Tommy Caldwell, Big-Wall Climber (Ep.45)

Tommy Caldwell is one of the most accomplished big-wall climbers of all time. And while his freeing of the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan might be the feat that he’s best known for, his catalog of accomplishments in the climbing world is ridiculous.

Tommy Caldwell, Climber, Blister Podcast
Tommy Caldwell (photo by Andrew Burr)

In addition to the Dawn Wall, Tommy has the first free ascents of El Cap’s Muir Wall, Magic Mushroom, and Dihedral Wall; the first free enchainment of El Cap’s Nose and Freerider; the first ascent of Flex Luthor in Colorado, and the first ascent of the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia.

But Tommy is more than just an all-time great climber, he’s also just published a truly excellent book called, The Push, that John Krakauer calls “the most insightful book about climbing I’ve ever read, and quite possibly the most enjoyable.”

The Push is an autobiography structured around some of Tommy’s landmark achievements, and also around one very traumatic event: while climbing in Kyrgyzstan back in 2000, Tommy and his team were kidnapped at gunpoint and held captive for 6 days, which forced Tommy to undertake an extremely difficult action that allowed his group to escape.

I sat down with Tommy at his home in Estes Park, Colorado, to talk about a number of things in his book and a whole bunch of other stuff, including the discipline of writing; Alex Honnold’s recent free solo of Freerider and the contemplation of risk that the feat inexorably raises. (By the way, it felt quite relevant that, in the middle of the pretty serious conversation that Tommy and I were having about risk and ultimate consequences, Tommy’s son Fitz burst into the room, and makes a cameo on the podcast.)

Tommy Caldwell, Climber, Blister Podcast
Fitz showing Tommy and me how it’s done.

Tommy and I also discuss the desire for balance with the reality that great achievements always seem to require an obsessive focus (and a complete lack of balance). And finally, we talk about the future of climbing which then leads us into some bigger questions about technology, raising kids, and basically modern society in general.


  • Writing (and Climbing and Suffering) (0:00)
  • Kyrgyzstan & Self Examination (11:00)
  • Self-Identity & Self-Worth (28:38)
  • Tommy on risk, Free Soloing, & Honnold’s solo of Freerider (32:45)
  • Faith (49:30)
  • Avoiding burnout (52:08)
  • Out of all of your accomplishments, what’s the one where you most think, “I can’t believe I pulled this off?” (57:59)
  • Obsessive Focus vs. the “Desire for Balance” (01:01:18)
  • Old School vs New School: the pros and cons of climbing going mainstream (01:09:23)
  • What’s Next? (01:21:50)

2 comments on “Tommy Caldwell, Big-Wall Climber (Ep.45)”

  1. Jonathan, this was an outstanding podcast (as were the others). And I’m not even a climber.

    I’ll buy the audio-book (a first for me but I also have a long, lonely drive ahead of me).

    For those interested, in Switzerland that is CHF 45.-
    The book is CHF 16.-

    Have fun!

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