There was a point when professional climber Kevin Jorgeson thought he might have to accept that he had been defeated by one of the toughest free climbs in the world.

Dangling halfway up the 914-metre high face of El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park, Jorgeson was struggling to make it past a specific pitch, one of many sections covering a side of the mountain known as the Dawn Wall.

"I was battling with these torn-up fingers … and it turned out to be a week-long battle with this one pitch," said Jorgeson, who will be sharing his experience at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival on Feb. 13.

First to free climb Dawn Wall

Eventually, after ten attempts over seven days, Jorgeson made it past the pitch without falling.

Kevin Jorgeson

Kevin Jorgeson rests in a tent, while his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell continues his ascent. (kevinjorgeson.com)

"I had just rested for two consecutive days, which would drive anyone stir crazy, just sitting on a little ledge 1,500 feet up for a couple days thinking about your fate," Jorgeson recalled.

"But in the ninth inning, in the eleventh hour … it all came together in a single moment I will never forget."

Jorgeson said overcoming that obstacle — pitch 15 of a total of 32 covering the mountain — gave him the momentum to continue to the top, where his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell was already waiting for him on Jan. 14 ,2015.

The two men became the first to ascend the Dawn Wall in a single expedition with the use of only one's hands and feet to climb up, using ropes only to break their falls.

"It was like having a head wind for a week, and then feeling those winds change and gravity loosening its grip for a moment and letting me through," said Jorgeson of conquering the section that gave him so much trouble.

"When that happened I was determined to ride that wave to the top, and that's exactly what I did."

'You live in a vertical world'

Jorgeson described the Dawn Wall — which is the height of three Empire State Buildings stacked on top one another — as "3,000 feet of porcelain."

He and Caldwell spent years planning their climb, making expeditions to the mountain to trace out a route they could take.

Kevin Jorgeson

(kevinjorgeson.com/)

"We reverse engineered it. We started at the top and really rappelled down and swung around and found the little lines of weakness and started piecing together where the climb was going to go."

When Jorgeson and Caldwell did their ascent, they slept in tents hung precariously off the side of the mountain.

"You live in a vertical world for almost three weeks," Jorgeson said.

"The Dawn Wall is so blank that there only two sidewalk-sized ledges on the entire climb from start to finish where you can actually take a couple steps horizontally back and forth. The rest of the cliff is completely sheer."

"Walking was a funny feeling after 19 days."


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: El Capitan climber Kevin Jorgeson to speak at film festival