A Guide to Yosemite: Starstruck

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A dream of mine! Only a fathom in time. Surfing the web, I ran across the most amazing objective I’d laid my eyes on, especially early on in my climbing career. It was a crack in a rock, and not just any crack – the crack! Consuming ~ 800 feet and 7 vertical pitches, this climb conceived my wildest dreams. A solid 5.9 leader at the time, 5.10d seemed a mere hope in the wind. “May as well be 11”, I said shaking in my boots. A run-out, poorly protected 5.10 start, leaving you at the mercy of a 35 foot ground fall, only further reinforced this delusion. It would come, one day, I told myself. Be patient.

This was about a year ago, as the El Cap meadows whizzed by on the Loop Road. Experience and exposure had proceeded progress and I found myself a much better climber; as with anything you pour your heart and soul into. Yet, this climb still brought about feelings of hesitation and self-doubt. We pulled up to the Awahnee Hotel, Casey dropped my friend, Justin and I off. As the season wrapped up in Tuolumne, we had migrated South to the Valley for warmer weather and our first project. I still avoided looking up at the climb, offering to do any and everything else to distract me from the task ahead. Fidgety and rambling – Justin seemed to see right through it. My transparency clued him in that this was it for me, the goal, the current ‘BIG one’.

“Clear, positive thoughts.”
“No anxiety.”
“Ease the tension.”
“Was my mind in order?”
“Absolutely… I’m ready”

See it wasn’t a matter of safety, it was a matter of the unknown. A new area, a new climb, new problems, new solutions. All of these ‘new’ factors brought to the table and my comfort level dissipates. That former security that I clung so tightly to is now replaced by unfamiliar territory. The mind immediately expects the worse but glimpses of reality reminded me that I’m capable of more than I ‘thought’. These are the moments I strive for… the fear, the risk, the confidence, the reward. Experienced by all, in vast aspects of life, explained by few.

I gave Casey a reassuring nod [more reassuring for myself than her] as she pulled off to explore the village. We collected our gear and began the short approach. Peering up at a magnificent canvas of granite, I noticed a familar feature. Could I be imagining this? My sleepless companion. The very crack I spent many a night dreaming of. It split the landscape like lightning, cutting it’s way to the ground. Stunning, bold and aesthetic – my favorite medium for my art. Two parties high on the wall came into focus. Perfect, I exclaimed, our alpine start at 2pm couldn’t of put us in a better position to avoid a classic ‘Congo line’. Yosemite is notorious for it’s crowds around every corner, and as long as these parties were at least two pitches above us, it would make for a smooth day. Excitement and energy pierced through my body every step I took closer to the start. Manteling the last boulder of the scramble to the start, Justin sighed, “there are people at the base.” I gained ground and rose to two curious faces. Damn, all this mental torture, fighting, preparation, for one more obstacle to deal with. I may have a total break down before it’s over.

While gaining my composure, I soon began to realize this wasn’t your typical climbing scene. Fixed lines hung from the top of pitch one, camera equipment was strewn everywhere and two guys sat at the base while another climbed the second pitch. Nervousness and surprise quickly turned to anger and fury. Thousands of places to fool around on the rock, hundreds of aid routes to hang your fixed lines and practice God knows what. And you choose my route! My dream. My battle, My prize. Make your homemade film or instructional video elsewhere! It did not take long for my internal thoughts to become impulsive, external questions.

“What are you doing?”
“Why fix ropes on a free climb?”
“And a 10 for that matter (as if were an easy feat for me)?”
“May we climb?”
“Can we pass through?”

Every question seemed avoided… give me the truth I insisted, as another strew of inquiries came blurting out of my mouth. All the while, totally unconscious to the fact that no one was belaying the climber. I pondered, squinting up the wall. Must be rope soloing. “My chalkbag!” As I reached to the back of my harness out of habit. I left it in the car. How could I do my most notable, personal achievement to date with sweaty hands? A grand opportunity to excuse my ‘hot head’ and allow ‘Cool-hand Luke’ [aka Justin] to make sense of the situation. Luckily, my chalkbag had fallen off not far down the trail; and upon returning, grasped little progress for our cause had been made. On the plus side, no physical altercation had occured due to my absence. At this point, only the cameraman remained on the ground, while the other jumared the first pitch’s fixed lines. I had had enough!

“How long is this going to take?”
“Can we please pass?”
He glared at me. This is it. He’s going to crack.
“Listen man, I don’t care what you do, I don’t even climb. I’m just here to film Alex.”
“Ehermmmm mmm… [cough] Who???”
“You know, Alex Honnold!? We’re doing a ‘spoof’ film on how dramatic climbing videos are played out to be. He’s going to down solo (no rope, no harness, etc.) the whole route, hesitating at times.”

I know I was drooling on myself by this point… the Honnold… how dare I disrespect his crew and such a legend. As if life filled my body again and I regained consciousness, I gazed up towards the third pitch and realized he had never been rope soloing, just free soloing! Geez! Embarassment and inspiration hit me like a ton of bricks.

“You know, on second thought, I bet they wouldn’t mind if you climbed through, you’ll just need to be fast and try to finish before they’re set up, ready to film.”

My bluff was officially called. First day in the Valley and impede Mr. Honnold, not a chance! Especially gunning for an onsight attempt. Yeah right, I mean who am I kidding, even if I was going for my 37th lap up Serenity-Son’s linkup, the sheer idea of Honnold sitting, waiting, critiquing – haunts my very core. So after a turn-around of emotions and events, we took a moment for Q and A with the cameraman and scampered back down the approach. Our only accomplishment being a fond memory and story to share with others. Heads held high though, instead of tails tucked between our legs, we salvaged the afternoon with a quick ascent of the Middle Cathedral via East Buttress.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

Desires and aspirations would not let us flee. The following day we marched back up to Serenity-Son’s. Alas, the climb was to ourselves. With ‘continual style’, we managed to put an onsight attempt in the bag. But not without a few laughs of a borderline embarassing situation and stardome in the face of a master, demi-God and goofball alike.

BIG thanks to Alex Honnold, James Lucas, Ron Kauk, Chenye Lempe, Tom Evans, Jim Beyer and Eric Sloan for being those familar faces in the Valley we brushed shoulders with, granting us mere mortals something to strive for and live up to.

Joseph Hobby 2/8/15

Brave Explorations. Soulful Discoveries.

1st pitch of Serenity crack

Photo cred: Justin Castleberry

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