California Dreamland Visionaries
Tommy Caldwell & Kevin Jorgesen – Professional Rock Climbers
Relying on finger tips and stamina, attempting to do things never done before, ace climber Tommy Caldwell seems like he might have Spiderman blood running through his steely veins. Caldwell makes his living doing something most of us can’t even fathom without feeling a shock of adrenaline-fueled fear running through our bodies: he ascends impossibly difficult pitches up some of the world’s most legendary rock walls, including Yosemite’s massive El Capitan. Caldwell notes that his dad is the one who taught him to embrace fear and doubt and turn them into inspiration, and inspired he has been, completing first ascents in Colorado, Patagonia, and California, a land of spectacular granite faces and vertical walls perfectly suited to his seemingly fearless style of climbing.
While most people only think there’s one kind of rock-climbing, there are multiple techniques and styles practiced by today’s elite climbers. Caldwell has mastered many of them, most notably sport climbing (high-intensity, difficult climbing on relatively short routes), and free-climbing, in which the climber uses only his hands, feet, elbows, or other body parts to climb—no rope assistance, except to catch a fall. His accomplishments include some of the hardest sport routes inthe country and nearly a dozen routes on El Cap.
Most of us wouldn’t say “getting scared and getting through it” is something that makes us happy, but then again, we’re not Kevin Jorgeson. Known as one of the world’s premiere climbers, Jorgeson likes to push through fear to be the best at what he loves to do: tackling some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous routes, including Mescalito, labeled as possibly the hardest way to get up Yosemite’s 3,000-foot granite monolith, El Capitan. “Climbing fits my personality precisely,” says Jorgeson, who started climbing at age 12 at a gym in his hometown of Santa Rosa, California. The sport, he notes, “takes me amazing places, teaches me respect for the environment and others, motivates me to improve, and keeps me humble on those high-gravity days.”
Though Jorgeson has spent plenty of time up on big, scary rock walls, he is equally well known for exceling at a technique known as “high-ball bouldering,” a dangerous method of ascending dozens of feet up enormous boulders—with no ropes or other safety devices. One of his favorite playgrounds for the sport: an area in the High Sierras called the Buttermilks, near Bishop, with fanciful names like “Stained Glass,” “The Hero Roof,” and “Robinson’s Rubber Tester Slab.” When he’s not on the rock, Jorgeson is often teaching techniques to a new generation of climbers, often in the same gym where he started as a teenager.