Home > Climbing

Iconic Bad Boy of Climbing Set for Silver Screen, Ethan Hawke and Daniel Radcliffe to Star

Warren Harding liked to drink, party, and rock climb — often at the same time. His landmark ascent of El Cap in 1970 will now become a Hollywood film.

warren hardingIconic climber Warren Harding will be portrayed by Ethan Hawke in a film adaptation of his most famous ascent; (photo/screenshot from Reel Rock)
Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn More

One of the most astonishing moments in American rock climbing history has finally gotten Hollywood’s attention.

In 1970, Warren “Batso” Harding and Dean Caldwell began a seemingly impossible quest to climb all 3,000 feet of El Capitan. At the time, such a feat seemed futuristic, even to other climbers. When a storm stymied their upward progress, the duo’s 28-day trial captured the attention of all of America. They even fought off an attempted rescue by authorities, finally arriving at the summit to a media frenzy.

Rock climbing would never be the same.

Now, this landmark moment of vertical exploration has been green-lighted for film production, Deadline reported this week. In the movie “Batso,” Ethan Hawke will play Harding, while “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe will portray his partner Dean Caldwell. Jessica Biel will also appear in the film, playing Beryl Knauth, a trailblazing climber who was Harding’s girlfriend then.

The triumph of Harding and Caldwell is one of “the great underdog stories in the history of the sport,” according to the film synopsis.

“In 1970, ‘The Wall of Early Morning Light’ was an unthinkable climb,” says the film summary. “For larger-than-life climbing legends Warren ‘Batso’ Harding and Dean Caldwell, it represented a near-impossible physical and mental challenge. For iconoclast Batso, it also offered one last chance to stick it to the naysayers who thought him too old, too out of touch and too crazy. For novice Dean, it was a way to see beyond his 9-to-5 existence and unlock the awesome potential of the human spirit.”

A Seminal Moment in Climbing

Climbing nerds (like myself) might be familiar with the stretch of El Cap granite tackled by Harding and Caldwell. It became the obsession of Tommy Caldwell (no relation to Dean) in the brilliant documentary “The Dawn Wall.”

While Tommy focused on climbing the route with his hands and feet, Harding relied on equipment — the primary method of his era. In both cases, the men aimed to do something that seemed impossible to nearly everyone around them. As for Harding, he has long since become a symbol of rock climbing’s outlaw spirit.

In ‘The Dawn Wall,’ Tommy Caldwell quested up the same El Capitan route as Harding; (photo/screenshot)

Fond of drinking, partying, and climbing — often all simultaneously — he defied many of the ethics developed by his longtime competitor, Royal Robbins. Harding embraced the absurdity of climbing in a time when it was on the extreme margins of American society, according to an L.A. Times column from 2002. He titled his autobiography “Downward Bound” and founded the Lower Sierra Eating, Drinking and Farcing Society. While other climbers trained, Harding drank red wine and told stories.

“Warren Harding was a great renegade with an ego to match El Capitan, the cliff that stands as his memorial,” the L.A. Times wrote.

Upon arriving at the El Capitan summit in 1970, a reporter asked Harding why he climbed.

“Because we’re insane,” he replied. “It can’t be any other reason.”

There are no details yet on a release date. But if you’d like to get caught up on Harding’s role in climbing history, there’s no better documentary than “Valley Uprising.”

Jim bridwell climbing pioneer dies

Jim Bridwell, Yosemite Climbing Pioneer, Dead at 74

One of climbing's greats passed peacefully on Feb. 16. Jim Bridwell, born July 29, 1944, advanced modern big wall climbing and inspired generations of climbers to come after him. Read more…

Subscribe Now

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!

Join Our GearJunkie Newsletter

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!