The Push by Tommy Caldwell

The Push is a dramatic memoir by legendary rock climber Tommy Caldwell, the first person to free climb the Dawn Wall of Yosemite's El Capitan. Read an excerpt from his epic story below

The Push by Tommy Caldwell

I turn my head and iridescent oceans of gold and white granite sparkle under a sea of stars. For the millionth time, a childlike wonder runs through me

One of my earliest childhood memories is of a raging blizzard, the wind roaring like it is now. My sister was six, I three, still in diapers, and we were nuzzled inside a single down sleeping bag beside our father, deep in a snow cave, high in the mountains of Colorado. I shone my little silver flashlight on the ceiling of the cave and watched it turn blue. I listened to the muffled sounds of the wind and my dad’s snoring just inches away. Every few hours he would wake, unzip his sleeping bag, put on his ski boots, and go outside to shovel the newly fallen snow so that we wouldn’t get trapped. Then, as he lay back down, he would wrap us in his arms and squeeze us tight. We would snuggle close and fall back asleep, knowing that everything would be okay.

My first forays onto El Capitan were also with my dad, nineteen years ago, when I was still in high school. I found the exposure nauseating. I would glance down for a spot to place my foot and my focus would shift. Straight below, giant trees that looked like miniature broccoli sprouts would begin to spin, and my concentration would slip.

After all this time, I finally realize that these years of training, rehearsing, memorizing—they’re as much, or maybe more, about building belief as they are about getting stronger.

The storm slows to a momentary lull, and I unzip the portaledge and peer outside, staring at the forest below, barely visible in the moonlight. El Cap meadow is, for once, void of human life. Roads in the park are closed due to the threat of falling trees. I turn my head and iridescent oceans of gold and white granite sparkle under a sea of stars. For the millionth time, a childlike wonder runs through me.

As I look into the night, again my thoughts drift. This time, my heart travels with them. A thousand feet below and less than three miles away, both close and terribly far, is the Upper Pines Campground. It’s where we park our van when I’m climbing. I picture the drawn curtains and candle- light, and a recurring scene described by my wife, Becca. Inside, she ten- derly strokes her thumb across the forehead of our one-and-a-half-year-old son, Fitz. Scattered around the bed of the van are books about animals. Tucked tightly in his chubby little hands, nestled under his neck, is a toy cement mixer. Becca sings good-night songs and Fitz’s eyelids fade to slits.

Something triggers his little mind and he sits up, looks around, and asks,

“Where’s Daddy?” Becca smiles. She brushes his head with her hand and says, strong but sweet, “He’s climbing El Cap.”

I’ve known this wall longer than I’ve known them.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more