By Shauna Potocky
This week Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall, considered one of the hardest climbs in the world. In fact, due to the sheer face of the wall and its technical aspects, it was considered impossible to free climb—until this week. Suspended on the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the climb took them 19 days to complete. Yet, what most people may not realize, is that their effort did not start on day one of their 19-day journey.
The journey to the Dawn Wall began more than six years ago—built on vision, planning, and preparation.
In short, the attempt at freeing the Dawn Wall, required taking the long view.
As we begin 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s feat is an excellent reminder for all of us to consider taking the long view. It is the perfect time to reflect on the benchmarks, milestones, and successes of previous work and to be inspired by the work ahead. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge that there will always be work ahead. By taking the long view, we begin to see that success between quick wins and real vision, means being patient, planning and often times includes building a network of support.
Consider the remarkable story of the recovery of the Peregrine falcon in the United States. In hindsight, it becomes clear that although the obstacles may have seemed overwhelming at the time, they provided the best opportunity for innovation and creating a completely novel conservation and management strategy.
In 1970, only two nesting pairs of Peregrine falcons existed in the California and the species had already gone extinct on the east coast of the United States. After extensive efforts—some of which people doubted—the Peregrine falcon emerged to re-inhabit its wild spaces as well as take up residence in our urban landscapes.
Ultimately, the Peregrine falcon recovery proved to be a remarkable success with the species being delisted from the Endangered Species List and becoming an inspiration for other recovery efforts.
And, just like the Dawn Wall ascent and its pre-planning and vision, the recovery of the Peregrine falcon and its success was built on significant touchstones, many of which preceded the recovery effort.
Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, bringing to light the challenges to the environment in the face of industry and human impacts. Carson revealed the realities of bioaccumulation and the resulting issues facing wildlife. Within a few years, the Environmental Protection Agency would ban the use of DDT (dichlorodipheyltrichloroethane), which was having a significant impact on Peregrine falcons and other bird species. Soon after, President Nixon would sign into law the Endangered Species Act, and two bird conservation groups would take on the challenge of trying to bring the Peregrine falcon back from the brink of extinction in the United States. All these efforts contributed to groundbreaking change—and collectively, the recovery of the Peregrine falcon is just one example of their success.
Then there are the efforts to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which began in 1967 and would not come to fruition until the Sanctuary was established in 1992. Success was realized due to the acknowledgement that the Monterey Bay, along with its associated coastline, featured some of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems—all of which would face significant impacts if not protected from oil exploration or other large-scale industrial operations.
The vision of the sanctuary culminated through various efforts over a long period of time, and included work by the Sierra Club, various counties, and stakeholders. In the end, Leon Panetta, then a representative of California, carried forth the legislation, protecting the Monterey Bay and more than 250 miles of coastline.
Today, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is nothing short of a national treasure.
There are also important human stories of taking the long view. In Kenya, organizations are establishing relationships with local communities, providing opportunities for innovative and sustainable employment. These solutions allow residents to transform their living situations and the environment. Zawadisha is just one example of an organization that is empowering people to transform their own lives and livelihoods while providing them access to resources that can also make a difference for the environment.
The examples do not end with reaching the top of the Dawn Wall or empowering change in Kenya. Consider the ecosystem cascades associated with the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park. The continued habitat protection even in the face of drought in California, which includes assuring wildlife refuges still receive water allotments in order to maintain the integrity of important habitat for resting, breeding or wintering birds along the Pacific Flyway.
There are many successes, and we need to take time to really acknowledge this work and know—it does not always come as a quick fix—often it is a long vision, made real.
As we enter 2015, we know there are big issues to be decided and no shortage of environmental challenges to face. A vision and what emerges from the idea of what can be, creates the resilience needed to face these issues and challenges with grace and poise.
The successful freeing of the Dawn Wall by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson can inspire us all to consider what it takes to think big–to plan, prepare, practice, and then do. Each pitch on the route was a milestone, and their perseverance is a great reminder to us all of the real value of taking the long view.