The two of them decided at this point to take a rest, largely to allow Jorgesen’s fingers to heal. Attempt after attempt to climb pitch 15, crimping onto tiny, razor-sharp flakes of rock, had left his finger-tips raw. They took two days out, during which something happened. A Pulitzer Prize-winning sports journalist on the New York Times named John Branch found out about the drama unfolding on El Capitan and wrote an article about it. Could Jorgesen make it across Pitch 15? The rest of the media read the story, and sensed a drama unfolding. Journalists, TV crews and photographers descended on the meadow below the Dawn Wall, focussing in on Caldwell and Jorgesen above them and calling them on their mobiles for interviews. They were suddenly headline news.
This spotlight was hardly helpful for Jorgesen. Nevertheless, after his two days of rest, he set himself to attempt the pitch again. His family were amongst those watching below. He set off, belayed and supported by Caldwell, and, as he traversed the pitch, he was climbing as well as he ever had. He said afterwards that he felt weightless, moving perfectly from hold to exacting hold. This continued until he was mere feet from the end of the pitch, almost near enough to reach out and grasp it. And then…… he fell.
The watchers in the meadow below groaned aloud. Like them, Jorgesen felt that he had failed in what had been his best chance to complete Pitch 15. He could try again, but the chances were that he would fail again. And meanwhile he was holding Caldwell back. He made a decision: he would give up the climb. He would stay on the wall, but to support Caldwell. His attempt to free climb to the top was over.
Caldwell, meanwhile, had his own problems with the pitch requiring a leap sideways, the Dyno. He had never done this successfully and he still couldn’t. Attempt after attempt ended with him bouncing off the rock like a human swingball. After numerous attempts he decided to try another way. He would climb down. Counter-intuitive as this was, he could see a potential route, the Loop, which required him to climb down from the start of the Dyno along a fault in the rock until he reached a place where he could cross over and climb up and back to his intended position the other side of the Dyno. The reason he hadn’t done this in the first place is that for big wall climbers, climbing down is abnormal and far more difficult. If you’ve ever done any climbing yourself, you’ll know this from experience. He made the attempt, climbing at night when the rock was colder and adhesion better. To me this seems nutso, as he had to contend with shadows getting in the way of him being able to see what he was doing, but he had obviously mapped the route and knew his job, because he was successful. He had passed the Dyno and could continue on up.
Which he did. Supported by Jorgesen, he conquered pitch after demanding pitch until he finally reached Wino Tower, a point about two thirds of the way up the route. This was significant for several reasons. Firstly, it marked the end of the really demanding pitches. From here the climbs were, not easy, but easier. Thus, reaching Wino Tower was pretty close to signifying that he would succeed. And secondly, it was the first place in the climb which afforded a ledge where a person could both stand and lie down. The joy and relief on his face as he hauls himself over the lip of that ledge, stands tall and howls over the valley and then lies down and stretches out – well, it’s something to see. He had done it – more or less. And yet……