James Whittle and Tom Caulfield, two adventurers from London decided in 2015 that they wanted to tackle one of the hardest challenges on the planet. A 3,000 mile row across the Atlantic which they did unaided and with no experience whatsoever. The Tempest Two was born.
It became their mission ever since to inspire people to step out of their comfort zone and show that anyone can achieve extraordinary things. The Tempest Two then set out to learn a new skill and take on new adventures. From summiting Mont Blanc with no previous climbing experience, motorbiking from London to the Sahara having passed their driving test a week before, taking on the world’s first Ultra Triathlon in Patagonia and climbing El Captan with only 18 months climbing experience.
Oli Russell-Cowan: Hey guys, it’s Oli from Rad Season. Welcome to another episode of the RAD Season Show. I’m super excited to be joined today by James and Tom, otherwise known as The Tempest Two.
James and Tom chase adventure challenges around the world including rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean and the world’s first ultra triathlon. The challenge took them to Patagonia where they completed a 1,600 km cycle, 65 km run and stand up paddleboarding on glacial lakes. Patagonia was a pretty tough undertaking and took it out of you. Did you start planning your next adventure right after coming back?
Tom Caulfield: Usually when we come back from an adventure we think about what’s next but coming back from Patagonia we were mentally and physically damaged. It took months to recover and start thinking again.
The next adventure was to attempt to climb the nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite. It is the mecca for big wall climbing on the globe. It sort of started as a joke, we were stuck in a hurricane whilst rowing across the Atlantic writing a business plan and El Capitan was the background image of my MacBook. James pointed at the screen and said, What about climbing El Cap? It was a complete joke but five years on, we stood in the bottom of the valley about to climb the biggest wall in the world.
Russell-Cowan: How did you go about training for El Capitan? Did you learn how to climb and joined climbing clubs in the UK?
James Whittle: That was the initial plan. We went for a course at one of the indoor climbing gyms on bouldering first, then top roping and lead climbing. We got through that quite quickly. Indoor climbing was great and a steep learning curve. We did that for about a year, feeling strong and going up the grades.
When we started climbing outside we realised that there is much more to it than just transferring your skill base. There’s a whole new set of elements, like placing your own protection and not to mention the mindset required. Knowing that if you fall, the protection that you’ve put in has got to catch you and hitting the ground is always a possibility. It was a totally different level.
We went to the Yosemite Valley in June before we were going to climb El Cap in October. We met an instructor who took us up to the roots. From the outdoor climbing and the climbing that we’ve been doing in the gyms, Yosemite is just totally different.
The climbing is all crack climbing, granite and having this amazing grip strength. Sport climbing grades are completely useless because the skill set is totally different there. So we went back to the UK to practice crack climbing in the only place in the UK that offers that in the Peak District. When we got there, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the valley and surround ourselves with climbers who didn’t doubt the possibility of us climbing El Cap. Where we live, none of our friends are climbers. When you have conversations with people down the pub, or even at the climbing gym, no one can comprehend climbing in Yosemite, and everyone just said, we were absolutely bonkers to try it. In their mind, we had absolutely no chance, which is a fair assumption.
We wanted to get to the Yosemite valley for a month beforehand and be surrounded by people, where climbing is second nature, the conversations are more about where you’re going to camp on the wall, or what you did in this section. We did that and it was really, really useful to just be surrounded by that kind of environment. It made the whole challenge feel slightly more natural and more normal. Having said that, even when we pushed off for the climb, it was pretty gripping the entire time.
Russell-Cowan: Do you think the climb would have been possible if you only flew out a week before?
Caulfield: It was almost like an acclimatization period. We lived out of a van and every morning we’d wake up and decide what we would learn that day. We’d go to Starbucks, watch a video on YouTube of how to build a trad anchor, or how to lower out or how to haul a bag and make some notes. Let’s go and do it on a 500ft wall. Every single day we were pushing ourselves a little bit further.
People saw our progress on Instagram and messaged us, Oh my god, you’ve got the dream job. It must be incredible.
‘The reality was that it was horrendous. The anxiety and fear were like a big cloud above us. We were so scared. All these things we were doing, it was so overwhelming.’
One of our sponsors was Black Diamond, the climbing brand. They put us in contact with Alex Honnold who has free soloed El Cap. We met him and talked about our planned climb. We actually spent a night on the wall with him and Tommy Caldwell, which was great. It was a really, really tough month. I think we both struggled with the mindset.
Whittle: That’s part of the Tempest Two. It’s all about embracing the adventure, the challenge and trying to learn new skills. It was wild but the relief when we finished was incredible.
Russell-Cowan: Nice one. James, Tommy, it’s been awesome chatting to you guys. Really, really inspiring, thank you.
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