Tommy Caldwell

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Tommy Caldwell
Caldwell in 2015
Personal information
Born (1978-08-11) August 11, 1978 (age 45)
Estes Park, Colorado, U.S.
OccupationProfessional rock climber
Climbing career
Type of climber
Highest grade
Known for
First ascents

Tommy Caldwell (born August 11, 1978) is an American rock climber who has set records in sport climbing, traditional climbing, and in big-wall climbing. Caldwell made the first free ascents of several major routes on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.[1]

He made the first ascents of some of the hardest sport climbing routes in the U.S., including Kryptonite at 5.14d (9a) in 1999, and Flex Luthor at 9a+ (5.15a) in 2003, both at the Fortress of Solitude in Colorado. In January 2015, Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson over 19-days made the first free ascent of The Dawn Wall on El Capitan, which was the first-ever big wall free climb at 9a (5.14d) in history.[2]

In 2015, National Geographic called Caldwell "arguably the best all-around rock climber on the planet",[3] and he is an important figure in the history of the sport.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Caldwell grew up in Loveland, Colorado. His father is Mike Caldwell, a former teacher,[3] professional body builder, mountain guide and rock climber, who introduced Tommy to rock climbing at a young age. His mother, Terry,[3] was also a mountain guide. The family, including Tommy's sister,[4] went on annual trips to Yosemite National Park where Tommy's love for the park and rock climbing flourished.[5][6]

Taken hostage in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan[edit]

Caldwell and three fellow climbers Beth Rodden, John Dickey, and Jason 'Singer' Smith were held hostage for six days by rebels in Kyrgyzstan in August 2000. Caldwell pushed one of the kidnappers off a cliff, and subsequently escaped to government soldiers.[7][8] A few weeks later they learned that the man had survived the fall.[9] A book about their ordeal, Over the Edge: The True Story of Four American Climbers' Kidnap and Escape in the Mountains of Central Asia was written by Greg Child.[10] A follow-up article, "Back from the Edge", was published in Outside magazine the following year.[11] Caldwell gave a filmed lecture "How Becoming a Hostage and Losing a Finger Made Him a Better Climber".[12] The Kyrgyzstan incident is included in the 2017 film The Dawn Wall.

Loss of a finger[edit]

Caldwell accidentally sawed off much of his left index finger with a table saw in 2001. Doctors were able to reattach the severed portion, but Caldwell decided he did not want the useless finger, which doctors said would never heal fully and he would never be able to use to climb with again, and the damaged part of the finger was later permanently removed.[13][14] After three surgeries, and two blood transfusion, Caldwell was told by the doctor "You better start thinking about what else you want to do with your life.” Facing the fear of never climbing again and losing something he loved so much, became Caldwell's greatest strength.[15]

Notable climbs[edit]

El Capitan in Yosemite

He made the first ascents of some of the United States hardest sport routes including Flex Luthor in 2003 at the Fortress of Solitude, in Colorado, which remained unrepeated for 18 years, before getting its first repeat by Matty Hong in October 2021, who suggested a possible grade 5.15b (9b), but was regraded to 9a+ (5.15a) by Jonathan Siegrist in 2022.[16]

In May 2004, he completed the first free ascent (FFA) of Dihedral Wall. In 2005, he and Beth Rodden—swapping leads—made the third and fourth free ascents of The Nose. Two days later, on October 16, Caldwell free-climbed The Nose in less than 12 hours. A few days later, Caldwell climbed The Nose in 11 hours, descended the East Ledges, and then climbed Freerider, topping out 12 hours later – the first ascent of two El Capitan free climbs in 24 hours. On El Capitan, Caldwell has also free-climbed: Lurking Fear, Muir Wall, West Buttress, Salathé, Zodiac, Magic Mushroom, The Dawn Wall, and New Dawn.[1]

In January 2015, Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of The Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, after six years of planning and preparation.[17][18] Their 19-day ascent of The Dawn Wall was the first-ever free climb of a big wall route at the grade of 9a (5.14d) in history.[2] The ascent captured global attention and earned a nod from President Barack Obama, who said: "You remind us that anything is possible", and which was made into the 2017 climbing film, The Dawn Wall.[19]

The following year Czech climber Adam Ondra free climbed the Dawn Wall in 8 days.[20] Ondra praised Caldwell and Jorgeson saying, "Tommy and Kevin put so much effort into the climb and faced so many question marks and logistical problems that I cannot really compare my effort to theirs. I had it prepared, had all the knowledge. I knew it was possible".[21]



Caldwell was one of the climbers featured in the 2009 film Progression.[22] The film discussed his quest to climb The Dawn Wall, and it was after seeing the film that Jorgeson contacted Caldwell to join him in the effort.

The Dawn Wall[edit]

The Dawn Wall, a documentary following Caldwell and Jorgeson on their free climb of The Dawn Wall, was released on September 19, 2018. The documentary was directed by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer.[23]

Free Solo[edit]

Caldwell appeared in the documentary Free Solo, released on September 28, 2018, about Alex Honnold's free solo ascent of Freerider on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. In the documentary, Caldwell is seen working with Honnold to prepare for the climb and is interviewed about Honnold and rock climbing.[24]

Notable ascents[edit]

  • 2001: The Honeymoon is Over V 5.13 Longs Peak, Colorado. FA with Beth Rodden belaying.[25]
  • 2003: Flex Luthor (9a+ 5.15a), Fortress of Solitude, Colorado[26][16]
  • 2003: West Buttress (FFA) VI 5.13c, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California[27]
  • 2004: Dihedral Wall (FFA) VI 5.14a, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California[28]
  • 2005: The Nose VI 5.14a/b, 3rd/4th Free Ascent (with Beth Rodden), El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California[29]
  • 2006: Linea di Eleganza VI 5.11b A3 90 degrees M7 Fitz Roy, Argentine Patagonia. FFA with Topher Donahue and Erik Roed.[30]
  • 2008: Magic Mushroom (FFA) VI 5.14a with Justen Sjong, May 12–17, 2008, El Capitan, Yosemite, California[31]
  • 2012: Yosemite Triple Crown 5.13a, 1st All Free Ascent with Alex Honnold[32]
  • 2013: Dunn-Westbay 5.14a, 1st Free Ascent with Joe Mills, Longs Peak, Colorado [33]
  • 2014: Fitz Traverse VI 5.11d C1 65 degrees, First Ascent with Alex Honnold[34]
  • 2015: The Dawn Wall (FFA) 5.14d with Kevin Jorgeson, December 27, 2014 – January 14, 2015, El Capitan, Yosemite, California[35]
  • 2018: The Nose 5.9 C2, Sub- 2-hour record with Alex Honnold, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California[36]

Personal life[edit]

Caldwell and Beth Rodden married in 2003, and subsequently divorced in 2010.[37] In 2010[3] he met photographer Rebecca Pietsch. They married in 2012. The couple have a son, Fitz, and a daughter, Ingrid Wilde,[38][39] and live in Estes Park, Colorado.[40][2]


  • Caldwell, Tommy (2017). The Push: A Climber's Journey of Endurance, Risk and Going Beyond Limits. London: Michael Joseph. ISBN 9780718183394.
  • Caldwell, Tommy (2018). The Push: A Climber's Search for the Path. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780399562716.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Clarke, Owen (17 March 2022). "Tommy Caldwell, Dominant Force In Big Wall Free, Sport And Alpine Climbing". Climbing. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Carpenter, Hayden (September 18, 2018). "'The Dawn Wall' Is a Great, But Incomplete, Climbing Film". Outside Online. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  3. ^ a b c d Allen, Nick (January 11, 2015). "World's best climber only has nine fingers - the life and times of Tommy Caldwell". Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  4. ^ Achey, Jeff (11 October 2011). "Legends: Tommy Caldwell". Climbing Magazine. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  5. ^ Estabrook, Rachel. "New Memoir Describes How Tommy Caldwell Was Raised To Climb The Dawn Wall". Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  6. ^ "Father's Day with Some of our Favourite Climbing Dads". Gripped Magazine. June 19, 2016. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  7. ^ "Climbers Recount Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan". National Geographic. May 28, 2003. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  8. ^ Child, Greg (March 17, 2015). "When Rock Climbing and Terrorism Collide". Outside. Retrieved February 8, 2018. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  9. ^ Child, Greg (1 June 2003). "Back from the Edge". Outside. Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  10. ^ Child, Greg (2002). Over the Edge: The True Story of Four American Climbers' Kidnap and Escape in the Mountains of Central Asia. ISBN 0375506098.
  11. ^ "Mountaineering - Back from the Edge - Mountaineering -". Outside Online. June 2003.
  12. ^ "How Becoming a Hostage and Losing a Finger Made Him a Better Climber". Archived from the original on October 20, 2017. Retrieved 2018-07-25..
  13. ^ "How rock climber Tommy Caldwell re-learned his craft after sawing off his finger". Sports Illustrated. May 16, 2017. Retrieved May 21, 2023.
  14. ^ Allen, Nick (January 11, 2015). "World's best climber only has nine fingers - the life and times of Tommy Caldwell". The Telegraph.
  15. ^ Caldwell, Tommy (2014-04-30). "The Day I Sent the Salathe Wall in a Day". Evening Sends. Retrieved 2023-11-30.
  16. ^ a b Potter, Stephen (November 9, 2022). "Jonathan Siegrist Repeats 'Flex Luthor', Skeptical of 5.15b Upgrade". Climbing. Retrieved November 21, 2022.
  17. ^ Gartland, Dan (January 14, 2014). "Climbers complete free-climb ascent of El Capitan's 'Dawn Wall'". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2014-01-15.
  18. ^ Bisharat, Andrew. "Duo Completes First Free Climb of Yosemite's Dawn Wall, Making History". National Geographic. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  19. ^ Jackson, David. "Obama congratulates Yosemite climbers". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2023-11-30.
  20. ^ Czech free-climber Adam Ondra scales Yosemite rock wall in record time Archived August 2, 2017, at the Wayback Machine (The Daily Telegraph)
  21. ^ "Adam Ondra: the Dawn Wall El Capitan interview". Retrieved 2020-06-29.
  22. ^ Bisharat, Andrew (January 14, 2015). "Duo Completes First Free Climb of Yosemite's Dawn Wall, Making History". National Geographic. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
  23. ^ The Dawn Wall, 14 September 2018 – via
  24. ^ Free Solo, 13 December 2018, retrieved 2019-03-04
  25. ^ Caldwell, Tommy; Roger Briggs (March 2007). "The Honeymoon is Over". Alpinist. 19 (Spring 2007). Jackson, Wyoming: Alpinist Magazine: 40. ISSN 1540-725X.
  26. ^ Kemple, Tim (15 June 2012). "Crag of the Future". Climbing Magazine. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  27. ^ Wright, Cedar (2004). "YOSEMITE VALLEY – Various Activity". Alpinist Magazine. Marc Ewing. Retrieved March 2, 2007.
  28. ^ MacDonald, Dougald. "Caldwell Frees Dihedral Wall". Climbing Magazine. Action Sports Group. Retrieved March 2, 2007.
  29. ^ MacDonald, Dougald. "Caldwell-Rodden Free the Nose". Climbing Magazine. Action Sports Group. Archived from the original on November 3, 2006. Retrieved March 2, 2007.
  30. ^ Caldwell, Tommy; Topher Donahue (September 2006). "Scattered Ashes". Alpinist. 17 (Autumn 2006). Jackson, Wyoming: Alpinist Magazine: 50–57. ISSN 1540-725X.
  31. ^ Beckwith, Christian (May 20, 2008). "More Details on Magic Mushroom". Alpinist Magazine. Marc Ewing. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  32. ^ "Caldwell, Honnold: Yosemite Free Triple Crown". Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  33. ^ "American Senders Fire Hardest Route on the Diamond | Gripped". Gripped Magazine. 23 August 2013.
  34. ^ "Caldwell, Honnold Complete Fitz Traverse". 18 February 2014. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  35. ^ Chris Van Leuven. "Free at Last: Caldwell, Jorgeson Top Out the Dawn Wall". Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  36. ^ "Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell climb The Nose in under 2 hours to set new El Capitan speed record". Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  37. ^ Cordes, Kelly (September 10, 2010). "Granite China". The Cleanest Line. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  38. ^ Andrew Bisharat. "Summiting Yosemite's Dawn Wall, Climbers Make History". National Geographic. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015.
  39. ^ "Abduction. Lost Finger. Now, a Rock Climber's Tallest Hurdle". The New York Times. August 1, 2015.
  40. ^ Kurutz, Steven (December 28, 2018). "A Tour of Rock Climber Tommy Caldwell's Garage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-15.

External links[edit]