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Winter 2003, Volume 20.2

Essay

 

David StevensonPicture of David Stevenson.

Untethered in Yosemite: A Report from Paradise in the Last Summer of the Millennium


David Stevenson (Ph.D., U of Utah) is associate professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English at Western Illinois University, where he teaches fiction writing. His essay "One Hundred Years of American Mountaineering Writing" appeared in the American Alpine Journal 2002, where he has been an associate editor for many years.

 

     Question asked of Euro-sport climbers: `Would you ever consider going to Yosemite and trying some crack classics like Phoenix, Alien, or Cosmic Debris?'
     A: If it's on our way we might. These are classics after all, though no good for training purposes. Where is Yosemite, by the way?
     Q:
You don't know where Yosemite is?
     A: Not really. Somewhere in the West. But where exactly? So far we only looked to see where the hardest routes are found—none of which are in Yosemite, right?


I do not expect in this lifetime to be bored by Yosemite Valley. Or ever to tire of driving eastward through the Wawona Tunnel. That first glimpse of El Cap from the car window has never failed to lift my spirits, to give me an almost visceral thrill, to humble me. That is why, I suppose, I so admire those who never leave. I don't believe they stay because they have no other options, no sense of the larger world outside the Valley, nothing else to which they are so well-suited. Though all these may also be true, I believe they are secondary to the certain knowledge that for them Yosemite is unmatched. "This is it," they say in effect, as Brigham Young is said to have said at the physical end of a spiritual journey.

Perhaps for its indigenous peoples Yosemite was an Eden, but we can't know exactly what they thought—Eden being a western concept and the record of mid- nineteenth century Miwok second-hand and sketchy, at best. In the first writing about the Valley, Discovery of Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851 Which Led to That Event, Lafayette Bunnell describes almost simultaneously the holy beauty of the place and the vanquishing of the first peoples who lived there. This historical moment is a very precise example of Renato Rosaldo's notion of "imperialist nostalgia" as described in Culture and Truth: "the phenomena of mourning what one has destroyed."

When Yosemite is referred to as edenic today, I think it is often done so with the design of then disproving the notion. David Robertson, in his introduction to West of Eden: A History of the Art and Literature of Yosemite, delineates this point nicely: "The wilderness areas of America are, of course, quite different from Eden…. Yet our journey to the wilderness may, at a deep and even partly unconscious level, be a peculiarly American way of seeking paradise." For the rockclimber, despite recent trends that value speed and technical difficulty over style and a sense of adventure, Yosemite remains an unparalleled paradise.

 

I spent the summer of 1999 on the eastside of the Sierra, in the small mountain town of Lee Vining just down from Tioga Pass, the east entrance to Yosemite National Park. In describing the place to those with no concept of where it might be I always say, "Just east of Yosemite," the way I might have said Detroit years ago when asked where I was from, when in truth it was suburbs west of the city. More recently they might say: "Yosemite, hey! Where that woman got her head chopped off?" Yeah, I admit. It happened about 30 miles away as the crow flies, but I think by the time I heard about it they had caught the guy. I felt bad for the victim, of course, but I also felt that a sacred space, a spiritual refuge, had been violated. I learned in tenth grade biology class that too many rats in the terrarium lead to aberrant behavior, or as the Yosemite National Park literature warns us: the Valley receives 4 million visitors per year, most concentrated in the two or so square miles of the Valley floor, despite that the park itself occupies 1,200 square miles of largely undeveloped landscape.

In her book on the American West, Savage Dreams, Rebecca Solnit re-examines the etymology of the name, Yosemite, finding that it means probably not "grizzly" as long thought, but "some among them are killers." Ironically, it was the white settlers who named the place with a Miwok word, despite that it was also they, the white men, who were the killers. The Miwok were expelled from their valley homeland of nearly a millennia by the Mariposa Battalion, Bunnell, the aforementioned writer, among them. Chief Tenaya, who saw his son brutally murdered by the whites, prophesied and threatened: "Yes, sir, American, my spirit will make trouble for you and your people, as you have caused trouble for me and my people." And, indeed there are some killers in the Valley today. I've always thought stupidity, gravity, and bad judgment to be the top three, but I suppose we can now add psycho-killer to the list.

 

Early in June I'm climbing up the southeast slope—the easy route—of Mt. Morrison. Morrison is on the eastside of the Sierra—east and south of Yosemite, just off highway 395. I'm alone—it is, after all, the easy route. A few miles in and I can feel a blister forming on my heel—probably a large one.

I sit on a rock looking up into the basin below Mt. McAddie—a wild unvisited place just a few miles from the highway. My foot will be wrecked if I continue; I'm still at the beginning of a long day, yet I don't seriously consider turning back.

I just want to be up there. That choice to continue seems significant somehow, or maybe significant that it didn't even come to being a choice. And for a while—the rest of the day—I feel untethered.

The climb is not quite so easy as I thought it would be, completely covered in snow and steep in parts. But it's also shorter than I had imagined, and soon I'm up there with the whole glorious panorama of the Sierra to myself. I can see north past Mono Lake toward Reno, east across Nevada, south to dozens and dozens of giant Sierran peaks whose individuality is subsumed by a sense of totality: granite, snow, and blue sky forever and ever. I feel giddy; as Emerson had it: "glad to the brink of fear." I take a lot of photographs knowing as I snap them off they will bore anyone but me. I write mushy sentimental stuff in the summit register—words I would surely disown at sea level. And I return, thinking of those who choose to stay untethered, not for an afternoon, or a weekend or a summer, but past the point of no return. Out there, up there.

 

In Yosemite valley at the base of Nutcracker: the line or the queue as the Aussie kid would have it. He and his partner Tom are just ahead of us. Ahead of them are two Japanese couples and three guys just starting up—nine in all; if solitude and wilderness are inextricably linked in our minds, this day will offer neither. Nutcracker is a moderate Yosemite classic with historic significance; Royal Robbins put the route up in the sixties without using any pitons—a revolutionary act at the time. The line of climbers is expected. Tom has taken off his shirt and spread out his gear on it, immune apparently to the mosquitoes. In two previous "attempts" on Nutcracker I've given in to heat and fear in varying proportions. This day the weather is perfect, the hour not too late. We will wait.

Then the leader of the three person team backs off, is lowered down the wall. His friend goes up only to take a 30 foot fall which miraculously leaves him much bloodied and shaken, but otherwise unhurt. For a while this does not deter them and they plan to re-attack, but soon good judgment prevails and the bleeding man goes for medical help. They ask would we please retrieve their gear, left at their high point. Of course. Four of the others start up a variation and suddenly it's our turn. It has been agreed (but not in spoken language) that my partner, Jim, would be taking the hard leads. I believe this intuitive mutual knowledge is based on the fact that I now live in the Midwest, that my children are young, my waistline expanding—the usual excuses. This day would mark twenty years since the first time Jim and I roped up together.

The climb is as advertised, a classic; the weather a dream. Even the other people, the waiting, are not factors that interfere with our pleasure. The crux moves are hard, as advertised, but soon we are on the summit—having overcome a surprising stretch of unprotected terrain near the top. The summit block, too, is a dream with its spectacular views of the Cathedral group to the west and Half Dome looming above us to the east. Despite that the days's share of four million visitors drive through the valley, soon to be standing in lines for cabin reservations, ice cream cones, and t-shirts exhorting "Go Climb a Rock, and despite that there were numbers of climbers on the route, we have the summit all to ourselves. You can walk off this one more or less hassle-free and, all in all, we got what we wanted out of the day, though it's hard always to say exactly what that is.

 

As a Forest Service employee on the eastside, I have access to the Yosemite National Park public news bulletins that are faxed to us daily. I should add here an important difference between national parks and national forests; parks are operated basically like museums; they are, in effect, preserved; forests are operated more like a business with a "multiple use" mandate. Recreation is one use for the forest, but not the one that pays the bills: mining, grazing, and logging rights on national forest lands are sources of millions of dollars of income for the federal government. The budget for operating the Forests, however, is doled out by Congress and seems to bear no logical, much less financial, connection to the monies that the Forest takes in.

The first Yosemite news bulletin that catches my eye this summer is about the BASE jumper who landed safely after leaping off El Cap, ran from waiting, tipped-off rangers, thumbed his nose at them, and leapt into the raging Merced River. BASE stands for Buildings, Antennae, Spans, and Earth, the fixed objects from which these skydivers leap. Robbie Slater, before he was killed descending from the summit of K2, had done the exact same thing, from the leap off the Big Stone to the escape into the river. This fellow, however, has not been seen since, an outlaw, the stuff of legends.

The second news bulletin out of Yosemite announced the rockslide on the Glacier Point Apron. The Apron is a huge slab of granite that rises from just south of Curry Village, site of one of the largest concentrations of humanity within the park. The US Geological Survey estimated the rockfall at about 525 tons. In a strange twist, a climber dies belaying while his friends above him survived. Accidents of geology seem closest to the hand of God, do they not? According to the USGS these rocks "have been exposed to weathering for more than the last one million years." If your number's up, you're number's up, right?

Yosemite Search and Rescue had a spotting scope set up in the Curry Village parking lot, watching the cracks in the rock expand, watching geology. I mention to the spotter that the story as reported in the LA Times didn't make "climbing sense" to me. "Hey," he said, "whatever you can say to make the family feel better. Why say anything else?" Then in response to the question he was doubtless tired of hearing: "Gravity's the same today as it was yesterday. Rock will fall, but you can't say when."

 

Late in the afternoon after our little climb of Nutcracker, Jim and I are wandering around the tourist sites stopping regularly to rehydrate, taking in the scene. Jim calls his wife and there at the phone booth next to him is Ron Kauk. Moments earlier I had contemplated purchasing a poster of Kauk on a climbing route called Peace, rated 5.13c on a scale whose upper-most limit was 5.9 when originally designed. The route is in northern Yosemite in Tuolumne Meadows almost six thousand vertical feet above the valley floor. Kauk had made the first free ascent of Astroman (the east face of Washington Column) and of Midnight Lightning, the world's most famous bouldering problem in Camp 4. I had seen him climb in the World Sport Climbing Championship at Snowbird when I lived in Salt Lake City.

Most of us were there to see the French phenom of the day, Patrick Edlinger, and I suppose technically speaking he was the best. But when Kauk climbed there was an electric hushing of the crowd. It might have been that his presence hadn't been expected, or that, unlike all the rest, he did not wear lycra tights. It may, too, have been that he was an American. But I think something else was recognized that day, and it was, again, intangible. It had to do with fluidity and grace; it had to do with the only real kind of style: acquired by aspiring to no style—aspiring is not even the right word, a more zen-like verb is required. What emanated from Kauk had something to do with climbing and nothing to do with competition. When he popped off near the top of the final overhang, he had somehow, nonetheless, given us a vision of how it might be done.

And now here he was talking into a pay phone. And then sitting back down at a table of friends.

He looks like an ordinary person, except, I suppose, better looking. In any other American endeavor a person of his stature probably would be sitting in the leather seats of a BMW, talking on a cellular phone. There can be no doubt that he pays a high price for his life as he lives it.

 

That night in Camp 4 we see the Japanese from Nutcracker: filterless cigarettes all around and two one-gallon bottles of Canadian Club on the picnic table. Camp 4 is actually now called Sunnyside Walk-in Campground. The name Camp 4 is a remnant of the 1960s—the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing. Mostly climbers stay here and it's packed with folks—three tents to a site, no reservations, fourteen day limit. It's hard, on this day impossible, to get a campsite in midsummer. We're on our way to site 19 where two guys said we could sleep in their tent while they did the high bivy to get an early start on Snake Dike, the easiest climbing route on Half Dome. At #19 there are six tents. We don't even know the guys' names—they were behind us on Nutcracker. A person appears and directs us to the tent we're looking for. I would be remiss here if I did not mention that this person was a dwarf.

We then go to site 26 to return the gear left by the guys who fell, then across the road to the Mountain Room Bar which is devoid of climbers and filled with people watching the NBA Finals, eyes glued to the two TVs. Here is the difference I think: these people are tethered to this world. A couple days later I'm back at work on the eastside thinking about going to the Tiger Bar down in June Lake to watch a basketball game myself. Alan, a firefighter who lives a few cabins over, says, "It's the finals?"

"Yep." It's not a comfortable role: Alan's connection to world news.

"Who's playing?"

I tell him and he looks at me in disbelief. "Shee—oot," he says, "are we still in Kosovo?" (We were.)

He shakes his head and laughs at himself and/or the larger forgotten world.

 

The next morning I am up early in Camp 4. A familiar looking man in running shorts—he looks like a Euro (What is that look anyway?) but is coming from the Search and Rescue tents. The muscles in his legs are those of a world-class athlete. Wind and sun- burned. Hard.

An hour later he's drinking coffee in the lounge and I realize suddenly he's Werner Braun. About ten years ago he had climbed Astroman over fifty times. I remember the first time seeing his name and thinking von Braun, the rocket man. But this man is Braun and the climb is Astroman.

I can't describe Astroman to you very well. It has a climbing pedigree rarely matched; the first ascent was made by Yosemite climbing pioneers Warren Harding, Glen Denny, and Chuck Pratt. This was an aid climb, accomplished over a long period of time: the East Face of Washington Column. All three were significant figures in the climbing world. During the climb, Steve Roper ferried water up fixed ropes to the climbers and took photos, published by Harding's prior arrangement in the Oakland Tribune. This was the first money—thirty dollars—Roper made from climbing; later he would write the first climbers's guidebook to Yosemite. This was 1959.

The first free ascent of the same route was made by John Bachar, John Long, and Ron Kauk in 1975. A free ascent is a climb made in a purer style, no hanging or resting on gear—hands and feet on rock only. They rechristened it Astroman. Six luminous visionaries of two generations.

I was telling the story of seeing Werner Braun to young Sean, a first-time visitor to the Sierra and an accomplished climber, that is, he had done some hard sport routes at Smith Rock up in Oregon. He didn't know of Braun or Astroman.

"Have you done it?" he asked me, referring to Astroman.

I laughed. "No."

"Are you going to do it?"

"No," I said. And I remembered the day I knew I wouldn't do Astroman (which would have been any day I had consciously given it any thought). Bob Schneider and I, Bob who had actually done it years earlier when it was an aid climb, were talking in the indoor climbing gym. Some climbs recede from you, others you can keep in sight out there on the horizon. Two guys in their forties, climbing in a gym. No, we would never do Astroman.

But this concept was lost on the youth Sean to whom everything is still possible.

I wonder about Werner Braun's count today, if it's even he that keeps count.

In the George Myers and Don Reid guidebook—the most comprehensive of the guidebooks, listing over 600 routes in the Valley—it says after Astroman, "This is the free climb." I had always read this to mean that this is the free climb. But I suppose they wrote that to distinguish it from the aid climb. In Yosemite Select, a shorter guidebook of only the classics, Reid says that it is "probably the best free climb in the Valley." And if it's the best free climb in the Valley, for many it has to be the best in the world. One imagines Werner saying to himself: It simply can't get any better than this. Therefore, I will continue to do this route over and over and over….

 

News bulletin number three: early in June a hiker loses his footing in the river and is shot over Nevada Falls: a 492 foot drop to the Valley floor. A multitude of signs in a wide variety of languages warns against this exact thing. How could someone do this stupid thing? Could it be that here the Danger the signs warn us of is so literal, so immediate, and that elsewhere it's not? That the other warnings cluttering our lives are crying wolf too loudly, too often? There are warnings and there are warnings, right? This occurrence happens nearly every summer.

 

Jim and I drive up to Tuolumne Meadows. The Italians are behind us on a route called South Crack above Tenaya Lake. Their leader overlaps us at belay stations, a cheerful fellow singing Neil Diamond songs in Italian. He wishes to know if Budweiser is the best American beer. Is there any climbing in Chicago? There's really only one word of English he understands perfectly: runout. The word refers to expanses of rock which the leader cannot protect and risks a long and serious fall should he lose his grip or footing. Tuolumne, and South Crack, are known for runout routes. The Italian sings out randomly, trilling the r: rrdunout!

I tell Jim about the first time I did South Crack. That time, a man appears behind me, silently. It's a surprise because usually you can hear the clanking and tinkling of climbing hardware. He climbs through—passes me. He's soloing, which is why I haven't heard his gear jangling—he has none. We're about 400 or 500 feet off the deck. All I can think to say to him is, "How many times have you done this route?"

"I don't know," he says, "about 200."

Untethered?

At the top Jim and I see a man in a red hat. He's yelling "Down" and waving wildly. A crazy Euro-tourist, we figure, down his only word of English. Soloed something in his driving moccasins, no doubt, and now doesn't know how to get down.

"Down," he yells.

We are above and beyond him by a couple hundred yards, on the long slow road down—cairns and dirt paths.

When we get back to the car there's the guy in the red hat. He was trying to show us the fastest way down, he says. We laugh, having thought it was he who was asking us how to get down.

No, he tells us, he used to guide here. That was the way he took clients down.

It's a small world, and I suddenly realize to whom we're speaking: "T. M. Herbert?" I venture.

"Yes," he says.

In Yosemite the Golden Age is recent enough that the gods mingle casually with mortals, as if they were not gods at all. I know my history.

Herbert, whose son Tommy is a world class rockclimber as well, says he stopped soloing South Crack the previous year. "Too old," he says—it's sensible to stop soloing 5.8. Hard to disagree with that.

He's 63.

Figures he's done South Crack 250 times, and Great White Book, the route he'd soloed today, about 500.

The Italians in their speedos are lying out on flat rocks on the edge of Tenaya Lake.

Once at this very spot Kathy Roper sat reading a book at the lakeshore while her husband Steve and I climbed a short route on the rock above. Dayhikers paused to watch a bear roam the opposite shore. A tourist remarked to Kathy that he'd "seen trout, bears, and idiots," nodding upward in our direction.

I enjoy being in Yosemite with my children. They like to swim, hike, and climb on the boulders. I see a different Yosemite when I'm with them, and it's a bit more populated, yes, but it's beautiful, too. My youngest, Macklin, looks closely at the world, but his gaze is directed to the ground usually: things that are small, things that crawl, things that are camouflaged. He sees all these with the eyes of a young animal. But he doesn't often know where he is, quite, in the larger scheme. "Look up there," I say, Yosemite Falls just having come into view. He directs his gaze to the sky, and there they are: the falls.

"Holy crap," he whispers.

 

Later, Macklin approaches me: "What are you doing?"

"Writing." I am not inviting further inquiry. In fact, writing is something I almost never attempt when my children are in the house, i.e. all the time.

"Oh," he says, "is it about me?"

Strange enough that I actually was writing, stranger still that I was, in fact, writing about him. I read the previous paragraph aloud to him. An expression of deep concern overcomes him.

"What?" I ask.

"Not good," he says.

I invite further inquiry: "What should I be writing?"

"Say that at Yosemite a UFO came down and took Macklin away. They'll like that."

 

Whenever I swim with my children at the Curry Village pool, I can't help take a few minutes to sit in the shallow end and look north to the Royal Arches, remembering its classic features: the Pendulum, the long-lost Rotten Log, the Jungle. Today with large sections of Curry Village fenced off because of the rockslide danger, I'm looking over my shoulder too, back and up at the Apron, thinking about gravity, rockfall, luck, geologic time.

But most of the time I'm watching my kids, such that the lifeguard mentions that he appreciates it that I'm watching them so carefully. I'm glad he's here, of course, but they're my kids. Somehow we get on the topic of the BASE jumper. It's the lifeguard's opinion that his body completely disintegrated in the Merced, thrashed to atoms against the rocks and logs at peak run-off. I hadn't considered that—I had thought he simply escaped. If the truth is in between, he's drowned, his body wedged in some lonely high-water place. Of course that's it, I think. Still, I much prefer my version.

 

Later in the summer I am at Mirror Lake with my family: wife and two boys six and eight years old. The hike to Mirror Lake is short; the trail is paved, and you can take a bus—for free—halfway there from Curry Village. Hence there are lots of people at Mirror Lake: families abound, frat boys at a bachelor party, folks on rented mountain bikes. This is the farthest east in the Valley I've ever been, and here below Half Dome the approach to the climbing routes on the northwest face looks as unappealing as I've always heard it to be: loose and dirty rock, steep, slabby, long, etc. Suddenly two guys with mega-loaded packs—a battered white FISH pack among them—appear. They unweight their loads slowly—as one must shed 100 plus pounds of stuff—and sit on the sand. They begin to take their shoes off to cross the river—there's a slow motion aspect to their actions.

I'm wondering why they'd be coming down this way—the standard descent off the top is a walk-off down the trail. So I ask.

"A traverse," they say, "we've done a traverse." Nine days on the wall, 12 nights total. Plus another trip up to retrieve gear. They ask if I climb.

I'm hesitant to say yes, because compared to them I'm really just fooling around. I say, "Yes," but so they don't get the wrong idea, add that I've never slept on a porta-ledge.

They look better than I'd feel if I were them, although their hands look hammered—swollen like sausages is the standard climber's cliche. I mention that, but they seem to notice. Later my wife would say they had a look on their face that she couldn't quite describe. I recognized it, though.

Later, on the hike down, I catch up to them and we talk climbing. At first I feel like I'm intruding on private space, mythic ritual: the end of the hike out, the return to the world. We talk about the ice climbing in Lee Vining, the American Alpine Journal, the Bugaboos. My son Macklin is delighted with Jay's advice: if we go to the Bugaboos, be sure to cover the tires and hoses of the car with chicken wire so the porcupines won't eat them, exactly the kind of advice a six-year-old expects will be helpful in this world. Without gushing, I try to express the enormity of my admiration for what they've just done. Only very late in the conversation did they admit it was a first ascent. A superb achievement—but the world that understands it for what it is, the world that appreciates it, is very small. All too soon their climb will become (for everyone but them) a line on a photograph, a few words on a page. I ask if they've named it, but no, they haven't got around to that yet.

Later still, I'll realize that I had met Jay before (I'll also remember that, in another life, I had slept on a porta-ledge—bad memory being one of the necessaries of continuing to climb). I see Jay at the store sitting at a picnic table, a point of stillness among the blur of tourist activity. You might say he was in a daze. But, as I've said, I know the look—seen it in the mirror. He's been untethered and now he's in between. Exhaustion, contentedness, stillness, at peace, spaced, happy to be alive, to be unburdened of the pack, to be sitting down on a bench, happy to be holding a bottle of beer, the beady coolness of the glass against one's hand, too tired to remember to drink of it.

 

Could it be that all visitors to the Valley since (and including) Lafayette Bunnell have been seeking the same thing? The climbers, the tourists, the BASE jumpers, the people watching television in the Mountain Room Bar, the Europeans in their speedos? David Robertson has speculated, "Perhaps what we seek most in the wilderness is a return to a new and different Eden." Of course, Yosemite's status as wilderness is much in doubt, since the concept insists that a place be both relatively uninhabited and undeveloped. A small area that receives four million visitors a year cannot really be wilderness. Despite that some of the climbing routes are crowded, in my experience it has always been possible to get away from "it all." I have sat on ledges just a few hundred feet off the Valley floor as the sun sets and watched its golden light pour through the mouth of the valley, illuminating the granite walls and spires and glinting off the Merced as if it were a river of mercury. Though I know there are thousands of people below me, they are unseen, swallowed up by the canopy of black oak and lodgepole pine that covers even most of the buildings and roads. And, somehow—it seems miraculous—there is silence. Something happens. It may be that I have found, as Robertson says, "a natural regeneration and mental and spiritual well-being." But there's something about those words, that language, that I distrust, as if they were not descriptors of experience but a kind of betrayal of it. I'm not sure that language can ever describe this feeling very well, and maybe that too is why I'll keep returning year after year to Yosemite, still a paradise, as the third millennium begins.

 

Afterword

Cary Stayner is serving a life sentence for the murder mentioned early in this essay. He awaits trial for the murder of three other women, also in Yosemite National Park earlier in 1999.

The body of BASE jumper Frank Gambalie III was found pinned beneath a rock in the Merced River 28 days after he was last seen leaping into it. His friend Adam Filipino commented, " They had a freaking serial killer living in Yosemite right under their noses and federal agents were chasing BASE jumpers to their deaths." It is estimated that about 100 jumpers a year leap from El Cap, a Class B
misdemeanor that carries a maximum $5,000 fine and six months in jail, and, in most cases, confiscation of the jumper's gear.

Sunnyside Campground, which had been scheduled for demolition to make way for employee housing has been "saved" largely through write-in efforts by climbers from around the world. National Park Service Region Director John Reynolds said, "When I heard from climbers from over 30 countries that they hold three places sacred, Everest Basecamp, Chamonix, and Yosemite, I knew we couldn't treat Yosemite like any other climbing area. I knew it was special." Current plans are to revert the campground to its original Camp 4 name, and it is being considered for designation as a National Historical Site.

Current climbing trends in Yosemite tend toward speed ascents. Among them are Hans Florine's solo climbs of both Half Dome and El Cap in a single day. Florine's climb on Half Dome was accomplished in three hours and twenty-five minutes. These are, of course, mind-boggling achievements. But the element of the "unknown" has been reduced, such that the only mystery seems to be how fast a route can be climbed. As Peter Croft, the first person to free (no-rope!) solo Astroman has said, "—Speed climbing by itself can be a bit of a dead end. It often focuses more on one-up-manships than on mind-expanding grand tours."

Ron Kauk was stunt double for Tom Cruise in the climbing scene that opens Mission Impossible 2. Undoubtedly the director had to take great care because Kauk looks so much more like a movie star than does Cruise.

Recently the National Park Service put forward a 386 million dollar plan to, among other things, reduce Valley traffic by building a huge parking lot just west of the Park. The Sierra Club is opposed, claiming that no development has ever been good for the Park.

Jay Smith and Karl McConachie's route on Half Dome was eventually named Peripheral Vision and was the first complete traverse of the northwest face. It involved 18 full-length rope-lengths of "new ground." In his formal account in the American Alpine Journal, Smith called the climb "truly outstanding," adding, "This is a grand tour, especially if you want to see all the routes on the Dome."

 

Acknowledgments

I am more indebted than my essay might imply to the three books mentioned in the text: David Robertson's West of Eden, which makes clear that art always describes a history and shapes a future; Steve Roper's Camp 4, which expertly shows how the personal and the historical might be honestly balanced; and Rebecca Solnit's Savage Dreams: a Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West, for its quirky and unflinching historical research. I am also indebted to Scott Slovic's essay "`Be Prepared for the Worst': Love, Anticipated Loss, and Environmental Valuation" in Western American Literature, Fall 2000, for directing me to Renato Rosaldo's concept of "imperialist nostalgia."  

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