I first visited Yosemite Valley in 2008 on the tail end of my first climbing trip–which ended with Stefanie and I getting married in San Diego. It was my first ride through the valley and I was still green as a climber, so I could accept the chills that shot down my spine when I looked up into the cold stone face of El Capitan and imagined what it would be like to be adrift on that sea of granite.
In 2011, I visited Yosemite Valley again, with my partner Trevor, as we ended our cross country blitz shooting trailer footage for Project 365 and this time, I couldn’t leave without at least approaching El Cap and hiking up to the base. At the time I had no big-wall experience, so again I excused myself for only scurrying about the feet of “the Captain” and I dreamed of the next time I would return and I shuddered at the thought that I had run out of “look-see” visits.
Since the 1960s Yosemite has been the cradle of American rock climbing and the routes that are travelled over stone have been both pioneered and repeated by some of the first and the very best climbers alive. Imagine getting to shoot hoops with Michael Jordan or heading down to the skate park and Tony Hawk lends you his board for a quick session. That is what it means to climb in Yosemite. Rob once said “If you climb a route put up by one of your heroes, it’s like shaking hands with him at every handhold.” I don’t know of may other athletic pursuits that allow and indeed are based on such accessibility to anyone willing to accept the risk. There is an element of sharing that exists through time between all climbers, the small and the great, coupled with the risk.
The rock and the immensity of it all brings us together to revel in the challenge and the seemingly insurmountable odds.(Sound familiar?) There is a sort of magnetic pull that captures you and draws you in. As you walk closer, the rock looms up above you and it sucks the sound right out of the air. This is not a game–this is not a sport–it is an all out fight for survival in the most literal sense on thousand-foot rock faces.
Yosemite will challenge me on many levels. That is such a trite understatement. I am entering Yosemite knowing that I will not leave there the same as I am going in. I am prepared to be shaken to the core, prepared to push myself beyond mental and physical breaking points. I am planning at least one wall solo–no partner, just an MP3 player and a shit-ton of gear.
I began scratching the surface in Zion. Yosemite will offer bigger walls and more of them. It was amazing to glimpse what I can do. Now I will put myself in a position where I have no choice but to rise to that level not just for a moment, but to stay there and to rely on my ability to do so for extended periods. I am prepared to suffer because I know that is going to be a significant component of progress–the joy and the beauty that I will find there does not require preparation because I am always ready to be immersed in that.
For that matter, I am ready to feel desperate, to feel stretched to feel…alive. I am less afraid to go up than I am to spend my life on the ground wishing that I had taken that risk when I had the opportunity. Diabetes brought me here. Now I will return the favor and bring diabetes up the wall with me.