“If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Better Be Tough:” Yosemite Free Climbers Tell “The Ellen Show”

In their first sit-down interview after becoming the first pair to climb the Dawn Wall of Yosemite's El Capitan using only their hands and feet, the pair of free climbers sat down with host Ellen DeGeneres to talk about their unprecedented achievement.

But first, DeGeneres had a question for Kevin Jorgeson, 30, of Santa Rosa, California, and Tommy Caldwell, 36, of Estes Park, Colorado.

"I, like the entire world was watching you trying to accomplish it, and I just thought...'Why'?" she asked straight-faced.

Caldwell had a ready quip: "I think I gotta quote Johnny Cash. 'If you're gonna be dumb, you better be tough.' " (Editor's note: It's actually a line from a song by Roger Alan Wade)

Then, speaking in a strong voice - a change from after he lost it after the 19-day climb that ended on Jan. 14 - Caldwell said that he grew up climbing with his father, a mountain guide who was also his mentor.

For Jorgeson, too, climbing has long been a part of him. In an earlier interview with NBC Bay Area, his mother, Gaelena Jorgeson, said her son never liked team sports, but became entranced when she took him to a climbing gym when he was 11. She described his movements as ballerina-like, when he climbs a wall, putting his entire body into the solo sport.

The two shared with DeGeneres how they woke up leisurely in the mornings, drinking coffee and watching the sun rise. And then they put their most intense climbing efforts - using no gear except to catch them when they slipped - into nighttime climbing to maximize on the cooler weather.

They also divulged what they did on New Year's: Watching Netflix and drinking "just a bit of whiskey," Jorgeson said.

Caldwell then downplayed any real danger, like when ice chunks whizzed by his head while he was gripping the Dawn Wall with his battered fingers, when DeGeneres asked him what was his scariest moment.

And then she summed up what probably most land-loving mortal have to say about their free climb:

"There's nothing about this that wasn't super dangerous," DeGeneres said with a laugh.

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