El Capitan has a way of reaching out over Yosemite Valley and commanding attention. A star in a cast of soaring granite towers and thundering waterfalls El Cap belittles the rest of the magnificent features seen from the valley floor and draws all eyes north and up. Said to be largest continuous wall of granite in the world, certainly in North America, El Capitan holds a special place in the mind's eye of all who have stood in it's shadow. To climbers it is the holy grail, the icing on the cake, the stuff dreams are made of, the light at the end of the tunnel, the end goal, the reason they moved to Yosemite and lived on beans and hid from the rangers for months, the Captain, the shit.
I have never climbed El Cap. I may, I may not. But it's pure existence continues to egg me on as a climber. Every time I visit Yosemite it is a slap in the face saying, “ keep climbing, go travel the world over chasing stone, but I'll be right here – waiting.”
I am in Yosemite in the spring – my favorite time. There are still patches of snow hiding in the shadows. There is road construction everywhere. Curry Village is littered with down trees and the paths are all mud. Tourists still somehow find a way to block the road to rubber-neck from car windows but they disappear in the evenings leaving the valley floor to welcome spring without much fanfare. Camp 4, Yosemite's cheap walk-in campground and home to dirtbag climbers and misanthropes since climbing's conception, is all but deserted. A few brave European couples, some recession struck families trying to save a buck, and some die hard boulderers have staked claims in the first few sites. It is mid-week and rain is forecasted for the weekend – we know we are lucky, for in just a few weeks the spring break hoards will begin pouring in hoping to catch warm weather.
We are happily camped out under a dark green and awaking forest, amongst boulders still cold to the touch, and burning wood wet and smokey. The sky is clear and melting from deep blue to starry black. Climbing was good today. We, once again, touched the famed Yosemite granite. Polished beautifully by glacial ice and speckling in the late-afternoon equinox sun we were alone on a high buttress overlooking it all. The granite cracks were warmed from the sun but the shadows mixed with the waterfall wind to make it cold to standby belaying. After so many months of climbing comfortable limestone stalactites (Asia) and uncomfortable volcanic edges (Smith) this granite, stark, ominous, and exposed, felt real. Climbing in Yosemite is elemental. Your hands and arms ache from the movement, your mind puts together the pieces to protect the moves, and your body understands the commitment. This granite is what moved the climbing ethos forward and I am once again reminded why and how.
On the third day we wake to drizzle on the tent fly. Within the first hours of the morning the storm is upon us and heavy rain puddles on the hard packed floor of Camp 4. There will be no climbing today. The weekend welcomes the rain and disheartened faces repack. I am not disheartened though - two days is all I needed to be reminded. I only needed a quick trip between spring showers to remember. Granite is