Raising my binoculars to my eyes, I turned my head towards El Capitan, asking myself “Who’s up there today?”
I have driven through Yosemite Valley many times since my first visit to Yosemite National Park in 1968, often pulling over to the side of the road to point my camera up at the world’s largest granite monolith. In all seasons of the year, I have come home with images of Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, The Three Brothers, Sentinel Rock, and the park’s other monumental landmarks.
But my feet have always been safely anchored on the firm terra of Yosemite’s rocky foundation. Except for a faked 1984 Christmas card photo shot at Glacier Point in which my wife and I appeared to be free-climbing a giant boulder, there are no pictures of me dangling from the park’s precipitous cliffs. You’d have to be crazy—at at least as crazy about rock climbing as Alex Honnold—to do that kind of death-wish stunt.
The cover of the May, 2011 issue of National Geographic shows Honnold standing straight-as-arrow tall on a narrow ledge, his back pressed tightly against the sheer face of Half Dome. He looks as though he were standing outside of as skyscraper window, trying to decide whether to heed the maniacal cries of a crowd below screaming “Jump! Jump!” and do a deadly swan dive. In an explanatory note about Jimmy Chin’s photo, NG says: “Many climbers crawl along Yosemite’s Thank God Ledge on Half Dome. Alex Honnold walks face out because ‘that’s cooler.’”
Chin’s other photos accompanying Mark Jenkins story, Yosemite: Daring. Defiant. Free.” give armchair travelers, and those like myself who have been “on the ground” in the park, a perspective they are unlikely to ever experience first-hand. The rock that Dean Potter hangs from on the “Heaven” route at Glacier Point makes my holiday card photo rock look like an itty-bitty pebble. The grimace on Cedar Wright’s face as he tries to pull himself along the Gravity Ceiling ahead of his climbing partner shouts out “Who’s bright idea was this, anyway?” And Kevin Jorgeson looks like a fly that has temporarily lit on the face of El Capitan before flying off into the sunset.
And then, of course, there’s leaping off Half Dome with a parachute strapped on your back. Strictly illegal, totally insane. (On Monday, July 11, 2011, the San Francisco Chronicle ran this story about permits required to climb Half Dome).
(Dick Jordan has stayed at Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley, and the Wawona Hotel near Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance. He has day-hiked and shot photos on many trails in the park. His review of the 2nd edition of An Explorer’s Guide: Yosemite & The Southern Sierra Nevada by award-winning travel writer David T. Page will run on Tales Told From The Road on Monday, July 11.)