Friday, May 13, 2011

Expedition #3, eighteen months in California (part 2)

Standing on the summit of El Capitan in Yosemite.  Where dreams come true and rocks are as big as the imagination of men.
October 2006.  Expedition #3.
I don't hesitate when I say that the Sierra Nevada Mountains  in California have the best rock climbing in the world.  Of course I don't know that for sure because I have not climbed everywhere on the planet, but I'm going on my own personal experience and the consensus of other climbers as well.  This would be the second time I've spent 2 months in the Bishop area.  This time though I was planning on using Bishop as a base camp to get into the mountains instead of just a training ground in the boulder fields.  I had just read Steve Ropers book "Camp 4" and was super psyched to be in California.  "Climbing, more so than any other sport is defined by it's literature" (which I think is quote by John Long), and I had just read the history of big wall climbing in North America in Roper's book.  I chose the East Face of Mount Whitney partially because of it's history and partially because of the meandering type of route it is.  The East Face was first climbed in 1931 by Jules Eichorn, Norman Clyde, Robert L.M. Underhill, and Glen Dawson.  These were the best climbers in North America at that time and this was the first big wall  to be climbed on this continent.
I also chose this route because as a mountaineer I love the challenge of route finding.  I knew that this route would be technically quiet easy by today's standards but that the real challenge would be not getting lost on the immense East Face while climbing solo.  So after a couple weeks in Bishop, bouldering, lounging at cafes, and a quick jaunt up Mount Darwin in the Evolution Range of the Sierra's, I rode down to Lone Pine and up the wicked steep road to Whitney Portal.  This turned out to be one of the steepest and hardest hill climbs I have ever done on a bicycle.   Which turned out to be a comic interlude for me the whole time I spent on Mount Whitney.  Every time I tried I tried to impress somebody, usually a non climber, with the fact that I was here to make a solo ascent of the East Face, they shrugged it off casually and then looked at me quizzically and asked, "did you ride your bicycle up that road?" with the sound of shock and disbelief in their voice.
Enjoying the beautiful California sunshine on the summit of Mount Whitney

The route proved to be no less of a challenge than I had anticipated.  Staying on route was not all that difficult for me, and "the fresh air  traverse" turned out to be one of the best sections of rock I have ever climbed.  The pitch is easily identified by two old pitons protruding from the rock, and it gets its name from the fact that your climbing down and to the left 2000 feet off the ground.  Now usually when your climbing up something and you look down at your feet to find the foot holds, all you really see is your feet and a little bit of the rock.  But now when your climbing sideways and at a downward angle, your looking out into the space below you on every move.  The feeling is exhilarating.  For me, I feel like I have transformed into a spider and that the world around me has shrunk into this small plane of glass that I'm climbing on.  Move by move, making the long reaches between solid hand holds, I savoured every minute of this pitch.  Knowing that this was exactly the reason that I had come here.  This was it.  The mind boggling exposure that came into my view every time I looked down at my feet to find the next step.  "What could be better?"  I thought.  I've trained for years for this exact moment, and now I was doing it.  Climbing one of the most famous routes in the country with no ropes, all by myself, and no fear.  Just the pure exhilaration and sheer joy that climbing does for me.
Now if John Long says that climbing is defined more so than any other sport by it's literature.  I would like to add that climbing is still one of the most extreme sports in the world, if not (still) the most extreme sport in the world.  While people will always find new ways to test  their fears and new sports will keep pushing limits of what we think is possible, climbing has kept up with the times.  All it takes to realize this is one quick look at this months National Geographic.  Those people are pushing the limits for sure.  And while my climb may have only pushed the limits inside myself, those guys in that magazine are pushing a limit most of us will never understand.  It's beyond my imagination, and to me it's way more impressive than landing on the moon.  NASA, "ptff", who even believes that happened anyways.