Yosemite, Mon Amour

Despite the Blue Beast and Eurodogs, some people just can’t help it. Direct from 3,600 feet, the latest word on America’s rock-climbing mecca, where it’s getting hard to be a romantic.

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  1. Slouched against the hard granite belly of El Capitan, two and a half days above the floor of Yosemite Valley, I stare absent-mindedly at the bumper-to-bumper procession of vehicles creeping along in fits and starts a vertical half-mile below. Out of the blue, the nervous, entomologically insistent columns of miniature Toyotas and Winnebagos dredge up memories of how badly I’d wanted an ant farm as a child. I’m turning this over in my mind, savoring the bittersweet taste of long-dormant desire, when my reverie is interrupted by the prick of a raindrop on the back of my neck. Looking up, I notice that the slabs beside me are already speckled with moisture. Across the Valley, thick sheets of precipitation are slanting down from the clouds.

    In my hands is a bight of worn turquoise rope leading up into a sea of rock. Every few minutes the rope jiggles slightly, then slides upward, reassuring me that somewhere on the overhanging face above, a pale, small-boned Northern Irishman named Geoff Dawson is making progress toward the next belay stance. I made his acquaintance just last week, outside the Yosemite Lodge bar. Impressed by his droll sense of humor, I’d suggested that the two of us climb El Capitan. So here we are: 2,600 feet off the deck and another 1,000 from the top of El Cap’s Salathé Wall, gazing into the maw of a Pacific cold front, which by now is hosing the whole of Yosemite Valley with a stinging downpour.

    The Salathé Wall, it is writ in the mountaineering guide Fif...

Originally published in Outside, October 1990