Yosemite Trekker Post #2 --- 6/12/09
El Capitan 6/10/09
Not Climbing El Capitan
Sometimes you just hop on a bus and see where it takes you. Even in the middle of a national park, cabin fever can set in pretty quick, so at the end of my third week, I boarded a free shuttle at the Visitors Center and fled the hustle-bustle of downtown Yosemite. I was headed for El Capitan.
It's not exactly a remote destination. The shuttle heads out on Northside Drive (Highway 41, heading west) for 10 minutes, then stops at an appealing little picnic area before going a half mile further, to a convergence of roadways. This is the place where people gather to watch the rock climbers.
Highway 41, by the way, splits into south and north forks when it enters the park, each fork now a one-way route. The south proceeds towards Yosemite Village, Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village and is called Southside Drive. The north fork exits this central hub and returns to the various highways that people drive in from. Between the two forks lies El Capitan Bridge, with a clear view of the famous vertical rock formation that has attracted climbers from all over the world. Spanish explorers allegedly named El Capitan after the Indian reference to it as the "great chief".
The granite block is thought by many to resemble a head with a long nose, and it's this nose that gets the most action, I was told by the shuttle driver. Now why anyone would want to spend three to nine days risking their lives scaling this puppy, sleeping in a "hanging" shelter at night, enduring the unforgiving elements, and hauling around about a week's worth of their own poop is a discussion for greater minds than mine. I stared through a Celestron telescope set up on the bridge at a guy in a red jacket with something like 800 caribiners dangling from his harness and wondered why he didn't just apply for a job with the telephone company.
Of course, the urge to clamber upward is embedded in our genes, something we inherited from the primates as a way to escape the jaws of moutain lions and other predators. But the use of all the special equipment turns basic instinct into another occupation entirely. John Muir climbed a lot of peaks in Yosemite with nothing but sweat, saliva and sheer determination. (He also, incidently, opposed all the drilling and hammering of stakes into the rock.)
Having said this, I just read today in the Merced Sun-Star that British Iraq war veteran Maj. Phil Packer has finished his climb of the 3,600-foot El Capitan. The former soldier with the Royal Military Police lost both of his legs in battle, so aspiring to the top presented something of a challenge. He did it as part of an effort to raise $2 million for a charity, Help for Heroes, which supports disabled veterans. Here's a link to the story.
Above are some of the people who came out to see the climbers the day I visited. The three people in the left even brought a picnic lunch. The two guys on the bridge had a book on rock climbing with them, which suggested a more professional interest in the sport. (Update June 14th: On Saturday, a rock climber fell to his death off a climbing cable bolted to one side of Half Dome. The S.F. Chronicle published a story about the accident. See also our next post with photos of the rescue operation.)
There's also a meadow here and a path through it that runs along the Merced River. You'll pick up the trail just over the west side of the bridge. The area is one where dogs apparently are allowed to join you for the trek. I saw a couple of them meandering around with their masters, soaking up every minute of the excursion. It seems like a springtime trek, with the tall grasses and wildflowers growing and the insects and all. I saw a couple of trout in the clear, serene river water, then stopped at a creek and waded in up to my ankles.
The trails on the west side of the bridge strike out into the woods. Or you can just wait for the shuttle to pick up up and take you back to downtown Yosemite. It runs every 30 minutes, and on my return trip, some passengers spotted a mother bear and her cub moving through the trees. Too far away for me to photograph, unfortunately.
These are just some other photos I took near the picnic grounds and by the bridge.
I noticed fire had struck in the area and took some shots of the dead wood and new growth cropping up to start the ecological cycle again.
See you next time...
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