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El Capitan looms under a bright blue sky in Yosemite National Park.
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Where others saw a wall, Kevin Jorgeson saw a way.

A little more than a year ago, the Northern California athlete and his friend Tommy Caldwell became the first to free-climb the Dawn Wall, a near-vertical 3,000-foot (914-metre) rock face on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California.

The pair had expected to climb in near obscurity. "We weren't even thinking about who was going to care. That was the last thing on our mind," says Jorgeson. But the ascent, which took 19 days, gained a following on social media. Jorgeson's Instagram following exploded, and news outlets from The New York Times to NBC took notice. "I think the fact that it played out over the course of two weeks was probably a pretty important thing," he says. "One headline for one accomplishment is pretty easy to forget, but when you get to follow a journey through two weeks in an iconic area like Yosemite at a time when the world is full of bad news, I think it just hit all of these notes that people needed."

Since summiting the Dawn Wall, an arduous task that included 11 attempts on the exceptionally difficult pitch 15, Jorgeson has continued on his star turn, appearing on Good Morning America, serving as grand marshal at a NASCAR event and throwing out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game.

He has also continued climbing and is planning another route up El Capitan. He calls this line New Dawn. The 31-year-old has also returned to whitewater rafting, a sport he loved when he was younger. The idea is to join river and rock, finding unexplored climbs via water. The first expedition is scheduled for northwestern California's Eel River.

In 2016 and beyond, Jorgeson will continue climbing toward his dreams.