Mortal Men Among Alpinists


The Valley of Light. (All rights reserved)

Fast and light alpine ascents among jagged mountains are the pinnacle of climbing style in my book. Sending the biggest steep, cold walls by carrying all of your gear with you to reach to summit in one push is both an amazing feat and an ambitious undertaking. Hard alpine climbs are made up of boldness, courage, confidence, risk of frost bite, luck and hubris; close to heaven, but on the brink of certain death. While these climbs can be done in a variety of locations from Alaska to the Himalayas, the routes up Yosemite Valley’s walls rarely entered my daydreams.

While a daring alpinist and I are equally mortal, I’ve spent most of my life closer to earth doing less daring escapades. Sometimes I hated myself for that. My restless qualities wanted a cockiness that could say I can do it and I can still do it. But I’ve been coming to a new, toned-down place in life and I’ve been slowly accepting that. I’ve slowed down, climb less and put most of my energy toward my family and career. Along this path the strangest thing happened: The appeal of other kinds of climbing that I previously dismissed I grew to accept. So when I got the invitation to the International Climbers Meet, as all American Alpine Club members did, I thought a week in Yosemite with other climbers sounded like a great vacation!

Working in an flat, urban Peaklessburg is professionally satisfying but lacking in the fun of the outdoors, from hiking to skiing and everything in between. Getting away to Yosemite for a week for the price of airfare plus $450 for registration to cover your campsite in the Valley, three catered meals a day, and plenty of climbing by day and socializing by a campfire at night sounds like Sandals Resort or the Four Seasons for a repressed mountaineer.

I’d pack light, because less is more anytime, but especially when you need to get away. I’d grab my Jansport framepack and fit in the essentials: My Evolv rock shoes, BD harness, chalk bag, my favorite fleece pullover, that old Cat’s Meow bag (the one my wife used as a quilt when she was pregnant during one winter trip) and my favorite Major League Baseball cap. Then again, maybe I’d skip the chalk.

Suffering was an integral part of mountaineering to me for a while, though I never meant it to be. It’s still inseparable by necessity for the most progressive climbs, I suspect. But I think the other things I am seeking now, at the place in life I’m at today, could do well with a big day climb in Yosemite, followed by some story telling about the day’s saga where I reached higher than mortal earth. It would beat cramming into a tiny tent and suffering from altitude sickness.

Besides, even John Long talked of Yosemite’s healing powers in the 2012 issue of Ascent: “I have seen the beaten and forgotten, the vain and raging, the rich and arrogant and the hopelessly heartbroken, all made whole in the Valley of Light.”

Yes, I’ve gotten a little soft. And clearly, I need a vacation.

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