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Yosemite Dawn Wall Climbers Reach The Top After 19 Days


Spectators cheer as a dream is realized in Yosemite National Park. Crowds below, and climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson atop El Capitan, were finally able to celebrate at sunset yesterday after the duo completed their historic ascent of the sheer vertical Dawn Wall. They were the first ever to free climb the Dawn Wall in one continuous push from the ground up using just their hands and feet, and probably knees and elbows at times, to ascend using ropes only to break their falls. It took 19 days to make it up 3,000 feet. They were living on portaledges suspended from granite face in between efforts and now, it's over. And Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell join me now from the base of the El Capitan.

Welcome back to the program guys, and congratulations.



BLOCK: And we should mention, Tommy, that you've lost your voice somewhere along the way.

CALDWELL: Yes, completely. Sorry about that.

BLOCK: We're going to try to preserve it as much as we can here. Kevin, why don't you describe the moment when the two of you finally reached the top?

JORGESON: It was a pretty special moment. It was cool because when we pulled over the top, it was still just Tommy and I on the ledge - because there's a bunch of bushes between us and all of our friends and family on top - and all these cheers erupted from the valley floor. And it all kind of set in at once that it was done.

BLOCK: Did I see, Tommy, did I see the two of you sprinting up the last little bit there?

CALDWELL: We did speed it up near the top a little bit, for sure. I think we were just really excited to get to the summit after 19 days on the wall.

BLOCK: Tommy, how does it feel now to be back down on solid ground, after being up on that sheer face for so long?

CALDWELL: The amount of people watching us is a little bit overwhelming, but it's really cool to spread the love of this climb with so many people.

BLOCK: But what about your legs? I mean, how do you get your ground legs back after a climb like this?

CALDWELL: We had to descend like, 3,000 feet of steep slabs to walk down yesterday after not having walked for 19 days. And the soreness is just now starting to set in.

BLOCK: You know, when we talked to you on the program a week ago, Kevin, your hands were really ripped to shreds. What do your hands look like now at the end of this climb?

JORGESON: They still look like they're ripped to shreds.

BLOCK: Yeah?

JORGESON: All the tips have bruises and cuts on them and the backs of my hands have scabs on them, but it'll heal sooner than later I think.

BLOCK: You had, Kevin, some of your hardest time when you were trying to get past one section of the climb - this is pitch 15 - and you kept falling. It took, I think, 11 tries over seven days for you to master that pitch. What was going through your mind at the end of that?

JORGESON: At the end - at the end was pure elation and relief, but over those seven days it was just pure focus and resolve. I knew I was capable, it was just waiting for the right moment for both weather conditions and skin conditions.

BLOCK: You mentioned that, you know, once you had finished this you weren't sure what was going to replace this huge goal that you've had for so long. What do you think is next, Tommy?

CALDWELL: Yeah, I don't know in terms of a big life goal. I'm fully expecting to go through a mid-life crisis...

BLOCK: (Laughter).

CALDWELL: ...But in the meantime, I'm going to keep traveling with my family. I have plane tickets booked to southern Argentina to Patagonia in three weeks. So that's the next trip.

BLOCK: Kevin, what about you?

JORGESON: I have no idea what's next, honestly. I'm going to go in a bouldering trip and I'm going to let my hands heal.

BLOCK: And a shower and a bathroom, probably not a bad thing to have?

JORGESON: A shower was amazing - not going to lie.

BLOCK: (Laughter). Well, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, congratulations and thanks for talking again to us.


CALDWELL: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Tommy Caldwell - now battling laryngitis - and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson. They finished the first free ascent of El Capitan's Dawn Wall yesterday afternoon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.