July 19, 2006

Rok iz Gud

I went to Yosemite National Park this past weekend to climb Cathedral Peak with Peter, a Google co-worker, OpenBSD developer (and propagandist), and my summer extreme sports sensei. We drove down Friday night after work and got to Yosemite around midnight. Since we didn't have a camping permit and it was too late to buy one, we dirt-bagged it off the road, hoping rangers wouldn't find us illegally sleeping in the woods. The mosquitoes were biting all night, so I just zipped my sleeping bag entirely closed over my head to keep them out. It seemed to work, but the ground was pretty rocky and uneven. Not the best of sleeping conditions.

We woke up at 4:30am to get an early start so we wouldn't have to wait on other climbers. There was an easy two hour hike to the base of Cathedral Peak. When we finally got there, Peter left to find a place to start climbing while I stayed behind with our stuff. At this point, the mosquitoes attacked. I was swatting away 20 at a time from my arms, my legs, my chest, my back. I couldn't keep up with the swarms. I was smashing mosquitoes all over my arms only to watch the blood and dead bodies be covered by another army of vermin. I've never felt so helpless with respect to a bug attack. I eventually just put on my long sleeved jacket and let the bugs do their biting. I knew what the next day would bring, but there was no use fighting.

So then we climbed. Peter led everything and I top roped behind. I took a bad slip on the second pitch because I wasn't really thinking about what I was doing. I remember just trying to smear up the entire pitch without looking at where my feet were hitting and just slipping on every foot hold. After that ugliness, I had an epiphany to think and look before stepping, and the rest of the pitches went smoothly. There were definitely some challenging parts for me, but I didn't fall the rest of the way up or need to rest on any of the pitches, so I was pretty satisfied. The most awkward part of the climb was the chimney, which is a tiny, narrow section of the mountain shaped exactly like... well, a chimney. Getting our packs into the chimney and then moving up with them was the most obnoxious part, but it's a distinguishing feature of Cathedral Peak, so we had to do it. It was so tight and awkward at the bottom that I think I could have lifted my legs completely off the wall and stayed exactly in place because my pack and hips were so smashed up against the sides. Somehow I managed to wiggle out. I don't know how Santa does it.

Two pitches later and we were at the summit of the mountain, which was amazing. The mountains have this commanding beauty and dominance. Everything is painted in vivid blue or green or grey, the air is still and quiet, and humans are just tiny visiting dots. I can't explain the feeling of getting to the top and looking out, but it was the most exhilarating thing I have done (to date).

Now, for some reason, I hadn't put much thought into how one gets down the mountain once they've climbed to the top. Not saying that I assumed an elevator would be waiting on the other side for a quick ride down, but again, I just hadn't really considered that part. Going down the mountain was actually much scarier to me than going up. It was a mix of rappelling, down climbing, short roping, and belaying. Peter may as well have done cart wheels down the mountain since he wasn't fazed by any part of the climb (up or down), but for me, it was much more nerve racking going down slabs of gravely rock when you don't have the same safety you had coming up.

We made it back to the car at around 6:00pm after wasting some time taking pictures and chilling by waterfalls on the way back. We ran into some Chinese dude that was following us under the incorrect assumption we were heading towards a camp ground. We offered him a ride to a store down the road where he was alternatively destined. Turns out he graduated from UIUC engineering as well. Such a small world.

Overall, the day was amazing. I have approximately 300 mosquito bites (counted in haste), sun burnt shoulders, and a few decent bruises and scratches to attest to the awesomeness. I'm now even sadder to return to Illinois because I'd love to keep climbing outdoors (re: real climbing) on a regular basis, but I don't expect any mountains to sprout in the Midwest anytime soon. Oh well, I'll be out of there soon enough.

"The body of the Cathedral is nearly square, and the roof slopes are wonderfully regular and symmetrical, the ridge trending northeast and southwest. This direction has apparently been determined by structure joints in the granite. The gable on the northeast end is magnificent in size and simplicity, and at its base there is a big snow-bank protected by the shadow of the building. The front is adorned with many pinnacles and a tall spire of curious workmanship. Here too the joints in the rock are seen to have played an important part in determining their forms and size and general arrangement. The Cathedral is said to be about eleven thousand feet above the sea, but the height of the building itself above the level of the ridge it stands on is about fifteen hundred feet. A mile or so to the westward there is a handsome lake, and the glacier-polished granite about it is shining so brightly it is not easy in some places to trace Front of Cathedral Peak the line between the rock and water, both shining alike." - John Muir, "My First Summer in the Sierra"

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