I stood at the base. A perfect crack split the face, slightly flaring in the shape of a butt-crack. The tower was maybe 30 ft tall and grainy, uninviting for the hands. I began putting cams on my harness, mostly hand-sized pieces.
The last time I was here was just over two years ago. I thought to myself. 'Two years ago, surely I’ve gotten better since then...'
It was May of 2012. The sweltering heat of Yosemite Valley pushed us into the high country for the weekend. My first real trad climb in Tuolumne, one I could lead and call my own, was Ivory Tower Center, 10a. It was that uninspiring, short butt-crack, but I was motivated and ready to test my skills after spending a few weeks in the Valley leading 5.8’s and 5.9’s and a couple of 10a’s. I grunted and karate chopped my way up, stopping to place a cam when it was at my thighs…regressing in the progression upward. I peeled off.
“Ugh, I’m never going to be a good climber.” I said to Michael as I touched the ground. “I try, and try, and try again, but I’m still scared, still sewing it up, still flailing.”
That trip, in 2012, was my first long climbing trip, three months. I had my backpack, a friend, and dreams of places we wanted to see. We didn’t have an agenda; we couldn’t without a vehicle. The climbing community I had met earlier that year subtly encouraged me to take this leap of faith, to abort a summer internship, and be free in the wild.
I wrote every single day that summer. I noted every single person I met, where they were from, what they were doing. I wrote about each pitch I climbed, the beauty of the movement, and my surroundings. I often snuck off to hang out by the Merced alone and reflect when I was there. I was so happy. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m meant to do. Explore, learn, love.
Somewhere along the way, I started to focus more on goals and objectives, proving myself and getting somewhere. Somewhere along the way, I lost that twinkle in my eye, that openness to experience and to be in the moment.
That summer, I got scared. I fell. I failed. I climbed majestic routes - the granite fins of Mathes Crest and the perfect wave corner on OZ. We had nights around fires with whiskey and tortillas filled with sugar and butter, fiery sunsets on the coast of Maine, rainy days when everyone in the campground congregated in the squamish leisure center.
We shared moments of ab-aching laughter. After I failed on Ivory Tower Center, Daniel decided to try one of his first off-width climbs, a Tuolumne 10b. It was a 5 inch crack that split a left facing corner. We thought he was crazy, but Daniel, he was determined. He started up the crack. First, it was grunting. Then, it was moaning as he slowly inched up the crack by shear will power, no technique to be found. Finally, he was nearly in hysteria, cursing, yelling, battling with the rock.
“UGH, WTF. FUCK!! I’m just going to jump out. I’m going to do it.” He threatened as he strained in the off-width.
We couldn’t stop laughing.
“You’re bellowing like a moose in heat!” Alan yelled up, clearly amused by this show. Everyone at the cliff stopped to watch Daniel. It was like watching the season finale of your favorite show - you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.
He did fall a few times and eventually made it to the top with lots of battle wounds, and no energy. Daniel had character - he stuck it out, and went for it. I met so many people like him that summer. I was amazed, always in awe, always stoked to try something hard for me. I tried hard. I had little trad experience, no background, nothing to prove - the beauty of being a new climber.
I never made it back to Tuolumne after that season …until now.
walked up the moderate trail to Olmstead Canyon - the land of short,
stout cracks, cracks of all sizes and shapes. This walk brought back
many memories of that day. It was only one day in Olmstead Canyon,
but it was a monumental day, one of those days you always remember,
filled with tears, laughs, and many many grunts.
And now, I was
at the base of that dreaded short, uninspiring 10a to get revenge at
last. I had butterflies sputtering in that empty pit of my stomach. I
knew I was stronger. I had logged over two years of climbing under my
belt, but still, I was nervous.
The day before, I left the hub of my friends in search of solitude.
No agenda, no climbing, just somewhere to be. I found myself in a
meadow across from Lembert Dome, gold and soft green, next to a pool of
stagnant water that a stream fed into. Fish were jumping out of the
water; insects were buzzing. I massaged my hands into the
damp, dark earth, stuck my toes in too, and I let myself get lost in the
beauty of my surroundings.
I marveled at the beauty encompassing me, getting that feeling I initially had when I decided
to take that trip, to feel free. Life felt whole again. I had
that feeling of gratitude and love I first had when I started climbing
outside more. I realized again why I fell in love with climbing. It
wasn’t to be a big-name sponsor or to prove to others I could climb big
things. It wasn’t to spray to people online and feel good from others' opinions. It had nothing to do with that. That summer I didn’t have a phone and had never owned a smart phone. I was detached from social media
and social pressures.
When we returned to Olmstead Canyon, my heart started pounding, my body tingling, my smile so big because all of those memories that began to flood my memory. I was giddy like a child again.
We strolled to the base of that butt-crack and I was nervous. I racked up and climbed it to the top. Things felt like they were coming full circle when I reached the anchors, a cycle of emotions had come to an end for now. I rediscovered why I chose this lifestyle. I chose it because of the community and the raw beauty of our natural surroundings. I chose it because I wanted to be free - free from the conventional lifestyle, that 9-5 job my mom always talked about, free from attachment. I chose it because I felt at home in the environment.
Sometimes, it takes a good talking from an old friend to get your head back on straight. This time, it was good ole mother nature, reminding me why I chose a life outdoors, not because of external factors, but because of passion filled meadows, valleys, and forests of people in harmony with its surroundings. Because my love for the earth and for you.