporters. The pair aid climbed the route, using pitons and nylon ladders to hammer their way up the wall. In 1970, making an ascent of El Capitan was monumental. The idea of free climbing the monolith, of ascending the rock using only your hands and feet with a rope for protection in case of a fall, was light years away.

The Dawn Wall returned to the spotlight in 2008, when Caldwell began finding tiny wrinkles on the rock. Caldwell has pioneered many of the hardest free lines on the formation, piecing together long series of cracks, corners, and difficult faces. He established Lurking Fear, The Shaft, and Magic Mushroom, all 5.13 nearly impossible routes up North America’s largest granite cliff. Following his divorce, Caldwell sought refuge in Yosemite and an impossible line. The Dawn Wall was the next step.

The first few seasons of work, the pair ran across the wall attempting to connect the discontinuous features. They worked the route in the spring and fall.  When they were able to connect the thin cracks through a large traversing like feature, they began climbing the route in the early and late seasons. Weather quickly became an issue. Spring storms created wet weather and the fall days were still too hot. For the men to hold onto the tiny grips, they needed extreme cold weather, which allows for greater friction between fingertips and hands as well as climbing shoe rubber and granite. The southeast facing Dawn Wall receives sun from early morning until late evening. The pair discovered that if they wanted to free climb the most difficult sections, they would need to tackle the difficulties on winter nights. Falling ice from the summit of El Cap threatened to crush them. To climb the route, they would need not only winter conditions but clear weather as well.

Tommy Caldwell stretches after a long night on the wall
Tommy Caldwell stretches after a long night on the wall

Just after the holidays, the men began up the wall. The initial 1,200 feet of climbing moved smoothly and they established a portaledge base camp. They hauled hundreds of pounds of gear, water and food to the three cot-tents hanging on the side of the route. From there, they began the onslaught of the hardest climbing in Yosemite. The pair climbed easily into a dike feature that connected two corner systems but then they hit a major hurdle. Caldwell managed to dispatch the difficult climbing but Kevin could not.

I loaded three packs of sour Skittles, a litter of bourbon and a half-dozen eggs into my pack as Kevin Jorgeson had requested, and hiked to the Dawn Wall. I wanted to get some exercise and support my friends on the wall.

I walked past Tommy Caldwell’s van, in El Capitan meadow and my phone erupted with a text. It was Tommy. He had a favor to ask.

Six hours later, I arrived at their portaledge camp, 1,200 feet up the Dawn Wall. I clipped a forty-pound haul bag and a 1200-foot photographers line into the anchor. Kevin climbed up the technical arch of pitch 12. Tommy belayed from a ledge, a hundred feet to the right while Brett filmed from above.

The razor blade holds cut into the men’s fingers. Low on the route, Kevin had split his fingertip. The lack of skin kept him from grasping the rock perfectly. On these huge granite walls with thousands of feet of climbing, ascents come down to the minutiae. They filed the rubber on their shoes to clear off any irregularities. Kevin spent hours super gluing the tears in his skin and then wrapping his digits with athletic tape.

“I grab the left hand,” Kevin said from the portaledge. His hands mimicked the sequence, describing every move in exact detail. I’d brought food to the climbers on the wall. Tommy was relaxed. Kevin fixated on the moves of the route and then stared at his fingertips.

While Kevin struggled with skin and the 15th pitch, Tommy continued climbing higher on the route. After a hard traverse on the dike, where Kevin failed, came an enormous jump. Tommy set a replica of the move on the side of his barn in Estes Park. The sequence involves grabbing two credit card holds and making an eight and a half foot sideways jump. Tommy fell on the move. He fell again. For years, this small section had thwarted him. Despite all the preparation he had put in he could not make the move. And the world was watching.

While Kevin rested, Tommy continued to attempt the huge jump. Unable to stick the hold, he found a variation. Tommy climbed down for a hundred feet, traversed left and continued back into the crack. Tommy managed to bypass the jump and finish off the rest of the hard climbing.

Things were not so easy for Kevin. Kevin’s climbing history involves some of the hardest boulder problems, difficult moves on small rocks. While Tommy had climbed hundreds of big wall routes, The Dawn Wall would be Kevin’s first El Capitan route. The El Cap underdog had one more try in good conditions. Semi-trucks with enormous satellites parked in the meadow below El Capitan. The major news networks began tracking the stories. Tommy waited for Kevin higher on the route.

“More than anything, I want to top out together,” Caldwell said on day 13. “We got to make that happen. It would be such a bummer to finish this thing without Kevin. I can’t imagine anything worse, really.” The pressure was on.

Kevin grabbed the small holds for the last time. His fingers curled. He placed his feet and lunged. A hundred times, he had fallen. But this time was different. He stuck the hold. He finished off the difficult section. He reached the eight-foot jump move. Where Tommy had climbed an enormous loop, Kevin used his bouldering prowess to throw his body across the wall. Again, he stuck the hold. The momentum continued.

The pair cast off from their basecamp, taking a few light bags of food and water. I rappelled in to help them haul their gear.  “Oh man,” Kevin said when he slumped onto the Ship’s Bow, the last ledge they would sleep on. “How far is the summit? I can’t wait to get to the top.”

Tommy coils ropes during the clean up of the Dawn Wall.
Tommy coils ropes during the clean up of the Dawn Wall.

Tommy laughed. I helped them lug their bags onto the ledge and headed for the top on the ropes I had fixed down.

Only a few pitches, six hundred feet, separated them from the top. In the morning, Tommy managed a difficult crack section. Then Kevin fell. Again.

“Come on Kevin!” Kevin’s friends and family yelled from a vantage point near the summit. I hung a few feet away, with the other cameramen.

Where Tommy had used his extensive crack climbing ability, Kevin found a different way to climb the hard crack, lay backing and under clinging the feature. Kevin pulled it off. “I think you just replaced Tommy as my trad climbing hero,” I told Kevin when he reached the belay.

“Hey!” Tommy said. “What the heck.”

A few hundred more feet and a few hours later, the two tired men walked to the summit of El Capitan.

Friends opened bottles of champagne. Rebecca Caldwell, Tommy’s wife, kissed him. Kevin’s girlfriend, Jacqui joined him at the top. Reporters with satellites attached to their laptops transmitted live feed. The media clamored for interviews. Kevin could barely speak, overcome with emotion and exhaustion. Tommy’s voice had escaped him. He had been yelling encouragement across the wall and now could only manage a whisper.

The news of the men’s ascent flashed across the nation. The President tweeted congratulations. The men were flown to the Ellen DeGeneres show. They were featured in Vanity Fair. They were interviewed by a hundred publications and put on all of the nightly news programs.

A few months after the Dawn Wall, Kevin was busy dealing with the remaining media of the ascent, helping with the movie production, promoting interviews and sifting through the adventure. Tommy Caldwell traveled to France, where he was climbing in the boulders of Fontainebleau.

Editors Note: A movie has now been released that covers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson’s achievement, more information can be found here, and a trailer can be found below:

 

Follow Tommy on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Kevin on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Story and Images: James Lucas

_DS_9464James Lucas began climbing in Yosemite 13 years ago and has spent nearly half his life in between the granite walls. His obsession with rock led him to a nomadic life. When he’s not chasing rocks, he bakes pies does stand-up comedy and writes. He dreams of free-climbing El Capitan in a day. He created our climbing Foldout on “Yosemite Valley” (photo by Jimmy Chin) in Issue#6 and wrote the Guidebook Feature on his experiences and the climbing culture of the area- “The Big Stone”. 

Follow James on Instagram

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Environment

Nov 11, 2018

Update: Following a Wave of Protests, China Postpones Lifting the Ban on the Use of Tiger and Rhino Parts

The use of rhino horn and tiger bone for medicinal uses was to be permitted again, which would have had a large impact on tiger and rhino endangerment.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

UPDATE

Since this article was published, China has postponed the ban being lifted. This decision has come in the face of international outcry, and in a statement China has said that they are “dedicated to the cause of wildlife protection”.

State Council Executive Deputy Secretary-General Ding Xuedong, did not explain for how long the ban would continue, but that the “three strict bans” will continue to be enforced: strictly ban the import and export of rhinos, tigers and their byproducts; strictly ban the sale, purchase, transport, carrying and mailing of rhinos, tigers and their byproducts; and strictly ban the use of rhino horns and tiger bones in medicine.

The WWF has responded, explaining that they “welcome the news that China has postponed lifting its ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn and tiger bone, signalling a positive response to international reaction. Allowing trade from even captive animals could have had devastating impacts on wild rhino and tiger populations. This move helps maintain the leadership role China has taken in tackling the illegal wildlife trade and reducing market demand.”

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

“All five of the world’s diverse species of rhinoceros have been brought to the edge of extinction because of human appetite for their distinctive horns” says PBS Nature.

On October 29th, China released a statement allowing the trade of tiger and rhino products. According to Leigh Henry, the wildlife policy director at the World Wildlife Fund, “This new regulation replaces the outright ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade which has been in place since 1993.”

Mother and young rhinoceros killed for their horns. Taken at private game farm in Gauteng, South Africa. Photo: Hein waschefort

The ban was originally put into place as a way to mitigate the rhino and tiger poaching crisis, which was contributing to the endangered status of both animals. With fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers left in the wild, the possibility of those species going extinct is unfortunately, extremely high. According to Dr Jo Shaw, A Programme Officer with TRAFFIC, “A decade ago the first signs were on the horizon of the forthcoming rhino poaching crisis, but few then could have foreseen the magnitude and ramifications of what we face today. However, with the surging demand from Asia, people willing to pay high prices to get their hands on rhino horn, and little fear of capture by those smuggling horn, it was perhaps inevitable that this ‘commodity’ would catch the attention of the hardened criminal fraternity, creating a ‘perfect storm’ for rhino poaching and horn trade.”

“taken daily to keep illness at bay and restore vital energy rather than to treat specific symptoms”

Tiger bone and rhino horn have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as healing agents for the past 3,000 years. Tigers and rhinos are thought to have strong energy, which if used medicinally, will give strength and energy to the person receiving the medicine. According to Dr. Rebecca Drury of Flora and Fauna International, “In order to understand consumption of many traditional tonics, one also needs to understand more about Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine. For example, these tend to be taken daily to keep illness at bay and restore vital energy rather than to treat specific symptoms, and wild-derived animals are considered to have stronger vital energy.”

Despite tiger and rhino bone being used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the past 3,000 years, scientists today say there is no actual proven healing benefit from the products. PBS Nature says, “Overall there isn’t much evidence to support the plethora of claims about the healing properties of the (rhino) horns. In 1990, researchers at Chinese University in Hong Kong found that large doses of rhino horn extract could slightly lower fever in rats (as could extracts from Saiga antelope and water buffalo horn), but the concentration of horn given by a traditional Chinese medicine specialist are many many times lower than used in those experiments. In short, says Amin, you’d do just as well chewing on your fingernails.”

According to Leigh Henry with the World Wildlife Fund, “Tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the official pharmacopoeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine after the 1993 ban on trade in these products was put in place. In 2010, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies released a statement urging members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, originating more than 3,000 years ago, includes an emphasis on the importance of being in balance with nature, as this balance contributes to our health and well-being. It is in this spirit that many TCM practitioners no longer endorse the use of rhino horn or tiger parts.

Rhino horn in packaging horns, seized by UK Border Agency. Photo: UK Home Office

Despite the lack of scientifically-proven medical benefits, tiger bone and rhino horns are still highly valued around the world. TRAFFIC reports “at least 65 rhino horns have been stolen from public display within South Africa with similar thefts carried out in the US and in Europe.”

6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

In a statement released by the World Wildlife Fund, “The new regulations say hospitals can obtain parts from captive facilities within China—excluding zoos—where tigers and rhinos are bred for commercial purposes. Experts estimate that more than 6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

These “tiger farms” that the WWF refers to are legal farms in China that raise tigers for legal commercial sale of their skins. “The trade in tiger and rhino parts and products was prohibited in China. However, there was an exemption for tiger skins and their products obtained from legal sources, including from captive breeding, if permitted by the government, legally registered and accompanied by a certificate.” These legal farms are now permitted to sell and trade tiger bones as well as skins.

“this move risks causing confusion among consumers as to what products are legal or illegal”

The World Wildlife Fund is worried that China’s declaration allowing the use of tiger bone and rhino horn will spur a rise in poaching. “It is WWF’s position that the movement of tiger products from tiger farms into the marketplace (through legal or illegal channels) negatively impacts enforcement efforts directed against those who trade in tigers poached from the wild. This is of great concern given that poaching remains the greatest threat to conservation of the species at this time. The same concern exists regarding rhino horn trade and impact on conservation of rhinos in the wild. Equally, this move risks causing confusion among consumers as to what products are legal or illegal and could expand the markets/demand for these products, which have thus far been in slow decline thanks, in large part, to the 1993 ban.”

The World Wildlife Fund is clear on their stance with this issue. “The unfortunate reality is that tiger farms in China have been growing in size for some time now, posing an increasing threat to tigers in the wild. This decision is a move in the opposite direction from where we believe China should go; maintaining the 1993 ban and setting a clear plan and timeline to close existing captive tiger breeding facilities used for commercial purposes.”

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