Attention climbers and adventurers: On Thursday, Dec. 6, the Wood River Community YMCA in Ketchum will present a free screening of the critically lauded new climbing documentary “Dawn Wall.” The film features world-renowned rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson, and follows their ascent up the infamous Dawn Wall, a sheer rock face that stretches for 3,000 vertical feet in California’s Yosemite National Park.
In January 2015, the pair commenced their 19-day climb up the seemingly insurmountable cliff, the southeastern face of El Capitan. With only a 200-foot belay rope tethering them to the rock and each other, Caldwell and Jorgenson undertook some of the most famously difficult climbing in the world. For thousands of feet, the Dawn Wall offers almost no handholds worth mentioning. As such, the climbers were forced to support their entire body weights with just the tips of their fingers and the tips of their toes, occasionally hammering metal bolts into the rock. They slept in a “portaledge,” a small tent that they suspended from a rope, dangling thousands of feet above the earth.
At the time, no one had ever free-climbed this section of rock before. As Caldwell referred to it, the Dawn Wall was “the last unclimbed big swathe of stone” in the world.
Cinemagoers may well recognize the Dawn Wall if they saw the other recent, popular climbing documentary “Free Solo.” Caldwell’s quarry is up the other side of El Capitan, the cliff scaled by the untethered Alex Honnold in “Free Solo.” Caldwell was featured in that film as well, supporting Honnold in his training. It seems a universal urge among climbers to pursue the impossible, and Yosemite is home to some of the most impossible rock faces in the world.
Not that Caldwell is any stranger to the impossible. At age 22 when climbing in Kyrgyzstan, he and three companions were held hostage by Uzbek rebels, and only escaped when Caldwell pushed one of their captors over the edge of a cliff. He cites this incident, understandably, as a turning point in his life, claiming that it produced an indelible drive to continuously outdo himself. This story gained some sensationalizing media attention at the time, and figures into the “Dawn Wall” film.
To add to the personal drama of the narrative, Caldwell also later lost an index finger in a table saw accident, and though doctors reattached it, he subsequently had it removed again, because he found it was easier to climb without it. Since fingertips and toes are the only things holding him to the Dawn Wall, the loss of that finger decreased his effectiveness by 5 percent, just adding to the improbability of this astounding athletic feat.
“Dawn Wall” premiered in the U.S. at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, and is now touring the U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan and South America. It opened to rave reviews and currently boasts an undisputed 100 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
This is a free event, open to the public. According to the film’s website, this is also the first and only screening scheduled in Idaho, so those who are interested should not to let this opportunity pass by. The event commences at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6. The Wood River Community YMCA is at 101 Saddle Road in Ketchum.