Siebe Vanhee and Sébastien Berthe arrived in Yosemite this winter with one goal: to climb the world’s toughest wallless route.
“The Dawn Wall” by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson is a colossal undertaking for a climber. Whenever the world’s toughest road talk happens, the 32-step, 5.14d monster surfaces.
The first ascent of 2015 took Caldwell the better part of a decade. Over the next 6 years, only Adam Ondra repeated it.
This winter, Vanhee and Berthe set themselves the challenge. The Belgian climbers are now just over a week into their attempt. How’s it going so far? Vanhee addressed their progress in plain language via Instagram.
“We have to say how it is; we got our asses kicked! He added: “But nonetheless, we believe in the power of time, stubbornness and practice.”
Difficulty “The wall of dawn”: the support points require “belief”
With the exception of Ondra, who could be from another planet, “The Dawn Wall” demands these three things of every climber. A narcotic 27 of the 32 pitches on the course go to 5.12 or more. Seven are 5.14s, including the three 5.14d crux locations and the famous 8-foot side dyno.
The climbing style is, on the contrary, even more prohibitive than the ratings suggest. Having spent more than a decade at or around the top of Yosemite, Caldwell might have the best footwork of any male climber on earth. Still, the ridiculous footholds (or lack thereof) on “The Dawn Wall” pushed him to — and beyond — the limit.
“Dawn Wall climbing style is so much about belief – the belief that your feet are going to stick to the wall,” he said in an article for National geographic. “When you lose that, everything falls apart.”
The progress of Vanhee and Berthe
Whether or not the two Belgians believe in their footwork, they are making steady but gradual progress on the wall. Since their last report, they were consolidating the beta for hard climbing under the crux at locations 14-16.
It’s hard to pinpoint the specific locations they talked about, though; nothing between pitches 6 and 13 is easier than 5.13b.
However, once they open up everything leading to the crux, things might start to get easier. In an encouraging moment, Vanhee said, “[t]his crossing of length 15 is going well. Corn “[p]itch 14 is still a headache,” and the dyno was the move that “kicked their ass.”
It’s hard to overstate the scale of the challenges on the road. Vast virgin sections not only present obvious free climbing difficulties, but also logistical obstacles. Despite their considerable experience, Berthe and Vanhee initially fought for any progress, even in the area of aid.
“We were perplexed by the difficulty of mounting our ropes!” Vanhee wrote, noting that they spent 3 days climbing to step 10.
But the brave Belgians seem to have virtually unlimited time and resources to carry out their siege. Besides just getting around the course, Vanhee cited skin and energy conservation as the team’s biggest challenges.
Time doesn’t seem to matter, except dictated by the sun. The team is currently climbing during the early hours of the morning before the bright Yosemite sun bakes them off El Cap.
How to follow the third ascension offer from “The Dawn Wall”
For now, the easiest way to follow Vanhee and Berthe – who sailed to the US from Europe for 25 days to climb “The Dawn Wall” – is on Instagram. Until there, Vanhee published consistent progress reports. Director Alex Eggermont and photographer Julia Cassou also accompany the Belgians and publish occasional updates.
“For me, this is the biggest project I’ve ever tried,” said the accomplished says Vanhee. “I’m stepping out of my comfort zone like never before. But I’m incredibly grateful to be able to try this line.