On Monday Czech climber Adam Ondra attained the most ambitious goal of his trip to Yosemite: the first free repeat of the Dawn Wall. Finally sent as a continuous bottom-up free climb in January 2015 after a mammoth 20-day effort by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, the Dawn Wall is widely considered the toughest big wall climb in the world and Ondra’s repeat of the route is a significant achievement.
Climbing with the support of Pavel Blazek, Ondra began his push for a continuous free ascent of the Dawn Wall after a couple of weeks of careful preparation. Ondra and Blazek ascended fixed ropes to make repeat free attempts at the trickiest sections of the climb, allowing Ondra to gather valuable beta and build up his confidence.
The result was an eight-day ascent of the Dawn Wall, significantly quicker than Jorgeson and Caldwell’s pioneering effort, Without an enforced day off due to poor weather, Ondra would likely have topped out even quicker.
Kevin Jorgeson, well placed to evaluate Ondra’s achievement, called it “totally badass.” Speaking to Rock and Ice Jorgeson confessed that “for Tommy and I, the question was whether it was even possible. We left lots of room to improve the style and Adam did just that!”
Jorgeson also praised the swiftness with which Ondra was able to adapt to the unique demands of the Dawn Wall. The climb has 32 individual pitches, with climbing grades ranging from 5.10 to 5.14. That’s a lot of beta to get your head around in a few weeks!
Moreover, as Ondra admitted himself, the rock in Yosemite is vastly different to the make-up of Norway’s Hanshelleren Cave, where the Czech has operated for much of the summer. “The friction in Norway is just perfect,” Ondra said – not the best preparation for the polished granite of El Capitan, which requires “face climbing…a lot of thumbs and balancy moves.”
Ondra’s initial experience on the Dawn Wall only added to his respect for the challenge ahead of him and the efforts of Caldwell and Jorgeson. “Hats off to Tommy and Kevin, who believed that the whole climb was possible before they free climbed,” he said. “I am humbled and impressed by what Tommy and Kevin did.”
Ondra embarked on his own push for a continuous free ascent of the Dawn Wall at 3am on November the 14th. He made rapid progress, sending the first nine pitches in less than six hours and pushing up to the crux pitches the next day.
Despite sensibly taking a rest day before plunging into the huge challenge of pitch 14, Ondra described day four of the climb as a “complete disaster.” Eight times Ondra applied himself to pitch 14 and eight times it faced him down, filling him with doubt and anxiety.
Ondra adopted a different mindset the next day. “I tried to make jokes, being relaxed and focused only just before the climbing,” he said. It paid off; Ondra sent pitch 14 on his first attempt of the day and continued into pitch 15, the second crux 5.14 pitch. Despite a “heartbreaking fall” close to the top of the pitch and the risk of cutting open his hands on the jagged holds, he swarmed up it on the second attempt, a tremendous day’s climbing.
By the end of his sixth day of climbing Ondra was at the top of Wino Tower with victory in his sights. “No more hard pitches guard my way to the top,” Ondra enthused to sponsors Black Diamond, though the weather forecast did. With rain forecast for the next day the climber decided to take a rest day, though he later regretted this in an Instagram post: “Despite all the negative forecasts, it has not rained until now! We could have climbed the part above the Wino Tower at least two times since 6 PM yesterday when I got there.”
The delay was only temporary and Ondra topped out the Dawn Wall on Monday 21st November. Despite “wrecked skin” and inevitable fatigue Ondra was clearly ecstatic – and he may not be finished in Yosemite yet.
Before the trip Ondra identified a successful one-day onsight of Salathé as his main goal in Yosemite. Whatever the outcome of any future El Cap climbs, Ondra’s exploits on the Dawn Wall will go down in the climbing annals.