“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
Sir Edmund Hillary
“Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Something amazing: Not long ago, two young climbing partners, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, did what many of us would think is impossible: They became the first to free-climb El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, a 3,000-foot vertical span of smooth granite in Yosemite National Park. Free-climbing, using only hands and feet — scaling walls without ropes or anchor pins — is about as risky an endurance sport you can find: It takes mental and physical stamina, strength and flexibility, precision and patience.
When Kevin and Tommy completed their monumental 19-day climb, they set a world’s record that it will be hard to beat using only strength and guile, not ropes or equipment. Getting there wasn’t easy. Every year since 2009, the two determined climbers spent weeks and months on the Dawn Wall, scouting holds and practicing their technique, fueled by the vision of climbing the granite rock face in one gigantic push.
One phase of the climb, a sideways traverse called Pitch 15 smack in the middle of the climb, almost ate Kevin’s lunch. “I’ll always remember that battle,” he said. Over seven days, he attempted to climb the pitch 10 times and failed 10 times, shredding the skin on his hands so badly he had to wait two days for it to heal. By the time he tried again, he’d analyzed his failed attempts and figured out the problem: “A millimeter change in the angle of my right foot on the exact same piece of rock” did the trick.
Kevin said of his feat, “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day and maybe they can put this project in their own context.”
What’s all this have to do with writing? A lot, to my mind. To complete their feat, Kevin and Tommy had to dream big and keep their dream alive over years of planning and persistence. They had to sustain their goal in the face of naysayers who didn’t believe it was possible. They had to screen out distractions and stay focused so they could find the time and energy to map out a strategy and execute it. They had to believe in the value of what they were doing enough to find the resources to make it happen. And when Kevin hit Pitch 15, he had to find the inner strength to try again and again to make it across. After failing, he had to be open and ingenious enough to find a new way to do what he couldn’t do before. What’s your personal Dawn Wall — your Wall of the Early Morning Light? Why not start hatching a plan to climb it — and write on!