Capturing Midnight Lightning w/ Tommy Caldwell & Corey Rich


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 28, 2008 - 01:42pm PT

Great video, photos and 3-D imagery of Camp 4's midnight lightning here:

Capturing Midnight Lightning

ADVENTURE photographer Corey Rich and world-class climber Tommy Caldwell team up on Midnight Lightning, the most famous boulder problem on Earth, to unlock the 3-D power of Microsoft Live Lab's new Photosynth.

"For most climbers, Yosemite is the best place on Earth," says 30-year-old Tommy Caldwell, one of the most accomplished rock climbers on the planet. "The rock is perfect, the walls are big, and the place has so much history." As park visitors flock to the Sierra Nevada's granite giants, they also pay their respects to renowned Midnight Lightning, located on the massive Columbia Boulder at Camp 4.

Midnight Lightning's Legacy
"Camp 4 and Midnight Lightning are tremendously important to the cultural history of Yosemite National Park," notes Yosemite park ranger Scott Gediman. "Not only do they represent the origin of the sport of rock climbing, they serve as magnets for visitors from all over the world."

Aug 28, 2008 - 01:45pm PT
Thanks Chris. Those photos look awesome on my new laptop.

Trad climber
New York, NY
Aug 28, 2008 - 02:18pm PT
Very interesting! I noticed that Photosynth in a magazine but didn't think more about it. Sounds cool.

I wish my computer/connection wasn't so crappy that downloading the program wouldn't be like slowly asphyxiating the thing.... Hope you speed racers will do it though.

I like how Tommy says (something like)"On a cool day, Midnight Lightning is pretty easy for me."
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, Ca
Aug 28, 2008 - 02:39pm PT
The video is really nice:

Boulder climber
Aug 29, 2008 - 12:50pm PT

Check it out - a cool new way to see an old friend.

Trad climber
Aug 29, 2008 - 01:04pm PT
Nice video-- thanks for the link.

Two minor pedantic footnotes. Viewers could easily come away believing that modern technical climbing originated in Yosemite and that ML was a major innovation in bouldering levels in the 1970s.

First, modern technical climbing--pitoncraft, aid, pendulums, tension traverses, etc.--came out of the Dolomites and Tirolian Alps in the teens, twenties, and thirties, not Yosemite. Second, ML was ahead of its time in Yosemite, but not in other places. The Tetons and Fontainebleau had routes at that level of technical difficulty (or harder) by 1960.

But it is a really nicely produced video, and it's really enjoyable to watch Caldwell on that mantle because he's so technically perfect-- seems like he uses no muscle at all.

Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
Aug 29, 2008 - 03:16pm PT
Very cool video! I like the video tons more than the Photosynth deal. I still thin the photosynth thing ha a ways to go. I think it's a great concept and should yield some cool stuff once people figure out how to shoot for it.

Side note: My housemate was watching Spiderman 3 last night and I watched a couple of minutes as I was talking to him. The scene was playing with MJ and Perter cozying up on the web, watching stars while the evil black glob was making it's first appearance. In that instant, I realized that Tommy and Beth are MJ and Peter. Tommy is pretty much a human spider and a goober. Beth's voice is tremendously more annoying than MJ's could ever be, but there's a lot about her that reminds me of Beth. I think it's the incredibly annoying facial expressions.

Tahoe climber

Trad climber
a dark-green forester out west
Sep 3, 2008 - 02:19pm PT

Nice wes

Nefarious - super low class to come in and talk sh#t about a couple of the nicest climbers ever. Do us all a favor and keep those sorts of thought to yourself.


Social climber
Flatland, Ca
Sep 3, 2008 - 02:27pm PT
Wes - Dude.. it's that one boulder..... The big one! HAHHAHA

Social climber
Flatland, Ca
Sep 3, 2008 - 02:36pm PT

Trad climber
berkeley ca
Sep 3, 2008 - 03:14pm PT
recapturing the romanticism of yosemite, awesome

Trad climber
new york, NY
Sep 3, 2008 - 03:35pm PT
am i missing something? where's the cool 3D tool to view the thing?

Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
Sep 3, 2008 - 05:07pm PT
Tahoe - Your mom!

Trad climber
Sep 3, 2008 - 06:00pm PT
Abe - Here's the direct link:

You can also make your own at:


Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:02am PT
While the photos are good, and Tommy is a really fine climber, and all, I would have to politely argue your statement that Midnight Lightning is the most famous boulder problem in the world. It's one of the most significant and striking in Yosemite, but the Thimble in the Needles, done in very bold style in 1961 by John Gill, is far more famous, and far more significant, in the context of when and how it was done, etc. It also is bolder than Midnight Lightning and is done far less, even today.

Best wishes,

Pat Ament

Barcelona, Spain
Sep 4, 2008 - 11:13am PT
I think that Midnight Lightning is definitely more famous "in the world". Some Spanish climbers went so far as to measure it really carefully so as to build a replica.

Lake Tahoe
Sep 4, 2008 - 11:50am PT

Your knowledge and expertise in the history of free climbing is unparalleled (as is proven by my favorite on the john reader "A History of Free Climbing in America: Wizards of Rock"), but I would have to disagree about the Thimble being the most "famous" boulder problem in the world. I completely agree that as a matter of boldness and timing of the ascent that it is more "significant" in the history of free climbing than Midnight Lightning. When I shot this video I interviewed many random climbers, most foreign, and I asked "what problem do you want to see when you come to the states or comes to mind when you think about bouldering?". The answer every time was Midnight Lightning & the Mandela, not one mentioned The Thimble.

It's no question that an ascent of the Thimble is more elusive & holds more prestige in inner climbing circles, but no other problem seems to capture the imagination of so many climbers around the world as Midnight Lightning.

Strictly going off the dictionary, Famous = widely known. And it seems that Midnight Lightning is more widely known.

In any case trying to label anything as the "most" will always lead to reasonable objections in any tight nit community. In making the Photosynth and the accompanying video we only tried to show & share Midnight Lightning in a new way, while passing on a little history along the way.

With much respect,

Dane Henry

Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, Ca
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:11pm PT
Great post, Dane (and awesome video, BTW).

If The Thimble happened to be in Yosemite, perhaps things might have turned out differently...

the gray bands
Sep 6, 2008 - 02:56pm PT
with all due respect to Mr. Ament, there is no way that the Thimble is more famous than Midnight Lightning. I doubt that the Thimble is more famous than White Rastafarian.
Not discounting what John Gill did, it's just that the Thimble is in South Dakota, the other two are in Yosemite, and Joshua Tree.

Social climber
wuz real!
Sep 6, 2008 - 04:03pm PT
I heard about the Thimble first, mainly because Midnight lightning hadn't been climbed yet.

The Thimble is an amazing climb, esp when you consider the times, the style and the 'footwear' (shudder). But they are climbs of two seperate times. Those guys had trained on Gill problems in Co before ML (I think that's the way the temporal sequence goes).

There are a bunch of reasons why Midnight Lightning is going to be more famous to contemporary climbers.

For one thing Midnight lightning is a Lot harder than the thimble. I climbed The Thimble in'88 with Muehl directional beta and a toprope (yeah, yeah, Rope dab) and although I think I once had a shot @ ML those days are probably thankfully gone, I barely get off the ground when I wander by it these days. I think i could do The Thimble on a good day.

The thimble is a long continuos concentration piece. ML is shorter (I'm not calling it short) and very powerful, the kind of climb that is 'In' these days.

On top of that it's gotten a lot more international attention in recent years and and is a easier to find, unless you are already in North Western South Dakota. And, it's the kind of thing young strong climber's aspire to do these day.

The Thimble is (perhaps arguably) of greater historic significance, but Midnight Lightening is getting a lot more attention right now and has gotta be more famous.

Now, if you could crater off ML onto a VistaCruiser™ or find the Midnight Lightning of The Needles, you'd be on to something!

Ice climber
Vienna, VA
Feb 9, 2009 - 06:44pm PT
Yeah I started climbing some 6 yrs ago on the East Coast and hadn't heard of ML until I got this piece of news... I had read quite a bit about The Thimble though... Maybe it would be better to call ML a worldwide famous problem and avoid the "most"...

Boulder climber
Livermore, Ca
Feb 11, 2009 - 12:13am PT
I really dig the work the Corey put into shooting the stills. It is a big step forward in multimedia production. And Corey being my biggest hero in photography makes it all the better.

Bishop, CA
Feb 11, 2009 - 12:26am PT
What a great boulder. I was lucky enough to a few prime weather bouldering days in Camp 4 last fall. Hopefully I'll get some more time there in the spring.

Trad climber
Las Vegas
Feb 11, 2009 - 06:55pm PT

I am with Jaybro and the others that say the Thimble is a more iconic problem. But then I read about Gills achievement long before Midnight lightning had been done.


Kaulk must be becoming aware and cautious of what he says publicly.
Bachar in his slide shows still freely talks about the 'enhanced awareness' that Yabo was under the influence of when he first conceptualized the moves of the problem, info not typically volunteered these days.


Kaulk talks about the symbol of the 'Bolt'. He seems to draw no solid conclusion as to the effect or purpose of the symbol.
I first arrived in C-4 in the fall of 79. At that time I was completely ignorant to the existence of the 'Stone Masters'. I was in the habit of leathering the uppers of my EB's but I will never forget the first time I saw a pair of EB's with the bolt stitched into the applied leather uppers. Neither here nor there but I do not remember who they belonged too. It was in the C-4 rescue site gym. I am thinking they were Cashner's.
From that time on I always made a mental correlation between the Stone Masters, Kaulk and Midnight lightning.

Is this just me ^ ?


Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 11, 2009 - 07:47pm PT
Super cool.

I also heard of the Thimble first, because it was done first.
I think it holds the more significant status, but not more famous.

It's in the middle of Camp IV for cryin' out loud.
There are thousands of climbers who have oggled that thing that haven't had the pleasure of reading about Gill.
They should.

Mountain climber
San Diego
Feb 11, 2009 - 09:37pm PT
Awesome resource! I say resource, because I will view this video over and over and over again.

The video is really good. Short but very good. I really liked hearing Kauk talk about ML. I would like to know more about that whole story. I know it was kinda a competition between Kauk and Bacher, with Kauk being the first to pull it off. I know that some issue of Climbing mag covers this in the mags hay-day. Perhaps someone could find that article and scan it? Hint. Hint.

It has been years since I have tried, but I did make it to the lightning bolt hold, couldn't match and then fell, like I'm sure so many have. Great, I got to the beginning of the crux section. Wow. The beta is all here, watching Tommy over and over. There is No Excuse now right??????

It is a nice dream to dream about. I would like to try again. Thanks for sharing this.

Gym climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Feb 11, 2009 - 11:20pm PT
Nice pics of Tommy!

Who drew that damn bolt there? What a bonehead....
Jeremy Handren

Feb 12, 2009 - 12:08am PT
Does that ranger actually believe that Yosemite is the birthplace of modern climbing? Yogi needs a history lesson.

Trad climber
the campfire just a ways past Chris' Taco stand
Feb 12, 2009 - 12:20am PT
I won't weigh in because I don't know sh#t from shinola when it comes to this stuff (though these problems are neither!). An interesting history lesson in a dynamic kind of way.

Does anyone have any photos of the Thimble? I'm intrigued.

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