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in: Outdoors, Podcast

April 10, 2019 Last updated: April 16, 2019

Podcast #498: Lessons in Persistence From Climber Tommy Caldwell

On El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, there was a wall that had never been climbed, and that some said would never be climbed. It’s called the Dawn Wall.

But in 2015, Tommy Caldwell along with Kevin Jorgeson became the first to free climb it. That journey was then made into an award-winning film called Dawn Wall

Today I speak to Tommy about what led up to that historic climb, starting from how he got involved in rock climbing in his childhood. We begin our conversation discussing the different types of rock climbing and why people often misinterpret what “free climbing” means. We then dig into Tommy’s climbing career, including his early success in sport climbing and the harrowing experience of being held hostage by and escaping from rebels in Kyrgyzstan. We then discuss how Tommy responded to losing a finger and getting divorced, and why he decided to climb the Dawn Wall. We end our conversation discussing the years-long process of preparing for the climb and the virtue of what Tommy calls “elective suffering.” 

There are a lot of little, potent lessons here in how to remain persistent and driven in the face of setbacks that apply beyond climbing to every aspect of life. 

Show Highlights

  • How Tommy got into rock climbing from a very young age
  • What climbing was like for Tommy’s father in the ’70s and ’80s 
  • What Tommy’s parents thought of his making a career out of climbing 
  • The different types and styles of rock climbing 
  • The crazy story of being held hostage in Kyrgyzstan
  • What Tommy’s life was like after coming back home 
  • How his career survived the sawing off of part of his finger 
  • How Tommy’s life and climbing were affected by his divorce 
  • Why hadn’t the Dawn Wall been climbed before?
  • The grueling process of climbing the Dawn Wall over the course of 19 days 
  • Why Tommy decided to wait for Kevin in order to finish 
  • What it felt like to actually succeed in the climb 
  • Why do people elect to suffer? Why are hardships and suffering worth it?
  • How being a father has changed Tommy’s goals 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Tommy

Tommy’s website

Tommy on Instagram

Tommy on Twitter

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