A-Z of a Climber
10 November 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
As a kid growing up in the 80’s there is one place over all others that I would dream of visiting. This was a magical kingdom, a theme park over the sea, full of rides big and small, famous and scary; complete with characters straight out of the pages of my favourites books, comics, films and TV. This was cartoon world made real, in a real country that seemed even to my young mind to be make-believe; one ruled by an actor, the other by a giant mouse. This place was of course the magical kingdom of Disney world.
There are many comparisons that can be drawn between this legendary theme park with Yosemite national park, not least of which is the powerfull draw it applies to the imagination, a wonderland for grown-up climber’s. The theme; climbing. ‘The Valley’ is a place where all you had wished and dreamt about is made real. Like many valleys, the real world is left in the flatlands and foothills on the way in, the narrowing world warping time and space as your enter.
The place is complete with its own cartoon-like comedy characters; garishly dumb question-asking tourists, officious, angry and well-armed rangers, and dirtbag climbers full of their own slack-lining self-importance. Like Disney world, it has rides big and small, scary or fun, and sometimes both. There are old tired classics, now past their best and loved to death, new cutting edge rides that only the most skilful or foolhardy can climb. There are rides of ten moves that can take a few seconds, others of a thousand that can take a week. Once you pay your admission everything but food and board are free. You can ride up and down Royal Arches, Steck Salathe or Serenity Crack as much as you want, although like all the best rides, be prepared to stand in a queue before you climb on.
The granddaddy of them all, the ‘Space Mountain’ of Yosemite, is, of course, El Cap, a place where the few who are willing and daring to try can reach up and wish upon a star.
Unfortunately, disappointment is often the bedfellow of dreams, and few places live up to all you imagined, and even fewer surpass your wildest dreams. After all there is no way that El Cap could ever hope to live up to all you imagined it to be.
Well have you ever stood beneath Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands; gazed up and marvelled at its height; perhaps imagined climbing it? Well, El Cap is four times higher than Canary Wharf, a height that is probably beyond most people’s imaginations, a lump of stone so big that it barely fits within one’s mind, let alone a viewfinder. I wonder what John Muir must have thought of this planet-sized rock when he walked into the valley for the first time. Best of all, the weight of its size is so big it can’t be held for long within the memory of us mortals, and so every time you return, it fills your brain just as it did the first time. It’s like falling in love with the same woman again, and again.
It’s said that when Uncle Walt died they cryogenically froze his body and hid it deep within the bowels of his kingdom, frozen in time, like Sleeping Beauty, waiting for some miracle advance in medicine to wake him. Sometimes when I lay in the tall grass of El Cap meadow, and let the carnival of the park pass by, I wonder if John Muir, like Walt, is frozen deep within the Captain, perhaps held within a seam of Sierran ice.
Unfortunately growing up it seemed that the only kids that ever got to visit Disney World, were kids who only had a few months to live, and they only got to go when they were too far gone to have much fun anyway. Sure there was Euro Disney across the channel, but that was as much of the real deal as Morecome’s now-demolished Frontier-land. Thankfully Yosemite is only a cheap seat away, and every climber should make a pilgrimage, and although People will often tell you there are other places as good, walls as majestic as El Cap, routes just as classic, they’re wrong.
There is no place that can match it, because half of what you find in such places, be they Chamonix, Chalten, Namche Bazaar, is what you’ve brought with you; dreamlands made real.