TOMMY CALDWELL, LEFT, AND KEVIN JORGESON ON THE DAWN WALL OF EL CAPITAN IN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK.
BRETT LOWELL/BIG UP PRODUCTIONS
The world watched as climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made their way up the Dawn Wall of El Capitan, free climbing its virtually sheer granite face for the first time in history, in what many consider to be the greatest climb of all time.
In free climbing, ropes are used only to protect in case of a fall, not to assist the ascent. What makes this climb so remarkable is how flat this wall is, with very few cracks and ledges for their hands and feet to hold on to. Caldwell and Jorgeson have now completed the most difficult sections or “pitches”, and could conceivably reach the top by the end of the week. The New York Times has been covering their ascent daily, and recently featured this interactive look at their climb: Dawn Wall: El Capitan’s Most Unwelcoming Route.
There are about 100 routes up El Capitan, first summited from the valley floor in 1958. Only 13 have ever been free climbed. “Valley Uprising”, a new film about the history of climbing in Yosemite by Sender Films has just been released on DVD and looks at the culture of the sport and this climbing mecca, from the 1950′s to the present day. Like what cool indie sport documentary, “Dog Town & Z-Boys”, did for skateboarding, and “Riding Giants” did for big wave surfing, “Valley Uprising” does for climbing, with great vintage images and footage, showcasing the rebel counterculture of climbing and the colorful personalities of its athletes.
TOP: TOM FROST, ROYAL ROBBINS, CHUCK PRATT, YVON CHOUINARD; MIDDLE: ROYAL ROBBINS; YVON CHOUINARD (FOUNDER OF PATAGONIA)
Narrated by Peter Sarsgaard, the film starts with the “Golden Age” of climbing from 1955-1970, the early years being a time when America was anything but adventurous. These beatnik athletes like Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, Steve Roper, Chuck Pratt, and the notorious Warren Harding, noted for his womanizing and drinking, made Camp 4 in Yosemite their home. They were the first to ascend the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan, using pitons, bolts and ropes to pull themselves up. Harding was in fact the first to climb the Dawn Wall. It took him two years, with multiple ascents and descents, and famed cliffside boozing.
FROM TOP: RON KAUK (LEFT), JOHN BACHAR; SECOND FROM TOP: L-R: DALE BARD, JIM BRIDWELL, FRED EAST, BILLY WESTBAY, JAY FISK ON TOP OF EL CAP; SECOND FROM BOTTOM: TOBIN SORENSON, MIKE GRAHAM, RICHARD HARRISON; BOTTOM: JIM BRIDWELL, LEFT, RICHARD HARRISON
The film then moves into “The Stone Masters” from 1973-1980, the era of the “Rock Jocks”. These long-haired, bandana-wearing hippy climbers were also known as the The “Stoned” Masters. Led by John Long, Dale Bard, Ron Kauk, Lynn Hill, and Jim Bridwell, these climbers brought a new level of athleticism and cool to the sport, and were the ones to begin the free-climbing movement. This would evolve into free-soloing, with no ropes at all and no margin for era. Icons like John Bachar would make their mark here, although he would later be killed in a fall at age 51.
The final segment features “The Stone Monkeys” from 1988-present, and those current legends in the sport like Dean Potter and Alex Honnold, who have taken free-soloing and the spin-off sport of slack lining—essentially tight rope walking—to a whole new level.
“Valley Uprising” is an entertaining and informative insider’s look at climbing; like the counter-cultural sport of surfing, it is a way of life as much as it is a sport. As we watch Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson achieve what would have seemed unimaginable in the early days of climbing, we can only wonder what other impossible feats are yet to be accomplished.