Getting down from El Cap in one piece was bittersweet. It felt good to stand up on something horizontal. There were plenty of opportunities for things to have gone sideways for us that we negotiated safely if a bit clumsily. Feeling good about being out of the “fire” of El Cap gave way to self loathing and feelings of inadequacy. I expected to summit. I made those expectations known. I wound up measuring myself incorrectly and coming up short never feels good.
To top it all off I had to say goodbye to Steve who was hitching back to San Diego so I was completely alone and all of the “fun” logistics of no camping and food displacement were still obstacles to be negotiated. As I organized gear in the parking area and tried to repack the Dragon Wagon to head out to anywhere with no bears and free camping, I kept meeting folks who were interested in the project. It was encouraging to make their acquaintance and hear their kind words of support but I fear that I was a bit more grim than they expected. I saw their faces fall in disappointment, one by one as I told them that I was honestly just looking forward to getting the hell out of Yosemite in light of a lackluster experience.
Everyone else was having fun, climbing fun routes and living it up. I had come into Yosemite with a goal, a mission, to climb El Cap. I aimed for the biggest, scariest, most serious objective and my experience reflected that orientation on my part. I began to realize that my vision of Yosemite had been quite narrow and that I would have to reassess my opinion of the valley…next time around!
I thought about the whole experience of climbing El Cap, getting 1/4th of the way up and bailing. I felt a bit foolish for having bitten off more than I could chew, but at the same time I felt like I made a huge a mount of progress. I looked back and realized that I could have made it farther, but it would probably put a significant strain on Steve and I’s partnership and would have taken on undue amounts of risk. Retreat isn’t glamorous but it is sometimes the right thing to do–and I know that we made the right move for that time.
Next time up, I will have more experience to draw from and will be able to make better decisions with more reliable information–and I shall return and make another attempt on El Cap-tentatively this fall during Project 365. I learned what I need more of, what I need less of and I did that without anyone more experienced to climb with me and with the knowledge that any mistakes I would make would be mine to correct. Simply getting up to the base of the route and having the spirit to climb was a huge challenge overcome–to even think that it was remotely possible to succeed on such a magnificently enormous formation was a major step forward, personally.
The mind leads and the body follows. My mind made enormous gains–and my body is simply a little further behind. I will bring less gear next time. More water. Less food. The goal will be to climb faster and to do more free climbing. I don’t think I want to climb Lurking Fear again. The Nose, while a bit harder, offers more natural ledges and features and a much shorter approach–and those things could make for a better outing all around. All told, the bar has been set higher and so I have to improve and get stronger. People outside of my situation may measure accomplishments in summits and success, but I know that those are only attained through failing and flailing along the way. I consider this trip an investment in the latter categories! The summit will still be there in the fall and if I keep working and improving, I will be there too!
Moving forward, I am looking to get back into free climbing and into some mountains–but there is less adherence to any itinerary as now availability of partners adds to the mystery of where I will climb next. For the remainder of June, I will be between Idaho and Washington. I was fortunate to connect with my friend Calvin who I used to work and climb with in Zion several years back. He is super solid on the rock and a really wonderful character that I am looking forward to introducing to you all as we move along!
My goal is now to push for harder climbs and getting stronger. Up till now I have been trying some longer climbs and focusing on Big Wall routes. Now I am shifting my focus to getting stronger and faster on shorter routes (which will ultimately go a long way to help on larger endeavors too!) I am looking forward to more solitude, cool weather, maybe some rain and getting up into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Things are hectic and I feel like I am always apologizing to someone for having to amend plans, but that is the nature of this game and I am going to play until the final buzzer, over 200 days from now. There is a lot to climb and I am excited to have at least the next couple of weeks mapped out. Beyond that…we shall see!