With the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival just around the corner, Squamish Climbing Magazine has gone full tilt with an interview of the festival’s first guest speaker, Kevin Jorgeson. Originally gaining fame with the first ascent of Ambrosia in Bishop, CA, Kevin’s name became synonymous with difficult highball bouldering. After completing Ambrosia, Kevin was ready for his next big project when he was inspired by Tommy Caldwell’s clip of The Dawn Wall in the film Progression. After an email introduction , Tommy and Kevin set off on a seven year journey to complete The Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, CA.
Kevin and Tommy’s ascent of The Dawn Wall was big for the climbing community but no one could have predicted how it would set fire to the media world earlier last year. With all the hype, big (and sometimes strange!) doors have opened for both Kevin and Tommy. Squamish Climbing Magazine had the chance to sit down with Kevin and talk about the hype, what it all meant, and what is on the horizon. Here is what he had to say.
Kevin and Tommy. Photo courtesy of kevinjorgeson.com ©
First off, thanks again for chatting with us. It has been a bit of a crazy year for you since putting down The Dawn Wall with Tommy. How have you been taking it all in?
Day by day.
What are we talking? Just taking it all in?
Yes, just taking it all in day by day. What else can you do?
I can’t argue with that! How much has life changed since sending The Dawn Wall and how much has it all stayed the same?
The biggest change after the Dawn Wall was how little climbing I was able to do! I spent 200 days traveling in 2015 and hardly any of it was for climbing. That said, there were some truly unforgettable experiences packed into that time, including getting engaged! A year later, life is more or less back to normal. The biggest difference is that doors are a lot easier to open now than they were before. Now, the question I’m trying to answer is: what do I do with this opportunity?
What are you going to do with the opportunity? Any ideas?
One thing I really want to do is introduce the sport to as many kids as possible. The way I want to do it is by installing climbing walls into places where kids already hang out after school. In the US, one of these places is The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, where over 4 million youth are served every year. My goal is to install enough walls into Boys and Girls Clubs across the country to ntroduce 1 million kids to the sport in the next 10 years.
Another cause I’ve become captivated by is the refugee crisis in Lesvos, Greece. With the support of Adventure Medical Kits, Jacqui and I are taking three weeks to go volunteer and help however we can. AMK is going to send over a bunch of supplies to help out the situation while we lend our time and effort wherever its needed most. I anticipate this to be a pretty intense trip, but I think its important.
What does normal look like at this point?
Life is back to normal, more or less like it was before the Dawn Wall. Jacqui and I still drive the same cars and live in the same 700 square foot country cottage. We’ve been able to furnish the house a bit more to our taste, which helps it feel like home. I do seem to travel for non-climbing related things a bit more often than before the climb, however, like for speaking engagements and various events. But, when I’m not traveling, we are just hanging out, planning our wedding, having friends over for dinner, going to our favorite restaurants, and getting outside. I’m always plotting a new trip or climb of some kind as well. You’ll have to stay tuned for the details of these though!
Was it difficult to get used to some of the recognition you must have had from the general public?
The best word I could use to describe the aftermath is “disorienting.” We came down to a different world than when we left 19 days prior. People looked at us differently, expected something from us, and grasped to understand what we had done, why we had done it, and what they could learn from us. At first, all of this attention and demand on our time was hard to deal with. However, what I’ve come to realize is that at the core of all this curiosity is inspiration. We inspired people. What a gift. Instead of looking down on all the attention the climb got, I see it as this really positive moment that captured imaginations.
Photo courtesy of kevinjorgeson.com ©
Was there any ‘post-partum’ depression after all the hype died down?
Well, no. I’m not fueled by hype, so it’s pleasant to have the freedom to focus on what’s next. What I do miss is the sense of purpose that comes with a big project. I miss the feeling of being intimidated by it.
You and Tommy spent a ton of time on the wall together. Did it take some getting used not being together?
Actually, we spent a ton of time together in the wake of the climb doing events, speaking, and press stuff. In a lot of ways, it was helpful to go through that roller coaster together. Often, we would just look at each other, shake our heads, and just have to laugh. It was quite a ride.
Kevin and Tommy hanging out. Photo courtesy of kevinjorgeson.com ©
Wildest post interview? We heard you waited for a phone call from the president on the top!
Missing a few phone calls from the President was certainly a crazy experience. Appearing on the Ellen Degeneres Show was pretty unique as well.
In the final days it seemed you guys had a lot of visitors. How was it having the community rally behind you guys on the final push?
We couldn’t have done it without the support of our friends, family, and ground crew. There’s just no way. Watching the community (and then world) rally behind us was equal parts invigorating and intimidating. In a lot of ways, I would have preferred to succeed or fail in private! But, once that option was off the table, I tried to frame it positively in my mind.
I have to ask about the pressure to send pitch 15 after Tommy sent. It really is a testament to you mental strength. How did you pull it off and how did you not let the pressure get to you?
If there’s anything I’ve learned its this: if you really want to find out what you’re capable of, put yourself in a position to fail on something that means more to you than nearly anything else in the world. I think people react to pressure in a lot different ways. Watching ‘A Line in the Sky’ was cool to see Tommy and Alex use humour and light heartedness to persevere. Honestly, seeing that made me feel like I was somehow doing it wrong! But for me, I think I tend to marinate and absorb the pressure in order to bring out my best self.
When things got serious are you the guy that can throw out a joke or do you get more focused and serious?
I get pretty quiet and serious. Tommy did a really good job of keeping the mood as light as possible though, which was incredibly helpful. I probably would have buckled under the pressure otherwise.
How did you have the idea to team up with Tommy?
When I saw Tommy’s segment in Progression (2009), he closed by calling out the next generation…telling them that if they wanted the future, then here it was. Having just finished Ambrosia and feeling a bit lost, I took it heart. So, I emailed him out the blue asking him if he needed a partner. To my total shock, he said yes, and to meet him in Yosemite that October.
After having such an intense project, there has got to be some down time. What are you up to now and are you at a place where you could potentially take on another project?
I’m finally ready for another big project and luckily, I think I’ve found it….a new line on El Cap….
Tell me it’s not true! Do you foresee the journey be as epic? Got any partners lined up?
It’s all too soon to say. Stay tuned!
Our interview would not be complete without talking a bit about bouldering. I first remember you from a little clip of California beach bouldering and later ambrosia. Does bouldering still play a special part in your love for climbing?
Absolutely. Bouldering is how I experience the sport on a day to day basis. I love the simplicity of it and how social it is. So much of my personal motivation for climbing is drawn from those around me, the experiences we have together, and supporting individual goals.
Kevin on Ambrosia in Bishop, CA. Photo courtesy of kevinjorgeson.com ©
Do you have the desire to go back and push your limits bouldering or do you more enjoy the complexities of big walls?
I often wonder what my limits are in bouldering, because I don’t think I’ve found them yet. However, right now I really enjoy the process of exploration, discovery, decoding and completing big wall free climbs. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is the fact that the Dawn Wall was the first time I ever free climbed El Cap. So, I’m really hungry to go explore some of the existing routes this Spring and Fall, while also looking for the next great line.
I have to ask a bit about training. In an interview with training beta you said you don’t focus too much on training. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I started climbing at age 10 in 1995. By age 15, I was on the youth team where my coach, Andrew Wallach, was a very formative figure in my life. We trained. We trained hard. But, we trained in more of a Rocky Balboa way than a super scientific, structured way. Therefore, the culture of my experience around high performance has always been relatively unstructured. I consider myself lucky to have a body that’s highly adaptable to stress. So, I typically choose to apply that stress via my projects outdoors instead of on plastic.
So, you are heading to Vancouver to speak at VIMFF. Have you spent any time in Squamish?
Only two weeks, many years ago.
What will you be presenting on the evening you are speaking?
Come find out!
Kevin Jorgeson. Photo courtesy of kevinjorgeson.com ©
We will do just that! Thanks again for your time Kevin and we really appreciate you doing this. We hope you have a great time here in the Vancouver area.
Kevin Jorgeson will be speaking at Centenial Theatre on Friday, February 12, 2016. Doors open at 630pm. To check out a full schedule of the festival, please click the banner to your right, or see the schedule here. To learn more about Kevin and his charity work, please visit kevinjorgeson.com
Special thanks to James Lucas who provided us with the photos of the final push on the Dawn Wall. James recently took the position as contributing editor at Climbing Magazine and we are psyched for him.