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Oct 12, 2003, 10:15 AM
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24 years ago I learned to climb, sans cams or sticky rubber, in Vedauwoo, WY. I was 14 years old and I would beg my dad to drive me and a friend to vedauwoo every weekend. I was obsessed! For christmas that year dear old dad bought me a copy of the classic book Yosemite Climber. I spent hours and hours staring at these amazing photos of yosemite hardmen climbing routes like Outer Limits, Wheat Thin and the impossibly clean and exposed walls of El Cap. These photos burned a permanent imprint on my imagination and grew to mythical proportions in my mind. Prior to this fall I had made 4 trips to the valley, but always with El Cap as the goal. I never took the time to try some of the free climbs I had always dreamt about, I never even hiked up to look at many of them. After 24 years of dreaming maybe I was too scared to give up the dream and seek the reality of these pitches. What if I couldn't do the routes or, worse yet, what if the routes didn't live up to my imagination? I had succeeded on El Cap twice now, once on Mescalito and once on the Triple Direct. I had no more excuses, I had to make another pilgrimage to Yosemite, but this time to try the free routes.

I planned a 10 day trip to the valley with my wife, Joan. We would only try classic free routes. I didn't bring any aid gear, no walls on this trip! The weather was hot in the valley so we decided to spend a few days in Tuolumne as a warm up. West Crack and Witch o' The West on Daff Dome proved to be a perfect starting day for the trip. Incredible rock, incredible scenery and moderate difficulty, just right! The second day we set our sights a little higher and decided to try Lucky Streaks on Fairview dome. What a climb! I managed the 5.10d direct variation on pitch 3 and was feeling confident. The climb was pretty long, however, and with our 11:00 am start we were lucky to find our way off the dome in the last light of the day!

Day three, no more time to waste, we headed into the valley. I didn't consciously avoid the all time routes on my list, but I kept making excuses to climb easier routes. We did Harry Daley, Central Pillar of Frenzy and Nutcracker. All the climbs were amazing, but they weren't the reason I had come. Finally I decided to try a Valley 5.10. I started on a route I had no mental history with. It was a climb in the new supertopo guide book called Proud Snapper. The route was fun and not out of my difficulty range. With my growing confidence I decided we would do Lunatic Fringe the next morning. Yosemite Climber has a grainy black and white photo of a woman seconding this climb with lots of tension. I would look at that picture and imagine how hard those jams must be! I had trouble sleeping that night and I was very jittery the next morning. It felt like I was going to do something big, not a one pitch route right next to the road. It is amazing what your mind can do with 24 years of dreaming and angst! I calmed myself before the route and tryed to just climb and keep my mind quite. I climbed well and I was soon at the last crux section where the finger jams thin out. I started to get nervous and a little shaky, I could see my dream of onsighting this pitch slipping away from me. I took two or three deep breaths, calmed my mind and confidently finished the pitch. What an incredible feeling! I had climbed much harder pitches, but none with as much inner meaning.

I won't bore you with the details of the remaining days we had in the valley. I tried many other pitches on my list, doing some onsite and falling on others. I came to the realization, however, that it didn't matter if I fell on these routes or completed them in perfect style. Just being there and fullfilling a dream was enough. The photos in my old Yosemite Climber book now have a more personal meaning and these routes are now part of my climbing history, instead of just dreams in a 14 year old boys mind.

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