Published: May 2017 by Viking
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I listened to most of this book on audio while road tripping to Nashville. I’ll be honest–I was a poor road trip companion. I was so completely absorbed in this story, I wasn’t much for conversation. This maybe isn’t the book I would’ve have expected to completely suck me in, in print or on audio. Before reading it I knew very little about rock climbing aside from what I’ve learned from friends and a few trips to the climbing gym in school, so I didn’t really consider myself the ideal audience. And yet I was immediately hooked by this story. Perhaps it was the very fact that I did listen to most it, and so I felt a little more immersed in the story? Or maybe it was just Tommy Caldwell’s improbable and inspiring and (honestly pretty crazy) life story. I was caught up in it from the very beginning and even now, a couple months after finishing it, I can’t stop thinking about it.
If you don’t know, Tommy Caldwell was the first person, along with his partner Kevin Jorgensen, to free climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, And Going Beyond Limits is his memoir. But it’s much more than just the retelling of his experience free-climbing what most at the time called an impossible wall. The book begins with his childhood as the son of a rock climber and body builder and he explains how he entered the world of climbing. He was climbing walls and mountains most of us wouldn’t dream of as adults when he was still a child and was winning competitions before he was out of school.
When he was just 22 he traveled to Kyrgyzstan on a climbing trip with his girlfriend and some other professional climbers. Just a few days into the trip, Caldwell and his group are woken by gun shots on the cliff face and they are taken captive — the country is experiencing major political unrest while they are climbing and they had unknowingly entered a war zone. They spend the next six days as captives, and Caldwell describes this ordeal in detail. I listened in horror, my heart literally racing, as the narrator recounted these scenes, up to their final escape, which forced Caldwell and his friends to make a decision most of us hope we will never have to make: kill or be killed.
These events both traumatized and strengthened Caldwell. He drew from them the willpower to push through everything that life threw at him afterwards. From losing a finger and being told he would never be able to climb again, to going through a divorce and trying to find meaning in his life once more, Caldwell preservers. Once he sets his sights on the Dawn Wall, he never gives up.
This book taught me so much about climbing. I am officially fascinated by this sport. It is so much more than throwing yourself at a wall and trying to climb it. I now know what a pitch is, and I know the difference between free climbing and free soloing. I was astonished at how many years Caldwell spent just trying to plan his route up the Dawn Wall.
Even if you have no interest in climbing, I recommend picking up this book. Yes, there is a lot of climbing in it. Most of the book is about one man’s obsession with climbing the most difficult rock face in Yosemite Valley. But I knew next to nothing about climbing going into it, and came away completely fascinated. And I also came away with an eagerness to try a little harder when things are difficult. To persevere and push through and keep climbing.
And a quick shout out to my friend Levi from @ofallnationsmedia who recommended this book to me — I never would’ve picked this one up without his suggestion and now it’s on my list of favorite books I’ve read so far this year. If you want some incredible nature and climbing photos and writing, I highly recommend you check out his page!