Yosemite free climbers roughed it on a 3,000-foot granite cliff

Free-climbers on El Capitan’s Dawn Wall
Free climber Tommy Caldwell is shown with the tents that he, climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson and a film crew slept in during during their 19-day ascent of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
(Adidas Outdoor)

Their fingers were worn raw, their muscle fibers stretched to the absolute limit. If something were to have gone wrong, death was a possibility.

When Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell spent 19 days free-climbing the 3,000-foot-tall granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park beginning Dec. 27, many marveled at their bravery, skill and perseverance.

But it was hard not to be curious. How do you live on a rock for 19 days?

The pair slept in a tent fixed to the wall. But how did they take care of the basic necessities of life? And what about entertainment? They spent New Year’s Eve on the climb. It must have been a memorable midnight, but it’s hard to dance when suspended midair.


Filmmaker Josh Lowell has been documenting the two climbers’ rock-climbing attempts over the last six years, and he answered a few nitty-gritty questions about the logistics of Jorgeson and Caldwell’s climb.

What did they eat and how?

The team hauled up a small stove and five or six days’ worth of food at a time. Freeze-dried Indian food was a favorite, Lowell said. The men relied on a rope-and-pulley system to move supplies up and down the granite face. They could heat water on the stove for their freeze-dried meals.

“They ate a lot of salami, cheese, bagels. Just get all the calories you can,” Lowell said. “And because it’s cold, they’re actually able to have fresh food up there.”


Trash was stored in bags and hauled down ropes like the rest of their supplies.

How did they go to the bathroom?

In a bucket, Lowell said. For solid waste, the men relieved themselves in a plastic bag inside a bucket, which was then sealed (someone had to tie the bag in a knot), hooked onto a rope and lowered down to people at the bottom. Urinating was a free-for-all into the air or onto the mountain, he said.

“Sometimes there were four guys on the film crew with them,” Lowell said. “The whole morning bathroom routine got pretty intimate with four guys.”

On a less delicate subject, what did they do for entertainment?

“Surprisingly, there’s a really good cell signal on the wall,” Lowell said. “It’s actually the best in the park.”

Though they were suspended by rope on the side of the world’s largest piece of granite, the strong cellphone signal helped keep the pair connected to the 21st century.

“They were talking to their wife or girlfriend on the phone,” Lowell said. “On New Year’s Eve, they streamed ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’”


What was the personal hygiene situation?

Although members of the pair’s support team could be hoisted to the summit or lowered to the valley floor so they could head off to a comfy bed or warm shower, Jorgeson and Caldwell could rely only on hygienic wipes and changes of clothes to stay relatively fresh.

“The best they could do was baby wipes,” Lowell said. “They were dirty, they were smelly. And their wives and girlfriends still kissed them and hugged them when they made it.”

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