“In an unbelievable story of perseverance, free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.”

Director: Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer
Release Date: September 14, 2018

Listen, El Capitan is a motha fucka. That flat piece of slab leaves a shadow as daunting as the mythic Dracula. It sucks out your soul and spits it out with bits of ice, granite and finger nails. When people visit the behemoth of a rock, it should come with a “viewer discretion is advised” warning.

The Dawn Wall (2018) follows American rock climber Tommy Caldwell and his climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson in their daring assent of the seemingly impossible 3,000-foot Dawn Wall on El Capitan at Yosemite National Park. The duo spend weeks living, climbing and agonizing on slick rock face. Tommy, as the premiere climber, propels himself and Jason up 32 of the most difficult pitches in the world, but those razor sharp rock hangings are nothing compared the journey Tommy had to do just to muster the courage to go up that rock face.

Tommy Caldwell and his then friend, soon-to-be wife and eventual ex-wife are kidnapped as young adults in Kyrgyzstan and had to survive six days of starvation at gunpoint. Oh, and Tommy shoved a terrorist off a cliff and thought he killed him and lived with that guilt for years. You know, casual stuff. Then while doing some reconstruction project on his home, Tommy cut his finger off, like straight off. Guess what folks…that is not good for a professional climber! Oh, then his wife leaves him for another man.

Tons of heartbreak, but tons of determination. Tommy took his angst and put it towards his passion and proving people wrong. his rock climbing comrades and fans all thought he was done after chopping off his point finger. No, he got better. Somehow, some way. With a new unique climbing style and a brand new exuberant partner in Kevin, Tommy has his eyes set on scaling the hardest rock face in North America, The Dawn Wall.

What directors Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer did most eloquently in The Dawn Wall was illustrate how hard this climb really is. I am not climber, I have only dabbled a couple times. After seeing The Dawn Wall and Free Solo (2018), I know that I have none of the makeup that these crazy human beings do. Even when I was most questioning how hard this climb up the Dawn Wall really is, the directors throw in a perfect expository set of graphics that tells the audience the classic rock climbing difficulty scale and notes how nearly every pitch on this climb is as hard as it could be.

The hardest part of this entire climb is pitch 15, a long traverse of straight rock that acts as a barrier between two salvageable routes. You know this part of the climb is insane when Tommy has multiple failures. After he magically makes the pass, it is up to Jorgesen to make it and try and keep pace. This is the most real, beautiful and painful part of the movie to watch. We, the audience, the viewers, have an unbelievable vantage point to see the physical and internal struggle of Jorgesen contemplating how or why continue.

Then there is the kindness of Tommy Caldwell. The nine-fingered king of the mountains is climbing up the mountain while Jorgesen is stuck in the cycle of failing and resting. Did you know that you rest for hours after a failed attempt? I had no idea. That explains why this climb took so god damn long. But back to Caldwell, this man got up to a point on the mountain and came to the realization that he couldn’t do this climb alone. Tommy’s dedication to Jorgesen is based somewhat in his heartbreak; his new climbing partner came to him and volunteered to be part of this ridiculous quest to climb possibly the hardest rock on the continent. That takes a unique trait of insanity, it is something they both share.

It is the most monumental part of the The Dawn Wall. When Jorgesen finally traverses the traverse and clamps onto the end, you can’t help but raise your fist in triumph. Then, in a redeeming moment for Jorgesen’s confidence, he was able to do the next portion of the climb in a way that Terry could not. There is a leaping opportunity much like Alex Honnold had in Free Solo and Terry was not able to make it. He had to go down and around; essentially climb down and around 200 feet to beat out about eight feet. Luckily, for the sake of catch up, Jorgesen could make that leap. It was a leap of newly restored faith.

The Dawn Wall is a fascinating watch the illustrates the mental and physical anguish that goes into intense rock climbing in general. But what The Dawn Wall also shows us is how remarkable the unique bond that this community has. There are people who travelled on their off days to watch these two climb the Dawn Wall. There are photographers who spend time they usually had off snapping every snapshot they could. The climb that Teddy and Jorgesen was an amplifying event for the rock climbing community. There was national coverage, in television and in print. It was honestly funny to watch them doing New York Times interviews while hanging up 2000 feet above the ground.

A key for a niche activity of sport to grow is often an intangible quality that everyone of a certain ilk can relate to. For baseball it is the pageantry, for football it is the savagery, for downhill skiing it is its freedom and for rock climbing, it has to be its single-mindedness. These men are driven on a mission, one that many would deem insane, but to them it is a mission from god. The Dawn Wall will inspire and scare you, and those are two traits not easily combined. You’ll be wanting to climb your own mountains after watching Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson climb El Capitan’s The Dawn Wall.

STANKO RATING: A (4.5/5 Stars)

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