WATCH: heart-pounding first free ascent of El Capitan's Dawn Wall


Just a point of clarification. Any climb rated above 5 in the Yosemite Decimal System will potentially result in death if a fall occurs without protection. What’s notable here isn’t that the climb is 5+, but that it’s 5.14c, which is among the toughest grades in the world, and almost certainly the toughest for a sustained multi-pitch. There are tougher single pitch climbs, like La Dura, sent by Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra recently, which is 5.15c. La Dura Complete: The Hardest Rock Climb In The World.

Tommy Caldwell is lead climbing here on pre-existing bolts, which is more secure than placing his own protection (known as traditional climbing), and vastly more secure than no protection at all. If he were to fall, he’d swing laterally and be totally alright. He’s traversing in this clip, which causes a more lateral swing, but the distance between clips seems pretty minimal. A good belayer, which he’s undoubtedly got, will give him some slack when he falls to avoid shorting him and causing his feet or hands to slam into the rock face. Large falls are known to happen on overhung or run-out bolts on sport climbs, as illustrated in this (SFW) video: Scary Climbing Fall. I’ve fallen hundreds of times outdoors myself on 5.10 and 5.11 routes, and the worst I’ve ever suffered is a bruised ego (okay, and a sprained ankle, that one time).


Well, not all of us are James Tiberius Kirk.


In case you weren’t sufficiently impressed, Tommy Caldwell did this while missing part of his left index finger. (not a climbing accident - he accidentally cut it off with a table saw).


Wouldn’t an ordinary staircase qualify under that criterion?

Here are the definitions, taken from the Wikipedia article on the YDS

Class 1: Walking with a low chance of injury.
Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Little potential danger is encountered.
Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.
Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.
Class 5: Technical free climbing involving rope, belaying, and other protection hardware for safety. Un-roped falls can result in severe injury or death.

It’s a measure of steepness and difficulty. Class 5 climbs are vertical, overhung, or slab (basically vertical but with a slight slope). Hope that helps clarify it.

The YDS really only categorizes the difficulty of the climbing, not the danger. For routes that are particularly dangerous, an extra character is often added to the difficulty rating (murican ratings, leastaways) such as R, a fall will likely result in serious injury or X, a fall will likely result in death, which are based on the availability and security of protection, whether naturally placed or the spacing and/or placement of bolts. I haven’t read about the bolting of this route, except that I know that it was done on rappel, but I it’s doubtful that any of the pitches would get even an R rating. It’s waaaayyy super difficult but not extraordinarily dangerous.

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Warning: Best watched without sound

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How do they film these climbs? How do they get close up shots of the climbers shoes, for instance?

I was just noting that “can result in […] death” isn’t a particularly useful descriptor.

Yeah, the people filming or photographing climbers do some pretty crazy stuff, too. Here’s an example:

Overall, being a climber, it’s been very interesting watching all of the news coverage of this feat. Yes, Tommy is one of the best climbers in the world. Yes, this is an amazing climb and super-difficult, but it’s a bit head-shaking how crazy the news has gone for this one. For one, Lynn Hill freed a route on El Cap in 1993 - a route that no one could repeat until Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden did it over 10 years later. It’s awesome to see the sport get some coverage, but it’s very strange, having seen some equally impressive climbs, some of them by Tommy as well, go totally unnoticed by the non-climbing world. I’m excited and confused! :slight_smile:


So, what you’re saying is that there is no functional difference between Classes 3, 4, and 5.

This page discusses the difference between four and five, and proposes many different interpretations.

This interpretation is evocative, though it might not be strictly accurate.

RJ Secor quips:
Class 1: you fall, you’re stupid.
Class 2: you fall, you break your arm.
Class 3: you fall, you break your leg.
Class 4: you fall, you are almost dead (i.e., you can’t breath and move your arms, legs, and head).
Class 5: you fall, you are dead.

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A nice video of some handsome men taking falls at they attempt to climb a 5.15c section.

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This is an incredible accomplishment, but will do nothing to sooth the “ethics” debate that has been raging for years. I immediately noticed the pre-hung biners and the handhold and foothold tick marks. The pitch is likely unclimbable without the aids, but as always, the question remains. How much “aid” is too much aid? It used to be that the chalk and shoes were debated. Then the cams. Jardine was roundly (and rightly) chastised for chipping holds on El Cap. Where is the line? It seems it is continuously moving. This unbelievably difficult climb has been reduced to an unbelievably difficult linked sequence of gym routes.

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@groundman is correct on this. The YDS rating system being discussed does not take danger into account at all. The rating is strictly technical, and originally was only applied to the hardest move on a route. There are class 3 and class 4 traverses between peaks that have significant drops (thousands of feet) on either side. If you slipped and fell, you would die. It has nothing to do with the technical rating.

@dominatrix: The pre-placed draws and tick marks make me a bit sad. I haven’t checked yet, but I imagine the peanut gallery over at the Taco is screaming about it already.

What’s interesting about this route is that, while it took place on a big wall, it’s not really a big-wall route in the classic sense. It’s more like a multi-pitch sport route that is so hard that, for recovery’s sake from day to day, it’s just more convenient to camp on the wall than rap to the floor or jug to the top each day. They were placing bolts and working moves for years, a friend hauled supplies up the wall for their first base camp before they started climbing and resupplies came every 5 days, all of the hard moves were protected by pre-hung quickdraws (they didn’t have to carry 10 extra pounds of rack), not to mention the camaraderie they had from all of the photographers coming and going and the constant network connectivity.

A friend once gave me some advice about big-wall climbing, ‘Forget about the climbing. To succeed you have to focus on getting that pig (the haul bag) from down here to up there!’ Now, look what Caldwell and Jorgesen have done! They have turned that advice on it’s ear and almost the only thing they had to focus on was the climbing.

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Humans – so limited…

Let me know when they bring the kids along :smile:


OK… I’m sorry, but someone had to post this…