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  • Writer's pictureMatt Woodcock

#22 Wall.


The sheer extent of what human beings are capable of never ceases to astound me.

Just when I think I’ve seen the limit of our endurance, skill, physical or mental capacity, I stumble across something like this remarkable film documentary.

The Dawn Wall makes me wonder if a limit actually exists.

It’s the most enthralling, inspiring thing I’ve seen on Netflix for ages.

The film charts how, in January 2015, Tommy Caldwell and his partner Kevin Jorgeson attempted to free climb the notorious section of El Capitan known as the ‘Dawn Wall’ in Yosemite National Park.

It was previously thought impossible - for the very good reason that it consists of more than 3,000 feet of smooth, bare, glass-like granite.

In terms of realistic spaces for chalk-covered fingers to get into, there weren’t thought to be any.

Not enough anyway.

Caldwell and Jorgeson spent seven years trying to convince themselves that it could be done.

They swept the wall meticulously in search of a possible route and then trained and trained and trained.

Their eventual attempt took 19 days of living on the wall, sleeping on “portaledges” suspended from the rock face.

Vertigo sufferers beware.

The climb became a worldwide media sensation with millions of people willing them on.

As a purely dramatic spectacle of remarkable endurance and perseverance, the film is extraordinary.

The arduous ascent is stomach-churningly tense and painstakingly slow.

Caldwell and Jorgeson somehow inch upwards with staggering strength, balance and skill.

Jamming blistered and bloodied fingers into tiny coin-sized rock indents and bruised foot ends into holes little bigger than TicTacs.

The Dawn Wall, though, is about much more than climbing.

There’s a deeper, more painful narrative.

Caldwell has a dark, emotionally-scarred hole that he’s desperate to scramble out of.

A free climbing phenomenon since his late teens - his life becomes engulfed in misfortune, tragedy, despair and divorce.

He even loses his index finger in a sawing accident.

Caldwell tries church and counselling, but it’s El Capitan and conquering the Dawn Wall that becomes his real therapy.

This is a story of the healing power of friendship, shared purpose and hope in adversity.

A reminder of what’s really important in life.

The human capacity to climb impossible walls, land on Mars and develop vaccines for Covid-19, will always amaze and stretch our undertstanding of what we’re capable of as a species.

But this film reminded me that humankind’s greatest feats are nearly always the profound, beautiful, unseen works of the heart.

It's in these areas that I think The Dawn Wall really hits the heights and has the most to teach us.



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