• January 16, 2015

Instants: Dispatches From the Dawn Wall

Every photographer has their comfort zone—the place they feel most at home when they’re shooting. For Corey Rich, that place is thousands of feet above the ground. Rich accompanied climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgesen throughout the majority of their ascent of the Dawn Wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan over the course of 19 days. Caldwell and Jorgeson became the first climbers to free climb the 3,000-foot vertical wall, realizing a dream seven years in the making. And Rich was right alongside them.

“I’m not just photographing strangers; these are very close friends,” said Rich. “To see someone who’s so close succeed and really push themselves, push the envelope and change climbing history, to be part of that as a documentarian is very satisfying.”

In addition to the obstacles the climbers face are those faced by the photographer: Shooting an ascent like this takes its own unique skill set, requiring a highly proficient climber who’s also aware of composition and light when being in a fixed position.

Rich spent hours fixed to one location on the wall, waiting for the climbers to get within view of making photos. Completing various pitches, as climbers call a rope-length of climbing, would often take several attempts for the climbers. “The wind is blowing, it’s uncomfortable, your legs are falling asleep, you’re cold. And I just start putting myself in a pleasant space or I start thinking about other things in life. And then, of course, you need to be able to toggle back into, OK, it’s go time, it’s time to actually be creative, it’s time to focus on making moments.”

Rich chronicled the triumphs and difficulties throughout the climb on Instagram, where non-climbers and climbers alike followed closely, waiting for updates on the progress of Caldwell and Jorgeson and eventually cheering for them when they reached the final summit on Wednesday.

A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

Climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson rely on a network of rigged ropes to move up and down the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in order to access the hardest pitches. They leave their portaledge camp each afternoon as the sun dips around the corner and use mechanical ascenders to climb the ropes and go to work on the day’s climbing adventure. Not a bad commute at all. —Corey Rich

Tommy Caldwell stands up in his portaledge to soak in the early morning light. It’s day ten for climbers Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. We enjoyed a really pleasant, sunny rest day. We ate food, drank coffee brewed from hanging stoves, updated our social media accounts, planned logistics, had more food delivered up the wall, and spoke to journalists on the phone who are all hungry to hear details about the biggest climb of the century as it unfolds. Very cool to see society at large take an interest in our tiny sport, even if it’s just for the next week or so. Anyway, psyche is high, skin is healing up, and tomorrow brings another day of work as these two stud athletes do the impossible and work to free the Dawn Wall! Stoked to be here with my friends, helping to document history!

As of Thursday night, day 13 on the wall for the team of climbers trying to free climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Tommy Caldwell has successfully reached the high point called Wino Tower, a large ledge 2,000 feet up El Cap. There’s still a thousand feet of climbing left, and anything can happen. Today Caldwell is returning to pitch 15 to belay and support his partner Kevin Jorgeson, who continues his awe-inspiring effort to succeed on this crux section.

After a full day of rest yesterday, both Kevin and Tommy are jonesing to climb. Skin has healed, motivation is swelling, and here we wait, at our camp in the sky, for the best January climbing conditions this evening. Kevin’s goal is to breakthrough on pitch 15 and Tommy is hoping to tackle the second half of pitch 16.

A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

All eyes are on El Cap this week as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempt the hardest, longest free climb in the world: the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California. Today is their 12th day of living on the wall, and they’re just over halfway up the 3,000-foot granite cliff. What makes the Dawn Wall so difficult is that you have to grab edges of rock as thin and sharp as razor blades. In general, climbers find colder rock much more conducive to success. Fingertips sweat less. Shoe rubber has more friction. This explains why they have chosen winter to complete their ascent. Yet even in the dead of winter, it’s still too hot to climb in the direct sun. The climbers have been waiting until dark, when the temperature drops to 30 degrees, to attempt the hardest moves. Here, Jorgeson fights to support his entire body on the tiniest, most painful edges of rock imaginable. You can just see the emotion of the experience in his face.

A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

After a day of climbing, Tommy Caldwell applies Climb On salve—a blend of beeswax and oils—to his fingers. Caldwell lost his left index finger to a table saw in 2001. Doctors tried to reattach the finger, but ultimately Caldwell opted for amputation. It hasn’t slowed him down.

Another big breakthrough last night for Tommy Caldwell on the Dawn Wall. Pitch 16 went down! At 5.13+ or 5.14, this “loop pitch” is probably the hardest down climb on El Cap. It’s crazy that even in the first week of January, you still need nighttime conditions to complete these hard pitches. Today is a rest day, and hopefully both Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson can use it to grow back some skin on their fingers!

A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

After 19 days of battling the hardest, longest free climb in the world, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson embrace at the end of the difficulties of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan.

Follow Corey Rich on Instagram and read more about his experience documenting this climb on National Geographic News.

There are 71 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Whitt Birnie
    March 3, 2015

    “Proof”. Perfect title to honor these great achievers and their photographers. Mind-boggling work!

  2. fernando bejar
    January 28, 2015

    great achievement… it took us a day or so to climbto the top just to spend 10 seconds of free fall back in the eighties jumping off of the top of EL CAPITAN in a parachute ride…it was amaisimgbut unfortunately it is banned! clap clap clap for you…that is human nature! and I believe in GOD you are at the leading edge of mankind development

  3. jackyl
    January 27, 2015

    “need to climb at night”…that’s B.S.
    You climbed at night so no one would see you stand on a bolt hanger

    • Matt Brady
      January 27, 2015

      Right, he fell 16 times attempting one pitch while standing on bolt hangers. I bet you are the guy that always “finds” his golf ball he hit out of bounds.

  4. Rick
    January 26, 2015

    ” Where no unusual effort or sacrifice is required, there can be no pride of accomplishment. “

  5. Gary Heil
    January 25, 2015

    As a Jehovah’s witness, I would ask ” what is Jehovah’s view of such exploits?” The world is a dangerous enough place right now without putting your God given life at risk. As a group we are not cowards because we do not know what is behind the strange door we knock on daily. Is it going to be a nice old lady or a drug crazed psycho..but we still do it. Acts 20:20. Because it is what we have been asked to do.
    Matthew 24:14

  6. George
    January 25, 2015

    Would also like to know about the other two climbers who documented this historic event!

  7. Eduard
    January 25, 2015

    You guys -Tommy Caldwel&Kevin Jorgenson, have more guts and deremination than a whole army! Congratulations!

  8. Bacchus
    January 25, 2015

    Amazing, I watched you guys through a telescope safely on the ground for a while on thursday 01/08/2015… NOW, can you guys work on world peace? It might be a little harder than the Dawn wall, However, you two and your team might be just the folks to do it !! Please, thank You.

  9. JAKE
    January 25, 2015

    I tried this kind of climbing when I was a kid – 64 years ago, and I LOVED it. Go for it, gentlemen – as indeed you DID.

  10. Matt Brady
    January 25, 2015

    To climb 5.13 and 5.14 pitches day after day is unbelievable. I climbed in the 80s and I never thought I would see the dawn wall defeated!

  11. Quidsi
    January 25, 2015

    How much debri ( ropes, clips, rock studs, etc.) is left behind as you climb and is is ever removed from the mountain?

  12. Nancy b
    January 25, 2015

    Absolutely dizzying to actually “see” what the climbers contended with! Congrats to all 3 climbers.

  13. Pilar alonso
    January 25, 2015

    Inspirational Human Race !!!!

  14. Andy Eppink
    January 25, 2015

    What a remarkable achievement. I’m awed.

  15. surya
    January 22, 2015

    where there is hardship, there is achievement.

  16. Tina Wade-Lucas
    January 20, 2015

    What an amazing accomplishment! They slept on the side of a cliff. Unbelievably courageous.

  17. zakaria
    January 20, 2015

    i hope one day get a professional camera and go in a so long trip to get my own pictures too 🙂

  18. Rob Briggs
    January 20, 2015

    Thanks for accomplishing this “impossibility.” I just couldn’t believe that anyone could climb these continuously, unrelentingly difficult pitches. You have my great admiration.

  19. Gracie
    January 19, 2015

    Amazing indeed!

  20. Lise Breault
    January 19, 2015

    Congratulations to the photograph!

  21. Jayaram Marthi
    January 19, 2015

    Sheer gratitude for elevating human spirit to the next level; Dawn wall is the metaphor in all our lives to set impossible targets according to one’s own abilities and achieve it. Thanks for showing us Dawn wall.

    January 18, 2015


  23. Valentina
    January 18, 2015

    Pictoral representation of never give up, just do it 🙂 very inspirational .. big vow to you !!

  24. Nicolas
    January 18, 2015

    Inspirational my a..s. This is madness no need to play with ur life like that. There are millons of other ways to feel adrenaline. This is not one. I am thinking in their mothers,fathers,sons…Insane they are. They are selfish playing with their lifes like that.

  25. Leslie Wayne
    January 18, 2015

    I followed your story the entire climb! AWESOME!!! AMAZING! AND A TRUE FRIENDSHIP!!! CONGRATS!!

  26. dilip H
    January 18, 2015

    This climb captures the best of human abilities -the spirit of adventure!!!WOW too gud !!!

  27. Raq
    January 18, 2015

    You Sir, are INSANE!(ly) AWESOME! WOW! Those pics made my tummy do flips!

  28. chouthebest
    January 18, 2015

    Congrats because you are better than multiple of climbers

  29. jane honey
    January 18, 2015

    amazing. Inspirational. Wow. Congratulations

  30. Brett Davis
    January 18, 2015

    You two fellas are an inspirtion to anyone to just do their best, in anything you do… thanx!

  31. Ingrid Wassmann
    January 18, 2015

    Free climbing is such a great metaphor for life! This is a very moving and humbling example of human achievement! Perseverance, will, belief, and a dream! Some truly wonderful things to happen in this crazy world!

  32. hesham numier
    January 18, 2015

    congratulations to both tommy and kevin for a great success .. and many thanks to corey for documenting those breathtaking moments ….. all the way from jordan

  33. todd
    January 18, 2015

    Hats off to you! I would love to build up the courage to do that!

  34. Eli E. Torres
    January 18, 2015

    Incredible, I have no words to explain how amazing you are, can’t imagine the feelings and the internal war that both of you have been suffering in some moments, but you are a big inspiration for all of us and always have a place in the most great achievements of the word. Congratulations, you are the best.

  35. fatima
    January 18, 2015


  36. Elizabeth Knowles
    January 18, 2015


  37. naveen
    January 18, 2015

    love the way u live ur lives!

  38. The Tyrolean
    January 18, 2015

    Fantastic pix and congrats to all!!

  39. Gisela
    January 18, 2015

    conoci el capitán y su paisaje es una cosa increíble, si hace frío estando abajo de la roca de verdad q admiro a los “verraquitos” para haber hecho semejante azaña los felicito desde Colombia

  40. Sylvia Susanto
    January 17, 2015

    Congratulation to Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. Amazing photos!!!!

  41. Maria
    January 17, 2015

    I follow the climb to the last. bravo!

  42. erick
    January 17, 2015

    Congrats !! you show how strong the human can be….

  43. Daniel
    January 17, 2015

    Unbelievable made believable, by focus, friends, and fortitude. Imagine what can be accomplished! Then go!

  44. Paul o grady
    January 17, 2015

    An inspiration to all especially those who have suffered a hand injury.Well done lads!

  45. Jack Marijnissen
    January 17, 2015

    My deepest respect!!

  46. Donna I
    January 17, 2015

    I’m not a climber, but I couldn’t help but follow this amazing feat of perseverance! Bravissimo! El Capitan will never be the same… Lol

  47. Terri yenco
    January 17, 2015

    very exciting following their incredible ascent.

  48. carrie
    January 17, 2015


  49. Lisa Boice
    January 17, 2015

    I have been watching your progress to the finish and have nothing but admiration for your internal energy and will power to accomplish what no others have been able to do. You both are just awesome

  50. Daniel Gilbert
    January 17, 2015

    Let’s get a drone up there taking pictures of delivering supplies!!

  51. Norberto Jr Relador Mandin
    January 17, 2015


  52. Elaine dwyer
    January 17, 2015

    Have so much respect for your dedication & determination for what you love. Congratulations to all of you who are/were a part of this. It was the highlight of my day watching it ‘live’. Keep doing what you love. You truly are an inspiration.

  53. Toon Hurkmans
    January 17, 2015

    I want to congratulate both men. Hats off!

  54. David Budinsky
    January 17, 2015

    Big Respect lad’s!!! awesome. it’s unbelievable what they accomplished

  55. choi sung pil
    January 17, 2015

    brilliant your life.

  56. Laura Dally
    January 17, 2015

    Extreme rock climbing never ceases to amaze me. How do they get the stakes into the face of the mountain as they climb?

  57. Harriet Allen
    January 17, 2015

    Well done. Incredible. What an achievement. Such bravery and self discovery. I have total admiration to you both. I can’t even stand on a table.
    My hands started to sweat just looking at the photos !!! Magic x

  58. faizal
    January 17, 2015

    passion and mental superb!

  59. Jim Lavaroni
    January 17, 2015

    Great feat! But you are still nuts.

  60. Jacqueline Davis
    January 17, 2015

    This is a wonderful task. I admire those young men for their patience and fortitude.

  61. Mike
    January 17, 2015

    A stunning achievement, and all done without a Starbucks or pub along the route.

  62. yus araya
    January 17, 2015

    Superb..excellent move…brilliant strategies. You make me feel motivated….congrats

  63. Julie
    January 17, 2015

    Love to watch the human condition pushed to its extreme ends.

  64. hasan huseyın
    January 17, 2015

    bunlar gerçekten hayallerinin peşinden koşturan insanlar.

  65. Nicola
    January 17, 2015

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  66. Whitt Birnie
    January 16, 2015

    What bravery and courage! Bravo. And thanks to Corey Rick and NatGeo for bringing us the inside scoop on this exceptional endeavor. My fingertips keep twitching. 🙂

  67. Nancy
    January 16, 2015

    I admire both men so much, the endurance and love of what they are accomplishing is breathtaking

  68. Taiq
    January 16, 2015


  69. chipa chipa
    January 16, 2015


  70. John Farrar
    January 16, 2015

    Brilliant feat chaps! Well done.

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