A Local Legend: Tommy Caldwell

A Local Legend: Tommy Caldwell
Born in the small yet naturally rich town of Estes Park, Tommy Caldwell probably didn’t expect National Geographic to bestow upon him the title of “arguably the best all-around rock climber on the planet.” He probably assumed that title would go to his father.

Tommy’s father, Mike Caldwell, was a teacher by trade and a rock climbing enthusiast himself. Mike encouraged Tommy to rock climb with him starting at a young age. His mother and sister enjoyed rock climbing and outdoor activities, too. While rock climbing is one of the best things to do in Estes Park, the family took a yearly trip to Yosemite Park to climb rocks in a new setting.

As Caldwell got older, the family moved from Estes Park to Loveland, CO, about 45 minutes away. That doesn’t mean that Tommy and the family didn’t go back to Estes Park from time to time to enjoy the famous rock climbing and skiing.

Caldwell probably never wanted to return to Estates Park more than when he found himself a hostage in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for six days. Caldwell and three friends decided to explore the area’s mountainous terrain when they were kidnapped by local terrorists. Despite the fear rushing through him, Tommy managed to push one of the kidnappers off of the cliff and escape to find an authority figure with the other three hostages. While the kidnapper survived the fall, he ended up in jail, leading to a happy ending.

Caldwell still continued to climb after his terrifying experience. In fact, it only seemed to encourage him even more. Caldwell would go on to complete numerous historic climbs:

  • Kryptonite (5.14c/d) – sports route – first acsent
  • Flex Luthor (5.15a/b) – sports route – first ascent
  • Dihedral Wall – first free accent
  • The Nose – free climb under 12 hours
  • Dawn Wall of El Capitan – first free climb

One of his climbs, the ascent atop Flex Luther, was unrepeated for 18 years.

Many people assume that Tommy Caldwell experienced significant injuries during his adventures. Luckily, he never experienced any serious injuries from climbing. However, he did lose his finger in a power tool accident. While the finger was reattached, it doesn’t function normally. This disability makes his rock climbing accomplishments all that more impressive.

At only 43 years old, Caldwell makes no plans to forego his favorite hobby. However, he may slow down a bit thanks to his wife, son, and daughter.

The small family lives in Estes Park today, where Caldwell was born. When looking for things to do in Estes Park, you may run into Caldwell and his little family.

If you want to learn more about rock climbing and Caldwell’s experiences, check out one of the following documentaries:

  • Progression
  • The Dawn Wall
  • The Dawn Wall