The Cleanest Line

Weblog for the employees, friends and customers of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Visit to see what we do.

RSS Feed




    Recap on El Cap - Another Butt-Kicking

    - by Tommy Caldwell

    Today, Tommy Caldwell writes about the conclusion of another season of trying to free-climb the Dawn Wall. And coming up empty – though that’s really not the right word. We’ve covered his efforts in multiple posts (click here, here, or here), and it’s made frequent news in the climbing world for its nearly incomprehensible difficulty. Here’s how it feels, from the man himself. His words remind me of what it means to be grateful and of the spirit and values that matter most, which, I think, is worth remembering as we approach the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. - Kelly Cordes
    CaldwellR.2010.09.12576(rope end)
    [Tommy recovering after a fall on one of the many crux pitches. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

    The wheels of my van protest loudly as I hit the rumble strips on Interstate 70. My wife, Becca, bolts upright out of a peaceful sleep with a panicked look on her face.

    “Did you fall asleep?” she says, her eyes the size of basketballs. Did I? I think for a second. I gaze toward the passenger seat. A bit of drool glistens on her cheek and her long hair sticks straight out from the right side of her head.

    Wow, that girl is cute when she is irritated at me.

    “I guess I was just daydreaming.” I shrug my shoulders and try to put on my best puppy dog eyes.

    “Well be careful!” She curls back up in the seat and is asleep in seconds.

    The truth is, I am not even a bit drowsy. The post-expedition mind is a funny thing. Both happy to be returning home, but trying to find a way to cope with something. A kind of loss of immediate purpose. And although the trip I am returning home from wasn’t exactly an expedition, it had a similar effect on my psyche.

    Continue reading "Recap on El Cap - Another Butt-Kicking" »

    Being Barney Rubble

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - dawnwallIMG_3246

    Damn, I thought as I glanced around, I’m like Barney Rubble at a superhero convention. Sonnie Trotter to my left, Alex Honnold to my right. I know what you’re thinking: Did you owe those guys money? Or maybe: Oh, one of those high school intelligence tests, “Which does not fit in this group?” Sonnie is poised and eager to try to repeat The Prophet, and Alex just raced up the Nose in like two and a half hours (among a bizillion other things recently). Pretty wild, sometimes, this small world climbing thing.

    Earlier in the day Tommy and I played phone tag – I stood along the road, looking at his portaledge while babbling on his voice mail: “Dude, can you see me? I’m wearing an orange jacket and waving: Hi Tommy, hi!”

    “What are you doing?” my special lady friend asked.

    “I’m waving to Tommy, but he won’t know it’s me until he listens to his messages. Huhuh, this is so cool!”

    She just stared.

    Is it lame that I’m 43 and a “fan” of my friends?

    [Above: Looking up from the base of the Dawn Wall, with Tommy’s camp visible. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Being Barney Rubble" »

    The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not

    by Kelly Cordes

    Caldwell - IMG_2184
    [Tommy Caldwell moving the portaledge during his attempt to free the Dawn Wall. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

    Tuesday night, November 1, 9:58 p.m., posted on Tommy Caldwell’s Facebook page:


    “No send tonight. But the craziness of the situation struck me. Trying to climb 5.14 by headlamp during a super intense wind storm. Strangely invigorating. I love the experience but am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project.”

    I’ve often been a crusty bastard about from-the-route publicity. Ironic, I know, and indeed we all want to draw the circle around ourselves, starting with my going, “yeah but…” and explaining how my propensity to spray on the interwebs is soooo different from all that “bullshit” out there. Right. And I generally stick to it. I’m a fan of send first, spray second. That comes mostly from an alpine climbing mentality – it’s hard to imagine how you can be doing something that’s invariably publicized as “futuristic” or “cutting edge” if...hmmm...well, uh, so then, how did the camera guy get up there?

    Yeah but, Tommy’s Dawn Wall climb really is different. Different in that it’s so – yes, futuristic – difficult that Tommy’s not climbing it in some lightweight (ie. easy?) push. When you’re doing a pitch or two a day (notwithstanding the final planned day of 12 pitches up to a mere 5.13, if it all works out), then on those slow days, when you’re redpointing 5.14+, does it affect anything to have a media circus shooting photos and video?

    Continue reading "The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not" »

    Family Affair on the Dawn Wall

    by Kelly Cordes

    Berkompas - 20111025-IMG_3134
    [Tommy on the Dawn Wall, practicing this one move I taught him. Photo: Kyle Berkompas]

    When I see a photo of someone climbing a severely overhanging 5.14 limestone sport route, I marvel at the physical prowess. Amazing. And though I can't imagine being that good myself, I can see how some people can do it; I can sort of imagine it. At least I can see the holds. But 5.14+ climbing on a vertical granite face? Huh? Tommy’s Dawn Wall project doesn't look like it has a single god-damned hold on the thing. The other day a handful of friends were saying how we've been on 11+ or 5.12 granite slabs and sworn that we were standing on absolutely nothing, holding absolutely nothing, and stuck, unable to move ("There’s nothing here! Nothing!"). How the hell can anything be more technical? It blows my mind.

    Anyway, Tommy has launched, and it’s going well. As you may know – he's been quite open and public about it (not that he has much choice, given that you can see the route from the road in Yosemite Valley), even posting some updates from the wall on his Facebook page. Bahhumbug, blasphemy!? I'm not so sure, and I've got some thoughts on it, and some of Tommy's, that I'll post here soon.

    Continue reading "Family Affair on the Dawn Wall" »

    Back on the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell

    by Tommy Caldwell

    CaldwellR_2010_09_12089I wiggle the tip of my pinky finger into a small opening in the crack, and step high onto a small edge. Ouch! Maybe if I focus harder on the moves I will forget the pain. I pull onto the rock again, climb a few feet, then surrender. Such a long way to go, I think. I switch off my headlamp and suddenly vastness of space becomes apparent. El Cap shimmers below a sky of vivid stars, while my partner Kevin, 200 feet above me, grunts like a freight train. We are working the pitches separately on self-belay so that we can be more efficient. The beam of his headlamp swings back and forth and a calm darkness surrounds us. There is not even a breath of wind.

    Editor’s note: Patagonia ambassador Tommy Caldwell and his partner Kevin Jorgeson are back on the Dawn Wall in Yosemite, trying to free climb the steepest, blankest part of El Capitan -- a project first conceived in 2007. Tommy sent us some thoughts before heading up to the portaledge.

    Free climbing the Dawn Wall has become a strong obsession. And I have been at it for a long time. Not only in time spent on the wall, but the training as well. I have spent months beating my fingers rhythmically on the campus board. Years on the boulders fingering sharp holds and trying to build callus. I know my nerves must be hardened and my perspective of what I am capable of changed, so long days that leave me weary have become the norm.

    [Above: Enjoying a rare rest and looking ahead to the daunting crux of the climb. Photo: Becca Caldwell]

    Continue reading "Back on the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell" »

    Joy Trip Podcast: Shelton Johnson Speaks to the Conservation Alliance about "Diversity and Wilderness"

    Shelton-Johnson2James Mills, host of The Joy Trip Project, brings us a very special podcast today from the recently held, biannual meeting of the Conservation Alliance, of which Patagonia is a founding member. Here's James:

    For those of us who spend a great deal of time outdoors it’s hard to believe that there are many of those who don’t. Especially when it comes to our national parks there is an entire segment of the United States population, natural born citizens who seldom if ever visit. This is particularly true among people of color. African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities spend far less time in nature than their white counterparts. And in a shifting demographic where minorities will soon become the majority there’s rising concern throughout the conservation movement that one day in the not so distant future most U.S. citizens will have no personal relationship with or affinity for the natural world.

    This concern is expressed most eloquently by National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson. The only permanent African-American ranger at Yosemite National Park, his mission is to share with audiences, black and white, lessons of stewardship that illustrate the bond with nature that is every U.S. citizen’s birth rite. An interpretive ranger that tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American cavalrymen who projected Yosemite at the turn of last century, Johnson puts into context the importance of wilderness not merely as a point of national pride but an intrinsic value of what it means to be human.

    At the biannual meeting of the Conservation Alliance at the 2011 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City Utah, Shelton Johnson was the keynote speaker. Best known for his prominent role in the Ken Burns documentary “The National Parks, America’s Best Idea,” he was also instrumental in bringing Yosemite Valley to the attention of leading black talk show host Oprah Winfrey. In a nationally televised visit to the park in 2010 Winfrey used her media clout to invite millions of minorities across the country to explore the great outdoors.

    In this unabridged audio recording Johnson is welcomed to the podium by Conservation Alliance executive director John Sterling. For 40 minutes Ranger Johnson inspired a rapt crowd with a message to encourage all people, regardless of race, to embrace the wonders of nature and to claim their inheritance of our national treasures.

    Audio_graphic_20pxListen to "Shelton Johnson - Diversity and Wilderness"
    (39:40 - right-click to download MP3. Music: Hot Buttered Rum)

    Our thanks go out to James Mills for recording this talk and sharing it with The Cleanest Line. You can keep up with James at The Joy Trip Project website, Facebook page, iTunes channel and Twitter feed.

    For more from Shelton Johnson, pick up his book Gloryland.

    [Update 8/16: edited title]

    Bigger than El Cap - A (totally unscientific) search for the lower 48's biggest rock faces

    Kc - meadowIMG_2816(LR) Introduction

    Little compares to Yosemite's El Capitan in majesty and sustained steepness. But contrary to popular lore, it’s not the Lower 48’s biggest rock face. It’s not even the biggest in the Valley – the south face of Mt. Watkins is bigger. Well, maybe. How do you measure? (OK, I feel the urge to crack wise about size vs. usage, but I am hereby officially restraining myself.) Several rock faces are bigger than both, but you can’t take peoples’ words for it. Climbers exaggerate worse than fishermen. I see it all the time in the reports I receive and edit for my job with the AAJ; I think some climbers measure cliff size starting from their driveway.
    We need an exact, unambiguous climber definition. Here goes: It can’t have too much 3rd-class terrain. Ummm, how much is “too much?” It has to be sustained (how do you define that?) technical climbing, bottom to top. I think that “technical climbing” is fairly defined as 5th-class climbing; hikers and peakbaggers consider climbing to be what we consider hiking and scrambling, and that’s fine, but this post is about legitimate rock climbing (are the stacked blocks in Glacier legit?). How much 3rd-class scrambling or how big of a treed-ledge disqualifies a face?
    Perhaps sub-categories are in order. But that makes my brain hurt.

    [El Capitan. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Bigger than El Cap - A (totally unscientific) search for the lower 48's biggest rock faces" »

    Kite Dreams on the Dawn Wall

    CaldwellR.2010.11.1600 Out there and awesome. That’s what comes to mind when I think of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on the Dawn Wall. If you aren’t a climbing geek who’s been following, they’re trying to free climb the steepest, blankest part of El Capitan. It’ll be a fight, for sure – it already is. They left the ground on Saturday, and plan to stay on the wall, living in their portaledge, for as long as it takes, which is probably two or more weeks. They’re around pitch nine now, and earlier today Tommy told me, “It’s giving us hell, we are battling hard. Pretty freaking awesome experience so far.”

    And it’s a great one for today’s world. Whereas we all also love and respect remote adventures, adventure comes in different varieties. These guys are exploring the upper limits of bigwall free climbing, and, since it’s on El Cap, modern communication makes it easy to share (updates from Becca Caldwell here; from Kevin here). They’ve got phones and reception and people watching them. In a way, El Cap represents our world of contrasts – it’s mega, yet practically roadside; it’s storied with some of the greatest pioneering rock climbing in history, while tour busses and RVs pass underneath it by the minute.

    [Tommy leading pitch two. Photo: Becca Caldwell]

    Continue reading "Kite Dreams on the Dawn Wall" »

    Yosemite Dispatches with Ron Kauk: Sacred Rok Summer


    It’s been a nice summer.  Sacred Rok had four camping trips, two in Yosemite Valley in May and June and two at Tuolumne Meadows in July and August.

    Editor's note: Last December we started a new series, Yosemite Dispatches,with longtime Patagonia ambassador Ron Kauk. In his April dispatch, Ron described a new summer project called Sacred Rok. Today, Ron fills us in on how the summer went and how Sacred Rok affected the young people who visited Yosemite Valley, many for the first time. Stay tuned for more summer stories all this week on The Cleanest Line.

    On our last trip, we had seven teens from Merced County foster care. We camped at Tuolumne Meadows Campground. I got to share, with those from the group who got up early, my ritual of greeting the sun with my campfire. It was good to see Rafael smiling and enjoying the fire and the sunrise, something that he might not forget for a long time.

    [Ron Kauk watches the sun rise on another day in his Tuolumne Meadows camp. All photos courtesy of Sacred Rok]

    Continue reading "Yosemite Dispatches with Ron Kauk: Sacred Rok Summer" »


    Kc - meadowIMG_2816(LR)

    After the fifth lower I called “off,” grimaced, untied with one hand and walked cautiously to a flat rock. Dammit, I’m getting sick of this. Across the valley El Capitan rose straight skyward and I sat down, surrounded by dirt, pine and granite. Clouds moved, darkening, signing an incoming storm.

    I held my left arm above my head, the only place comfortable or something like comfortable. I did what I could with one hand: removed my rock shoes and pulled on my sneakers. Mikey rapped to the ground, stripped gear from my harness and tied my shoes. The guy is dialed and got us down the DNB from five pitches up in no time flat, and with no added damage to my now damaged shoulder. I thanked him for everything. But I had to piss. With one hand. I gave Mikey a tender look and a wink.

    “What?” He shot back with justified suspicion.

    “Mikey,” I said. “I have to take a leak.”

    “No way, dude,” he said, shaking his head, “I’ll do a lot of things to help an injured partner, but you’re on your own there.”

    [Laying in El Cap meadow after the dislocation. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Dislocated" »

    One Percent for the Planet
    © 2014 Patagonia, Inc.