My partner shouted at the top of his lungs, causing me to jolt to attention and look down to him and our hanging camp. We were high on El Capitan’s Shield route, and I watched helplessly as a yellow dry bag containing our garbage from the past five days – including twenty-four crushed aluminum cans – grew smaller and smaller as it plummeted toward the ground. After a full twenty seconds of airtime, our bag exploded at the base of the monolith, firing shrapnel in all directions. The blast sent echoes to Half Dome and back.
The yellow bag had been clipped in poorly and detached once I began hauling our supplies to the next station. (In climbing terms: the dry bag buckle was mistakenly clipped into the taut docking line and thus came loose when my partner lowered out the bags.) It was March and, fortunately, we had the wall to ourselves, otherwise the error could have killed someone. Our team was relatively inexperienced and also greatly relieved that we did not drop something vital, like a sleeping bag. Dark clouds lurked and when we finally reached the top we were pounded by a violent storm. We fought our way down the slippery descent in the dark, and somehow found our way to the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we slept on the floor next to a crackling fireplace. In the morning, we exited quickly, forgetting about the yellow bag debacle, and drove back to school without cleaning up our mess.
I’ve returned almost every year since those days on The Shield to climb a different route up the monolith, and this fall I teamed up with three National Park Service (NPS) climbing rangers to do something unique.
We climbed the Tribal Rite route and afterwards, instead of rushing down to hot food and warm showers, met with climbing stewards Cheyne Lempe and Buck Yedor on the top. Then we removed 120 pounds of waste from the upper corners of The Nose route and summit.
The Nose is the most famous climbing route in the world, and the most popular path up the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan. Each year, hundreds of advanced climbers travel to Yosemite from all corners of the world to give it their best – and many fail. The average ascent time is four days, and teams are often mentally and physically spent by the time they navigate the route’s upper sections. Much like they do on Mt. Everest, a percentage of people compromise the purity of their journey by leaving garbage on the route.
NPS climbing rangers and volunteers have been doing the annual Nose Wipe since 2006 to address this issue. This was my second year volunteering. We rappel in from the top with large empty bags and use a twelve-foot retractable pole to remove waste. It’s clear that a lot of the debris was not intentionally abandoned. We found a Gore-Tex glove, sections of climbing rope, and last year pulled a $60 Black Diamond helmet from a deep slot 600 feet from the top.
Anyone who’s climbed The Nose will also confirm that there’s plenty of valuable climbing equipment residing just out of arm's reach within the wide cracks on the first third of the route. However, most often we remove empty plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Some of the stuff smells like piss so we wear rubber gloves and face masks. Since the Nose Wipe began, hundreds of pounds of garbage have been extracted from cracks on The Nose, and we estimate that somewhere between 300 and 500 pounds remain.
Ranger Ben Doyle spends a good portion of his work week doing operations in vertical environments. He patrols routes like The Nose regularly and heroically rescues injured climbers from difficult to reach places. In June, Ben climbed/patrolled both The Nose and the face of Half Dome in twenty-one hours. This required climbing more than a vertical mile of highly technical terrain, and is a feat beyond most people’s comprehension. This was Ben’s fifth consecutive year doing a Nose Wipe.
Ben refers to the Nose Wipe as a Sisyphean task, a reference to the Greek myth of a king condemned by Zeus for his misdeeds. According to the myth, the king is compelled to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back to the bottom once he reaches the top, thus requiring him to repeat the process for eternity. Every year, climbers leave behind garbage, and it’s hard to stay on top of the problem.
However, we are curious to see what will happen if we remove 100% of the garbage from The Nose in one go. The most problematic area is the slot behind the Camp 6 ledge, 600 feet from the top. It’s like an archeological dig up there because we’re uncovering garbage from different generations as we hit the different layers of compact waste. This season we removed several bleach bottles – apparently climbers used them for storing water during the ‘70s, before you could buy water and soda in two-liter plastic bottles. If we restore The Nose back to a pristine condition, maybe future climbers will be more inclined to give it the respect it deserves.
I find myself circling back to Yvon Chouinard’s quote. Although climbers are physically ascending something tangible, there’s also a metaphysical transformation taking place, leading toward spiritual growth. However, this process is compromised if we disregard our environment. Perhaps YC’s words show us the true Sisyphean task, because there isn’t much difference between perpetually rolling a rock up a hill and climbing a mountain if neither produces the desired result: to not come home the same asshole we were when we started.
Our sport is rapidly changing, with a huge new demographic of urban climbers emerging from gym to crag. We must continue to step it up as environmental stewards if we wish to maintain access to these majestic places. Otherwise, we may as well glue feathers to our backs and head towards the sun with Icarus.
Dave N. Campbell is a Pro Sales rep for Patagonia and teaches wilderness survival classes at Truckee Meadows Community College in the evenings. He holds a BA in Chinese and has spent extensive time in the mountain ranges of China. In 2011, Dave worked on a Panda restoration project in Sichuan with The Nature Conservancy and last summer he led a ski/snowboard mountaineering trip in the Tianshan Range of Xinjiang. Earlier this year Dave worked with Sean O'Neill on the first parapalegic lead climb.
We would like to invite you to be among the first to watch Worn Wear, a new film from Keith, Lauren, Chris, and Dan Malloy.
Worn Wear is an exploration of quality – in the things we own and the lives we live. This short film takes you to an off-the-grid surf camp in Baja, Mexico; a family's maple syrup harvest in Contoocook, Vermont; an organic farm in Ojai, California; and into the lives of a champion skier, a National Geographic photographer, and a legendary alpinist. It also features exclusive interviews with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
Released as an antidote to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzy, Worn Wear is an invitation to celebrate the stuff you already own.
[Video: Worn Wear - a Film About the Stories We Wear]
Thumbing through my recently purchased copy of Dan Malloy’s Slow Is Fast paperback, I felt the same elation I had as a teenager buying new vinyl. Listening to Yes’s double album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, I would carefully examine Roger Dean’s ethereal cover art as Jon Anderson and Steve Howe’s highly energized rock transported this Jersey kid to another place. And that’s what creative types do. They grab a hold of you and take you with them. It’s what Dan Malloy does with Slow Is Fast. He creates a beautifully made visual tribute to his native California.
Back in the fall of 2012, Dan and his good friends, Kellen Keene and Kanoa Zimmerman rode touring bikes along 700 coastal miles, documenting their trip with plenty of photographs and interviews. Some pictures are humorous, like the road kill one, where a beanie doll is added to the mix to soften death’s morbidity. Details are everywhere. The book’s front cover has a tiny, red bike-trailer icon and there are pages torn from a calendar scribbled with notes that say four shakas, zero middle fingers and two angry honks – a record of the day’s interaction with motorists.
[“In the last month I have learned more about the people and places along the California coast than I had in 34 years and a thousand car trips.” -Dan Malloy. Photo: Kanoa Zimmerman]
The trip started 100 miles north of San Francisco with just the bare essentials. As they traveled down coast they stopped to surf, work with farmers, and spend time with artists and musicians. They also visited craftspeople and talked to them about their trade. There’s the Santa Cruz surfer kid who expertly makes prehistoric stone tools for the UC Berkeley archeological department, a bladesmith who considers his craft a spiritual practice and, my favorite, a hatchet throwing, jack-of-all trades surfer from Big Sur. These personal encounters make the book pulse with life.
There are photos that illustrate the difference between big and small agriculture. Long rows of tidy crops sprayed with unhealthy chemicals versus a field tended to with wind-chapped hands and a strong body. Growing up, I used to work on my grandparents' farm just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They grew corn, tomatoes and whatever else they thought the neighbors might like. Granddad let me feed the chickens and pigeons, and pick ears of corn from a field next to the pigeon house. I remember walking between the tall rows, the warm, clumpy earth feeling good beneath my bare feet. At a smaller field I collected rhubarb and eggplant for grandmother’s homemade fritters and strawberry rhubarb pie. She made the dough from scratch.
Dan and the guys visit Brenton Kelly and Jan Smith, who run the Quail Springs Permaculture Site and Educational Center in Maricopa. Dan asks them what they like about their jobs and what’s important to them. Brenton says he loves teaching and the interaction he has with students. Jan mentions that soil and light are basic connections to life and that she considers herself a wild critter. She feels that feeding people is the highest form of activism a person can do. Their spirited and noble lifestyle is exemplified in a stanza from Dick Gibford’s poem, While An Eagle Soared Like A Desert Lord.
He was just glad to be
Way out here
Still somewhat free
From pressure to conform
To modern times.
South of Cuyama up in the Sierra Madre, Dan sat in a small cabin with a man, wearing a wide brimmed hat and brightly colored bandana. It was Dick Gibford. He lives in the mountains tending cattle with his horse. Dan listens to Dick talk about the Spanish vaquero and their importance to the ranch culture. The American cowboy learned everything from the vaqueros Dick tells Dan. The vaquero move cattle at a slow pace, treating them with tender care. It takes fortitude and patience to do this kind of work, but it’s what Dick loves to do.
The old cowboy poet and everyone else we meet in the book and DVD grabs a hold of us and takes us with them. It’s what creative types do. We are grateful that Dan, Kellen and Kanoa stopped along the way to meet these folks, taking time to listen to their stories and learn about their unique skills. Dan reminds us that when we slow down and listen, we live.
Slow is Fast is now available from Patagonia.com and Patagonia Retail Stores.
[Video: Book trailer for Slow is Fast]
By Gavin McClurg
I've been really fortunate in the last couple decades to explore many of the farthest corners of the globe – thirteen straight years of sailing, chasing wind and waves on a series of kitesurfing expeditions, which included nearly two full circumnavigations, and the last couple years, paragliding all over the Alps, South America, Central America, Africa and the Himalayas. Just like surfers chasing swell, pilots chase seasons and weather.
Reggie Crist, a former Olympic alpine skier and friend of mine who lives here in Sun Valley is even making a movie about how athletes are like migratory animals, hopping on planes or jumping in cars chasing what they “need” be it adrenaline, or escape, or just pure fun. Animals, of course, are seeking food and shelter, which is all we really need as well. But for some people this other “need” is as urgent as the next hit is for a junky. Without it we find life marginalized, gray and drab.
[Above: Gavin McClurg soars. Photo: Jody MacDonald]
I met Matt and two other local pilots, Donnie and Nate, at 3pm, right across the street from the historic Sun Valley Lodge. We were up at launch an hour later, legs and lungs burning but we were all smiles – the conditions looked perfect. In no time we were all off the hill and heading up the ridge towards Otto’s Peak, at the top of trail creek, various singing “beep beep beep” verifying glorious climbs. Cloudbase was nearly 15,000 feet and there was almost no wind. The thermals were gentle, the sky more clear and blue than I'd ever seen in the Wood River Valley, which stretches out to the great basin desert and winds up to Galena Pass, the gateway to Stanley and the stunning Sawtooth Mountains. After a horrific fire season and being evacuated from our home just a few weeks earlier, I couldn't believe everything looked so pristine. The flying was so good I found myself questioning what was happening, and looking over my shoulder for the surprise that never came. Days like this come around very, very rarely.
We made the jump from Otto’s, at the south end of the Boulder range over to the Pioneers and eventually all grouped up and flew right down the range. I discovered Matt had a GoPro with him and we spiraled down, deep into the range, tight into the terrain, something that would be suicidal in summer. We must have flown 40 kilometers out and back and then back out from one end to the other. Donnie and Nate decided to fly back to town after a flight that both would later describe as one of the best they'd ever had. Matt and I carried on until sunset, wondering if someone had snuck some acid into our lunch. This just wasn't possible.
[Video: The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get by Offshore Odysseys]
We landed about 50 feet away from the Pioneer Cabin at 9,500 feet. After laughing, and hugging, and laughing some more we watched the sun fade over the horizon, packed up and moved into the cabin. We enjoyed a hot cup of tea, dinner, star gazing, a lot more laughing and a lot of discussion about this shared addiction of flight – and the irony of how we spend so much time and money and effort chasing what we love around the world yet the best is right here in our own backyard.
I've traveled and moved more than I've stayed put in my 41 years on this very cool planet we call home, adding my own considerable carbon footprint to the abundance that we humans are producing daily. Maybe it's time to slow down and enjoy the horizon that is right here every day.
The next day we fired up the stove, had a coffee, walked no more than five minutes to a slope above the cabin and launched, hoping we could find a place to land in the canyon below us but couldn't see. The sun was already baking the east-facing slopes and as we pilots like to say, “It was ON.” We circled like birds up and up to 12,000 feet and pointed our wings home. A place I think I'll stay awhile.
Gavin McClurg is the CEO of Offshore Odysseys and founder of The Best Odyssey and The Cabrinha Quest. He grew up on boats in the Pacific Northwest and commercially fished in the Bering Sea before getting into sailing in the mid ‘90s. The Cabrinha Quest is a five-year seafaring expedition to seek out the world’s most remote and dynamic kitesurfing and surfing locations. Photo: Jody MacDonald
By Fitz & Becca Cahall
Is there something out there? It’s a question that lurks in the back of my mind. Probably in yours too. It’s one of the very reasons why I love the outdoors: the unpredictability.
Over the years, I’ve collected experiences. Moments, like bits of data, that collectively guide my intuition. And yet, we’ve all had that moment where hairs stand up on the back of our neck. Was it heightened perception? Or did the wind just blow the right way? And if you convince yourself it was the wind, does some lump of doubt sit in your stomach? Because sometimes you just won’t believe something is out there. Until it’s right there.
[Listen to "Tales of Terror Vol. 4" by The Dirtbag Diaries on Soundcloud]
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[Graphic by Walker Cahall]