South Point, Hawaii
PHOTOGRAPHY: Keith Ladzinski
After the Dawn Wall, Kevin Jorgeson finds new motivation while deep-water soloing in Hawaii
Last year, Kevin Jorgeson dug deep and completed the most difficult route of his life: the Dawn Wall (5.14d/9a) of El Capitan in Yosemite. Months earlier, Kevin had lost a dear friend, who died in a climbing accident. Kevin knew he needed a break. Finally, nine months after the Dawn Wall, Kevin traveled to Hawaii to try deep-water soloing. A little stress-free fun on the Big Island ended up being just what he needed.
After seven years of continuous effort, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell finally completed the Dawn Wall (5.14d/9a) of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. After 19 days of living on the wall in January 2015, Jorgeson and Caldwell achieved their hard-won dream of sending the hardest, steepest big-wall free climb in the world — while the entire world watched as every major newspaper and television network covered the climb.
In climbing, the biggest projects can sometimes take much more out of us than just ripped skin, torn muscles and sore feet. They can take a lot of mental energy, too. But as Kevin Jorgeson discovered, resetting that mental energy can take a lot longer than you think.
“The Dawn Wall was such a high-pressure situation,” says Kevin. “As soon as we finished the Dawn Wall, I said to myself, ‘I want to go deep-water soloing’. I wanted to do some climbing that was just mellow, not be stressed and not climb at my limit. Just go out and have fun.”
The cold mist swayed gently all morning before the sun finally burned it away and revealed the black volcanic sea cliffs of South Point, Hawaii — named as it is the southernmost point in the United States. The cliffs are popular among the cliff-diving locals, who leap into the Pacific waters from a diving board constructed at the rim. Climbers have begun to explore the deep-water soloing potential on the sharp volcanic cliffs, too, establishing various routes up to 5.11 and 35 feet tall. Nothing extreme — just a perfect introduction to the wild world of deep-water soloing.
“Going deep-water soloing for the first time was all about starting down this path of possible reinvention, to see if I would like it,” says Kevin. “And you know what? I liked it a lot!” Being free above the water, climbing easy routes to 5.11, and enjoying the unique beauty of climbing in an ocean environment was exactly what Kevin needed.
But for Kevin and his fiancée, Jacqui Becker, the trip to Hawaii wasn’t just about climbing. It was also about visiting the family of Brad Parker, his dear friend who had died while soloing Matthes Crest in Tuolumne in 2014. “Brad fell right before the Dawn Wall season,” says Kevin, “and that derailed a lot of my motivation. I just couldn’t focus. I had never grieved before.”
Spending time with Brad’s brother and his family in Hawaii was Kevin’s opportunity to finally grieve. “It was healing for both me and Jacqui to be with Brad’s family. I think we needed that more than we knew.”
RESETTING THE MOTIVATION
“Hawaii was a reminder that there are other ways of experiencing climbing that are not so crazy and intense,” says Kevin. “It was about just going climbing because I love climbing.”
Finally, nine months after the Dawn Wall, Kevin is beginning to feel that swell of mental energy rising up like a wave. And now, that old drive to tie into a big project is beginning to emerge.
“After Hawaii, I’m finally psyched to go back to El Capitan and look around up there. I think there are a lot of other routes to do on that wall.”