How did the Dawn Wall become Big Big News


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Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 16, 2015 - 11:00pm PT
I'm curious about these kinds of things. Don't get me wrong , I think it's very cool that a national spotlight has been directed upon the climbing world, despite the fact that a great majority of the general public were apparently incapable of understanding exactly how or why it may have been a momentous accomplishment. Many casual news consumers had been led to think this may have been perhaps the first time El Cap had ever been climbed at all. Those who might have known otherwise were nevertheless unable to properly grasp --at least within the available brief news reports --the overriding significance of the climb, the details of why and how it was historic, or even the relative context of the achievement .

So, why did it all go so big? A national news item. International actually.
Is there something I missed somewhere in the development of this whole thing. I mean, was there much of a 'run-up" in the public press prior to the first pitch?
Was it something that happened spontaneously , maybe related to a relatively slow news week in the lagging wake of terrorist killings?
Was it social media run amok?
Or were there some strings being yanked in the proverbial background by a gaggle of pooled sponsors and their publicity people who might have been calling in a few chips with the big media?
(Yes even Obama's flunkies got in on the act with a formulaic tweet on the Twitter )

Enlighten me.

Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 16, 2015 - 11:04pm PT
I'm not buying your explanation
Pennies don't fall from heaven , 'dude.'

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 16, 2015 - 11:07pm PT
My guess is that Adidas Outdoor (who sponsor Kevin) realized this was a potentially dramatic event,
so they hired Tom (billed as Senior Staff Photographer) to get the shots (and later explain things to the other media), and also posted daily video logs to youtube.
Since Adidas goes well beyond climbing, I imagine they got the New York Times interested (but that's just a guess, pretty much the same as yours).
Having Andrew Bisharat writing for the National Geographic probably helped too.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 16, 2015 - 11:10pm PT
Adidas Outdoor hey? Wow.

Boulder climber
Jan 16, 2015 - 11:11pm PT
They suddenly wearing expedition down coats in the California heat. Well played indeed.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 16, 2015 - 11:19pm PT
[Click to View YouTube Video]
(above channel is Diane Kay, but adidas logo is the first thing)
They sponsor several climbers now, including the Hubers early, and Mayan and Libby on the recent female Nose speed record:
[Click to View YouTube Video]
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 16, 2015 - 11:23pm PT
Thanks Clint. I was just a bit curious.
This thing really took off for everyone concerned . Quite a success for the publicity people at Adidas Outdoor, pulling in the major news outlets.But of course timing is everything.So is money.

You'd think the female speed record would have gotten much more popular attention outside of the climbing world than it eventually did.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 16, 2015 - 11:45pm PT
Adidas Outdoor just posted the women's speed record video a few days ago.
It was up in some other form before, I think (I remember seeing it several days earlier).
Clearly both climbers were sponsored by them, as they are wearing the clothes with Adidas logos and stripes.
The footage is really great and also amazing how much they dropped the record after initially not breaking it.

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Jan 17, 2015 - 12:25am PT
The New York times first drew attention to the climb in line with other stories they occasionally do on climbing. Their first article was garbled with statements like the climbers were climbing rope free yet one could see photos of ropes everywhere. The Times was then widely criticized for these inaccuracies in the letters to the editor and they wrote a second article clarifying the first, which got more people interested and the project expanded. When they did a third article, the other news media got involved.

I think the climb's popularity also had a lot to do with the events in France. People were looking for some good news, for an example of young men doing something bold that was not destructive, and however, quixotic to the public, were following their dream. Americans love a story of overcoming adversity and Kevin's epic on the fifteenth pitch provided all the drama and human interest needed. The photography was fantastic and when the families were interviewed, it began to seem like the same kind of biographic coverage done during the Olympics and extreme climbing suddenly looked more mainstream.


Sport climber
Jan 17, 2015 - 12:47am PT
Kind of ridiculous if you ask somebody. things are getting crazy down here. this is the last thing we needed. Better start putting those little number machines at the base of the climbs(like they have at deli counters)
David D.

Trad climber
Jan 17, 2015 - 06:08am PT
Cuvvy, I doubt you have to worry about things getting crowded on the Dawn Wall any time soon. As for the trade routes in the Valley, that ship has sailed. Although, in all honesty, even those aren't as crowded as people make them out to be. I've had plenty of lonely days just me and my partner on classic routes like Nutcracker, CPF, EB on MCR, Braille Book, Serenity/Sons... Etc. Getting up early or starting late helps.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Jan 17, 2015 - 06:28am PT
Tommy the famous underwear model had signed with Victor's Not So Secret.

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Jan 17, 2015 - 06:49am PT
Significant dramatic climbs happen every year. Why this one?

I think access is pretty key. Proximity to LA and SF media centers with major national news resources and easy logistics. Pretty nice assignment for the crews. great lodging, 10 minute commute to the site. Spectacular famous landscape. Someone like Tom Evans as a good resource for info. Then the New York Times getting things kickstarted. Throw in maybe a bit of PR effort by the sponsors. Perfect amount of time on route. Enough to gain news momentum and then finish within a decent news cycle. A 2 hour nose climb is over before they could drive halfway to Yosemite.

El Cap makes for a damn fine stage.

Not many climbs have all that going for them when it comes to making coverage easy. Plus there WAS a good background story.


Jan 17, 2015 - 06:51am PT

Good call Clint. I was thinking that Michael Jacksons old publicist must have finally gotten a job, but like your explanation better.
John M

Jan 17, 2015 - 07:32am PT
speed climbing versus the dawn wall

the speed climbing was over in a short time, so no time to build a story.

the dawn wall had multiple things to get peoples attentions

the drama was building
they spent 7 years working the route
kevin's fight to do pitch 15 sucked in more people.. i.e. more drama unfolding
it was happening in beautiful Yosemite

I think it was the time factor which allowed the story to build which allowed it to draw a bigger audience is why there was so much media at the end.

Most of these events get one story, and they are over. So no time to build an audience. News media like stories to build. It means the audience will likely grow. They have an unending need for new stories.. so one and done doesn't give them as much bang for the buck.

A long way from where I started
Jan 17, 2015 - 08:08am PT
Dingus got part of it.

These things just happen; critical mass and the luck of the draw for slow news cycles.

The second part is that once it grabs some attention in one news outlet, others immediately jump on it so that they are not left out in case it gets big.

After that it's the old snowball rolling downhill. Doesn't matter that the original snowball was small and not particularly important compared to other snowballs, if it gains that critical mass Dingus mentioned, it soon becomes huge -- regardless of what it really is or what it's significance might be.

The final part is that eventually the angle eases, the now-giant snowball slows to a halt, and gradually melts away, soon to be forgotten by 99% of the people who were so excited while it was barreling down the hill.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Jan 17, 2015 - 08:21am PT
The media exposure is good for the sport,

is it? Why?

or is it good for the Industry and entertainment media?
Captain...or Skully

Boise, ID
Jan 17, 2015 - 08:24am PT
Bingo....Wade Icey, you win a prize.

Social climber
The internet
Jan 17, 2015 - 08:35am PT
The NY times writers are climbers, guides even that have climbed El Cap and know Caldwell I believe, they knew what they were looking at and gave it some attention.

This combined with basically everyone in the outdoor industry also knowing what they were looking at and blogging/posting about it got the attention of the main stream.

Clear to me, watched it happen. NY times was first and went big with it right away.

portland, Oregon
Jan 17, 2015 - 09:03am PT
Don't get me wrong, I think what was accomplished on the Dawn Wall is one of the great rock climbing feats of all times. But, I do not think the media coverage is good for the "sport". Real rock climbing as opposed to indoor climbing has limited resources and with a growing population of climbers those resources will continue to feel the impact of increased use. The real benefit is to the outdoor industry which hopes to capitalize on the event for marketing purposes.
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