Some memories are too precious to write about for fear of altering them, accentuating some moments at the expense of others… hiking to the top of El Capitan and sleeping there under the stars is one of these memories. Suffice it to say, for now, until such time that I can’t keep from writing about it, that El Capitan blew my mind and exploded me in ways I never knew possible. Be it the ecstasy of pushing through such exhaustion to that ultimate achievement of arriving at the top of the valley, the top of the world for all we could see, or be it simply the effect that the valley has on you when you see it from high up, I can’t say. All I know is that I have rarely felt such ecstasy or beheld such raw and wild beauty.
If you go to Yosemite, go on a wilderness permit. Get away from the roads. Get away from the crowded campgrounds. Get away from the trucks and the buses and the cars and the pedestrians and the bicycles and the traffic and the human noise and busy hustle of the valley. Get away from other people’s conversations. Get away from the tourists and the buildings. Get away from the familiar world. Pitch your tent somewhere off the trail, somewhere on a bed of pine needles under the trees. Leave the fly off the top, and lie down and look up. The trees will stretch up and away from you, and the stars will slowly rotate between their branches. Little bats will fly overhead and animals will scurry around the bushes. The sounds of the wild will drift through your mind while you toss and turn in your sleeping bag, and the rising sun will gently fill your sky and urge you back to waking.
After El Capitan we hiked through Tuolumne Meadows towards Donohue Pass. We set up camp for two nights and did a day hike to the pass, turning around short of the top because of the dark electric clouds rolling in. That morning I had read John Muir’s thoughts on mountain passes. He says this:
“To the timid traveler, fresh from the sedimentary levels of the lowlands, these highways, however picturesque and grand, seem terribly forbidding — cold, dead, gloomy gashes in the bones of the mountains, and of all Nature’s ways the ones to be most cautiously avoided. Yet they are full of the finest and most telling examples of Nature’s love; and though hard to travel, none are safer. . . . True, there are innumerable places where the careless step will be the last step; and a rock falling from the cliffs may crush without warning like lightning from the sky, but what then? Accidents in the mountains are less common than in the lowlands, and these mountain mansions are decent, delightful, even divine, places to die in, compared with the doleful chambers of civilization. Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand.”
In the end, we could have made the mountain pass. The weather passed as quickly as it came in to threaten us, and we relaxed under clear skies that evening. But although reaching the top would have been amazing, that wasn’t so much the point as simply being there, watching the mountain tops come closer with every step, experiencing that wild. The morning after the pass I sat on the rocks once the sun reached us, with the small frogs hopping in long grass and the squirrels chirping warnings about my intruding presence, thinking about John Muir’s thoughts. He writes of the wilderness the way I feel when I am in it, and I become lost in his words. Lost in these rocks and pines and logs and granite peaks. Lost in myself feeling the simple being of it all. And I am one of the saved.