Just a heads-up to any of Tommy Caldwell’s pals trying to reach him on his cell phone to congratulate him – and fellow rock jock Kevin Jorgeson – on their history-making ascent of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, billed as the “world’s toughest climb.”
“I dropped my iPhone halfway through our climb,” a raspy-voiced Caldwell tells PEOPLE. “It fell about 1,200 feet. It didn’t survive, but some of my friends found it at the base of the wall and put it in my van.”
Not that he’s complaining about his forced respite from technology.
“In some ways, it was really nice,” adds Caldwell, 36. “Afterwards, I found myself really in the moment up there and able to sit and absorb what was going on without any distractions.”
After 19 days spent climbing, eating and even sleeping on the nearly sheer 3,000-foot granite monolith, the two men are now attempting to recover from the brutal pounding their bodies endured.
“My hands took a pretty big beating on the wall and they still hurt,” explains Jorgeson, 30. “They’re covered in scabs on the back and there are bruises all over the tips in the calloused parts, but they are starting to heal.”
Says Caldwell: “I have a lot of calluses on my fingers and now they’re actually starting to dry out, crack and split. I think it’s going to be a while before everything comes back and is normal. I’m going to have to go through a whole shedding process.”
After nearly three weeks spent sleeping in tents anchored to the rock wall, both men say that being back on solid ground is taking some getting used to.
“I didn’t sleep that well in a bed that first night back because it was so different than what I was used to,” says Jorgeson. “I was used to the cold air on my face and the feeling of being in a sleeping bag. Being in a warm hotel room and a bed, I just felt a little claustrophobic and overheated.”
The pair, who spent seven years preparing for the grueling climb, made headlines around the world when they finally reached the summit on Jan. 14. Both admit they were dumbfounded by the fanfare, which included hundreds of supporters watching their progress through binoculars and telescopes in the meadow below.
“My friends were planning on coming [to celebrate] if we ever did finish this thing, but all this was a big surprise,” says Caldwell. “I’ve climbed a lot of routes on El Capitan and nothing has gotten any attention outside of the climbing media. This was a whole new thing for sure.”
The pair embarked on their epic vertical odyssey on Dec. 27, and knew there was a good chance they’d come up short of their goal.
“I came to the point a few years ago where I figured it was worth it whether we made it or not,” says Caldwell. “I just loved the way that it made me live, so I decided to push forward as long as it kept making me feel that way. Actually doing it was really the icing on the cake.”