After weeks on the road calling parking lots home and sleeping in a space the size of a double-wide coffin I’ve returned to civilized society. For the first time in 6 years I made it home in time to join my family for Thanksgiving. In between the alternating rounds of voracious food annihilation and family banter I took some time to reflect on where the last few months of 2012 have taken me.
Squamish became my home for the summer, allowing a respite from the oppressive heat that makes most areas unbearable. Scattered under the old-growth canopy, amidst the sweaty palms and heavy balmy air that punctuates the season, the boulders come alive. It’s in this setting that climbers from around the world meet to sample the bullet granite, testing out slopey compression moves that made the area famous and secretly hoping for that elusive “unicorn day” that will allow them to unlock their project.
The pace of life slows here. With a paltry amount of light filtering through the treetops time ebbs by unnoticed. The morning rush falls by the wayside, replaced by the breakfast ritual of eggs, coffee, and a recounting of yesterday’s highs and lows. Breakfast carries on with a certain nonchalance, allowing it to stretch deep into the afternoon. Somehow the need for urgency dissolves away with the understanding that conditions aren’t going to change as the day goes on. Tired from months on the road with endless projecting, my focus shifted toward learning this area as completely as possible. This included a brief departure from bouldering and a tentative entry into the world of multi-pitch climbing.
In the shadow of the Stawamous Chief it’s difficult to avoid daydreaming about what it must feel like to stand on the top. I was fortunate to join up with Jeff Hansen, Evan Ludmere, and Matt Wilhelm, who were willing to show me the ropes. Transitioning from days spent on one hard move to a day with 18-pitches of climbing, the change of pace rewarded us with views of the Sound that boulderers could only dream of. More than the sense of exposure, I was shook by the feeling of commitment to the climb. What will we do if it rains? What if I can’t finish? Disconcerting thoughts bubbled their way to the surface, betraying my lack of experience and keeping me slightly on edge as we worked our way through each pitch. In reaching the top, I knew I was hooked. Multi-pitch would have to become more of a mainstay in my route selection, and along with it more time placing gear.
As the Squamish season started winding down and the rains began falling I continued my tour of western granite and made my way down to Yosemite. For how long I’ve been in the climbing game it’s embarrassing to admit I’ve never explored the Valley. Rounding the curves of CA120 and catching my first glimpses of Half Dome, a sense of awe washed over me. Trickling through the Valley Loop road trying to take in the splendor of Cathedral, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the surroundings was enough to make my head spin. Flann, my partner in climb from Squamish onward, has a nice photoset of me letting loose my inner tourist that’s affectionately called “Photos of Chris Taking Photos of Half Dome”.
Even without stepping foot on the big walls I felt connected to all the history and adventure this place has seen through the decades. Imagining the original Yosemite pioneers walking up the Camp 4 slabs in mountaineering boots is grounding, especially as I’m doing all I can to stop myself from becoming more and more frustrated by my slow progress on the slick rock. The feel of Yosemite climbing is incomparable, not a hybrid of area x with a little of area y, but its own animal. Varying from pullout to pullout, it is also diverse. The steep learning curve makes the first week or two a trial of patience and humility, but the reward is worth every bit of frustration. Yosemite is not a place I’d go to feel strong, but climbing here made me feel like I was becoming more technically sound. One thought kept running through my head: I would move to the Bay for this place.
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