Dawn Wall (900m, 9a) in Yosemite is considered the most difficult big wall route in the world. In January 2015 Americans Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson managed to climb to the top of «El Capitan» after freeing all 32 pitches, in an ascent that is now history.
Since then, only Adam Ondra (2016) managed to repeat the feat. In January 2022
Seb Berthe and Siebe Vanhee came to Yosemite with the biggest sporting and personal challenge ever, to send “Dawn Wall”.
The start of the project was labor intensive and slow. The discovery of the route was accompanied by long hours on the wall trying to sequence the different pitches. «Every step, every move, every protection is a big challenge. Climbing each pitch is slow and tedious. Each in turn, we try to advance on the different dihedrals without being able to protect ourselves, and so the falls get longer and longer.»
Dawn Wall is divided into 32 pitches, more than ten of which are 8a to 8c and two main pitches followed by 9a each. «Each stretch has its share of surprises, sometimes dihedrals or traverses, sometimes cracks or blunt edges. We quickly understand that all pitches are difficult, even the «simple» 8a. We progressed slowly, much more slowly than we had imagined.»
After 6 days of intense work the team formed by Berthe and Vanhee had already overcome the first nine pitches of «Dawn Wall», some of them 8b+ and 8b. The seventh day was faced with a clear objective: to send pitch 10, classified as 8c and one of the most difficult pitches of the Dawn Wall, an imposing stretch of more than 45 meters of narrow fissure with delicated protections. After more than an hour of work Berthe managed to reach the final section, the most physical and complex. For long minutes Seb was overcome and without ideas «Each of my attempts ends with a big fall slipping, I am disappointed with the harness».
Just when Seb was about to give up, he came up with one last solution. «I yell to Siebe to throw the Blakpad kneepad (which I always carry with me just in case) over the rope. I pull the kneepad up, put it on and off we go again. The suspense is at its peak, I feel like something might work.»
Berthe put on the kneepad to face the ‘crux’ of the route again and to his own surprise it worked, the kneepad kept Berthe climbing, managing to unlock the sequence «This kneepad has just allowed me to do the famous pitch number 10, rated 8c, one of the hardest pitches on the Dawnwall.»
«Yes, on this vertical wall of smooth granite, where you’d never imagine it could exist, I found a life-saving knee-lock that changes everything.»
Despite managing to progress on pitch 10 thanks to the BlakPad Kneepad, a few days later and after 23 days of relentless pushing on the wall, the arrival at the key section, where the 2 main pitches of 9a are located, forced Seb to give up the dream of chaining «Dawn Wall». The 16 days invested in the L14 (First Traverse) sequence were not enough to overcome the «First Traverse» crux. «After the biggest struggle of my life, I don’t have enough food, water, skin and energy to continue the struggle, so we’ll have to go back to finish the job.»
Seb was forced to descend but with the desire to be able to return to Yosemite and attempt «Dawn Wall» again.