I love hard hitting techno music. The kind that will keep alert, up through long drives along open roads,when sleep feels threatening, when the coffee threshold is being reached but the show must go on. Don’t get me wrong, I am a lover of the mellow as well, I have days where all I want to hear is John Denver, but as I drove away from Yosemite Valley towards the desert it was fast heavy bass that I needed. As I journeyed, I reflected upon a season spent within the open meadows of the High Sierra, the tourist infested floor of the valley, countless pitches of granite climbed and the thought provoking work that made my time there sustainable.
It had all started 6 months before. Driving into the valley on a gorgeous spring day. The stunning walls of Half Dome, The Sentinel, Yosemite Falls Wall and of course, El Capitan looming over head, bringing both thrill and fear to my weary bones. Over the next month I would gain understanding as to how to deal with these features both mentally and physically, while living under a stone, off the beaten path. Every morning me and a group of other “out of bounds” campers (known by the rangers as troglodytes) would gather, around the bear boxes where we stored our food and scheme as to what we would send that day, later that week and someday in the life. When the talk was finished, the coffee consumed, brains functioning, we would wander off in small groups, sometimes alone, to once again test ourselves on the stones around us.
But it was not long before I began work, became legitimate, I was now a member of the Tuolumne Yosemite Search and Rescue Team, affectionately known by the YOSAR acronym. A group of so called ‘Monkeys’ living, climbing and working together. We watched the seasons pass, saw friends come and go and rejoiced in our freedom, celebrated the stone around us and worked hard at our jobs as well as on the rock. Some days would find us ten pitches up a dangerous and difficult route, runout far above protection, playing games of mind control and physical endurance. Others would find us high off the ground in our ship, 551, flying into a remote location to find a stranded hiker. Everyday was fresh, full of new experiences, always enhanced by caffeine, strong friendship and good food. In the evenings we sat around the fire, sometimes in near silence, other times with wild cries of joy and laughter as we consumed the always enjoyable 6.5% King Cobras, only 90¢ at the local store.
Then it was late September, the days getting shorter, the air colder, the campsites around us empty. Our bodies and minds were strong from months spent on runouts and overhangs. Words such as Conness, Heart of Stone, Salathe and Dark Star now had tangible definitions within our minds. We soloed the Harding Route on Lembert Dome one last time, as we had done most every day, the moves familiar, the ledge on top comfortable. The meadows below us holding a brown hue, reflecting the season, no longer did they hold the lush green of spring and summer, it was time for us to move to lower warmer climates
The next day I was back in the ditch, once again living under the looming walls that block out the sky. This time though I resided in a tent cabin, having emigrated onto the team in the valley. Work was sparse, so we climbed often. The walls around us beckoned like sirens, we heeded to their call. The Nose, The Zodiac, The Lurking Fear, Skull Queen, our honed bodies moved over the stone with precision and grace, nothing was impossible, it was ‘Rocktober’. Some days is rained and we sat under our tarps, savoring the rest. We talked of the future, sandstone walls in the desert, ice in the North, granite towers to the south. But the rain stopped and we resumed.
Soon though we are leaving, slowly at first. But before we knew it there were only four of us left. We packed up our belongings, prepared to make our departure, finalized the disbandment of the team for the season. But not yet, a lost climber summoned us South to the West side of Mt Whitney, the twenty minute flight revealed remote rock formations, only spoken of in whispers amongst those who know their names. Right when we were feeling ready to leave California, feeling as though we had spent what we had, thrown the dice enough times, we felt the beckoning call of the stone once again. We remembered that another season would arrive before long and we once again delighted in plans for our futures there in the granite wonderland of the Sierras.
In the truck, on the highway, in the desolation of central Nevada, I ponder the past, the future and the present. I am on my way to other lands with names like Zion, Hylite and Patagonia. The techno plays heavily on my eardrums and vibrates across the desert. Before long though I do know that I will be back amongst the stone of Yosemite to further, test and push my body, to monkey call at the top of my lungs and to love deeply the settings and the people surrounding me.